“You ain’t nothin’ but a peckerwood…I’m gonna punch you another hole in ya nose, ya punk,” so goes typical dialogue from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff—the vernacular in question being derived from darkest Virginia where the valleys are so deep “they have to pipe the sunshine in”. The accent, courtesy Chuck Yeager, came to dominate, says Wolfe, the US airline industry—all captains became for a time, thanks to the right stuff, Virginians; nay, West Virginians. Unflappable.
The “right stuff” is a quasi-mystical state attained by test pilots; the idea is prior and primordial—you either have it or you don’t. Accidents are neither here nor there, since when a pilot crashes it is never really mechanical—he didn’t have the right stuff. The right stuff is absolute, it doesn’t come in degrees—you either have it or not. And, no matter how high you climb, it might turn out you don’t have the right stuff. As with Clausewitz, the determinate factor, even in advanced technology, remains the “x factor”—will, luck.
Yet those with the right stuff, no matter how elite, are never real aristocrats. Why? They have no leisure, just the test schedule for their aircraft. No otium et bellum, just the drive to fly again. Real aristocracy is amateur, not professional—and the men with the right stuff are professional performers to the last. Yes, they are an elite—yet just to be elite is not enough, you have to have the right stance. Ultimately, these men ended up in the Mercury program—just monkeys in a capsule, not even a ship (with sensors up the kazoo!). Yet this is the ultimate destination for the techno-hierarchy, you are just there—after you survived countless almost-crashes—to mind the capsule; it always led to this end—precisely because the work was so hard—a giant rabbit to test zero-g flight. They are allergic to leisure, these people—allergic to philosophy and beauty, in their rush they finally abolish the destination.