Being me, I think there’s something deeper there. I’m watching both the emerging history of the BP disaster and Obama’s reaction to it with a kind of sick feeling. Thinking about it I realize that this situation – the disastrous performance by a major corporation and the equally disastrous performance by a politician neatly sums up a lot of what I think is wrong with our country and begins to align my compass on what we have to do better – something that makes these degreed artisans a hopeful sign..
It’s the simple matter of the growing disconnect between talking about stuff and actually doing stuff. Note that it’s not just ‘talking’ and ‘doing'; the greatness of the post-Enlightenment West is largely attributed to ‘talking about stuff’ effectively – which let us organize larger and larger groups of people to do bigger and bigger things, and also let smaller and smaller groups do cooler and cooler things. But that effectiveness – that ability to tie words to actions and to the stuff acted on – has seemed to be eroding lately.
We’re becoming a kind of cargo cult nation, swept up in the amazing power of words and brands and theoretical icons, and forgetting that at some level, in some place, those have to take root in the world where you can’t talk your way out of problems, and where people with dirty hands have to actually move the stuff of the world.
We’re becoming Eloi and Morlocks, and as the Eloi become more and more powerful, either the Morlocks get shoved aside, or they, themselves give up and try to live in the world of ethereal things where a well-turned phrase is more valuable than the basic engineering skill needed to drill a hole.
Because, at root, we’re somehow forgetting that the basis of our lives is at some level to drill holes in things (and shape things and make things); we’ve been seduced by the power of making things out of words (software) and forgotten how important the ‘stuff’ of our lives really is. I think there’s a discipline there that keeps all the other things in check (the discipline of stuff) and one of the things that happens to the very rich and very powerful is they get shielded from it to a large extent. Maybe that’s why Lady Di didn’t think it was necessary to wear a seatbelt; when you’ve spent your hole life surrounded by people who bend stuff into whatever you want, the fundamental realities get pretty hazy.
As a nation, we’ve let them get pretty hazy. We made crap cars, and destroyed our industrial base. Now it looks like we’ve drilled a crap well – and had crap plans to deal with the inevitable disasters. Maybe in a generation, when we have smart kids who have become mature artisans again, we can recover.