I was reading an interesting article written by Matthew Crawford, a philosopher/ mechanic who teaches at the
while also running a motorcycle repair shop. The article, Shop Class as Soul Craft, was recently extended into a book length form of the same title. Combining his various interests, Crawford makes a philosophical pitch for the value and dignity of manual work in an increasingly virtual world. He traces the economic and social reasons for the decline in importance of shop class in schools in favor of information technology based courses, arguing against the current conventional wisdom of giving vocational training short shrift. The article is quite brilliant and worth the read in its own right, but what struck me in particular was this short section where he attempts to find some of the underlying reasons for the generalized decline of the vocational trades: University of Virginia
Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into “college prep” and “vocational ed” is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don’t learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.
One’s life is determined… celebrating potential rather than achievement… What struck me about these thoughts was their similarity to thoughts I had had some years back, though in my case not within an economic but a cultural context and relating to certain personal difficulties that had dogged me. In the degree to which, when I was younger, I had a problem with commitment, of various sorts: to what I would major in college, to my profession, to marriage, to family, it one day struck me that my real difficulty had to do with, at heart, a latent fear of death. I wonder to what degree this “need to keep options open” coincides with the experiences of others?
Most of us, it seems to me, deal with the problem of death by seeing it as a problem for another day. This is especially easy to do when you’re young. We live with the illusion that our lives will extend, if not forever, at least indefinitely into the future. In other words, a certain vagueness of limits is called for. The more our lives become bounded by those life defining commitments, the more our lives become determined and predictable, the clearer its trajectory becomes from beginning to its ultimate end. In other times, children or the comforts of faith might have afforded better solvents for these fears. But in a me-centered age, we are left far more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of time. From a purely egocentric perspective, the next best thing to immortality in this world is living a life without limits, a life unbound. Is that why we need the security of feeling that even the life defining commitments we do make these days can, at any moment, be unmade? Does the difficulty of believing in an afterlife make us that much more, not less, frantic about the commitments we make in this life? I wonder if some of the nervous energy of our contemporary consumer society is not a reflection of these latent anxieties? Is this need for endless change, the horror of a determined existence, the celebration of potential over achievement, beyond its economic logic, materialism’s secret longing for the eternal?
If you're interested in the article: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft