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Considering Shop Class as Soulcraft

motorcycle-repairAmericans, in general, have an unyielding faith in our collective ability to fix it. Fix any­thing. Fix everything.

The topic of repair is an interesting one. In fact, it’s almost a novelty. Our planned-obsolescence, toss-don’t-fix society is severely lacking in repairmen. High school shop classes were by and large shuttered in the 1990s. Liability risks for schools were reduced, and the small class sizes man­dated by industrial arts were done away with. We are all to be information workers and all carry college diplomas. Manual labor is something for the Third World. But a funny thing happened on the way to the real world. It turns out that physically working on something tangible, be it repair, construction or farming, is one of the truest methods of enriching the soul.

In a footnote to the brilliant book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford writes about the degradation of labor: “. . . any job that can be scaled up, depersonalized, and made to answer to forces remote from the scene of work is vul­nerable to degradation, even to the point of requiring that the person who does the job actively suppress his better judgement.”

The decisions we make daily concern this. Considering food from modern industrial agriculture versus family-farm organic production, in which instance is the farmer degraded? Which form of agriculture is nourishing to a farmer’s soul? Does that nourishment end up in the product’s nourishment?

Where does the power of deep observation fit in a society that believes that everything can be improved, reengineered, fixed? It’s becoming scarce. And for that precise reason, it is becoming in great demand. The mechanic who can sustain an aging machine, the artisan who creates an object which speaks to the heart — these skills cannot be exported and outsourced. They are real. And as more and more people work in jobs in which they actually produce nothing, their souls increasingly crave real goods touched by real people who live next door. As the population awakens from an anesthetized slumber, being a craftsperson has potential akin to being the next rock star.