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What Happened to the Craftsmanship Spirit? — Essay -

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I have a goal of a multi-skilled person. Farmer, Craftsman, Engineer, and Programmer...what else would a 21st century American do-it-all person need to be able to do?

"It’s all very handy stuff, I guess, a convenient way to be a do-it-yourselfer without being all that good with tools. But at a time when the American factory seems to be a shrinking presence, and when good manufacturing jobs have vanished, perhaps never to return, there is something deeply troubling about this dilution of American craftsmanship.

 This isn’t a lament — or not merely a lament — for bygone times. It’s a social and cultural issue, as well as an economic one. The Home Depot approach to craftsmanship — simplify it, dumb it down, hire a contractor — is one signal that mastering tools and working with one’s hands is receding in America as a hobby, as a valued skill, as a cultural influence that shaped thinking and behavior in vast sections of the country.

That should be a matter of concern in a presidential election year. Yet neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney promotes himself as tool-savvy presidential timber, in the mold of a Jimmy Carter, a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker."

It would be disingenuous for either of them, career politicians and businesspersons respectively, to promote themselves as tool-savvy, nor is it frankly, even necessary.

I recently had dinner at a friend's home. They cooked and baked the dinner on a make-shift hearth with cast-iron pots, pans and their own charcoal. It was one of the best and most satisfying meals I've ever eaten.

The book emergency by Neil Strauss has a great list of skills for a do-it-all person; I think one must definitely include cooking/hunting/scavengering/fire-making in addition to farming. These are skills one day I'd like to learn.

That being said, when I read a book on kindle, I praise its efficiency, affordability and constant availability -- a library at my finger tips; rather than lament that old-fashioned books are going out of style, I regularly go to Barnes and Noble to read magazines and books that I may not have ever discovered digitally. In the same vein I think it's possible for people to explore digital craftsmanship while also enjoying traditional skills as well.

PS If you are teaching a class on carpentry and cabinet-making, I'd love to attend. :)

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