Saturday, August 13, 2011

note taking. two comments posted elsewhere. responding to Corey Robin and Gordon Lafer (continuing from below)
The problem with unions, especially the skilled trades, is that they reduce everything to economic terms. The legal triumphs of liberalism from the New Deal to the civil rights movement did no more than transform what had one been seen as private life to public economic life. If your actions have an effect on economic life the logic goes, then fundamentally they are economic. Liberalism is instrumentalism.

With very specific exceptions, union tradesmen in the US aren’t the best you can get. The exceptions are in jobs where the technical knowledge is such that they those who have it command respect. Union steamfitters with high school diplomas can tell engineers with graduate degrees that their numbers are wrong and the engineers will listen. Mistakes can kill. The important relation is not monetary but proprietary: of a skilled tradesman to his knowledge and experience. Outside of Ironworkers and steamfitters the best tradesmen in NY are non-union, but of course so are the worst.

German roofers are famous and the rules used to state that you couldn’t open your own shop until you’d apprenticed for 7 years. Under EU regulations this was attacked as unfair.

I don’t defend the physical trades I defend tradecraft, not for spooks but in the general sense that the contemporary academic model of intellectualism does not accept. Philosophy teaches the primacy of theory; democracy is founded on the primacy of practice. Lawyers are craftsmen. Writers are craftsmen. Musicians are craftsmen. Politicians are crafty. Life is Shakespearean before it’s Platonic and your “ideas” about trade are not a trade. As I pointed out before, European intellectuals haven’t lost this necessary sense of irony; they never imagined it was possible to separate ideas from desire and art. If you told Foucault that you thought liberalism was instrumentalism he’d credit you with reinventing the wheel. But liberals love their assumptions. They call them “objective” and say they’re based on “reason” and “science”.
Forget Foucault, read Derrick Bell on Brown v. Board of Education.
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Unions will never be strong enough if all they do is negotiate better terms for slaves, or mandate factories designed by Temple Grandin. And the contemporary vogue for what philosophers call “embodied cognition” is not enough, since disembodied cognition is impossible.
The riots in London are the rebellion of those raised to be managed. Is the answer better management? I mentioned Derrick Bell because his arguments are founded not in disembodied liberalism but his experience as a black man. Where else would be get such skepticism?

Academic discussion of the lives of working people is like Jewish discussion of Palestinians, art critics talking about art, and the feminism of men. All may or may not be well intentioned but either way they're not enough.

Gordon Lafer responds: "whatever."
Power corrupts, and people believe their own lies. The only answer: more lies told by more people. Call it "Democracy."
When I hear the word theory I reach for my drink.

And again. I hate this shit.
Construction trade unions should become contractors, beginning on small jobs that union shops would be priced out of, eliminating the middleman. Contractors are overpaid secretaries. Whatever profit should be returned to the union. Unions should work with architecture schools, offering summer apprenticeships at union training facilities. At time point certificates from such facilities should become mandatory for graduation from any architecture school, but start with one. As it is most architects don’t know how to build shit.

I’ve seen a 22 year old Mexican homeboy give a gentle swirl to a glass with a thimble-full of wine with more understanding of why than I’ve come to expect from yuppie slacker assholes with something to prove. It was two in the morning and the kid had just left work. Do I have to telegraph that he worked in a restaurant? And probably a very good one. Someone had made the effort to teach him and he had made the effort to learn.

You’re concerned that people employed in soul-killing work get better pay. I’m concerned with the nature of soul-killing work.

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