Philosophy – pt. II

(continued from –> Philosophy – pt. I)

In his book “Shop Class as Soulcraft” philosopher and motorcycle mechanic Matthew B. Crawford gives a good example:

“If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bends, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience.”

– Matthew B. Crawford –

But instead of encouraging young people to explore, to become bridge builders, our society discourages them. People with a broad range of talents and various interests are forced ‘to focus’, sit still and be silent, don’t ask questions and do what you’re told. And who doesn’t fit in that straight jacket is forms a problem, which has to receive a ‘label’ like AD(H)D or autism. They are shaped to fit in the educational and societal assembly line, told to ‘act normal’, often with the help of pharmaceutical means.

A lot of the craftspeople I know aren’t stupid, far from it. More often than not they are highly educated, worked for a while in their educated field, but chose to follow their passion. Or they have an extremely high IQ, but were underachievers in school. Because school didn’t accommodate to their broad personality and interests (guilty as charged). Over the years they got discouraged and suffered rejection from society, often culminating in burn-out, depression and even suicide. To quote Richard Sennet once more:

“Western civilization has had a deep-routed trouble in making connections between head and hand,
in recognizing and encouraging the impulse of craftsmanship.”


“The craftsman is a more inclusive category than the artisan;
he or she represents in each of us
the desire to do something well, concretely, for its own sake.

Developments in high technology
reflect an ancient model for craftsmanship,
but the reality on the ground is that
people who aspire to be good craftsmen
are depressed, ignored, or misunderstood
by social institutions.”

– Richard Sennett – “The Craftsman”

I think this is the root of the problem in our western society. Were hypocritic when it comes to what we value. On the one hand we admire people who are good in their work, who push the boundaries. Like ‘the crazy ones’ named in the famous Apple commercial. But on the other hand  we suppress them and try to push them into a form that fits our societal standards. Anyone who is slightly different in school gets bullied by the rest of the class, a social process to push people to ‘fit in’. In our Dutch calvinist society there are a lot of sayings about this: like “Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg” (Act normal, that’s strange enough) and “Steek je kop niet boven het maaiveld” (Don’t get your head above the field that’s being mowed –> Don’t stand out from the crowd).

This blog is to those crazy ones, the alchemists out there. I know it’s hard and lonely, especially when you don’t fit in and are the only one in your family, school, town or city. I know the feeling of being stuck in the hell of a dead-end-job. And I don’t know a solution other than to swim up the stream and try to find others who are just as crazy. They are rare, but they are out there. The insane figures who challenge the status quo, by combining things that are – at first sight – impossible to weld together.

Remember it are the cross beams and diagonals that most often keep a building or railway track soundly together…

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