Saturday, May 23, 2009

Value of Work

Work (1852-65) - Ford Madox Brown
When Matthew Crawford finished his doctorate in political philosophy at the University of Chicago, he took a job at a Washington think tank. "I was always tired," he writes, "and honestly could not see the rationale for my being paid at all." He quit after five months and started doing motorcycle repair in a decaying factory in Richmond, Va. This journey from philosopher manqué to philosopher-mechanic is the arc of his new book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. It's appropriate that it arrives in May, the month when college seniors commence real life. Skip Dr. Seuss, or a tie from Vineyard Vines, and give them a copy for graduation.

The graduates won't even skim Shop Class, of course. But maybe, five years from now, when they can't understand why their high-paying jobs at Micron Consulting seem pointless and enervating, Crawford's writing will show them a way forward. It's not an insult to say that Shop Class is the best self-help book that I've ever read. Almost all works in the genre skip the "self" part and jump straight to the "help." Crawford rightly asks whether today's cubicle dweller even has a respectable self. Many of us work in jobs with no discernible products or measurable results. We manage brands and implement initiatives, all the while basing our self-esteem on the opinions of others.

Compare that with the motorcycle mechanic. Instead of the vague threat of a performance review, the mechanic faces the tactile problem of a bike that won't start. He tests various theories and deploys actual tools. The sign of success is a roaring engine ...
Read all of Heidegger and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

1 comment:

David Nybakke said...

I really think that what is lacking in these "philosophies of work" is the real significant issue - that of realizing the anthropological understanding of the "person" as we Christians are to be. Trouble is we are still only 'early Christians' living only a mere 2000 years from the Christ event. I guess until we become more gripped by and into the trinitarian life we must 'work' out from these "philosophies of work'.