Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Slate Magazine, May 19, 2009
Edited by Andy Ross
Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
By Matthew B.
When Matthew Crawford finished his doctorate in political philosophy at the
University of Chicago, he took a job at a Washington think tank. He quit
after five months and started doing motorcycle repair in a decaying factory
in Richmond, Virginia.
Shop Class is the best self-help book that
I've ever read.
The motorcycle mechanic faces
the tactile problem of a bike that won't start. He tests various theories
and deploys actual tools. The sign of success is a roaring engine. In Shop
Class, Crawford talks about fixing bikes and the analytical lessons he draws
from his gearhead days.
Crawford focuses on cubicle life and doesn't
have a lot to say directly about the caring professions or
about Web artisans. The cubicle life is
amorphous, absurd. Crawford concludes that the office
is best approached as a "place of moral education" with managers helping us
become team players.
Crawford offers some strategies for
avoiding despondent alienation. Learn to complete a task from start to
finish. Start a small business, or learn a trade. Achieve mastery, which in
turn gives you a skill not subject to the whims of office politics. And
think about how your work affects others.
Crawford: "We in the West
have arranged our institutions to prevent the concentration of political
power. ... But we have failed utterly to prevent the concentration of
economic power, or take account of how such concentration damages the
conditions under which full human flourishing becomes possible (it is never
Making Things Work
By Francis Fukuyama
The New York Times, June 5, 2009
Edited by Andy Ross
Matthew Crawford notes that all across the United States, high school shop
classes teaching mechanical arts like welding or woodworking are closing
down, to free up funds for computer labs.
This change 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. Most white-collar office work is dull routine more alienating
than the machine production denounced by Marx. The
average knowledge worker is caught in a morass of evaluations and planning
Crawford argues that most forms of real knowledge come from the effort to master the brute
reality of material objects. These activities 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
that there is something wrong with a global economy in which a Chinese
worker sews together an Amish quilt with no understanding of its cultural
meaning. Economic ties were
once underpinned by face-to-face contact and moral community. Today's
mortgage broker is a depersonalized cog in a financial machine that actively
discourages prudence and judgment.
Bikes and Work
By Kelefa Sanneh
The New Yorker, June 22, 2009
Edited by Andy Ross
In 1974, Robert Pirsig published
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book eventually sold
about five million copies.
Matthew B. Crawford has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, a fellowship at the University of Virginia, and a scrappy motorcycle-repair shop in Richmond.
Crawford means his book to be a philosophical manifesto for a dawning age:
an ode to old-fashioned hard work, and an argument that localism can help
cure our spiritual and economic woes. He sees the failure to appreciate
skilled manual labor as a symptom of a narcissistic refusal to grapple with
the material world. But Crawford is no Marxist. For him, the solution to big
business is small business.
His book is, in large part, a treatise on
the joys and frustrations of manliness in a post-manly age. For him, offices
are profoundly feminized places. He sets its sights on the blue-collar worker, not on the fussy
consumer. He writes dutifully about economic trends, changing labor
markets, and the information economy. But he
likes engines and building things and fixing things.
AR I don't imagine this will be as big a hit as
ZAMM — which deeply impressed me back in 1974.