Why a boat is better than a baby - metaphorically speaking.

“We argue to discover knowing we can't injure ourselves.” I’m paraphrasing a quote by G. Debord I think. 

Members of Situationists International

Members of Situationists International

Before talking about why a boat is better than a baby let’s have a brief look at last year’s quibble over scientism that took place online between some intellectuals that I happen to be a fan of. Leon and Massimo make some of the same points, but I tend to like Massimo’s treatment better. I think Leon’s is a slightly too defensive and misrepresents somewhat the spirit of what Steven was saying.

All of these Profs have penned some really fine reads! They have all been criticized roundly for their efforts. When a superstar of academia invokes science to improve the veracity profile of his work, he'd better have his data analysis, facts and stats straight. Treating one's idea with style is one thing, but presenting what one would characterize as scientific fact is another. Superstars are just people. Check out Stephen Corry's response to Pinker's "Better Angels...", "Why Steven Pinker, Like Jared Diamond, Is Wrong." Of course Stephen Corry from Survival International also has a position to defend and therefore an axe to grind. It's up to each one of us to explore and determine what sounds right. Some of us are lucky to have the tools and the time to do just that so let's not waste the chance to dig a bit deeper. Yes indeed, WEIRD people do have leisure time and the right to determine how to spend it. 

It seems all sides feel that their point of view is under attack. Oh my! I guess the polemical tone is just too hard for passionate intellectuals to pass up.  At any rate, find a bone and pick it dry – what else are we going to do? For me, at least, it’s as exciting to witness as a UFC fight. Only real men and women pick such bones, and argument is great sport.

Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange"

Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange"

(Scientizers? WOW, keep an ear open for that one Leon's piece.)

Check out the essays below: 

Science Is Not Your Enemy An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians… by Steven Pinker

Crimes Against Humanities Now science wants to invade the liberal arts. Don't let it happen. by Leon Wieseltier

Steven Pinker embraces scientism. Bad move, I think by Massimo Pigliucci

Thinkers are weighing in on scientism from a variety of differing perspectives with a couple of examples sighted in Professor Pigliucci's blog post at Rationally Speaking.

For me these differing points of view have relevance to why a boat is better than a baby, and I'll get to that after I spend a moment pondering the significance of “scientism”.

First of all, I think the term itself is less important than the passion it inspires in people who either champion a certain usage of it or beg to differ with the general concept as defined by any particular “lexicographer”, culture commentator, academic or philosopher (including religious philosophers of course) with an axe to grind with which to defend such things as seem to matter.

For me, the idea of scientism isn't the real issue. I can't imagine a scientist calling herself a “believer in scientism”. “Hi, I'm Betty, and I’m a molecular biologist and believer in Scientism.”

The idea of reducing honest intellectual pursuits to mere dogma or ideology is anathema to me, and dare I say, definitively unsound in its understanding of how I believe the vast majority of scientists or philosophers would characterize themselves. I can't imagine a scientist saying, “I have a scientistic worldview”. They would simply say that “I have a scientific worldview”, and of course that same person probably loves Mozart, The Talking Heads, or forms of Haute Couture. Of course the word Scientistic is not in the dictionary, but scientism is.  

I’m pretty sure that Siddhartha Gautama wasn't a Buddhist, and whoever the person was that people refer to as Jesus of Nazareth, although he may have been the son of God, was most probably not a Christian, and whoever that guy Socrates was probably didn't think of himself as Socratic, and Karl Marx would never say, “I'm a Marxist”, anymore than my New Age Christian friends would want to define themselves as Religionists or Christists. It’s pretty clear they are comfortable with the simple, “I'm a Christian”, a surely satisfying moniker until you start splitting those ecclesiastical hairs and articulating your own specific interpretations of your particular literature, in which case you are now an Anabaptist, a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Pentecostal, or a Charismatic. And on the negative side I'm pretty sure that sexists don't refer to themselves as sexist anymore than racists or classists, would refer to themselves as racists or classists.

