On Accomplishment, Shop Class as Soulcraft

“Pedagogically, you might want to impress on a student the miserable state of his mind. … You do this not out of malice, but because you sense rare possibilities in him, and take your task to be that of cultivating in the young man (or woman) a taste for the most difficult studies. Such studies are likely to embolden him against timid conventionality, and humble him against the self-staisfaction of the age, which he weats on his face. These are the pedagogical uses of the “D” [grade], but give someone a low grade, and he is likely to press upon you the fact that his admission to law school hangs in the balance. The Sort is on.

“With this attitude, students are merely adapting themselves to the marketlike ethic of the institutions that school them. “Educational institutions find themselves located in a heirarchy of their own, forced to compete with other institutions for position in order to enhance the marketability of their credentials to socially mobile consumers.” The result is “a growing emphasis on producing selective symbolic distinctions rather than shared substantive accomplishments.” that is, what matters is your rank among your peers; it matters not if the whole lot of you are ignorant.

“Through the exercise of charismatic authority, the manager unsettles others, shaking them out of their cramped views and stale habits, thereby unleashing the creativity of all workers. this is a charismatic leader of a new kind, a sort of radical democrat. He does not seek followers; he seeks to make every man a leader of himself. Authority itself disappears as he turns work into play. He erects Nerf basketball hoops; he announces pajama day. The creative class expands.

“Not surprisingly, it is the office rather than the job site that has seen the advent of speech codes, diversity workshops, and other forms of higher regulation. Some might attribute this to the greater mixing of the sexes in the office, but I believe a more basic reason is that when there is no concrete task that rules the job—an autonomous good that is visible to all— then there is no secure basis for social relations. Maintaining consensus and preempting conflict become the focus of management, and as a result everyone feels they have to walk on eggshells. Where no appeal to a carpenter’s level is possible, sensitivity training becomes necessary.

“… As one manager puts it, “You can’t just push people around anymore.” Discreet suggestions, hints, and coded messages take the place of command; this, of course, placesa premium on subordinates’ abilities to read their bosses’ vaguely articulated or completely unstated wishes.

“It is common today to locate one’s “true self” in one’s leisure choices. Accordingly, good work is taken to be work that maximizes one’s means for pursuing these other activities, where life becomes meaningful. … There is a disconnect between his work life and his leisure life; in the one he accumulates money and in the other he accumulates psychic nourishment. Each part depends on and enables the other, but does so in the manner of a transaction between sub-selves, rather than as the intelligibly linked parts of a coherent life.”

Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford