I’ve now read almost two thirds of “Shop Class as Soulcraft“.
I like to blog my book reviews in segments, because unless I’m genuinely surprised by picking up a book in the first place, I am always conscious that I’m reading it because is seems to fit my agenda (positively or negatively). I like to separate initial impressions and expectations from actual content and analysis. If I express my expectations early (before reading more than introductory chapters) I can be kept honest when blogging later about surprising significance or, more often, unsurprising confirmation of content related to my agenda.
So first admission – I underestimated Matthew Crawfords experience and wisdom. The US-centric writing still grates, but the lessons expressed seem well founded and well articulated. In fact if my disappointment with the content is that I’ve heard it all before, is really an expression of envy that I wish I could have written it, whereas he did.
The other impression to correct is that in fact a good deal of Crawford’s book is indeed thoughtful narrative and autobiography, probably 50/50 interwoven with the critical review – overall the style is easily readable and the language straight talking … idiot, stupid, motherfucker … sprinkled within a good turn of phrase.
“Yes, yes, yes, tell me something I don’t know”, says more about me than Matthew and his book, which I find very good, both in content and wit. He sums up the problem for the increasingly globalised world for me in one short question.
“Is this our society as a whole, buying more education only to scale new heights of stupidity ?”
He is talking here about academic, intellectual, institutional high-school, college education and beyond to grad schools. His eventual conclusion is going to be that we individually and society as a whole would be better off if more of us experienced more “shop” trade / craft skills training earlier, and more of us saw the value of this engagement with the real when moving into working for a living, in whatever field that turns out to be.
As I mentioned in the initial impressions, there is much more parallel to Pirsig’s ZMM, than is actually acknowledged. So much of the descriptions at length of maintenance / re-build jobs – particularly the diagnostic aspects – are so reminiscent of Pirsig describing his “gumption traps” … the stepping back from the physical to the conceptual and returning from another angle, the involvement of the frame of mind with the hard physical frame of the motorcycle … the fact that what you know affects what you see, and so on.
Like so many before he sees the paradox of the drive to detach the self from the physical as inherited from “Descarte’s Error”, but Crawford’s prescription is the practical one of the processes of learning by doing above, rather than seeking any metaphysical solution.
Another aspect that works well for me is that Crawford does recognize very well the institutional hypocrisies in so much of business management and organizational behaviour, dealing as it does with the complexities and paradoxes of many levels from operational to abstract, from here and now to tactical and strategic. And correctly that the issues are more “moral” than logical or scientific …. previously summed up nicely by John Z Delorean as
“Committees of moral men often make immoral decisions”
or the unattributed …
“Losing your ethics on the drive to the office.”
He points out that the absurdities we find so amusing but somehow so close to reality in “Dilbert” surely contain the message that there is something seriously wrong in general – absurd in fact – with the worlds of work and business. I totally agree. Not sure yet that he has anything new to offer here … but I’ll be back.