So if someone calls me a proponent of scientism why should I care? Sticks and stones…

I just can't imagine hearing a scientist of high moral, and intellectual integrity, saying that he values scientism in such a way that would imply that he thinks scientism to be more important than the practice of good science. Someone who appreciates science appreciates science, not scientism. And a historian who says that scientific tools are of no value to his profession isn't much of a historian these days. Why would a psychotherapist demure from the domains of the science of mind, cognition, neurology or other forms of scientific pursuit that could shed light on and improve their professional practice? So is the quibble that I’ve given you links to above simply academic?

Regardless of the obvious fact that scientists are no more perfect than your average Muslim or Hindu or philosopher or literary genius, it’s perfectly clear to me that all members of these societies are, in their own humble way, probably only trying to become better at whatever they do; to be better scientists, doctors, lawyers, artists, psychologists, chefs, and engineers while at the same time trying to become better people. Am I naive to think this? Are you? If being classified in the former set of descriptive labels aids in the high functioning as an actor in the latter set of descriptive labels, things are probably all good. And, I'll leave certain polemics to Hitch – RIP.

I love to beg to differ just as much as any self-respecting desk chair, layman, uncredentialed, intellectual hack, and certainly some things should never be given a pass despite one’s status as an amateur. I think Massimo’s points are well taken, but I still see what Steven is trying to do. Professor Pinker may be straying a bit from the choir, and Professor Pigliucci is saying to the choir that there is potentially slippery slopes here lest we forget the value and influence various domains have on various domains. It’s not a zero sum game however. What we have here is an evolving discourse and we are all very lucky to have people like Professor Pinker and Professor Pigliucci around sharing their extremely well informed views with us. I’m thankful to be the beneficiary of people sharing their views of substance on subjects of importance and constant interest. When people share their views in a responsible way it shows me that we're listening to each other, and that’s always a good thing.

I wonder if we can expect to hear Pinker on Pigliucci’s “Rationally Speaking” podcast sometime soon. Hearing these guys talk would certainly clarify and crystallize a conversation that can easily be muddied by simple defensiveness, pet peeves, personal loyalties to dogma or ideology, and semantics.

(If you're not criticized, even eviscerated, you aint noth’in.)

OK, so why is this relevant to boats being better than babies (METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING OF COURSE).

Remember the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”? This was a huge bestseller in the early 70s and a classic of philosophical fiction. You can read it here if you’re interested.

I bring this up because many yachts people I've met seem to be people with broad interests, do-it-yourselfers who are interested in and obviously concerned with the various systems that comprise a yacht; it’s maintenance, quality, reliability and sexiness. I presume most of you are familiar with the phrase; “this film, car, etc., is my baby”. 

It’s an expression that leads one to believe that one’s hobby, activity or project is much more than a passing interest; and developing it, taking care of it, realizing it, and seeing it thrive is very important to you.

A baby is without a doubt one of the cutest, loveliest and most precious things in this world. They are so adorable that it’s hard for anyone to do anything but love a baby. But the thing about babies is that they're not babies for long. Given a year or two they are far beyond the helpless darlings they were while they were only several months old. Children grow up fast don't they? And no matter how hard one tries to manage everything one needs to manage to nurture, care for, protect, educate and develop a child it never seems to be enough, much less good enough. Children soon exercise quite a bit of autonomy; despite the community of caregivers that give them constant attention, one is never completely in control of how a child turns out, even in the best of circumstances. Bottom line: babies aren't babies for long.  

I've heard lots of filmmaker friends say that their film is their baby. Some filmmakers have lots of babies and some don’t. Jim Van Bebber made “The Manson Family”. It took him 15 years to make it, and he had to sell his own blood at times just to finance it.  There have been many projects that have taken much longer. Some people just won't give up until they finish something and once their baby has left the nest, so to speak, they may feel grief and have to quickly move on to some new project to fill the void.

For sailors and yachts people a boat is an ongoing project. There are various kinds of yachts people of course. Some have lots of financial resources and can buy or lease a super sailing yacht and a professional crew to go with it. They eat gourmet meals, have maid service, and drink margaritas, or whatever’s their pleasure, every night at sunset.  These are not the people I'm talking about.

I’m talking about Globe Hackers who sail. They're not afraid to rebuild a generator, pick up an engine maintenance book, troubleshoot an electrical system, air conditioner, or refrigerator, not to mention learning to tie knots, how to hack sail rigging, the finer points of sail construction, and anchor technology. Alex mentioned that he read at least three books on anchors before buying the one we have on Ventenar.

You buy your boat, learn everything about her through trial and error and experience sailing her, figure out what’s wrong with her, and then try to fix or improve her. No wonder men call ships by the female pronoun. But trust me, boats are easier to fix, get to know and improve than either women or babies.

There’s no substitute for experience. Once you've settled on a type and make of sailboat, and made that initial investment, you have many years of ongoing projects to look forward to. The process of maintaining and improving your boat never ends; it’s not supposed to. People who buy boats with the purpose of spending many months a year, or many years sailing on them signed up for an experience unlike any other, an experience that is often frustrating and uncomfortable, but also full of rewards. If you don't like trying to be an engineer, motorman, sailor, navigator, multilingual cultural anthropologist, psychologist, scuba diver, geographer, naturalist, meteorologist, fisherman, and so many other roles, you’re not going to get involved with a boat and global sailing.

For many people sailing a dinghy around a bay or in a nice lake is the most challenging, relaxing, exhilarating and fun experience one can have on the water. Go out late morning and get home in the evening. Grab the tiller, set a course, tack and jibe, trim the sail, feel the wind and fly across the water. It’s a lot of fun indeed. But when you head out into the open ocean with the idea that you want to get somewhere, you're opening yourself up to risks most people never contemplate.

Your sailboat is a ticket to the University of an Exciting Life. Once you have one and start to spend time on one you start your learning curves and feedback loops going. You begin to appreciate mechanics, engineers, cooks, crews, sail designers, electricians, carpenters, relationship counselors, etc., primarily because you have to become them. You may not be an expert, or even very good at it, but you simply have to know your way around your boat’s systems and the people on your boat. Your boat will never grow up. Your boat will always have room for improvement, as will the people who sail her. Your boat is an ongoing project until the day you abandon her or prepare her for her next owner.  Owning a boat is owning the right to do one project after another just to make your experience doing what you love as good as your imagination wants it to be.

Some philosophical discussions will never end no matter what the state of the art in science, engineering, mathematics, or the humanities seems to be at a given time. There are questions that will take generations to come even close to answering, questions that defy all of our current technology, tools, processes, and theories du jour, and may still leave us pondering on our deathbeds. We are smart animals for sure, and our knowledge will evolve as long as we continue to progress. We will undoubtedly learn a great deal more if we are lucky and continue to survive in a relatively stable state of affairs. Our technology will continue to provide amazing benefits, our medicine will get better with fewer deleterious side effects, but one can't honestly remove the human from the practice of medicine, science, engineering or the development of technology. We are the drivers and we are not perfect. We create the tools we think we want at the moment. Regardless of what domain you feel most comfortable in, most of us are generalists, or else have much narrower interests, and therefore less able to practice complicated disciplines at anywhere near the standard that professionals involved in such pursuits require.

We can’t figure all the probabilities or mitigate all the risks. We don't have the gifts that we claim for the gods.

The sailor who's circumnavigating the world, the sailor who lives to keep sailing year after year, is most likely the sailor who’s not afraid to dabble and who’s most respectful of the experts. In a sense, our most precious "baby" is our mind, our most important constant project. Knock on teak – as long as we are healthy and able. 

We were fortunate to meet a lovely couple who are really living the life. Charles and Hillary Badoian live full time on their catamaran and are dedicated to living an adventurous life. They are true Globe Hackers. Intelligent entrepreneurs whose business, Boardroom Events, focuses on developing the right connections to improve best practices for constant, intelligent business evolution through intimate boardroom meetings perfected for [BE] midmarket CIO forum.  

One thing to notice in the above handmade video is their dedication to redundancies throughout their boat's systems. Redundancies are not only good for managing risk they are great long term investments leading to profitable growth. They have also made their boat easier to maintain and rely on simpler systems that they can improve and are antifragile. I hope to see these people again and share an adventure with them. They're the real deal. 

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Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.