"Esteem Well-Earned - A 'Public Good' Personally Considered"

This essay was originally written and posted to humanities.philosophy.objectivism (7/14/96), amid a political discussion of "the public goods problem".




"We do about two 360's as he tries to work the merge"...(crisply sipped breaths hiss in the radio as the 10,000 ft. cloud deck goes sliding past far down below the nose and the back of the guy's sunlit helmet)..."And because we're at 20,000 feet, I'm able to roll through and pull for the vertical, although it costs me altitude to get it going"...(a dozen different data outputs ripple dot-green over the image of the adversary dodging through the bright-blue daylight)..."So now I've got the thrust advantage when he goes high, and I'm drivin' the fight, and I'm able to go ahead and get him saddled up for the gun shot." (F-5/MiG-21 floats steady three-quarters of a mile off the nose at the horizon, going away, long enough.)

How fast have you ever gone? Have you ever really looked at large chunks of hot, loud, metal that are designed to go really fast and high? Did you ever think about handling one of them like you might handle your car when you feel spunky, but if you were good enough to drive a forty thousand-pound jet fighter around in the sky like it was the mother of all swimming pools? And if you were deep and sharp enough to make that thing do what it was designed to do; to find a way to kill other quick-thinking, fast moving and high-riding men swimming around in the same life & death pool?

I know that the root of this thing goes all the way back to the time when the first humanid threw a rock at his brother or the guy across the cave. It's simply one of those things about life. Some people haven't learned, from then until now, that it's just not right to do that. Others have always thought it a good idea to deal with them in the mode of their choice, which is: force. Up to and until the other guy chooses to behave himself, or figures out that it's a life or death issue, if it gets to that point;it is what it is, and it's main force.

Being one of those things about life, lots of people have gone to great lengths to increase their forceful abilities. The bad guys do it, the good guys do it because the bad guys do it, and they've all done it, always. I can see the point.

Divisions of labor have resulted in a really spectacular array of ways in which men go at each other, and no end of the organizations which do it. The world being what it is, it's a fairly important thing that guys with keen interests in mechanics and a taste for a sunny sky actually lashed machines together to flap off the earth for a better view. It really happened: heavy things began to swim around in the air, with people in them to make them go.

Guys being guys, and some women being guys, the lot of them kept at the fascination and sheer kick of making their machines stronger and better in every way. They liked the sound and the feel of swimming in the air, the fluid sensations against their metal flippers. They cranked up more power, and poured in more gas, spun large things around rapidly, lit others on fire, later, and they have generally had a large time in making amazing things happen with machines up in that air. They've come a long way.

For some, it's an extremely enjoyable thing to do. They love to get up there and throw these things around in the bowl of air; slicing lines and carving curves, and watching the world huge and hard around them as they move with full 3-D authority. They manage mechanical extensions of mind snapped into being strong and precise enough to hold the whole roller-coaster rattle together at six hundred miles an hour with the horizon tipped over and the guy's head cocked up on his shoulder to see where he's going. Hard machines, heavy and long, loud with power, made to push a man where ever he wants to go, when he wants to get there. Twenty tons of metal, plastics, fuels, and a seat to roll the guy's horizon the other way in half a second, and the whole thing flits off somewhere else, that hot fast.

I can definitely see it.

Of course, the bad guys see it too. Between the flap and the flit of it all, while people were playing in the air, it became clear that being in the air was a great way to go at one's neighbors. And since there had been no end of the organizations which do things like that, some of them organized to do it in the air. Others organized to deal against force, likewise and competently.

The fighter pilot had to be born. It just so happened that being bad enough to crack the guy across the cave in the head with an airplane, or good enough to stop him, coincided with the existence of people who really liked to do the sorts of things that make that possible. If the bad guys are coming fast and hard in the deep blue bowl, it pays the good guys to enjoy being able to throw something the mass of a semi-tractor (vastly more complex) around like an Indy car in the sky.

The smells of wiring and sunlit nylon are natural to people like that. They grow comfortable to the hard metal space of their work; very physically accustomed to the environs of powerful machines and their places in them. They like to climb into the latest burners and screamers, and drive them hard with a clear bubble to thousands of feet of cold air only inches away from their heads. They sit high in their tight bubbles, wired, plugged, and strapped to the machine, and they work killer games.

"Unfortunately, we have a radar goof going in, and it just happens to be mine, so we have to do some switching around up there. Everybody has the tally but me, so my number three leads the merge."...(Eighty tons of hot burning metals swim precisely about until two of the four fighters pas de port in crisp rhythm, headed off to work the left hook)..."And since I don't have my radar, I want to get in close and work him visually"...(the adversary fighter passes a half-mile away, low on the left, flashing cold and bright, really there)..."So I really have to pull hard the first time around"...(the whole roller-coaster rattles while the sun and earth spin around the bubble, crisply sipped breaths hiss in the radio as the 10,000 ft. cloud deck goes sliding past far down below the nose and the back of the guy's sunlit helmet)..."As he slides through his turn to starboard, I've got the break on the guy, but I need the steer from my number three until I get the eyeball tally"...

They work the game in teams, more precisely than ever before. To listen to the radio traffic of a sky-high fight to the death, is to hear the voices of players who love the team as much as the game. They are proud of their mates, confident in their lethal choreography to work the bad guys into a box. That's where there is no other end available to an enemy of similar character except a slim chance that the inevitable blast of the end-game will stop at his metal, and not find his actual blood and bones.

These people never see themselves on the losing end. They charge together into the challenge as hot as their jets and cool as the air they carve; passions channeled to the far look, competitive urges reined to the rhythm of split-seconds calculated in long advance. Casual masters of enormous complexity and riveting physics, they embrace the prospect of disaster with calm, deep, vigor.

A distinctive style results, and is manifest in their every aspect, from penetrating eyes to esoteric symbols. They wear their various passions with collected grace: every talent, skill, understanding, agreement, and fraternal embrace dedicated to "the merge"; those tearing seconds when life or death turn at the locus of splendid ability in awful regimes of human and mechanical performance.

It is a domain, and dominion, alien to priests of "society", whose mushy styles wash over boundaries of strength and frailty, courage and anxiety, excellence and debility.

For its inspiration to esteem well-earned in action, it is an endeavor which I would happily pay for on my own initiative, as long as these people care to do it in a world being what it is.

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