Craftsmanlike Engagement

Robert Pirsig, whose 1970s best seller, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was presented as a meditation on the subject of quality. Pirsig lays out his central theme in describing how two young mechanics had carelessly repaired his bike:

The mechanics in their attitude toward the machine were really taking no different attitude from the manual’s toward the machine, or from the attitude I had when I brought it in there. We were all spectators. And it occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted. On this trip I think we should notice it, explore it a little, to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we may find some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century.

Pirsig’s view, as he develops it, is that a good life may be found through craftsmanlike engagement with the actions, objects, and relationships of ordinary experience, through caring about what you do. If you choose to ride a motorcycle, then being able to repair a fouled spark plug becomes a moral imperative.

— Peter Korn, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman

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