It’s not a question of how to design a boat
It’s a question of why
A boat’s design affects everything it does. Boats are potent symbols. Their form, the entire aesthetic out of which they grow, affects our perception of them. As we interact with our boats their forms change our lives.
A boat needs a purpose: A reason to voyage. Work for its crew. Cargo to be delivered. It can bring us together. Promote our integration as individuals living within a vital culture. If not? Then, well, there are enough boats out there already….
If we look at our pleasure boats from outside our own perspective; no matter how we try to minimize it, yachts flaunt their uselessness. They create a spectacle of conspicuous consumption.
When the choice is between a 300-foot mega-yacht or a seventy-knot cigarette boat or a sport-fishing boat with 1200 hp a modest sail boat or a canoe can seem free of this taint; but only by comparison to these absurd excesses.
Any boat built just for pleasure is a luxury item. In difficult times this is certainly the case. As a luxury pleasure boats exist to provide glamour to those who can afford them. As John Berger pointed out, glamour exists to provoke envy. Whether we view this as an unintended consequence or just what we paid for, our boats alienate those we think we can afford to ignore.
So long as a boat is perceived as a glamorous object – in its results whatever our intent – we are complicit in violence and destruction.
It’s easy to fixate on grand explosions of violence: wars, genocide. We may be quick to condemn others for their faults while we lose sight of our own, often subtle, complicity. We turn our anger outward, resisting any acknowledgement of our own responsibility.
Boats have been objects of glamour. They’ve been used to decimate marine life. They have transported whole peoples into captivity. Fed destructive wealth-pumps. Brought disease and extinction wherever we have taken them.
We need to see beyond our defensiveness, coasting on our personal sense of relative powerlessness, we let our selves feel that we are the victims when asked to confront what’s been done in our names to those who have really suffered. The surprising secret obscured by our fear is that only by facing these questions directly can we can gain our own freedom and whatever modicum of security might actually be possible.
A boat by its very nature requires a concentration of wealth. We lavish materials, skill, and effort on them. All taken from some other potential use.
It takes effort, skill, and perseverance to maintain and operate our boats.
Are they merely to be a distraction?
Let’s confront some difficult questions:
Can boats be redeemed from their history?
Can they help us redeem our selves in our present situation?
If we look at these questions outside our habitual patterns of dueling propaganda and counter-propaganda, shaping narratives, manipulating perceptions to maintain business-as-usual; can we discover how our boats can become vessels of transformation?
Boats are a natural platform and catalyst for learning. They immerse us in the need to navigate. Meeting all the challenges they put before us; from designing, to building, to sailing them; they bring us into a special kind of contact with each other. These situations provide potent lessons. Not just in how to work a boat. Immersed in life afloat we learn to navigate existence.
Today, in just about every case, as soon as classes start schools close their doors. Those inside are provided for. Everyone else is excluded. Attention, effort, wealth are lavished on those accepted into the program at the expense of everyone we’ve left out.
We tend to think that a school should have a singular purpose. That they exist solely to educate their students. Segregating this single aspect of life from all others distorts our situation. We commit violence upon those we’ve ignored.
Violence soon becomes expedient inside the school. It’s a short step to believing that education is something done to people, vulnerable people, so as to gain an advantage over them, some form of control. Education becomes indoctrination. We see students simply as a means to an external end. We treat them as just another profit stream instead of appreciating them as our heirs.
It is essential for a school to have an outward facing purpose.
All schools pay lip-service to the expectation that what happens inside them benefits the wider world. This adds credence to the so-called “pragmatic” pressure to eliminate “useless” education. The Arts are dropped because they serve no convenient obvious purpose.
We are caught in a race to ensure that schools focus exclusively on training cogs for the more efficient working of the machine. Practitioners and proponents of this view wish to carry the general course of destruction – the only true purpose of the machine – into every corner of our lives.
We wrap our schools in sentiment, claiming we’re after the greater good. Any notion of serving an abstraction like The Greater Good takes us off course. These ideas skip over any chance for coherence. The Greater Good, any ideology, is just another preoccupation. It bleeds attention away from actually developing engaged, living human beings here and now.
If we must see everything as a formula let me suggest one worthy of us:
Attention = Compassion
This “formula” does not rely on quantification. It’s not a formula at all. It only makes sense in the doing.
Education is not “practice” in the sense we’re accustomed to understand its meaning. Practices are not arenas where we repeat actions, going through the motions. They are opportunities to act. Education, if it is to be vital, provides a setting for us to practice.
With full and caring attention we act.
We do what it requires of us.
In this we fulfill our responsibility to compassion.
We recognize that compassion is not a veneer of goodness pasted on a negotiated existence.
Difficult times are a gift.
If we but rise to the occasion.