No One Knows How To Make A Pencil

On Facebook the other day, my friend Jeff Deckman pondered:

Did you know that no one knows how to make a pencil?

Think about it…… A lot of people know how they are made. They can tell you how they are made and can explain the process. But no one person can do all that is needed to be done to make one pencil.

From cutting the tree to milling the lumber to mining the graphite to extruding it in the pencil to extracting and processing the rubber from the rubber trees to making the metal band and assembling it all.

No one person knows how to do that.

We all need one another, no one is unimportant and everyone has a role and it matters. Respect yourself and others. We all have value.

And it doesn’t just apply to pencils………….

Imagine how much time and expense would be involved if we had to hand craft our own pencils rather than buying them for pennies.

My wife Jacqui and I built our previous home, grew much of our own food and heated with firewood that we cut ourselves. I am a recovering worshiper of do-it-yourself independence. I sometimes sit back and wonder at how dependent and grateful I am for my car, computer, and other tools and luxuries that I have no idea how to build or fix, not to mention all the sophisticated tools and dependencies I needed to pretend that I used to be independent.

About three miles from where we live now is Slater Mill, the first textile mill in America and the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Right next to it, at the now historic museum, they have a home of a typical farm family of the time who came to work at the mill. The speed and efficiency of the mill’s very primitive industrial equipment were incredible relative to the spinning, hand knitting and weaving that families did at the time to craft their their own clothes from the flax and wool they grew themselves.

The transformation we have undergone as a society in the last couple hundred years is amazing. The poorest Americans are far wealthier than the richest kings just a few generations ago. The bountiful fruits of interdependent civilization are truly wonderful.

The manufacture of pencils is the subject of a classic treatise on the complex beauty of society naturally organizing in creating the wealth we enjoy though the power of bottom up self-organization of free markets empowered by people making voluntary self interested transactions.  “I, Pencil” the 1958 essay by Leonard E. Read is hard to beat.

Hopefully we can figure out how to remain a free and civilized society. It would really suck to have to make our own pencils.

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Filed under Best Stuff, Civilization, Fundamental Perspectives

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