Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'm Reading Books Again So Naturally I'm Going to Blog About it

"The woolen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, most all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! How many merchants and carriers, besides, must how many ship-builder, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour, too, is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen!"

-Adam Smith, The Invisible Hand

TL;DR - there is a CRAP TON of work that goes in to everything that we use, every single day. Even the most menial of objects represent the work of hundreds of men and women and years of technological advancements and innovation.

I think it's really easy to talk about how awful humanity is. There's war, there's murder, there's hate. There's inequality. There's politics. All constructs of man-kind. It's much harder to talk about all the good that we do.

I think one of the greatest things we do is take a basic tenant of being alive and though it could be something awful, we turn it into something wonderful. We take our natural inclination to care about ourselves most of all-our survival instinct-and use it to inadvertantly help others. Through our bartering system, be it chickens for corn or video games for money, we have developed a "you help me, I help you" themed exchange. We don't try to change who we are, we use it to our advantage in a way that creates a stable society. Biologically and psychologically, we care about ourselves before all others, but that doesn't have to be the bad thing it sounds like.

Ayn Rand talks about how greed is good, and I'm not shy to agree with her. Greed can be bad, but I think what's most impressive is how we make it good. Adam Smith talks about how no man lives upon the benevolance of others. We don't expect others to just give us stuff, we expect to work hard and earn it, and give others things they want in return. It's a kind of independence, but really it's more of a co-dependence. We benefit from each other by only thinking of ourselves. We took something that could be bad and can't be changed and made it good.

As an engineer, I appreciate efficiency, and this is truly a beautifully designed and efficient system.

As a sidenote, I'll never look at anything I own the same ever again thanks to that passage.

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