Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Time out for a bit of mischievous fun

Published on 24 January 2016
Updated on 18 September 2023

Each year, since hundreds of years, a group of Incas rebuilds a bridge across a canyon. They are experts at using ropes – in fact, lines and knots were used to record and calculate before Westerns came with paper, ink and abacus.

Here is the video showing how the community went about it:

YouTube player

One notes, first of all, the shared effort – from everyone in accordance with his and her abilities. Much knowledge is embedded in the participants: all know their role; all members share fluidly in the collective intentionality. Calls coordinate and rehearse the embedded knowledge, and transmit it to the young.

Among the participants, there are a few “experts” – their knowledge has been transmitted down the years within the family. They take responsibility for critical aspects of the process. These architects do so by example: in fact, they put their lives on the line as they sit perilously across the loose floor cables to weave the bridge to completion. “I love the bridge like a son,” explains Victoriano Arizapana. He is right, as he makes one every year, embedding accumulated knowledge into the newest version. Were we to compare versions hundred years apart, we would notice the subtle evolutionary differences that make the bridge ever more adapted.

Though some of the tasks are more demanding or critical than others, no strict hierarchy develops. Such structures are temporary. In fact, it seems to me, they dissolve in the celebration that follows the completion of the bridge. In dancing and feasting, everyone gets his share.

Of course, this is not an example of a Marxist ideal, but a “good enough” social structure that has survived over past centuries to address a common need. What I notice most – but I am certainly prejudiced – is the careful balancing of collective purposeful intentionality and confirmation of the social group. In fact, one may wonder whether bridge-building or feasting is the most important element in the event.

Now – for fun – compare this Andean practice with Western theory:

YouTube player

The argument is abstract. Through Plato, philosophers assert their superiority and authority. No evidence or experience is required – jut membership in the guild, where membership is achieved by self-regarding cooptation.

By the way: At the same address, there are numerous “philosophical” shorts well worth exploring….


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