Disentangling Craft from Technology

20" Hemp Cable at HMC Dockyard 1941

I’m drawn to articulate a distinction between craft and technology. It is an enormous topic. That is part of the trouble with it, where to begin, or, if we’re past the beginning, where to continue….

It does seem that what is required is a process of disentanglement. Technology is a term that appears to cover everything we do when we interact with the world, especially if our actions are effected through some tool. This is not a useful distinction. When we speak of technology today no one is thinking about crows using sticks, or our ancestors knapping stone tools. Technology today is an all-pervasive attitude towards the world.

The term Craft can be an umbrella for a different attitude towards the world. As with Technology, the common definitions of Craft aren’t that useful. They’re entangled with a history of resistance to the technological attitude, but that history, and our perceptions of it, are fraught with confusing assumptions. Similar troubles surround terms like anarchy and Luddite, for example. It is difficult to unravel this from the straw-men and projections that have accumulated over time, applied by the opposing, “winning” side.

As I’ve stated before, the crux of a distinction between these attitudes of craft and technology is how Craft is tied to a wresting of meaning and the maintenance of interconnectedness between all aspects of our situation as we confront existence. The Technological attitude rejects all this as unnecessary and an obstacle to achieving a single-minded maximization of a particular result, whether measured simply as efficiency, or as profit, or as the good – where what is good is not examined, simply accepted as received wisdom.

This is the point of distinction between the two, but how does this actually emerge in practice?

This is not so simple. To begin, the fact that we are embedded in a social system which takes the technological view as dogma means that it is impossible to carve out physical places in which to practice craft unencumbered. No park or reservation, or Bohemia, or even a walled-in ghetto will bring us into “clean air.”

We carry this prison within each of us. Our conditioning; the way we have been accustomed to think, to feel, to perceive the world, as well as the forms and types and habits of our actions; are bound by and continue to re-forge the chains of our prison.

There are two broad beliefs that hold us. We are encouraged to see life as never good-enough, always proceeding towards a “better state.” Alternately, we are also encouraged to believe that life is a vale of misery and that we need to be saved from it. These form another aspect of our entanglement.

Entangled without and within, we need to disentangle ourselves from these notions of “Progress” while recognizing that no effort is likely to “save us.”

The entire notion of salvation, that we can turn to some outside force or factor to remove us from our existential danger, is one of the founding illusions of our current technological religion. For all the superficial bluster between fundamentalists and those seeking the singularity, these are just two ends of a single polarity of viewpoint. Tied to each other in mutual projections and hatred of the mirrors they see in each other, they are unable to see the entire spectrum of possible ways to be, perceive and act, outside their present philosophies. The purpose of life is to live, not to await or scheme after “salvation.”

The way out of these nestled forms of imprisonment is tied to how we disentangle Craft from Technology. The core of the attitude of Craft, that it is a space in which we grapple with meaning in relation to necessity establishes an alternative to our prison.

Technology is a mechanism by which we hide from our fears of unknowing, afraid of the foundations of an uncertainty we have no choice but to face. This is its founding lie. If we embrace the technological attitude we find many willing accomplices to help us hide from our discomfort with uncertainty. This abdication produces all the rest of our difficulties. In the end, we are locked into the supremely efficient technology of ecocidal destruction, a suicide machine. A final, final solution.

Recognizing and registering this entanglement dissolves our compulsion to remain deluded by it. But even when we have “seen through” the trick, even when we can no longer view its machinations as anything but violence and destruction unleashed against us and all the world, we still cannot find or embrace any other way of being, simply by willing it so.

Here, Craft is a compendium of practices we can engage in that foster new ways of being, perceiving, acting.

Unlike Technology which insists that all we need to do is tie ourselves to some ideology and find our place within some hierarchy of coercion, Craft holds us to the discipline of direct engagement. We cannot honestly, sincerely engage in Craft while settling for comforting illusions to hide behind. Craft does not amass stockpiles of power to defend illusions against contact with reality, the way money and weapons and consensus do.

While all of this is a stab at establishing a perspective for what is involved in a practice of Craft, it also presents a stumbling block between our need and how we may enlist those most capable and attuned to this process. Those who have a living connection within our various Craft traditions, with elements of its practice, are unlikely to have the patience to sit through such intellectual circuses.

This is not through a lack of intelligence! On the contrary. These people are a reservoir of natural intelligence – intelligence directly applied to existence.

But, unless there is some connection made across this gulf, we are truly trapped. People involved day-to-day in Craft have an intuitive grasp of what is at stake, but they may lack the fulcrum needed to bring its full force into play. This conceptual framework is an aspect of that fulcrum.

My efforts have always been along the edges, at the boundary between worlds, between artistic and craft-based views. This means I’m not quite comfortable in either realm, but I hope it might make me a good ambassador between them. This is the role of this forum, to make connections, conceptual and metaphoric, as well as personal and concrete, between those who consider these questions and those who have the tools and the practices with which to do the work.

I envision a joining of these two pathways. Neither is sufficient on its own. To disentangle Craft from Technology we need to both understand what’s at stake and have the tools and experience to do the work.

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One response to “Disentangling Craft from Technology

  1. Pingback: Notes on the Craft (Part 7) « Excursions Into Imagination·

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