Last week, I attended the 18th Annual Stakeholder Dialogue at UST’s Downtown Minneapolis campus. Matthew Crawford, philosopher and mechanic and author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, was the guest speaker. At first, it struck me as remarkable that a man with a physics undergraduate degree and a PhD in political philosophy from Chicago would become so disgruntled with his work at various think tanks and other institutions that he would open a motorcycle repair shop and then preach the virtues of manual labor. But as Crawford spoke, I found in his words undeniable truths that were consistent with my experiences in corporate America.
First, Crawford pointed out that change in material culture has made it harder for the individual to be self-reliant. To illustrate, he pointed out that when most of us lift the hood of our cars, we are confronted by layers of technology. Some of us no longer find a dipstick in our vehicles! This creates a “learned helplessness,” inhibits individual agency, and leads to a lack of accountability. As “professionals,” we so rarely see the direct affect of our actions, so we have no real accountability.
If you are skeptical of this claim, consider the following example. I worked for a large food corporation whose primary corporate focus was increasing margins. They had a charming corporate acronym for it, which I’ll refrain from disclosing, in order to protect the privacy of the company.