It’s taken me long enough; but I’ve finally discovered that the word craft derives from Old English and German words for strength.
Kraft paper means strong paper. Knew that!
So at this point this belated revelation reverberates in my skull. Thinking about the distinction between strength and power…. There’s already been a sense that power, the Will-to-Power, is tied into what we call Technology. Having craft actually mean something strong… shall we say, strengthens the affinity?
I’ve never had much truck with the alternate, sideline definition of craft when we say someone is crafty, tricky, devious. Seems like an abuse of the term. All I can think is that strength can appear to be a trick when seen in a certain weak light. Perhaps this was the start of our chasing after technology and power?
This connects with an outsider’s views of magic. Not the tricks of a performer. The works of thaumaturgy. What happens when a practice shapes perception in such a way as to effect a change in our reality. What’s not understood is seen to have an effect. The strength required to achieve this effect is not appreciated. Instead it is perceived as resorting to power. This is the kind of magic Asimov was referring to in his famous quote about advanced technologies. This is the same trap he fell into by worshiping technology.
This kind of confusion permeates our relationships with action. Add to this the fallacies of cause-and-effect and it’s no wonder we continue to chase power when all it does is destroy.
In the trilogy of realms of action that have presented themselves: Theosphere, Art, and Craft; each has a relationship with strength. We can say that in the Theosphere we work on strengthening our sense of connection to all that cannot be perceived directly. In Art we strengthen our capacities to wrest meaning out of the soup of perception. And in Craft we strengthen our connections with the physical realm regarding what we consider to be contingency and necessity. Seen in this way, craft-as-strength underscores the fact that strength in the physical realm is most readily apparent. We struggle to make the connection between our contemplation of the unseen, or we joust with words or other modes of representation in Art, as kinds of strength. But the strength of a stout boat or of any well-wrought tool or the muscular strength of a practitioner of some Craft is hard to miss.
Let’s look at the difference between a stout tool and a technological device. Again, looking at their relation to strength, it’s obvious that while the device promises to channel untold powers it does tend to be relatively if not absolutely weak. Tools require care, but they rarely stop working because they’ve been dropped a few feet or had coffee spilled on them. We can’t say the same for the gadget-du-jour.
We’re approaching what Nassim Taleb has discovered and named Antifragility. Although it’s important to note the distinction between simple robustness and Antifragility. A classic tool is robust. A technological device is weak. To be Antifragile something has to actually get stronger when it is put at risk.
Does this point to the difference between the practitioner of a Craft and a devotee of technology?
I’m betting that it does. The whole concept of Queequeg’s Coffin and the wager behind Boats for difficult times is predicated on this bet. As contemporary culture, with foundations going all the way back to the beginnings of an attitude we call civilization, becomes brittle to the point of failure; I don’t see anything else that can help us gain Antifragility. That can bring us strength as we find ourselves in greater and greater peril.
The entire notion of Power has failed us. It is killing us, destroying the foundations of life itself. Unless we can begin to find a way to imagine another way to act: Find how to respond to the Enormity of our challenges with strength. Unless we can do this we are doomed to dust. Without a strengthening of our relationship to strength itself. Without a Craft of Craft. A practice of strengthening strength. We are as fragile as our devices. As disconnected from the how and the why and even the where of our lives.
Materialism has failed. It’s been wrong on all counts. It sees the Theosphere as a fantasy. It considers Art a toy of the Marketplace. It sees Craft as a Hobby.
Materialism results from an adolescent Nihilism. A false sophistication. Discounting all that matters, it leaves us nowhere. It’s only fitting that its cult worships a Utopia to be found in the never-never-land of the Future!™
Let’s be clear. This is not a game. Unless we are clear. Unless we distinguish between the ghettos we’ve been driven into: Ghettos of Art and of Craft. Even the trivialization of our quest for unity that passes so often for Religion.
Strength is required. Craft is strength’s training ground. Just as reliance on technology – both in fact and in belief – weakens us. Craft shows us how to be strong.
If we are to make anything of our moment we need to use the strength we’ve found in Craft. Use it to turn our attention to how we may turn what we have learned to address what so many are afraid to consider.