The limits of passion

This video is getting some traction around the Internet today because of the pluckiness of the subject — a man in Kenya who built his own airplane over the course of a year, with the help of what he learned on the Internet. He doesn’t, apparently, know how to fly.

James Fallows uses the video to remind Americans that we really don’t know what it’s like to be a guy in Kenya who doesn’t have much, but builds his own airplane..

But in my experience — mainly In Ghana and Kenya during the 70s, in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, and in China these past few years — there is a cumulatively very different and very powerful experience that comes from meeting person after person like the Kenyan aviator-aspirant. That is, people whose material circumstances and range of experience are vastly different from a typical person’s in London or high-end Shanghai or San Francisco, and who objectively have nowhere near the same opportunities — but who take their own life drama and possibilities just as seriously and can dream just as ambitiously. For instance, I am thinking of a man in his 70s in a village in western China whose consuming project is a handwritten history of life in his village, from his boyhood during the era of war in the late 1930s and 1940s, through the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and onward. He is someone who wears the same pants, shirt, and jacket virtually every day, because that’s what he has. He is part of “the rural poor,” but he has a plan and a dream.

I am fully aware, while typing, that this sounds like pure platitude; but listen to the Kenyan inventor talk about his “boyhood interest” and see if it doesn’t take on a different meaning. To tie this back to recent discussions about self-pity in America, one of the many destructive side effects of America’s increasing class polarization is that people lack a vivid, first-hand awareness of the full humanity of those in different (usually “lower”) walks of life.

Fallows’ deeper meaning aside, it appears unlikely the plane is going to fly. He used some heavy steel parts and the engine seems pretty small. Passion is one thing. Physics is quite another. Still, here’s hoping we’re wrong.

Comments are closed.