"I am an Electrician"

14.September 2014

I just watched Lech Wałȩsa: Man of HopeI am totally unqualified to assess the politics of this film, and therefore cannot endorse it. I comment here on only one point.

The narrative of the film centers on an interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, which allows for meta analysis of Wałȩsa's politics. She asks several times in different ways about the source of his strategic thinking. He explains that he is never intimidated by elites or educated people. He allows professors and intellectuals into his circle, but he never feels inferior to them. He also points out that he doesn't read books, because he gets bored in five minutes. His explanation of his strategic capacities is "I am an electrician."

This reminds me of Matthew Crawford's painstaking work on the "cognitive riches" of trade labour. (Summary here.) Crawford's point is that trade work is satisfying. Wałȩsa's point is that it is also a form of analytic training.

The deskilling of labor not only increases drudgery, but decreases the possibility of analytical development through the process of work.

Crawford asks readers to choose products which can be repaired, in order to support the continuation of such labor.

Consider the difference between a pre-electronic car, repaired through the intelligence of a craftsman, and a perhaps more reliable electronic car, which enables the deskilling of car mechanics (and displacement of their intelligence to electronic diagnostic machines) alongside workers producing electronic parts and diagnostic machines with massive toxic and "conflict" footprints, in toxic and dehumanized workplaces.

If we want a working class that is able to consider its reality, we may do well to support cognitively rich work.