by Zazie Tobey, staff writer
“Hello Hippies”, said Matthew Crawford as he stepped behind the podium the evening of Sept. 16. Crawford looked to be relaxed in the midst of our work college community and his lecture on the dichotomy of mental work and manual work was quite relevant. The lecture was based off of the message of his most recent book, a New York Times Bestseller, Shop Class and Soulcraft.
Crawford’s book is a compilation of personal experiences and testimonies inspired by the gratitude and the growth that comes from learning and perfecting the skills of manual labor. Crawford delves into his philosophy of the ‘case of working hands’ and the complexity of ‘dirty work,’ resulting in a self-preserved consciousness of individual agency, competence and intrinsic satisfactions.
The changes in the material world are making it harder for people to literally get a handle on things. In most new cars today Crawford explained that the owners are unable to fix things themselves because they are basically fancy computers, the mechanics hidden away for the professional mechanic to take care of.
We are a technologically dependent society, creating a machine-operated, digital-minded, creepy computer-voiced world. Libraries, phone books, instructions and post offices were once universal resources, but are quick to be replaced with robots and machines.
“You could send an e-mail when your oil needs to be changed, but you can’t fix a toilet over the Internet,” said Crawford. “But weird cultural logic, idiocy, gets us somewhere desirable… No more dipsticks or dirty rags”.
This shift of the modern world and the consumer’s personality makes less room available for personal responsibility, self-sustainability, expectations of goals, and job security. Crawford points out the shift of a consumer role replacing that of a student. Professors are becoming the workers for the consumers (students) and the university is becoming the salesman.
Shop Class and Soulcraft has been described as an anti-college book, but Crawford is not anti-degree; he’s pro-learning, no matter what path, or multiple paths, chosen. When Crawford was a high school teacher for a few years he remembers being frustrated by the artificial learning environments for students.
He stresses the importance of shop class and technical high schools, as well as apprenticeships.
“Fifty percent of sixteen year olds in Germany are working under an apprenticeship,” he said. “The economy demands workers who are flexible. I think it’s worth thinking about.”
Crawford also discouraged the use of drugs, such as stimulants, to engage students.
“In order to keep things on track as the school nurse says”, said Crawford. “ I found myself wishing for a riddling fogger behind my desk. They can’t be expected to sit through sixteen years of grade school only to sit and work until retirement.”
Crawford holds two degrees, an undergraduate in Physics from UC Santa Barbara and a Graduate degree in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago. In one of his biographies Crawford describes his time in graduate school to be one of the happiest in his life.
“You have to learn a lot post-high school to earn a decent living,” says Crawford, “And you’re lucky if you find work that fits in today’s stuck economy.”
Finding your calling doesn’t have to be the intense pressure cooker situation most parents are frying their children away with; they must apply and get accepted into a prestigious institution to reach success. Crawford doesn’t measure job quality based on manual versus knowledge-based work, but instead on the concern of using one’s own judgment.
“Personal agency represents the tendency to understand one’s action in terms of its consequences and implications,” Crawford said.
Working as an electrician’s helper starting at fourteen, Crawford continued to work summers throughout high school and college. He eventually made his business independent after college and continued to work “unlicensed but careful” as the flyer read that he stuck under windshield wipers of cars. Crawford pointed out that he was getting more attention for working as an unlicensed electrician than a college graduate.
Crawford went off onto one particular tangent about building conduits, protectors and routers for electrical wiring. He showed a picture, the metal pipes sweeping in silver twists down the wall towards the floor. Crawford viewed the electrical installation as art, art that was a product of his skills.
“Skills so beyond my abilities I felt like I was in the presence of a genius,” Crawford said. “Whoever invented this conduit must have imagined this moment of recognition as he worked.
“The effect of my work was visible for all to see, literally visible. It wasn’t just something in my head,” said Crawford.
When one is able to realize the work they are doing is making a difference in the world, that’s when passion takes the place of the paycheck’s motivation. A feeling of self competence gaining a social aspect.
Sitting behind a cubicle all day can prove to either make a person extremely productive, or a diagnosable paranoid. Dwight Shrueman’s picture: furrowed brows, glasses from the nineties and a slightly hairy facial mole, appears on a projection screen. Dwight plays the assistant manager in the television show The Office, a surprisingly accurate parody about American office culture.
“Managers do not have it easy; they are constantly insecure of their jobs,” says Crawford. “You are the middleman and you never know where you stand.” Managers don’t get that satisfactory moment of flipping a switch or starting a motor. “You are too busy managing what others think of you,” said Crawford.
Since Shop Class and Soulcraft was published in May of 2008 Crawford has begun work on a new book. “When I write I feel like I am get a break”, said Crawford. He also works as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, runs an independent motorcycle repair shop called Shockoe Moto, and works as a contributing editor for the New Atlantis.
Wilson’s mission statement and rich history intrigued Crawford.
“What a beautiful place you all live in,” he said. “When you learn a particular skill or art it trains your powers of concentration and perception, you become more discerning about the objects of this particular. You are initiated into an ethic about caring what you are doing, conditioned into a method. A lot of people think that work that’s dirty, must be stupid. But I never stopped taking pleasure in the moment I would come to the end of a job, when I would flip the switch, and the light went on.”