Progressive unanimity can seem enviable because of the strength it projects, but it can also lead the way to madness and systemic collapse.
If you’re old enough, you can remember back to 1981 when the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City suffered America’s deadliest, non-terrorist caused structural collapse, which killed 114 people and injured another 216. The disaster occurred when the hotel was holding a tea dance in the lobby and two walkways suspended above the lobby collapsed on the dancers.
Subsequent investigation showed that the design plan was horribly flawed and would support only 60% of the minimum load requirement under Kansas City building codes. The contractor noted the flaw . . . and proposed an alternative that was even worse because it didn’t correct the original problem but, instead, melded with and augmented it. The problem — as is the case with so many horrific disasters — was failed communications between the parties responsible.
I remember the disaster, not just because it was awful, but because it introduced me to a new concept. Before the investigation revealed the myriad engineering and communication failures, a lot of people speculated that the dancer’s feet, all tripping lightly to the beat, caused the collapse. You see, it’s long been known that, if soldiers march in step across a bridge and trigger the bridge’s natural frequency, the bridge can collapse:
In April 1831, a brigade of soldiers marched in step across England’s Broughton Suspension Bridge. According to accounts of the time, the bridge broke apart beneath the soldiers, throwing dozens of men into the water.
After this happened, the British Army reportedly sent new orders: Soldiers crossing a long bridge must “break stride,” or not march in unison, to stop such a situation from occurring again.
Structures like bridges and buildings, although they appear to be solid and immovable, have a natural frequency of vibration within them. A force that’s applied to an object at the same frequency as the object’s natural frequency will amplify the vibration of the object in an occurrence called mechanical resonance.
Sometimes your car shakes hard when you hit a certain speed, and a girl on a swing can go higher with little effort just by swinging her legs. The same principle of mechanical resonance that makes these incidents happen also works when people walk in lockstep across a bridge.
If soldiers march in unison across the structure, they apply a force at the frequency of their step.
If their frequency is closely matched to the bridge’s frequency, the soldiers’ rhythmic marching will amplify the vibrational frequency of the bridge. If the mechanical resonance is strong enough, the bridge can vibrate until it collapses from the movement.
So — I’ve now offered you a little physics and a little engineering, but what does this have to do with politics and, more specifically, with Progressives?
As I see it, we conservatives often have cause to complain about our lack of unanimity. While Leftists/Progressives will almost invariably present a united front, getting conservatives to agree on things is like herding cats. [Read more…]