May 27

working with your hands

Tag: humorous,musingsjonny5waldman @ 5:35 am

Matt, Jon and I couldn’t help noticing the recent NYT  Magazine article, “The Case for Working With Your Hands, about the value of the trades – how they are real, knowledge-based, tactile, lose-yourself-in-the-work, challenging, valuable, and fun; how they bring moments of elation and failure; how they’re high-stakes, with an always present possibility of catastrophe, and how they demand and produce plenty of integrity and responsibility. As one commenter noted, working with your hands brings to mind a certain Danish proverb: “You can do the work of the mind without the hand, but not that of the hand without the mind.”

Of working on old motorcycles, the author writes:

“Imagine you’re trying to figure out why a bike won’t start. The fasteners holding the engine covers on 1970s-era Hondas are Phillips head, and they are almost always rounded out and corroded. Do you really want to check the condition of the starter clutch if each of eight screws will need to be drilled out and extracted, risking damage to the engine case? Such impediments have to be taken into account. The attractiveness of any hypothesis is determined in part by physical circumstances that have no logical connection to the diagnostic problem at hand. The mechanic’s proper response to the situation cannot be anticipated by a set of rules or algorithms.”

It’s the same on boats and bikes! He continues:

“Some diagnostic situations contain a lot of variables. Any given symptom may have several possible causes, and further, these causes may interact with one another and therefore be difficult to isolate. In deciding how to proceed, there often comes a point where you have to step back and get a larger gestalt. Have a cigarette and walk around the lift. The gap between theory and practice stretches out in front of you, and this is where it gets interesting. What you need now is the kind of judgment that arises only from experience; hunches rather than rules. For me, at least, there is more real thinking going on in the bike shop than there was in the think tank.”

I particularly liked the author’s disenchantment behind a desk, pushing paper, representing an organization and its purported mission. I also liked his loathing of a style that demands an image of rationality but not indulging too much in actual reasoning, and his confoundedness of an inner-office ruled by provisional morality and logic, and his recognition of the divide between reality and official ideology.

Get reading!

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