We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
...the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world. Neither as workers nor as consumers are we much called upon to exercise such competence, most of us anyway, and merely to recommend its cultivation is to risk the scorn of those who take themselves to be the most hard-headed: the hard-headed economist will point out the opportunity costs of making what can be bought, and the hard-headed educator will say that it is irresponsible to educate the young for the trades, which are somehow identified as the jobs of the past. But we might pause to consider just how hard-headed these presumptions are, and whether they don’t, on the contrary, issue from a peculiar sort of idealism, one that insistently steers young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work.
High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.
When we praise people who do work that is straightforwardly useful, the praise often betrays an assumption that they had no other options. We idealize them as the salt of the earth and emphasize the sacrifice for others their work may entail. Such sacrifice does indeed occur — the hazards faced by a lineman restoring power during a storm come to mind. But what if such work answers as well to a basic human need of the one who does it? I take this to be the suggestion of Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use,” which concludes with the lines “the pitcher longs for water to carry/and a person for work that is real.” Beneath our gratitude for the lineman may rest envy.
Some days, definitely. Other days, more abstract work is just fine. 50/50 might be ideal for me, but a work-out in a gym is no substitute for doing something physical and real. We men need to engage mind and muscle together to feel whole.
You can see it in any little boy, and it never goes away. Chain saws, brush wackers and tractors are my skill level. It's called unskilled (at best, semi-skilled) work.
Just spent a few happy hours in one of my favorite pastimes, amateur brick work. When we moved here there was a collapsed chimney behind the barn. I cart the bricks around front and fashion them into designs to build a front walkway. It would be easier to hire a pro or buy some flat paving stones from Loews, but it always stops me cold when I'm walking through some town and happen on some patterned brickwork. It's worth my hobby time to have some artistry like that in our home.
This explains why experimental engineering research is the peak of Man's activities. Sometimes the tool you need is calculus; other times it is a pair of Channel Locks. Gotta be able to handle either and to know which one to pick up.
I was raised on a very rural ranch and was using a double-bladed ax by the time I was 8 and a chain saw by 10. I set choker chains, peeled logs, trimmed and bucked trees...for 25 cents an hour. By the time I was 11-12, it was expected that I could start with a tree and wind up with at least a dog house. I knew how to fix an engine, do basic plumbing and wiring, and since my grandfather also fished commercially, I was taught early on how to "make it meat" whether "it" was a deer or Salmon.
I do take exception to one comment: Bird Dog, dropping trees and Cat skinning are serious skills and folks who think that chains saws involve only "semi-skilled" labor are those who are likely missing more than a few fingers. ;-)
My point isn't to boast...all of the boys my age knew how to do these things. My point is to concur with each and all of you about the value of these skills and to lament their loss. Dr. Dave summed it up very nicely. Personally, I've spent a lifetime working with computers but still count on my fingers when necessary.
So, now that we're through griping, the question is: What are we gonna' do about it?