I just ordered Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work from Amazon for myself, though it would probably make a fabulous father's day gift.
The New Yorker has a review of the book this week. I haven't read the book yet, but the review piqued my interest. The author, Matthew B. Crawford, is a University of Chicago PhD in political theory and a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He also runs a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond.
Crawford rejects the demands and rewards of the modern economy and calls for a return to the simple pleasures of working with your hands. Lose the office cubicle and pick up a socket wrench.
symptom of something even worse: a narcissistic refusal to grapple with
the material world. He quotes a long scene from “Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance,” in which the narrator has a frustrating
encounter with careless mechanics who can’t be bothered to correctly
diagnose his bike. Crawford’s stern verdict: this is “at once an
ethical and a cognitive failure.” Such mechanics show, in their
disregard for the motorcycle, how little they care about their
profession, and, by extension, their fellow-citizens. Crawford says
that big corporations—including, for instance, the ones that produce
cheap motorcycle engines that aren’t worth fixing—tend to encourage
this kind of anomie, by forcing workers to stick to mindless tasks or
insipid scripts, thereby making it hard for them to take pride in their
The review, which is excellent, explores where to put Crawford and the slow cooking movement on the left-right continuum. On the one hand, Crawford seems to have conservative credentials with a grant from the Olin Foundation. He critiques the feminized office place. He hearkens back to the good old days when men were men and when manual labor jobs hadn't been exported to Southeast Asia.
On the other hand, his message almost Marxist as he critiques the modern capitalist system. There is a lot of overlap with the environmental movement and the slow cooking movement, which have the gold seal of liberal approval.
I also see a lot of overlap with those who take parenting seriously. Making good kids isn't all that different from fixing motorcycles. I just sent my kids off to school with their lunches and class trip money. Jonah and I discussed how we were going to finish the sixth Harry Potter in time for the movie in July. I had Ian draw a picture of Spongebob on his brown bag lunch. The breakfast dishes have been cleaned and the calendar for the month organized. It's deeply satisfying to have everything in order and the kids unstressed. Parenting is still seen as a conservative project, but, like Crawford, I think it defies ideological boundaries.
UPDATE2: From Crawford's magazine article,
Some diagnostic situations contain a lot of variables. Any given
symptom may have several possible causes, and further, these causes may
interact with one another and therefore be difficult to isolate. In
deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to
step back and get a larger gestalt. Have a cigarette and walk around
the lift. The gap between theory and practice stretches out in front of
you, and this is where it gets interesting. What you need now is the
kind of judgment that arises only from experience; hunches rather than
rules. For me, at least, there is more real thinking going on in the
bike shop than there was in the think tank.
Every academic dropout must read this article.