In all my years of owning, operating and sometimes racing RC Cars, no question has been asked of me more often than “why do you do this?” The less-than-diplomatic version, and the one that is often found in the YouTube comment section of videos, is “why is a grown man playing with toy cars?” I will now attempt to provide a detailed answer and my hope is that it will provide a basis for understanding so that the next time that you, the non RC enthusiast, run across someone like me playing with “toy cars”, we can hopefully avoid our meeting being unpleasant …for me anyway.
Before launching into the article, let me start by acknowledging that not all RC enthusiasts feel like I do and play with these cars for the same reasons. While I am convinced that many enthusiasts are doing it for the same reasons but are unaware of why they do it, I do also acknowledge that many enthusiasts follow this hobby just for fun and thrills. Whether these people can last even 2 years in the Hobby before they are drawn to other Hobbies with bigger thrills and more fun is another question altogether. I do not speak for these people – I come from an altogether different angle. This article, therefore, is not the end-all and be-all of why people are into RC – it talks about a deeper side that can only be correctly described by the title “The Philosophy of RC”.
To start, let us expand our horizons by looking at a bigger landscape rather than one little piece of land called “RC Cars”. Let us consider that RC Car enthusiasts are only normal people that have a hobby and that when it comes to hobbies, we have a rich and varied landscape i.e. there are lots of types of hobbies. So then the question becomes “why are people into Hobbies?” Now for me this is where Philosophy comes in because the question relates to Leisure. This is not a leap in Logic – it is a simple case of: The person asking this question is only asking it because they are ACTUALLY thinking “do you not have anything better to do?” and this, then, relates to Time and how it should best be spent. Now who could have any discussion around Time and how it should be spent without the question of Leisure coming up? Not a leap in Logic then …
Now the question of Leisure, or Time and how it should best be spent, has bothered the philosophical amongst us for centuries. I am not going to go into the History of Western Philosophy – the internet is full of research material for those who are interested. The important thing though, from my perspective, is that from a Platonic perspective, the really BIG question was “what does it mean to be REALLY free to do something?” I am saying this based on years of reading and studying ancient philosophy and I really am not going to go into a whole list of references. The important thing is that for me, the question “what does it mean to be REALLY free to do something?” represents the Spirit of the philosophy of ancient Greece. Now we must be careful when we answer this question because items like “shopping, visiting my friends, going to the movies” do not represent valid answers. If you are shopping – you are achieving some sort of purpose …fulfilling a need of some sort. If you are visiting friends, you are giving but are expecting to receive at some point. If you are going to the movies, you are involved in “passive Leisure” – a different discussion altogether. All these examples are definitely forms of leisure but they evoke a Platonic principle that many forget when discussing ancient Greek Philosophy and that is the Comparative aspect. By this I mean for Plato, for example, Leisure activities could be classified from “Bad” through to “Good” and then eventually through to “Best”. Between those three are a host of grades each of which forms a step in a ladder to “Best”. But what, I hear you wonder, was the best activity? Well, that depended, ofcourse, on the answer to the question “what does it mean to be REALLY free to do something?” and it was a question that the individual had to ask him or herself. In other words, the best answer that YOU can come up with, is your “Best” leisure activity. Of course, this would be a subjective judgement at best on your part, but when you start to feel the urge to answer the question objectively, you will quickly find that the real answer is decidedly Spiritual or Metaphysical in nature but this article, ofcourse, is not about that. It is about the individual – it is about me.
So, to summarise the Platonic position, although somewhat crudely and in blanket-fashion, leisure consists of time spent on activities that are self-contained in their worth. In other words, the activities done in “proper” leisure of themselves bring no financial reward, no social status, no fame or fortune and no favours from anyone. These activities are even better when they are not done in secret, but no one close to you even know how much you are into them simply because you are never caught giving unsolicited information about them. They are activities whose entire existence requires only the presence of One. This is why they represent Freedom because in doing them, we get no satisfaction other than what the activity gives. These are the Pure – the Best.
Now I will come back to the Platonic position in a minute but before I do, allow me to present another approach – this time from the Japanese. It is called Shokunin and the Artist and Master Tasio Odate, defined it thus:
“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.”
For me that is a great explanation but, with all due respect, if ever there was an example of how cold and dead words treat a subject, this is it. This is my feeling because Shokunin is actually the most beautiful and meaningful conception I have come across since ….well, since the Platonic ideas mentioned above! To me the two (Platonism and Shokunin) are related and in explaining why, I will finally get to the point of the article which was, if you remember, “Why are you into RC Cars?”:
I am into RC Cars because for me there is no better leisure activity. I cannot drive my RC Cars to go down to the shops and as shiny and “Bling” as some of them are, I will never get a date with a woman because of my RC Cars. They do not earn me any money and no one is attracted to me because of them. I cannot gain fame from them and I cannot get favours from those in power because of them. They will not feed my family and nor will they make sure that I live my retirement years out in luxury and comfort. None of these things do they provide and yet what they do provide is valuable beyond all these things. When I sit down in my study, and I am modifying or servicing, or am rebuilding either an entire car or just some aspect of it like the dampers, I am practising the esoteric acts of Shokunin from the East, and Platonic Contemplation from the West. At such times I am in the company of One – of myself. My thoughts are still and the only thing in existence is a bunch of tiny parts that of themselves are worthless but when combined, form an engineering marvel. Each of the parts is finely machined and crafted and performs a function that only it can perform perfectly. By tending to these tiny little parts and ensuring their perfection, I am ensuring the perfection of the whole. This is craftsmanship – it is the perfecting of the thing for the thing it was meant to do. In doing all this I am at home – I am happy – I am satisfied. Time is not a problem because every time I look at my watch, it is at least two later than it is supposed to be. Boredom is an impossibility.
And all I have described so far is the “wrenching” (as it is called) but then there is also the driving of these cars. Now, to explain the experience, I need to quickly reflect on the concept of “Contemplation”. For many people it consists of, effectively, pondering this or that issue or question. In the east it is seen as “meditation” – which in many cases consists of people completely stopping recognisable mental activity. Personally I am with the Platonists on this matter in believing that contemplation or even meditation should be active and never passive (for reasons which I will write about in another article). But, having said that, it does not mean that it is good to spend your contemplation time on pondering any old question. Contemplation was, and will always be “Best” when it relates to questions around serious and meaningful issues like “what does it mean to be REALLY free to do something?’. If it is not going to be concerned with contemplating subjects relating to Leisure, Virtue, The Meaning of the Good etc. then it should be engaging in a leisure activity and this, finally, brings me to my point: Driving my RC cars is a contemplative activity for me. While standing there on the drivers stand and concentrating on this tiny, bullet-like projectile flying around the track, you enter into a symbiotic relationship around which nothing exists but the present moment. Practitioners of the ancient art of Tai Chi tell us to concentrate HARD on every movement made with the body while practicing Tai Chi. They tell us that “focusing the mind solely on the movements of the form helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity”. RC Car “wrenching” gives me time to practice Shokunin but driving my RC cars provides a state of contemplation and meditation that “helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity”. This is my Life – This is my Hobby – This is the Philosophy of RC.
You see, the problem with us is that we do not recognise the palpable benefit that philosophic practice can bring to daily life. We also do not seem to realise that REAL philosophic virtues, skills and/or talents can be learnt while doing activities we love – activities that ostensibly and inexplicably raise the question “why are you into that?” in the minds of others. So the next time you come across someone who is seemingly greatly concentrated on a task that you consider useless, consider that in front of you might be a real Philosopher.