Synopsis

This book is mostly a treatise about the importance of manual work through the perspective of a philosophy doctorate graduate.

Matthew B. Crawford

He was originally a Doctorate student in Philosophy, who worked in a law firm and then in marketing. Crawford found no interest in these jobs because of how distant they were to the products and services that facilitate solidarity with the customers.

Originally, Crawford worked as an electrician while pursuing his college education. He would go back to that job when he found dissatisfaction with his college-resultant jobs. He eventually found work as a motorcycle mechanic, which was where he derived his happiness from.

Themes

One of the major themes in this book has to do with the relationship between the human and their product. This product is evidence of his utility to the world and society around him. This is especially true with what is auto-repair and plumbing, which deals heavily with material needs.

As such, Crawford gets into depth about the need of tradesmen in society, particularly in the face of the cult-like consumerism that has swept America for the longest time. The consumer does not have the same attachment to the system or the product as the tradespeople have, which creates a false sense of illusion of an independently operating system. The reality is that we are not automated–at least not yet–so we still need to rely on trade in order to function properly in society. Also, there is the paradox that people are taught that they can do for themselves, yet it is told through the very corporations that people rely on for basic necessities.

Adaptation becomes a key to why certain professions, like firefighters, are able to detect problems that no one else can see; and ultimately what separates these professions from liberal arts occupations. Intuition is the result of years of symbiotic relationship between the occupant and the occupation–which ultimately arises from pattern-recognition and algorithm.

Historical Context

Crawford remarks in a polite jeremiad about how American society devalues the STEM field and the trade in favor of the knowledge workers. In other words, these are the majors in liberal arts or in the computer sciences. He noted how schools have cut budgets by getting rid of shop classes and were in favor of computer classes.

Intertextuality

I was actually introduced to this book by William J. Bennett in his book about the failures of college education. I criticized his book before, so It is very easy to write off whatever he said with a simple “OK Boomer.” However, the case of Matthew B. Crawford piqued my interest enough to want to look into his memoir. Whereas Bennett is condescending, Crawford actually offers a philosophical, well-grounded rationale.

Crawford references Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class as part of his counterargument. He focuses on his point that corporations like Best Buy rely on creative, intellectual types, whether it is the teenager or the immigrant. However, Crawford argued that they do rely on them, in minimum-wage positions while they themselves are alienated from the labor. Of course, there was the part in the beginning of that book where the workers at his father’s company were able to have a say on the innovations in it. I do think that there was a focus on a giant corporation like Best Buy as opposed to freelancers or workers in smaller businesses.

I can see that Crawford, just like the table-tennis-player Matthew Syed, referenced the Gary Klein account of the firefighters battling a fire through intuition. Having years of experience on the job, the firefighters can recognize through pattern recognition which parts of the building are most likely to catch fire.

The problem with the argument he makes about intuition has to do with the fact that this is a key argument as to why liberal arts majors are important in the job market, as Christian Mabsberg noted in his book Sensemaking. While STEM majors deal with the physical mechanisms of the world around them, liberal arts majors deal with the social and cultural aspects. As such, Crawford makes great use of the philosophical argumentation throughout his book in order to justify his position. So, I do find some contradiction with his logic concerning it, especially when intuition is not limited to STEM fields. The liberal arts may not necessarily involve on-the-job experience, however it makes use of language, communication, and context.

Josh Kaufman noted in his book Personal MBA about the adaptability of the career in the face of great changes in the financial climate. As such, it is best to prepare for uncertainty rather than to sell certainty. This is relevant to Crawford’s book, since there will always be need for mechanics.

Connecting To The Previous Book

If anything in this book can be applied to the Introduction to the Shoshone Language, it would be that the connection between the producer and the product cannot be overlooked. Specifically, the connection has to deal with the relationship between the human and the material world via production. I can imagine how the Shoshone language might play a role in this relationship, specifically when the Shoshone language relies heavily on postpositional adjuncts when describing motion involving the speaker or the object noun. Since the vehicle moves, then the inner workings provide various forms of function, which can be translated in the Shoshone language.

Writing Style

As expected of a doctorate student in philosophy, there are heavy concepts and semantics that will be at play in this book. I definitely found this quite a unique, refreshing take on “blue-collar work,” since it is underestimated and often stereotyped in society.

Real-World Application

This book provides an argument for the importance of physical work, as opposed to the stereotypical cubicle job. This was written more than a decade ago, so I do not know if anything has or will ever change as a result of this book.

Inspiration To Myself

I never understood the concept of working a job “you love,” because at some point you will stop loving it and find another job. Another problem has to do with the fact that if most people are working the jobs they loved, and it turned out to be a small cluster of occupations, then that would just create unnecessarily intense levels of competition–as Crawford noted with credit inflation from prestigious universities. This adds to the fact that some jobs just need people to occupy them because of their utility to society–at least until robots and automation replace those jobs.

A better goal that is better phrased would be a job that “you adapt to.”

Ultimately…

This is one of the books that can definitely defy your expectations about what manual work really is.

Recommend This To…

  • Anyone who is graduating high school and is unsure about where their future is going to be. This book should provide a glimpse into the decision-making behind your dream job and degree.
  • Any liberal arts major. This would ensure that it either strengthens your resolve to continue your liberal arts degree or it would change your mind. Either way, it is an interesting book to include in the conversation.

Sources

  • Bennett, William J. and David Wilezol. “Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education.” Thomas Nelson. 2013.
  • Crawford, Matthew B. “Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value Of Work.” Penguin. 2009.
  • Florida, Richard. “Rise of the Creative Class: 10th Anniversary Edition.” Basic Books. 2014.
  • Kaufman, Josh. “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.” Revised Paperback Edition. Penguin Random House. 2012.
  • Madsbjerg, Christian. “Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of Algorithm.” Hachette. 2017.
  • Gould, Drusilla and Christopher Loether. “An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language (Dammen Daigwape).” University of Utah. 2002.
  • Syed, Matthew. “Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success.” Harper. 2010.

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