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- by Matthew B. Crawford

Penguin (Non-Classics)
2010 256 pages

I chose this book because when I picked it up, it opened to the exposition of fixing motorcycles, and the author's observations on what attentiveness does to the mind. It was fascinating. The book is clearly written, with informative, compelling writing of the highest sort.

Unfortunately, I got totally bogged down on his theorizing about modern corporate work settings. Too much of the book is based on the abstractions of abstractionists, and misses the core problem of class division.

Without a class analysis of the corporate world, the conundrums he posits do not make sense. He talks about the dysfunctional attitudes that a certain segment of our society has toward hands-on work. It is an attitude that tends to degrade the skills of manipulating the material world. I cannot resist pointing out that there are a large number of people who do not share his disdain for skilled mechanics, but to make my point, the author does not seem to be aware that those people exist - they are not the part of society that matters to him, therefore, they can be ignored.

The degradation of work is behind the efforts to replace expertise with industrial rule-following. What the author seems to miss is that this attitude is based in the class nature of our society. Over the past scores of generations of wars and military conquests in Europe, a control structure of victors and vanquished has formed the spirit of industrial technology.

The ruling elite and their managerial-class supporters need to rationalize that the reason the losers are losers is because they are semi-human, incapable of intellectual thought and creativity, which are characteristics reserved for ruling elite itself. Therefore, the logical result of that prejudice is that the solution to lowering the cost of labor is to make workers easily-replaceable cogs in a machine, whether that machine be grinding out gears or writing software code.

Billions of dollars have been spend creating a society where a hundred mediocre workers can do the work of ten expert workers. But any one of those one hundred mediocre workers can be quickly and easily replaced, whereas the expert workers take years to develop their skill, and are expensive and have too much power over their own work space.

Crawford differentiates between attentiveness and reacting. Fixing and its attentive mindfulness is a different skill from building, and creates a different mind set.

This is another arena where blow back plays a significant role. We are used to the concept of "unintended consequences" when it comes to environmental destruction or foreign policy fiascos. Crawford looks at the unexpected consequences to the culture as education and work experience moves us away from the careful attention necessary to fix machines toward to a mindset of just replacing things with newer models.

This issue also applies to employers who replace workers rather than retrain existing workers.

The ability to understand equipment is a carefully honed skill that changes brain functions and outlook on life, and Crawford examines that change from both a scholarly and also a personal point of view.

Crawford makes the insightful differentiation between choosing options and building options. He shows us two examples - the Toyota Scio which sells a line of accessories which is designed to make a reference to by-gone days when people did their own car customization, and the Build-a-Bear store, which markets the opportunity for children to make their own bear, but which just lets kids select the clothes and furniture over a computer screen.

Again, this is another example of dumbing down the public, turning people into passive targets of marketing campaigns. I think he invented a new word - stupidification.

Diversity usually means trying to fit all people in to the mode, rather than accommodating a diversity of personality types, a diversity of dispositions.

I applaud this book and the contribution it makes to an important social issue, and look forward to further discussions about this area.