Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

This was the other book mentioned in the article in The Millions that I cited in my review of In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. Crawford is an interesting fellow for a variety of reasons and I think I would have liked to have read more about his life than about his philosophies.

Crawford joined a commune at age nine and rather than go to school, he moved around to various abandoned hotels with the folks of the commune. Because he was small compared to the adults, he was recruited for fix-it projects where his diminutive size was an advantage, such as electrical wiring. He could squeeze into crawl spaces and such.

This was his first exposure to manual labor and despite going on and earning a doctorate in philosophy and working for a Washington, D.C. think tank, he missed working with his hands and left the think tank to start his own motorcycle repair shop.

Crawford waxes poetic on the pleasures of working with one's hands and feels that our move to an information society has caused there to be less of an appreciation of "blue-collar" labor. Shop classes have vanished in schools. He questions how we have pushed people to become educated to take "white-collar" jobs which often require little to no thought or creative energy to do the work. This was one of the reasons I moved out of statistics. People thought that since they had the software, they could push a button and get results, ignoring the actual skill involved in interpreting and understanding which I, as a statistician, brought. But that's neither here not there. I think Crawford is right that more and more work is done automatically and that the human element has been removed.

Crawford has claimed that the arguments he makes in the book are "nested" but it seemed more repetitive to me than anything. He does tend to philosophize too much and sometimes the book seems to be more of a defense of his choices than an actual demonstration that there is a problem with societal trends. Because of this, I struggled yet again in determining where in my rating system this book belonged. I'm going to go with zero starts but I could certainly be convinced otherwise. I think Crawford's tone could rub people the wrong way and it's one of those books that isn't something to just pick up and read. I think you have to want to read about the subject matter. If you do, though, I think it's pretty good. He has some good ideas.

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