Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book clarifies some of the moral dilemmas intrinsic in a culture that values knowledge work and egalitarian autonomy over work done with physical things and face-to-face with people.  Work has consequences, and work that divorces itself from outcomes hides those consequences.  Knowledge work can be done in a way that keeps consequences to the forefront, and has been done that way in the past, but in our era it generally is not done that way.  This is a *moral* loss for the individual worker as well as the whole society.  I never thought of it that way.

Take this example: as recently as one hundred years ago, bankers were not allowed to operate banks in communities outside of their own.  People had to trust their banks.  Bankers were supposed to determine whether someone was a good credit risk when giving loans.  This knowledge was not just extrinsic, but tacit.  The banker would ask around, talk to local merchants, etc.  He was skilled at reading the responses of others in the community, and therefore able to use his intuitive judgment to reward virtue with a loan.  Nowadays, banks are national and international, loans are bundled and sold off to other entities (even other countries), and the banker is often required to offer loans to those who haven't demonstrated a pattern of trustworthiness.  This degrades the morality of the loan officer.

You can see this in government as well.  (This is my own rabbit trail, not included in the book.)  For instance, in TX right now we are debating whether people receiving food stamps ought to be required to take a drug test.  This is a dilemma for many reasons, but my main problem is how can you know? Obviously, you don't want to help someone who isn't interested in helping himself, but what if it is a family?  What about the rest of them?  And should government even be doing this?  Isn't helping the poor the duty of individuals and churches?  But what if individuals and churches are not involved enough in their communities to understand which individuals need and merit help and which do not?  See the problem?

Anyway, this is a very thoughtful book.  He does not extol the virtues of working with your hands to the exclusion of other work, but he does raise some questions about how we respect or disrespect our own humanity and that of others in the work we do and the work we value.  I have these questions too.  There are no easy answers, that's for sure.

I'm giving it four stars because I did find it difficult to navigate his analogies at times-- I'm not a mechanic. ;)  I was able to get around the difficulties though.  It is an excellent, thought-provoking book.  I recommend it to anyone that is a person, and educators/legislators especially.  Also to people in middle management who wonder why they feel so spiritually/mentally bankrupt.

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