Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Workshops & Farms

So, I continue to read The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander and what I've just read articulates, nicely, a thought I've been having. Alexander, it turns out he's a fairly big deal in the world of architectural theory, argues, as far as I've been getting it, that we, humans, desire, what he calls, "the quality that has no name." We want to feel "alive," to be fully present in everything, to be who we "really are." Now, I know that there are some serious problems in terms of what these things really mean, in some sort of metaphysical sense, but I think that most of us understand what they mean phenomenologically, i.e., we've all experienced the feeling even if we can't justify the feeling as corresponding to something real. He further argues, and I already believed this so little argument was necessary, that this isn't a feeling we can achieve simply through inner work. That our surroundings are important to this -- it's noteworthy that those who do focus on inner work do so in very particular places (or at least, I'd argue, desire to).

Anyway, the thought I've been having recently has to do with the increase in so-called service-industry jobs and the decrease of manual labor - farming, factories, etc. And what I've realized is that it isn't so much that I feel bad for the workers (assuming that they can get new jobs or that their jobs are phased out only when they retire and that everyone else is employed) and it isn't so much some sort of amorphous "way of life" that I think is intrinsically good for a society (though I do strongly believe this following the good Mr. Thomas Jefferson), but that it seems to me that children who grow up with parents working in these sorts of jobs experience a particular view of the world that is important and can't be gained when one's parents work in other types of jobs.

Alexander notes that in workshops (I have a friend whose parents and, now, brother make violins and bows at 'the shop.' The picture above is taken in the shop) work and family life are not separated but interact daily. Children see what work is, may run in and out, etc. Families are the focus and people are integrated. Life is not divided into 'work' and 'non-work' and 'work' isn't this mysterious thing that happens somewhere else. I think that the 'romance' (if we want to call it that) of the mining towns, are the stories we hear of the men coming back at lunch to eat, all covered with dust, or, if not that, at least live with the mine and be with it constantly.

Now, of course, I'm not saying mining was a good job or that these are careers to be aspired to, only that there's something to a population where people grow up being surrounded by integrated lives. I grew up never really knowing what my dad did (he was an engineer - and I had no idea what this was except it didn't involve trains) and, to tell the truth, I continue to not know. I once took the little girl living next door to me to 'take your daughters to work' day and she could not have had a more boring day - and this was with me doing my best to make life as a professor exciting. With more 'professional' jobs, kids will grow up with 'work' being something mysterious and separated from life, and, quite possibly, something that consistently takes someone away from life.

Anyway, Alexander's idea, I predict, is not to go back to the lives of farming and workshops, but to reorganize our cities so that work and home are not entirely separated. I suppose that the 'at home office' gets to this, but he wants to make it systemic, not individual to individual. I'll keep reading and see what he comes up with.

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