Book: Shop Class as Soulcraft", by Matthew Crawford

Anyone here have any comments about it? Someone mentioned it in another forum (an unlikely one) and made it sound interesting.
Bill
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This is from the NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/books/review/Fukuyama-t.html
Making Things Work
By FRANCIS FUKUYAMA Published: June 5, 2009 “Shop Class as Soulcraft” is a beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America.
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Illustration by Ellen Lupton SHOP CLASS AS SOULCRAFT An Inquiry Into the Value of Work By Matthew B. Crawford 246 pp. The Penguin Press. $25.95 Related An Essay in The Times Magazine Adapted From ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ (May 24, 2009) Matthew B. Crawford, who owns and operates a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Va., and serves as a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, notes that all across the United States, high school shop classes teaching mechanical arts like welding, woodworking or carpentry are closing down, to free up funds for computer labs. There is a legion of experts denigrating manual trades like plumber, carpenter and electrician, warning that the United States labor force needs to be “upskilled” and retrained to face the challenges of a high-tech, global economy. Under this new ideology, everyone must attend college and prepare for life as a “symbolic analyst” or “knowledge worker,” ready to add value through mental rather than physical labor.
There are two things wrong with this notion, according to Crawford. The first is that it radically undervalues blue-collar work that involves the manipulation of things rather than ideas. Expertise with things permits human beings to have agency over their lives — that is, their ability to exert some control over the myriad faucets, outlets and engines that they depend on from day to day. Instead of being able to top up your engine oil when it is low, you wait until an “idiot light” goes on on the dashboard, and you turn your car over to a bureaucratized dealership that hooks it up to a computer and returns it to you without your having the faintest idea of what might have been wrong.
The second problem with this vision is that the postindustrial world is not in fact populated — as gurus like Richard Florida, who has popularized the idea of the “creative class,” would have it — by “bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe.” The truth about most white-collar office work, Crawford argues, is captured better by “Dilbert” and “The Office”: dull routine more alienating than the machine production denounced by Marx. Unlike the electrician who knows his work is good when you flip a switch and the lights go on, the average knowledge worker is caught in a morass of evaluations, budget projections and planning meetings. None of this bears the worker’s personal stamp; none of it can be definitively evaluated; and the kind of mastery or excellence available to the forklift driver or mechanic are elusive. Rather than achieving self-mastery by confronting a “hard discipline” like gardening or structural engineering or learning Russian, people are offered the fake autonomy of consumer choice, expressing their inner selves by sitting in front of a Harley- Davidson catalog and deciding how to trick out their bikes.
This glorification of manual labor would seem patronizing but for the author’s personal biography. Crawford grew up in a commune in the Bay Area with a theoretical physicist for a father, and worked his way through high school and college as an electrician. Along the way he picked up the ability to rebuild the engines of old Volkswagens, something that stayed with him even as he went on to get a Ph.D. in political philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he was a fellow at the Committee on Social Thought. He also worked on a white- collar assembly line, writing abstracts of articles in scientific journals that he could not understand. Straight out of graduate school Crawford got a job as the executive director of an unnamed Washington “think tank,” which he soon realized was being financed by oil companies to issue scientific studies questioning global warming. “I landed a job at the think tank because I had a prestigious education in the liberal arts, yet the job itself felt illiberal: coming up with the best arguments money could buy. This wasn’t work befitting a free man, and the tie I wore started to feel like the mark of a slave.” Rather than his fellow academics, he found himself drawn to people like Fred Cousins, owner of a Chicago area parts shop, who “gave me a succinct dissertation on the peculiar metallurgy of Honda starter motor bushings” when his motor wouldn’t start.
Crawford argues that the ideologists of the knowledge economy have posited a false dichotomy between knowing and doing. The fact of the matter is that most forms of real knowledge, including self-knowledge, come from the effort to struggle with and master the brute reality of material objects — loosening a bolt without stripping its threads, or backing a semi rig into a loading dock. All these activities, if done well, require knowledge both about the world as it is and about yourself, and your own limitations. They can’t be learned simply by following rules, as a computer does; they require intuitive knowledge that comes from long experience and repeated encounters with difficulty and failure. In this world, self- esteem cannot be faked: if you can’t get the valve cover off the engine, the customer won’t pay you.
Highly educated people with high- status jobs — investment bankers, professors, lawyers — often believe that they could do anything their less-educated brethren can, if only they put their minds to it, because cognitive ability is the only ability that counts. The truth is that some would not have the physical and cognitive ability to do skilled blue-collar work, and that others could do it only if they invested 20 years of their life in learning a trade. “Shop Class as Soulcraft” makes this quite vivid by explaining in detail what is actually involved in rebuilding a Volkswagen engine: grinding down the gasket joining the intake ports to the cylinder heads, with a file, tracing the custom-fit gasket with an X-Acto knife, removing metal on the manifolds with a pneumatic die grinder so the passageways will mate perfectly. Small signs of galling and discoloration mean excessive heat buildup, caused by a previous owner’s failure to lubricate; the slight bulging of a valve stem points to a root cause of wear that a novice mechanic would completely fail to perceive.
SHOP CLASS AS SOULCRAFT An Inquiry Into the Value of Work By Matthew B. Crawford 246 pp. The Penguin Press. $25.95 Related An Essay in The Times Magazine Adapted From ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ (May 24, 2009) Crawford asserts that he is not writing a book about public policy. But he has a clear preference for a “progressive republican” order in which the moral ties binding workers to their work or entrepreneurs to their customers are not so readily sacrificed at the altar of efficiency and growth. He argues that there is something wrong with a global economy in which a Chinese worker sews together an Amish quilt with no direct connection with its final user, or understanding of its cultural meaning. Economic ties, like those between a borrower and a lender, were once underpinned by face-to-face contact and moral community; today’s mortgage broker, by contrast, is a depersonalized cog in a financial machine that actively discourages prudence and judgment.
In the end I must confess that it would have been hard for me not to like this book. While I make my living as a “symbolic knowledge worker,” I have both ridden motorcycles and made furniture — my family’s kitchen table, the beds my children slept on while growing up, as well as reproductions of Federal-style antiques whose originals I could never afford to buy. Few things I’ve created have given me nearly as much pleasure as those tangible objects that were hard to fabricate and useful to other people. I put my power tools away a few years ago, and find now that I can’t even give them away, because people are too preoccupied with updating their iPhones. Shop class, it appears, is already a distant historical memory.
Francis Fukuyama is professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
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On Sat, 16 Apr 2011 18:12:23 -0400, Bill wrote:

I read it and enjoyed it.
--
Intelligence is an experiment that failed - G. B. Shaw

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I read it and enjoyed it. I can only argue that the premise that building something by hand, is more "noble" than if you don't, is a bit false. Crawford is a bit too quick to denigrate those who tend to more "non-physical" work. We need both types and shades in between. A good mathematician can be extremely valuable if you're trying to compute the trajectory of a missile, as is a very good car mechanic. Who is more valuable to society?That's the point. No one can make that determination, but Crawford leans to the car mechanic-type or in his case motorcycle mechanic.
I think it is a good read, but needs some balance.
MJ
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wrote:

I add the following quote by John Gardiner, President of The Carnegie Foundation, which I think is germain to this topic.
"The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exaulted activity, wll have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
Joe G
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