Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Trimtab

Silverado Trail, Yountville, California, USA

June 18, 2008



"Air traveling over the top curved surface of an airplane wing must go farther and thus is stretched thinner  than air going across the bottom flat surface. It therefore creates a lower pressure area on top and sucks the wing up into the partial vacuum. This partial vacuum is known as lift. Contrary to popular belief, an airplane is primarily sucked upwards  rather than pushed up - 75% lift, 25% push up.

The principle also applies to the functioning of a ship's rudder. Pushing the rudder over lengthens one surface, as with the airplane wing. Low pressure thus created sucks the stern of the boat around the pivot point. Turning the trimtab, a tiny rudder on the trailing edge of the main rudder, causes a small low pressure area to be formed which creates an initial momentum allowing the main rudder to turn with less effort in pulling the whole ship around.

When I thought about steering the course of Spaceship Earth  and all of humanity, I saw most people trying to turn the boat by pushing the bow around. I saw that by being all the way at the tail of the ship, by just kicking my foot to one side or the other, I could create low pressure  which would turn the whole ship.

If ever someone wanted to write my epitaph, I would want it to say 'Call me Trimtab'."

 ... Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller speaking with Werner during the A Shot Heard 'Round The World event 
This essay, Trimtab, is the sequel to I Speak Therefore I Am.

I am indebted to Roger Smith who inspired this conversation.



Werner Erhard borrowing material from his friend Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller uses an analogy of a fully laden oil tanker traveling at full steam with great effect when bringing forth the abstracts of Self empowerment.

If you attempt to turn the rudder of a fully laden oil tanker traveling at full steam, it will actually make very little difference. The sheer dead weight and momentum of the oil tanker renders the rudder almost impossible to turn. The rudder is inefficient in pulling the oil tanker around.

To overcome this inefficiency, the rudder itself has a rudder. The rudder's rudder is called the trimtab. In order to turn the rudder, first the trimtab is turned. When the trimtab is turned, it pulls the rudder. And when the rudder is pulled, it in turn pulls the oil tanker which starts to turn around.

Photography by Angelo D'Amelio
Werner Erhard with Friends
In the analogy, what does the fully laden oil tanker traveling at full steam signify?

The fully laden oil tanker traveling at full steam signifies all of Life as we know it. In particular, for this conversation specifically, it signifies your personal life, my personal life.

Unlike many analogies, this one works for me - on every level. The idea is this:

Turning the trimtab of my life pulls the rudder of my life which then turns my life. It works especially well when the rudder of my life is inefficient for turning my life. Of particular pertinence inherent in this new idea of a three phase  turn is the implication of the unworkability of the mere two phase  turn. I already knew the mere two phase turn didn't work. But I did it anyway. Then at least I could say (with frustration and chagrin, but truthfully I had nothing better to offer and knew no better) "Oh well, I tried!".

Continuing with the analogy, what does the rudder signify?

For me, the rudder signifies what Werner refers to as our patterned behavior, our rote, unthinking, automatic, always done it this way  behavior. At least, that's my interpretation of what he says.
Werner says "What I mean by 'patterned behavior' is one's habitual way of representing oneself, often thought of as 'just the way I am'." Our patterned behavior, our rote, unthinking, automatic, always done it this way  behavior ("... because this is just the way I am!  ...") may indeed be our first choice with which to run (ie turn) the events of Life. That's our rudder. But if I stop and stone cold look, it's not hard to get how inefficient it is turning Life. All it is is conditioning upon conditioning, racket upon racket, wishful thinking upon wishful thinking, righteousness upon righteousness.

That's how the rudder is for us globally. And when I look at its inefficiencies in my own life, what I see is almost embarrassing. What I see even brings forth a tinge of sadness for everything that operating this way has wasted. Before the ecstasy of freedom which comes from this inquiry, there's a stratum of sadness to traverse first.

When I come to think of it, it's a complete mystery how my rudder (ie my rudder in the sense I've just described it) ever worked at all - even randomly. There's nothing precise or clear about it. It is accomplishment by trial and error, it is discrimination and selection by "pin the tail on the donkey", it's the kind of unmasterful success you get from "If you throw enough doodoo at the wall, eventually some of it will stick.". And although its imprecision isn't always obvious during those times I'm heavily invested in it, if I tell the truth about it, that's the best, the very  best my patterned behavior is capable of.

What, then, does the trimtab signify in the analogy?

In order to see the trimtab, you have to look behind the rudder. The rudder is patterned behavior. What do you see if you look behind patterned behavior? If what you see behind patterned behavior is who you really are, that would make things a lot easier. But who you really are  is not what's behind patterned behavior. What's behind patterned behavior is mind ie that which has become patterned, or, better yet, ego.

When you look for the trimtab behind the rudder, when you look for what's there behind patterned behavior, you see mind, you see ego. Mind and ego are of no use whatsoever as a trimtab. Regarding mind and ego as the trimtab is exactly what started the problem in the first place.

Here's where the trimtab is found: the trimtab is found when you're distinguishing  patterned behavior, mind, and ego from who you really are. The trimtab is inherent  in the act of distinguishing who you really are. The trimtab shows up when you distinguish yourself as source, as cause  in the matter of your own experience. That's hard to get. Let's say we do something which makes us happy. We set out for a day at the beach. When we experience happiness there, we say we chose something which makes us happy, we say we caused happiness to happen. But if and when we experience sadness, sadness seems to just come upon  us, unwanted, unexpected, unchosen. Then we say something made us  sad. We're adamant we didn't choose  to be sad. We assert we didn't cause our experience of sadness. It's hard to get, with regard to what we call negative  experiences like sadness, that we're just as much at choice with them, just as much at cause with them as we are with what we call positive  experiences like happiness.

So the trimtab is found in distinguishing who we really are, and in distinguishing ourselves as source of, as cause in the matter of, and in particular, in the quality  of, our own experience. In other words, the trimtab lives in distinction. Trimtab isn't a noun  as much as it's a verb. To trimtab  your life requires constantly distinguishing who you really are as not  your patterned behavior, as not  your mind, as not  your ego, in other words who you are  is neither your life nor  your rudder. Rather, who you are is the space  in which the events of your life occur, along with your rudder.

To trimtab  is to empower yourself coming from that distinction. That's when you start to see you're the source of the quality of the experiences you have. It's more than merely seeing  it, actually. To say it again with rigor, that's when you start to gain access to  and to get your hands and feet on the levers and dials and pedals which directly determine  the quality of all  the experiences you have.

No matter whether sad, no matter whether happy, no matter whether bored, no matter whether fulfilled, you're the source of it all. Owning the trimtab, we create sadness or happiness or any experience for that matter at will  in our personal lives by consideration alone. That's trimtabbing  applied to the quality  of our personal lives. It's a short hop, a simple order of magnitude (but the same principle nonetheless) from there to applying trimtabbing to what's possible for the future ie leveraging a difference for everyone with no one and nothing left out, making a difference for Life itself.

As with many of Life's most potently effective implements, the trimtab doesn't make itself known until you take a stand for it. That's a paradox right there: how do you take a stand for something you don't already know exists? Then, when it does appear, it's power and profundity suddenly obvious, you're likely to have the thought "What took me so long?" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" or "Bucky  Fuller: you're so awesome!  You're a genius!".

Turn the rudder of the fully laden oil tanker of your life, of Life itself, traveling at full steam, to maximum effect. Turn your life. Turn Life itself. Find your trimtab. Deploy  your trimtab. Make a difference.



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