Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Shop Class as Soul Craft
"Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against the fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political." p18
"'Lack of experience diminshes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena are more able to lay down principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development; while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations.' - Aristotle" p23
What makes for a sticky job? One that can't be (1) sent overseas, and (2) automated. Examples of what can't be sent overseas are personal services that require face-to-face contact, site-based services like construction, maintenance and repair of physical plants, and the maintenance and repair of durable machines. It can be automated when it can be done according to rules, broken down to ones and zeros. p33-5
Scientific management separated the brain work from the grunt work on the factory floor, not to increase efficiency in time, but to to decrease cost, replacing skilled laborers with unskilled laborers. p39-40
"A man whose needs are limited will find the least noxious livelihood and work in a subsistence mode, and indeed the experience of early (eighteenth-century) capitalism, when many producers worked at home on a piece-rate basis, was that only so much labor could be extracted from them. Contradictory to the assumptions of 'rational behavior,' it was found that when empoloyers would increase the piece rate in order to boost production, it actually had the opposite effect: workers would produce less, as now they could meet their fixed needs with less work. Eventually it was learned that the only way to get them to work harder was to play upon the imagignation, stimulating new needs and wants. Consumption." p43
"From an economistic mindset, spiritedness or pridefulness appears as a failure to be properly calculative, which requires that one first be properly abstract. Economics recognizes only certain virtues, and not the most impressive ones at that. Spiritedness is an assertion of one's own dignity, and to fix one's one car is not merely to use up time, it is to have a different experience of time, of one's car, and of oneself." p55
"The difference is that on such a crew [vs team], you have grounds for knowing your own worth independently of others, and is the same grounds on which others will make their judgments. Either you can bend conduit or you can't, and this is plain. So there is less reason to manage appearances. There is a real freedom of speech on a job site, which reverberates outward and sustains wider liberality. You can tell dirty jokes. Where there is real work being done, the order of things isn't quite so fragile.
"Not surprisingly, it is the office rather than the job site that has seen the advent of speech codes, diversity workshops, and other forms of higher regulation. Some might attribute this to the greater mixing of the sexes in the office, but I believe a more basic reason is that when there is no concrete task that rules the job -- an autonomous good that is visible to all -- then there is no secure basis for social relations. Maintaining consensus and preempting conflict become the focus of management, and as a result everyone feels they have to walk on eggshells. Where no appeal to a carpenter's level is possible, sensitivity training becomes necessary." p157
"A regard for human excellence is the aristocratic ethos... It is the ideal of friendship -- of those who stand apart from the collective and recognize one another as peers. As professionals, or fellow journeymen, perhaps... People of aristocratic sympathies are alive to rank and difference, and take pleasure in beholding them. I think most of us have this response when we see talent, but we have become inarticulate about it. It seems illegitimate to give rank its due in a society where 'all children are above average,' as Garrison Keillor says of Lake Wobegon. Yet it is precisely our attraction to excellence -- our being on the lookout for the choicer manifestations -- that may lead us to attend to human practices searchingly, without prejudice, and find superiority in unfamiliar places. For example, in the intellectual accomplishments of people who do work that is dirty, such as the mechanic. With such discoveries we extend our moral imagination to people who are conventionally beneath serious regard, and find them admirable. Not because we heed a moral injunction such as the universalist egalitarian urges upon us, but because we actually see something dmirable, and are impressed by it.
"The lover of excellence is prone to being drawn out of himself, erotically almost, in a way that the universalist egalitarian is not. The latter's empathy, projected from afar and without discrimination, is more principled than attentive. It is similar to bad art and mathematical shoelaces, in this regard; it is content to posit rather than to see the humanity of its beneficiaries. But the one who is on the receiving end of such empathy wants something more than to be recognized generically. He wants to be seen as an individual, and recognized as worthy on the same grounds on which he has striven to be worthy, indeed superior, by cultivating some particular excellence or skill." p203
"The practitioner of a stochastic art, such as motorcycle repair, experiences failure on a daily basis...the experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the educational process, at least for gifted students. Those who struggle academically experience failure all the time, and probably write off attempts to sugarcoat it with "self-esteem" as another example of how deranged adults can be. But the praising of gifted students for being smart, by parents and teachers, has a far more pernicious effect, especially when such praise is combined with the grade inflation and soft curriculum that are notorious at elite schools. A student can avoid hard sciences and foreign languages and get a degree without ever having the unambiguous experience of being wrong." p204