What we do alone and what we do together

On the billionaire space race

July 21, 1969, New York, New York: Rain-soaked New Yorkers watch TV and cheer as they see Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong's first step on the lunar surface (Getty)

Jeff Bezos’ self-defenestration from this planet and hasty return got me thinking back to a conversation I once had with Krista Tippett, the brilliant host of On Being. And so today, on Billionaire Space Day No. 2, I share with you this brief reflection about the background ethos of the age: how we've come to venerate what we do alone and sneer at what we do together.


This is a story, in some ways, about two rival faiths. A faith in what we do alone versus a faith in what we do together. 

These are two parallel and rival spiritual orientations. They are both very strong parts of our culture.

One tradition inspires the celebration of a heroic soloist, capitalist, pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps story.

But that’s never been the only story. We’ve also always had this story of movements. It wasn’t individuals who got rid of the King of England. The most important things we’ve done in this culture have been together.

These two tendencies, what we do alone and what we do together, have always vied for primacy in American life. For much of the 20th century, they lived in a certain healthy tension. And right now the relationship between them is very unhealthy. It’s become a relationship of mutual annihilation, instead of a relationship of adversarial cooperation.

I think we need to get back to a place where we understand both and celebrate both the very real heritage we have in this country of doing things alone and of doing things together, and the relationship that those things have.

Because at our best, we do things together in a way that allows people to do things alone. And people do things alone in a way that creates the opportunities to do things together. These things don’t have to be at war with each other, but they are absolutely at war today.


This text has been edited for clarity. For the full conversation with Krista Tippett, click here.