Shop Class

©Robert Adamo

©Robert Adamo

I just finished Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford. He recounts his experience of growing up on a commune, customizing cars in his teens, learning to be an electrician, entering academia, earning a PhD in political philosophy, then continuing on as a "knowledge worker" at desk jobs requiring high level critical thought. 

Eventually, he gets bored with his desk job and longs to work with his hands again. So he quits his salaried gig at the think tank and becomes a motorcycle mechanic.

For much of the book, Crawford invokes his PhD speak to build multi-layered arguments against desk jobs (all mind) and assembly lines (all hands). His interests lie in the satisfaction gained in the making and fixing of things, where the mind and hands are interdependent. 

As someone with a degree in philosophy, and without much experience in "real" jobs, I found myself cheering for Crawford as he bailed on his cushy gig to follow what makes him truly happy. Over the last 15+ years, my experience of being a photographer has become more complex, technically challenging, and increasingly rewarding. The deeper I get into this way of life, the more connected I feel to it, and realize that I am very fortunate to have made a good career choice at a relatively young age. 

There are many passages in Crawford's book that resonate with me, and some that are a bit righteous. But my favorite is this one:

"I like to fix motorcycles more than I like to wire houses (even though I could make about twice as much money wiring houses). Both practices have internal goods that engage my attention, but fixing bikes is more meaningful because not only the fixing but also the riding of motorcycles answers to certain intuitions I have about human excellence. People who ride motorcycles have gotten something right, and I want to put myself in the service of it, this thing that we do, this kingly sport that is like war made beautiful."

Crawford still works as a motorcycle mechanic.


Jamie KripkeComment