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« Maria, I'll never stop saying Maria! | Main | Smart and not-so-smart judges (Joe) »

May 28, 2009


Crawford is full of it. He reminds me of those snotty yuppy couples in the '90s who worked a few years on Wall Street, decided they'd had enough of the crass world of finance, bought a ranch in Vermont or Montana, or a villa in Provence, pursued a "simple" life, then wrote a book to apprise us all of their path to enlightenment. I don't disagree with his diagnoses of corporate bureaucracy and the distortions of capitalism, but I do wonder whether he simply misses the point that perhaps all along he has been naive. It's fine to be excited about getting one's first job as a "knowledge worker," but the business about feeling one's place in the order of things...please. His expectations were way out of sync, and it's no wonder he quickly tired of working in such environments.

He takes exactly the wrong approach to reminding his readers that there is a material world out there, because he doesn't realize that even a cubicle-bound clerk or generic middle manager deals in it. Piles of paper move from here to there. That's a tangible result. Any job can feel surreal, confining, irrational, burdensome, aimless. Yet he romanticizes trades to compensate for their low prestige. But who cares about low prestige in the first place? Only elitists of the worst sort. (I'm fond of elitists of the best sort.) It seems to have taken Crawford until well into adulthood to recognize the value of superior accomplishment performed even by those uneducated sorts who have been compelled to work with their hands. I chalk this up to the capitalist mirage of meritocracy.

Thank you, Dean for a reality check.

I really enjoyed Matthew Crawford's article. But I took his "working with one's hands" and therefore, "with one's soul," implication with a fairly hefty pinch of salt.

Our jobs are sometimes only a means to putting food on the table and most workers are grateful for that. There are millions of people in the world who can go through routine jobs which don't require them to cogitate deeply over the challenge at hand or on paper, and still sleep happy at night. To connect with the soul, they find other avenues. The cog in the wheel of human endeavor, whether in the workshop or in the chain of bureaucracy has been vilified undeservedly. Not all vocations can be or need be a "calling."

The irony that Crawford may have overlooked is that the Honda itself whose inner rhythm and murmur he so prides himself of being in tune with, is still being manufactured in an assembly line. The manual worker in a Honda factory is mostly as far removed from the joys of doing emotionally fulfilling work as some of his intellectual counterparts are in the office cubicle.

Unless we are willing to go back to the jungle, we may as well learn to live with the fact that the will of corporations and large institutions win every time over our pursuit of personal fulfillment!

On a more personal note:

I had forwarded the article link to my husband who owns, rides and occasionally repairs his own motorcycle (a Honda, of course). For once, he'd beaten me to the punch in web browsing - he had read the Crawford piece already. Being a scientist, my husband probably thinks of himself as a "manual laborer" and so, he was pretty smug about the whole "hands vs brain" thing. I had to remind him that perhaps it was true at one time when he still did bench work. But his current life as a senior professor is more akin to an armchair bound philosopher. He doesn't even mow the lawn any more!

An alchemist's sure-fire recipe : Melt down a base metal, then stir vigorously for an hour without ever thinking of a hippopotamus.

Can one read a sonnet without thinking of Shakespeare; discuss magical realism without thinking of Márquez; teach geometry with no reference to Euclid? Two blog posts, a source article, and two comments have been committed to type, a process that must have taken hours if not days, and, notwithstanding the juxtaposition of 'motorcycle' and 'maintenance' with 'philosophy' hanging about for good measure, nobody has mentioned "Zen and the Art of ...". There is the remote possibility that the authors haven't heard of Pirsig's iconic book, or the possibility that I am of a certain age to remember the waves it made, and the others not; or is it merely a matter of not thinking of the hippopotamus?

Narayan, the hippo was in the room all the time. I too am of the right age for Pirsig's book (my own copy from 1979/ 80 has mysteriously disappeared, I discovered). The title of my post evokes that earlier reading. But Matthew Crawford had so much to say about his own soulful communion with the inner murmurings of the Honda engine that I did not feel the need to bring up Pirsig to gild the lily. If you feel like making a suitable juxtapositon between the two, please do so for the benefit of our readers.

I've worked in both tech and and as a truck driver. It takes far more intelligence to be a good truck driver and you handle far more responsiblity. It's more mentally rewarding, but the financial reward is dismal.

I can see why office type technical workers long to leave their jobs. Many times you're just a tiny spoke in the wheel of things. No thanks, no job security (which can turn out to be good), and no satisfaction from yourself or those you work for. Nobody is ever happy and they need happy pills to get through the day.

"I've talked to anyone in a rest home who wished they'd spent more time on their careers." is a quote I've heard many times. It's funny and sad at the same time that a guy like Crawford is even looking for meanings of life in an occupation.

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