How To Make A Grown-Ass Man Cry Using Just Three Models Of A Boat
As usual, the headline is only partially true. In addition to three models of a boat, it also requires the correct amount of Ritual Foreplay. Fortunately, this was during my Portugal/Spain retreat and I’d been spiritually edging for days. I enter this church/museum in a very awe-receptive state.
The museum is focused on the history of human settlement in the Galicia region of Spain. For at least a good half hour I’m being confronted with the slow centuries-long development of agriculture and building tech, and the evolution of tools used by humans. You know how much human effort goes into just putting together a pair of pre-modern shoes using only blades, needles, and pieces of animals? I didn’t either, before this trip! It’s a lot. Every single thing was bespoke.
And then I walk into a room with a legit small boat in it, and models depicting how this boat came to be.
First of all, look at that tiny-ass dude. Just the sheer amount of raw materials he had to harvest - cutting down trees, stripping them, hauling them to the worksite, is kinda boggling. I feel so bad for him. Little guy was struggling for ages to get all that stuff together. And like… that little person is just every single one of us, when you scale everything up. How can you not feel amazed by how much they’ve put together already, just for this one boat? And there’s so, so many of us, doing things like this all the time.
That’s just the start, though! Now there’s many hundreds of hours of work to be put into shaping these materials into the forms that are useful to you. I’ve done major renovations on every home I’ve owned. It’s greatly fulfilling work, but it takes many hours. You start in, and before you know it the sun is going down, and some stuff has changed, but not nearly enough. There’s only a few hours in every day! An entire day of life used for crafting and reshaping just a bit of matter.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been semi-isolated most of my life, and I do most of my work alone, that I’ve developed a respect for how much ten man-hours of labor is. If you have four people working, you can do forty man-hours of labor in just one day, which feels so much faster! The brain is bad at multiplying and dividing, so doing a major project solo gives you a feel for how big something like that can be. And these poor ancestors of ours, they didn’t even have power tools. They used their hands.
Of course, our ancestors did have help. They literally couldn’t do much of this solo. But that in itself is a different kind of awesome. They had family or community bonds tight enough to get a whole group of people working together on a shared project. Putting in lots of hours of life to create a single object which would have to be shared among the group, and trusting that this would work out. It’s beautiful, and I’m starting to get teary-eyed.
OMG look at this. Look at how much work has gone into this already, and it’s not even half done. And it’s not just the labor, it’s the knowledge. How many generations of experimenting/engineering/optimizing did it take to figure out that’s the good boat shape, and how to make it using the available trees? It’s so big compared to him. How did he eat this whole time, if he was using months of labor to make a boat instead of growing/gathering food? (yes, I know, money is a thing, but that just makes the answer even more complicated and astounding!)
But the really big thing… none of this is assured. He could be 9/10ths done and a lightning bolt sets the whole thing ablaze. Or one its first launch it could be caught in a storm and sunk. All that work… for what? What if you lend it to your nephew to go fishing so he can feed his new family, and the idiot runs it into some rocks and it sinks? The amount of trust it would require to lend it is more than I think I would have. Even the amount of trust that it will be worth the labor and won’t just be burned/sunk/whatever immediately feels like a leap of faith. It requires some core belief that the world is just. A risk like that is only worth taking if you believe the world is good, and you won’t be punished for being idealistic and sweating and trusting.
And I’m legit crying at that point.
Also, bandits, thieves, pirates… what do you even do in a pre-modern society with so little recourse? All you can really do is swear among your family that if anyone, anyone ever takes this thing you made, you will all band together and hunt them down and kill them and string them up as an example, even if it costs you your own life to do so. Because you have no other choice, if making an artifact like this is ever to be worthwhile. It represents so much wealth, life couldn’t work without that dedication to retribution. The righteous fury instinct is powerful, and it is good, because it lets us make this.
We put so much of our lives into our things, in the hopes that they will make our lives and the lives of our loved ones better. It is beautiful. It is glorious. I feel a debt to all my ancestors who did this, and whose lives were so poor they never got to retire, never got to go to museums in foreign countries and wonder at the majesty of it all.
Ahhhhhh I love humans.
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