Julia Kolski – 6th period
The age of six years old was the first time I remember sitting in the car and looking at the multitude of stars in the sky, contemplating how the universe came into existence. My eyes widened as I sat in awe, admiring how perfect and utterly expansive the universe is, and how each star has a specific part to add to the masterpiece of the night sky. How can the universe have existed for as long as we know it to have existed, and most likely before that without any massive hitch that would eradicate humans? How can humanity be so interrelated throughout the millennia and form cities and states and societies with rules and laws? There are so many hands that go into making such a society; it is incredibly thought-provoking to think of how everyone is connected in some way.
Many people share the same thoughts as I did looking up at the night sky at some point in their lifetimes, contemplating how the universe came to be and how they can fully assume their role in it. However, is this questioning of one’s existence and everyone in the world’s codependence imperative in order to be “human,” or must one do more than simply recognize the unique relationships tying everyone together in order to assume one’s humanity? Famous thinkers such as Adam Smith and Leonard Read illustrate the extent to which people’s choices and actions affect one another, and provoke a discussion of how this, along with the acknowledgement and perpetuation of it, makes us human.
In fact, many have even put into writing their awe of what human hands can do to indirectly affect one another. In his argument for specialization of work and the value of division of labor, Adam Smith examines the vast amount of hands responsible for creating a product in his work, The Wealth of Nations. In order to grasp the extent to which people are interrelated in the making of a product, not only must one consider the product itself and the harvesting and manipulating of the main ingredients in order to make it. Contrarily, one must also take into account “all the different parts of [the workman’s] dress”[i] and who is responsible for creating them, who harvested the food he ate, who trained him to work, who raised him, who raised his parents, ad infinitum until it encompasses everyone who lives and everyone who ever did live. This contemplation of all the elements that go into one product weaves a web that connects every person to one another. In fact, “without the assistance and cooperation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided,”[ii] and the world would greatly be affected. By this logic, if one person were to suddenly disappear from history, this could send the whole world spiraling toward ruin. Although this may sound drastic, it greatly emphasizes the fragile and intricately-structured thread connecting every human being together, and how the retroactive deletion of one person who lived over two hundred years ago and who may seem unimportant can change history. Discounting the obvious example of the random disappearance of someone responsible for one’s existence in the world, such as a parent or grandparent, if someone as seemingly insignificant and replaceable as a teacher or mentor to a great historical character such as George Washington, for example, did not exist, this may discourage him from becoming such an integral leader in the American Revolution, and the development of America as a country. This further exemplifies how everyone has a hand in every other person’s life, and therefore has a lot more influence on the world than expected.
In addition to The Wealth of Nations recognizing everyone’s integral part in society, the writer Leonard E. Read takes this concept of everyone’s connection with one another further with his essay I, Pencil. Even though a pencil, for example, may seem simple and easily made, Read asserts that, in fact, “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make [one].”[iii] He goes on to explain every person’s part in the creation of a pencil, from those who provide lumber to those who create tools for mining graphite. And this example is only of a pencil: imagine all the hands that go into making something more complicated, such as a computer! Even though Read limits his argument to just the production of the pencil, he could have continued with those who wanted the pencil in the first place: after all, there would be no pencil if there was no demand for one. Combining both those who supply all the materials for the creation of a pencil and those who demand the finished product of pencils encompasses just about everyone in the world, thus creating a simplified example of the economy. Although the economy of a wooden pencil may seem intricate, consider the expansiveness of the entire economy as a whole, encompassing every possible good and service! Leonard Read’s argument that no single person can make a pencil thus asserts the idea that no single person can make an economy, and how everyone in fact must be part of the web connecting everyone together in order for an economy, or a society, to exist.
But is this way of thinking, an admiration for the complicated interconnection of people, reserved for just the great writers and philosophers? Or is the fact that one can step back from the masterpiece to instead observe the web weaving everyone together what actually makes us human? Perhaps it is not merely the recognition and maybe admiration of this, but also the perpetuation of it what actually contributes to one’s humanity. Although many become self-aware of the notion of everyone’s interconnectivity, the choice to continue to act as a small (yet important) part in the economy and the complex structure of society actually makes one more human. This is completely dependent of one of the main qualities of humanity: humility. By swallowing one’s pride, one accepts his or her imperfections in order to realize something greater, such as a functioning and thriving economy. In addition, by continuing to act as only a small role in the economy, regardless of rank, people humble themselves with the recognition of everyone’s codependence, and the need for the efforts of all in order for an economy, and thus a society, to exist.
Through the writings of Adam Smith and Leonard E. Read, one realizes the web tying everyone together in the economy and in the world, and how every person is integral to the existence of both. Through this realization, one becomes more human by continuing his or her mere role in society with humility, regardless of the supposed importance one’s job has. It is as if every person represents a part of a roller coaster: whether one is the car or a small bolt holding one of the supports in place, all are essential for the functioning of the roller coaster as a whole. If just one part is missing, the whole apparatus can come tumbling down. Of course, this analogy is not only limited to roller coasters, but rather can be applied to practically everything that is not naturally growing out of the ground: after all, practically everyone is responsible for the existence of anything manmade, whether directly or indirectly. So to all you nuts and bolts out there keeping the world together: keep going! Everyone depends upon one another in order to survive, and must continue working together (whether wittingly or not) to preserve the economy and modern society.
[i] Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776.
[iii] Read, Leonard E. I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read. Foundation for Economic Education, 1958.