In my recent post on growing up dyslexic in a public school system I started thinking about Mathew Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft. I picked this book a couple of years ago when it came out. Basically it's a manifesto on making. His premise is, in a world where white collar jobs (accountants, lawyers) can be outsourced to the cheapest place on the globe, or replaced by simple accounting software (I'm looking at you Quicken), then those jobs that require you to physically go the last 10 yards represent the place with the most economic security (think plumbers and electricians).
Interestingly though, it's not just about a throw away society that needs people to fix stuff. The attitude of the craftsman is different than that of the laborer:
We all have the experience of dealing with a service provider who seems to have been reduced to a script-reading automaton. We have also heard the complaints of employers about not being able to find concientous workers. Are these two facts perhaps related? There seems to be a vicious circle in which degraded work plays a pedagogical role, forming workers into material that is suited for anything but the overdetermined world of careless labor.
These thoughts should inform our choices as consumers. It may not make sense to have an engine rebuilt by your local mechanic, in narrow economic terms. You may be better off buying a rebuilt engine from one of the chain auto part stores, which get them from hig-volume re-manufacturing operations down in Mexico. These factories simply ignore the finer points that engage a mechanics attention. (That's why they typically have a warranty of only 12,000 miles, or 36,000 at most.) But a more public-spirited calculus would include a humane regard for the kind of labor involved in each alternative: on the one side disciplined attentiveness, enlivened by a mechanics own judgments and ethical entanglement with a motor, and on the other systematized carelessness. Further, the decision is inherently political, because the question who benefits is at stake: the internationalist order of absentee capital, or an individual possessed of personal knowledge. Given the ever bolder raids of capital into psychic territory of labor, our consumer choices contribute to a land war, on one side or the other, whether we aware of the fact or not. This can be understood by analogy with our food choices: having a motor rebuilt would correspond roughly to the decision to buy food from a local farmer versus a distant agribusiness. This is the practice the bohemian consumer already has in the culture tool kit he uses, not only to construct his dissident self image but to give expression to his genuine public-spiritedness. If the regard that many people now have for the wider ramifications of their food choices could be brought to our relationships to our own automobiles, it would help sustain pockets of mindful labor.
Obviously not every mechanic carries a counter-cultural dagger in his boot. But the mere fact that they stand ready to fix things, a class they are an affront to the throwaway society. Just as important, the kind of thinking they do, if they are good, offers a couterweight to the culture of narcissism.
Several months back (wow, actually over a year now) I had washing machine repair guy in to fix a broken part on my machine that won't allow it to spin properly. The repair guy said, "it's a lot of work to replace that part and it's expensive. For the same price, with my labor, you might be able to by another washer. I wouldn't fix this one"
I think I can find the parts manual on-line. I know the part that is broken. If I can get the part, I will repair that machine myself. Cause economics aside, all of the other working parts of that washer are hardly ready for a land-fill