Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Practicing a craft

As we traveled between Lakeside and Columbus today I was struck by the beauty of the mid-July green hues. From forest to farm to lawn.  Often this time of year, the vegetation begins to have a dusty, straw color. Heavy storms the past few weeks through central and northern Ohio have taken care of that! We drove through small towns and past farms with 19th century homes, shared the road with construction crews, and passed over railway yards.  Everywhere I looked I saw not just God’s handiwork, but man’s--or hundreds of men. Real work, real hands, real products that lasted well beyond their life times. Even the heavily laden trucks that rolled past us were packed with produce from the farms as we noticed the tallest corn we’d ever seen.  “I hope that’s for feed and not ethanol,” I said.

I settled in for the ride and opened my magazine First Things, August/September 2017.  Whether it was a message or a coincidence, who knows, but the article I turned to was “Back to work,” pp. 33-37, by John Waters, an Irish playwright, writer and author of nine books. I had been thinking about the many useful skills and talents my grandmothers who were 20 years apart in age (born in 1876 and 1896) had and which my generation doesn’t.  Not only do I not know how to use a smart phone as many my age do, but I don’t know how to harness a carriage horse, gut and pluck a chicken, milk a cow, trim a kerosene wick or bank the stove with corn cobs to heat water for a weekly bath.  And there in my lap, author Waters laments the triumph of several generations who have no talent except to manipulate technology. I was shocked to see my own thoughts of the moment in an article drafted months before by an Irishman I’d never heard of until I saw him on Route 4 in rural Ohio.
“I often look at rows of buildings on a streetscape or motorway and think that all this, one way or another, is the outcome of interventions by other men.  Each piece--building, bridge, or flyover--is perhaps the conception of one or two men, but has been executed by dozens or hundreds of other men working together toward a common goal.  Sometimes, walking down a street, I am overcome by shame that there is no place on the face of the earth, aside from the occasional library shelf, which contains any analogous contribution of mine.”

. . . Most of the people I meet in my work these days resemble me in this respect.  We live in cities and judge ourselves superior to those who get their hands dirty out in the sticks.  But really we are slaves of a new kind: indentured to technologies that steal our time, creativity, and imagination.  Technology is actually the “new religion,” not least I the sense that it compels us to believe in things we do not understand.  . . I look around and realize that all those present, male and female, make their livings from secondary or tertiary economic activities, unproductive in any fundamental sense--you might even say parasitical on the main business of wealth creation.”
Waters looks back to July 13, 2012, when President Obama told people who actually do real work and produce real products that “you didn’t build that.”  Even taken out of context, as Waters think it was in the 2012 campaign, he sensed it was the tipping point in the creation of Brexit and the victory for President Trump, a man who represents people who relate to the world in concrete ways, but no longer recognize the world that is presented to them. “They are being discounted when the big decisions are being made.”  For up to half the country, Obama was attacking the very essence of their humanity. 
He concludes: “I cannot be the only man who feels less at home in the world than his father did.  Perhaps this is the deepest meaning of Trump’s election:  the back answer of the dispirited men of America who still want to build and fix things but have gotten on the wrong side of a cultural wrecking ball."

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