I have been thinking whether there is not some direct _inverse_ correlation between how easy it is to differentiate skillful interaction with reality and the emphasis on form like degrees, dress code, speech code, and other form of behavioral codes. I think it can be fairly stated that the more difficult it is to tell whether one makes any kind of unequivocal difference, the greater the role of politics, behavioral codes, fuzzy euphemistic phrasings, and political correctness.
It is interesting, because one of the reason I became a [hard] scientist was the desire to deal with reality which paralleled the equally strong desire not to deal with politics which I use as an umbrella term for any kind of maneuvering where the important part is no longer what you know but who you know.
Now, it is possible to get close to this level of reality in science. At some level you either have an answer to the scientific question or you don’t and no amount of fancy layout or selling can change this essential fact. Opinions don’t matter. Only facts do. However, a scientific career includes an additional layer: Is your question important (another word for popular, it turns out)? Does it warrant funding? And so on.
Having read “Shop class as Soul craft”, I also realize that you find the same closeness with reality when it comes to mechanical repair. It is actually closer, I would say. When I used to explain my work, I would always have to explain, first, what a proton was and sometimes that the earth revolved around the sun and that the sun was a star and so on. Before you knew it, it all became very abstract. A bike brake is different. It doesn’t take any kind of basic scientific understanding to see whether the bike brakes or not.
I think sailing is similar and I think this is why both of these are so attractive to me. It is the ultimate and merciless test against reality. Unlike social-social interactions, reality has no off-button. If the boat is in the process of capsizing, you can not call up a few “friends” and negotiate a bail out. I can curse the damn sea as you get hit by waves, but conversely, you can not put up a nude calendar in your cubicle lest you get sued due to social-social constructs. If you sail well, it is obvious, and you do not need degrees to prove so. Conversely, you can in principle do groundbreaking research without any degrees, but I seriously challenge you to get it funded or even published without the PhD “union card” and institutional backing.
With manufacturing largely gone, the social-social world now dominates. There is a tremendous amount of programming both from the few powers that be and from a larger fraction that simply repeat the predominant mantra and arrogantly presenting it as the ultimate course of action. I don’t think it was ever proper for me and so I spent three decades of my life and I will probably spend three more or at least until I sail into the sunset being hammered by well-meaning declarations about the importance of getting all the right degrees from the right institutions and pursuing the right awards and the right people… that we should all have the right obsessions, namely, a career in whatever field pays the most, and the right priorities, namely, a big house, a big car, lots of stuff, and the right goals, which, unless you’re one of the rare individuals (more power to you) who enjoy all your work for its own sake (I enjoyed part of my work for its own sake), generally involve plastic plaques, 5% raises, or offices with windows or situated in corners(*).
(*) Can anyone explain to me why a corner office is inherently better than a “wall-office”? Is it because offices are generally deeper than they are wide and so corner-offices being”deep by deep” are bigger?
Verily, listening to the propaganda, generally sold as advice—often by well-meaning people, even, that is going to send the next generation into life-long mortgages and likely enforced passions that have more to do with career-advancement and remuneration than doing something valuable for themselves and which at the same time comes with a bunch of xanax treated side-effects, drives me nuts.
I guess maybe some day, hopefully soon, I can make the transition to burning my soapbox and just doing my thing being content without giving advice on how to change the world (exactly what I don’t like about the ‘opposition’ 😉 ). But while I still do, I want to wake people up to fact that there is an alternative to the mainstream life-advice of careerism and consumerism. You do not have to choose A/C, beta-blockers, 401ks, astroparched resume paper, and your comparative advantage. You can choose fresh air and a self-sufficient craft instead—if you want to.