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Hands On Philosopher: Q&A With Matthew B. Crawford

The author of the best-selling book “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” talks to WWD.

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WWD: Do you blame the financial crisis on an economic culture where decision-makers are removed from the consequences of their actions?
M.B.C.: I do think it has a cultural and psychological dimension. When the daily objects of your attention are highly abstract financial instruments that are several steps removed from any concrete economic activity, it’s easy to mistake theory for reality. It’s just a hazard of the job. When you’re dealing with physical stuff, on the other hand, it usually lets you know right away if you’ve gotten something wrong. You can get physically hurt, and this tends to focus the mind. It’s very hard to B.S. your way out of responsibility when things go badly, so there is a certain ethic of accountability that develops in the trades.

WWD: Fashion designers create with their hands, but their vision is carried out by machines and factory workers in a very regimented environment. Is there a better way?
M.B.C.: Being a fashion designer seems like an amazing job. It’s concrete and collaborative. You have some aesthetic vision that you bring to reality, and get to see it draped on the body of a beautiful model. In the best cases, the model moves down the runway with just the right attitude, an interpretation of your vision that perhaps gives it a slightly different meaning — a new revelation.

And then there is the garment factory worker. Not as much fun. As consumers, we’re not often mindful of the labor that produces the stuff we use. This is encouraged by the ideology of consumerism, which feeds a delusion of omnipotence and independence, making us oblivious of the ways we are dependent on others. It’s a kind of self-absorption.

What if everyone, boys and girls, had to learn to sew some basic stitches in order to graduate from high school? Not only for the sake of self-reliance, but also for the sake of self-awareness, and social awareness. It might have more of an effect than the classes that currently go by the name of “social studies.”

 

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