December 8th, 2011

Working on it

Attitudes

Sorry I haven't posted for a while; work on the house got frantic again, then wibble_puppy and I spent about a month on holiday in the Hebrides.

I want to share the following passage that I found in a book I was reading today.

But the first thing I want to talk about is not tools, or materials, or techniques, but attitudes. The tendency in a modern industrial society is for the division of labor to be so complete that individuals rely on specialists for almost all of their goods and services. We have come so far from the days of pioneer self-sufficiency that we speak of the "do-it-yourself" movement as if it were some sort of curiosity or fad rather than an expression of man's innate desire for independence.

The trouble is that by depending on specialists - be they plumbers, bakers, or tailors - we rob ourselves of the opportunity to probe the limits of our own abilities. A person who never handles tools cannot know what skill might lie hidden in those magnificent hands. As a result, one who has had no experience with using tools and building things may easily come to consider himself or herself incapable of using tools and building things. Such an attitude - unseen and unrecognized - can cripple a potential artisan as surely as the loss of a hand.

I fell into this trap myself, and might never have gotten out of it had I not settled in the Alaskan bush, where self-sufficiency is still a way of life. My crippling self-image was exposed before I'd been in the valley a month. One day I asked a village craftsman if it was possible to fashion a homemade adapter that would reduce a 6-inch stovepipe down to 5 inches. "Of course it's possible," he answered. "The only question is how to do it."

All of a sudden, I realized that I had been on the verge of giving in to the specialists by ordering an adapter from a faraway hardware store. My friend, by contrast, was already looking through his supply of scrap metal in order to decide which of many possible approaches might be the best. Ever since that time, I've operated on the assumption that if other human beings can do a certain thing, then I can at least give it a try.


The book is Wood Stoves: How to Make and Use Them by Ole Wik. There is an OCRed copy available to read online (probably unauthorised, though the book is over thirty years old and long out of print).