In praise of rigidity

My Chief Buncombe Correspondent (from the county of that name in the Carolinas) writes:

“An odd analogy presented itself while I was in the state between wakefulness and sleep. It came to pass that in youth I spent many Saturdays at a road course race track. It was a two-and-a-half mile course. I often chose to view the action from corner two. I would be looking down a short high-speed straight section that fed into a tight right-hand turn. It was an excellent vantage to see both the skills of the driver displayed, and the way the machine responded to his inputs, on the undulating surface of the track. I was a Ford man in the day, although I drove a VW Bug for economy’s sake. Being a Ford man, I took special interest in the Mustangs.

“The Mustang had uni-body construction. There was no frame. The members of the body acted as frame to carry tension, compression, and torsional loads.

“It worked well enough for driving to the market. …

“On the race track, however, the design was flawed. Coming into turn two, decelerating as hard as the brakes and tires would allow, and riding over lumpy asphalt where thousands of previous racers had braked, on much stickier tires that had rippled the surface, the Mustangs would dance and skitter. They would leap sideways, buck, shudder and chirp. One could plainly see the driver slashing the steering wheel from side to side — while still on the straight section, not yet into the turn. He fought to save control before entering the turn, where the real test of man and machine would be encountered.

“It was exciting to watch, but also upsetting. No one really wants to see the tightrope walker fall. The more obvious the danger, the less the enjoyment for the non-ghoulish.

“By contrast, the cars that were purpose-built for racing, were completely stable under hard braking. The driver’s hands were still as the chassis damped out the undulations, and the rigid steel tube ‘space frame’ kept all useful parts in their correct relations. Making time through turn two was still a test of skill, judgement, and feel, but it was not the existential threat faced by Mustang drivers, who rode random forces into the turn, like a bronc buster in a jackpot rodeo.

“And so it came unto me that rigidity has its purposes. Pace our current apostolic spiritual leader, rigidity is not an inherent evil. When man and his constructions are put to the test, rigidity is what allows for clarity of action. Instead of reacting to random fluctuations made worse by complex and unforeseeable rebounding, one may concentrate on the matter at hand. …”


One finds this principle, too, in wild nature. Creatures including men have spines, and a skeletal arrangement, whether it be internal or external. Bones do not bend. They are flexible in the joints, true enough, but within limits. The turtle has his carapace, the beetle his shell, neither of which benefit from cracking. And every creature, without an exception, is endowed with structure, finely adapted to his tasks. Not one can afford to be compromised. They are rigid and stable when it comes to the test, and not likelier to survive when broken. The Intelligent Designer made them that way.

For sure, there is a place for worms, whose design is well suited to slithering from sight, but I think the celebration of invertebrates has been overdone. Let us also celebrate the rigid.