Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Craft and Humanness

One of the things I realized from my upper-middle class background was the dehumanizing effects that come from separating our lives neatly (ala Sim City) into industrial, commercial, and residential zones. I really like living above a coffeeshop and next to a pharmacy, apart from the fact that they both carry drugs, albeit legal.

An issue that I have had to deal with throughout my whole life has been that of craftsmanship. My father is a whittler, so he is a craftsman, but he never wants to make money off of it. My mother is a sew-er, so she is a craftswomen, but always does it for gifts. Neither of them have made their living as craftsmen. There is a detectable bias in my family against making your money that way, even though (or maybe because) they came from craft-centered families. I remember how disappointed my mom was when I said I wanted to learn carpentry--she just couldn't understand why a 'smart' kid like me would want to learn that. I couldn't support a family on a carpenter's wages, she told me, as if I was completely jettisoning my academic guild training (the discipline of which she didn't fiscally care for either, it might be added). Possibly these are corrolary reasons as to why I'm not much of a carpenter (and, oddly enough, not much of an academic either).

I've been oddly drawn, again and again, to the trades and crafts. There is a sense of autocracy (self-rule) that comes with being able to cook your own food, maintain (and even sometimes improve) your own house/car/whatever, help your neighbors with skill, and save on paying some high-flautin' professional to come bale you out (although that is still necessary sometimes). That contrarian, decentralist independence has always appealed to me. It also gives you a measure of control against salesmen, who are always telling me that my life is not (and cannot be) good enough, because I do not use whatever ultimately disposable and culturally insignificant product they are hocking.

I read an article yesterday that really jazzed me up concerning this periennial topic again. It can be found here, called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Also, Wendell Berry wrote an essay a long time ago that has always been a comfort and a joy to read, called The Joy of Sales Resistance, although I do not like the formatting that they use for the essay. The first article, especially, does a good job of speaking how craftsmanship is exactly what we want in science: a good hard look at things that goes beyond just what will make it sell to a deeper intimacy with all Creation, although he wouldn't use those words.

No comments: