Pondering Matthew Crawford's
"Shop class as soul craft"
26 September 2020
Alienation, loneliness, "bullshit jobs", nihilism, etc.
Including nuggets of inspiration from…
Bertrand Russell, Machines and emotions
Jeff Goldschmidt, Disciplined minds
Barry Schwartz, Self-determination: The tyranny of freedom
Sheena Iyengar, The art of choosing
Ivan Illich, Tools for conviviality
David Edwards, The lab: Creativity & culture
Robert Pirsig, Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
Martin Heidegger, Being and time
Marshall McLuhan, The medium is the message
I found it quite well-written. Many nice
excerpts, but I'm quoting only a few.
The separation of thinking
Both Soviet & Western societies are organized according to similar principles
(1950s sociological analysis; Herb Simon comment on aliens)
Strip know-how and decision-making from workers,
and concentrate it with the manager
(What happened to manual work is being translated to knowledge work)
Cogs in a machine
Not a science, but management (politics) masquerading as science
Fungibility => commoditization (suppress bargaining power)
The primary concern is not labor time, but labor cost
Marxist notion of "abstract labor", and the resulting alienation
"through work that we recognize our 'species character' […] we get alienated
from ourselves when the product and the goals of our work are
appropriated, since it is a manifestation of ones own most human
Schooling as socialization
Schooling as practice in separating thought from action
Substituting intrinsic motivation with extrinsic incentives
(Ivan Illich, Deschooling society)
"Irrational behavior" in early capitalism
What happens when employers boost per-piece remuneration?
Difficulty hiring for early assembly-line jobs
From craft knowledge, to process engg. knowledge…
(same is happening in white-collar work)
Standardized and fungible parts
Push details down, and pull abstractions up
To be the master of one's own
What is the point of work?
Engage and enhance human faculties as thoroughly as possible
(fundamentally incompatible with Taylorist principles)
What is creativity? \ (two incompatible
Unleashing creativity through flexibility
Cultivating competence through submission to a domain, resulting in
Submitting to a bureaucracy
"The [automotive shop] service rep. reepresents not so much mechanical
expertise as a position taken by an institution, and our spirited man is not
sure he trusts this institution (mayve they want to sell him a new car). He
hates the feeling of dependence, especially when it is a direct result of his
not understanding something."
Rational activity choices
"The idea of oportunity costs presumes the fungibility of human experience:
all our activities are equivalent or interchangeable once theya re reduced to
their abstract currency of clock time, and its wage correlate"
"Spiritedness is an assertion of one's own dignity, and to fix one's own car is
not merely to use up time, it is to have a different experience of time, of
one's car, and of oneself."
Consumerism as the fix for drudgery
The rise of "consumption engineers" in the early 20th century,
for scientific management of desire by to create demand for industrial output
Consumerism to promote employability
Boosting consumption is a great way to make people work harder
Indebtedness and consumption as social signaling as being ready for
Forces on the consumption side, parallelling
those on the production side
"…infantilization at work, and it offends the spirited personality."
"There seems to be an ideology of freedom at the heart of consumerist
material culture; a promise to disburden us of mental and bodily
involvement with our own stuff so we can pursue ends we have freely
chosen. Yet this disburdening gives us fewer occasions for the experience of
direct responsibility […] appeal of freedomism, as a marketing hook […]
points to a paradox in our experience of agency: to be master of your own
stuff entails being mastered by it."
"Recurring purchases, after all, may continue even when the alignment of
interests between producer and consumer is only partial, or even
accompanied by a felt antagonism [like MS Windows]."
What is an intuitive design?
"[Indicates] minimal pschic friction between the user's intention and its
realization. It is such resistance that makes one aware of reality as an
independent thing […] limits need not be physical; the important thing is
rather that they are external to the self."
An intuitive interface ensures that nothing disturbs a solipsistic self-
Betty Crocker cake mix
Problem-solving, and tool-use are
fundamental to human nature
"…choosing is not creating, however much 'creativity' is invoked in such
Education of a gearhead (in
More autobiographical, with evocative examples from automotive
Contradictions of the cubicle
"At issue in the contrast between office work
and the manual trades is the idea of
individual responsibility, tied to the presence
or absence of objective standards."
(external reality, not arbitrarily imposed)
Schumpeter (1942): Expansion of higher
education beyond labor market demand
creates for white-collar workers
"employment in substandard work or at
wages below those of the better-paid
His experience of writing summary reports of
Unavoidable moral property of the medium
of office work
"the job required both dumbing down and a bit of moral reeducation."
(fundamental mismatch between intrinsic notion of quality, and the surplus
maximized by a third party disintermediating the producer from the
Without objective feedback from reality, a
lot of modern work is basically managing
relationships and reputations.
Problems with the escalating rhetoric of
"postindustrial society" or "creative
economy", and how everybody needs higher
(particularly hard on boys/men)
"dispensation of the whole person is at issue;
one has to have certain personal qualities,
more than a well-defined set of
competencies tied to the fulfilment of
specific organizational ends […] a collection
of psychological and social aptitudes, that is
harder to codify […] personality package."
Identifying with corporate culture, and
"buying in" to "the mission" as the primary
indicators of professionalism
Thinking as doing
The current educational system assumes
that "knowing that" is more important than
"knowing how", corresponding roughly to
universal knowledge versus the kind that
comes from individual experience.
"Degradation of work is often based on
efforts to replace the intuitive judgement of
practitioners with rule following, and codify
knowledge into [symbols and processes] that
stand in for situated knowledge."
Tacit knoweledge of the chess-master and
Work, leisure, and full
Instead of work & persnoal lives being
distinct and transactional, integrate them
into a coherent whole
Money reflects generic potency… good, but
not intrinsically so. Using it to acquire specific
goods is cannot imbue work itself with
meaning, and is more likely to have the
opposite effect of making us stand apart
from the job.
National identity and/or class consciousness
as a source of dignity
"Those at the top of a food chain get a new identity in whcih to take pride:
[multicultural] sushi-eating, Brazilian-girlfriend-having cosmopolitan. But
what does the autoworker get as industries lose their national character? It
is harder to take pride in one's work as 'a Rolls-Royce man', if the car is
assembled from parts made from who knows where."
Any job that can be scaled up,
depersonalized, and made to answer to
forces remote from the scene of work is
vulnerable to degradation
(The trades, being inherently situated, better resist this externalization)
The importance of feedback, including the
possiblilty of failure
Agency directed towards some end affirmed
by the actor, but embedded in the context of
an objective reality instead of merely
// reveal.js plugins