Math Problems in a Dark Room

I appear to be scratching an itch with this short series, and so here is the same point from another angle.

When I was in the submarine service, I recall one time when we were at battle stations during a drill. I was a quartermaster, in the navigation department, which put me in the control room. During a lull, I recall contemplating the nature of warfare, and the stark difference between what we were doing and, for example, what a Marine peering over the edge of his dugout was doing. In a real conflict, at the end of the day, men in the Navy and men in arms on the ground could all wind up equally dead, and acts of heroism and courage have many times been called up in both places. There was the similarity. War is war. But the stark difference comes in when you consider the nature of the experience. A ground pounder is looking over at his enemy, whom he may have to kill from about fifteen feet away at some point. A sailor in a position like mine was in a dark compartment, rigged for red, full of computers and men doing math problems. And it could get really exciting. “No, no! Carry the two!”

Now a military submarine has a teleology. It is for something. In a well-commanded ship, with high morale, everybody on board knows what it is for, and why they are there. If you interrupted any of them at any point, and asked what the point was, they would be able to tell you. At the same time, from the sonarman to the helmsman, from the quartermaster to machinist mate, from the mess cook to the captain, they are all participating by thinking about different things, focusing on different things, being occupied with different things. But on a good ship, they all know where everything is pointed.


When someone at his station loses sight of the larger picture, and is just “doing his job,” he will not do it well for long. The cook will begin to think his job is to keep the men from eating too much food. If he veers in the other direction, then he will think that he is not fighting at all unless he fights the way the Marines do. And so we see him back there in the galley, wielding his cleaver, with a take that, and that, and that.

In some respects, this is not just a giver/gift problem; it is also a one/many problem. The glory of God is the telos. But if everyone on board thinks about it in the same way, focusing the same way, the mission will not get accomplished.

And, of course, I am fully aware that I am generating more questions than I am answering. Sorry.

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