The Case For Working With Your Hands

Or Why Office Work Is Bad For Us And Fixing Things Feels Good

Author: Matthew Crawford

Reviewed by Nick Sizer.

First of all, don’t be dismayed by the title.

The author makes a good argument for sticking out a journey through similarly complex subject-matter. In this case Crawford covers a route that takes from mechanical engineering; (largely) ancient-greek philosophy (and thereby solipsist-bashing); attentiveness; modern education systems and appropriating “employability”; even a “safe” definition of the word psychic. The invariably humanist quotes of Iris Murdoch ground the text.

In case you are wondering: yes, any mission stated by the text, no matter how implicitly, seems entirely partisan: at least to start with…

Reading said text between the lines definitely brings images otherwise called forth by Joel Bakan‘s The Corporation and the George Clooney vehicle Up In The Air; to argue against would be foolish. Thankfully a much less than imperative tone equally does much to stymie any thought of rejection.

I don’t remember reading another author bringing so much to the table without being a fairly hardcore academic; the man in question reassuringly (IMHO) is not, by choice. Crawford’s qualifications don’t disappoint either: for everyone who’s still nosey he has a doctorate in Political Philosophy. Yes, he has teaching experience, otherwise large tracts of this former essay (originally known as “Shop Class As Soulcraft” in its native USA) really would be academic. It makes sense, therefore, with this write-up the author steps away from many boundaries wielding what appears to be a (strangely) soft hammer for shaping his intended ideals.

While they are occasionally shot at, rather than bludgeoned; Crawford also makes pains to infer a moral standpoint: decisions made outside a given frame (with usually dramatic consequences) and clashes of philosophies (and therefore personalities) abound. The “nine-to-five” is obviously a target, and he doesn’t usually hold back; certainly not by the sixth chapter.

Considering Crawford’s made a lot of the American “shop class” to prove his point, while also being an avid motorcycle repairer, he really should make a reference of Pirsig‘s Zen and Art… that we have already reviewed. Thankfully, Crawford makes a huge effort to do this in the fourth chapter; the seventh finishes with a solid effort to slate poorly-sources technical-writing and poor (linguistic) translation. The same section shows an air of the text as a whole, and does a much better job than the book’s back cover.

When your reviewer read the words “This sounds to me like being a part of a clique of girls…” as seen in chapter six: worry determedly arose. Crawford does himself credit by avoiding most of the stereotypes of the building (“construction”) site environment he espouses, as a preference to that in the office.

Anyone still not quite willing to shed some money should know the author definitely hasn’t written for his peers, as recently recommended by Brian Cox – please see: Wired (UK ed.) iss. Oct 11, p.97-8 & 106. This reviewer offers a quote from page two-hundred and ten:

“If cultural despair rests on a view of history being more powerful than individuals, the revolutionary entertains for his part an exaggerated fantasy of world changing. A heady vision of the progressive hereafter in which economic antagonism has been overcome may come to stand in for, and distract him from, the smaller but harder work of living well in this life. The alternative to revolution, which I want to call Stoic, is resolutely this-worldly. It insists on the permanent, local viability of what is best in human beings. In practice, this means seeking out the cracks where individual agency and the love of knowledge can be realised today, in one’s own life.”

A subtle wit; occasional jollity (p.193 in particular); regular infusions of vitriol (the “MF bomb” and friends are dropped a few times); taking its time over complicated measures; all over a slim 200-odd pages, with footnotes that do explain rather than lecture, it is a pleasure to read. Just bring an active neocortex!

P.S. The author plans to continue writing along with his numerous other interests, a separate title named The Organ Maker’s Shop is due to be finished.

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