Precision is not perfection. In fact (and it really is a fact) man (sic) ends where god begins. God is perfection but god is not precision. I start here not out of some seminary instinct but only to indicate that within the Judeo, Christian and Muslim traditions there is a similar understanding of perfection as against precision at work. We mortals often consider precision to be a hand maidens to perfection. It here where we err time and again. To be precisely blind is not to be perfectly blind. To be perfectly blind one would have to have no imagination; one would have to be incapable of transcending their lack of vision through the imagination to navigate the world (time and space).
Much of what constitutes the central debates within the academy is stuck in the false equivalence between precision and perfection. Nature V Nurture, rationality V irrationality, objective V subjective, materialist V culturalist understandings of things and of course the Daddy long legs of divides the natural V the social sciences.
It is not my intention here to start or finish a debate on ontological and epistemic concerns. Maybe some other time. What got me on to this subject was a blog post written over at the Slackwire in the comments sections we get the following response from Will Boisvert:
Instead of a realistic appraisal of workplace alienation, you have, like Marx, advanced a caricature of musical celebrity as your approved model of labor. This seems like another mystification. Surely Keith Richards is just a glittering cog in the Rolling Stones combine, one whose particular, limited job—the rote cobbling of salacious lyrics to hackneyed blues riffs—strikes me as degraded and unfulfilling. I don’t know, maybe it makes him feel exalted, the master of artistic wholes, but so what? You can’t run an economy on rock concerts. That you hold up the Richards figment, a cooler update of Marx’s composer sweating and straining with genius, shows me once again how deeply imbued Marxism is, for all its pretensions to a collectivist critique of society, with a romantic individualism that it insists must somehow undergird a mass economy.
Alas, that’s not possible: a return to artisanal autonomy and holism would spell economic collapse and die-off. Given that reality, I think the liberal dispensation holds up rather well, if fully realized. Jobs may be–usually, must be–uninspiring, but with high pay and short hours they leave workers with money and time to draw satisfaction from family life, civil society and unalienated hobby labor.
First-off artisans never enjoyed total holism. This is just bullshit. What artisans did enjoy (more precisely put) was control over their contribution to greater projects. Marxism is not against a social division of labour, nor economies of scope or scale. When Marx speaks of socialism he speaks of both collective and individual labour. What Marx destroys is the firm distinction bourgeois political economy wants to draw between the two. And weirdly when Willy pops his head-up to defend liberalism he does so on the basis of the necessity of individual sacrifice to meet collective needs! And I quote:
Mass production–machine processes and mindless-cog specialization ruled by bureaucracy and scientific design–has long since achieved a craftsmanship and efficiency that “meaningful” artisan labor can’t rival. Does that mean that liberal capitalism leaves us no escape from a bifurcated, spiritually meaningless life of work-time alienation and leisure-time bacchanal? Well, no, actually; if people want the satisfying experience of tangible, creative, self-directed labor, liberal capitalism is happy to sell it to them. Such jobs are called “hobbies” and there is a vast industry–hardware and gardening stores, art-supply shops, cookbooks, blog-hosting websites–devoted to marketing them to consumers.
There is much here to send one to the intellectual toilet so let us take them in their measure. The cardinal error here is that no Marxist I know has ever argued against industrialism and the concentration and centralization that entailed. Indeed the question was always about who should have access to the profits earned there from. It was always understood that the key to human liberty was to be realized via the increasing social division and specialization of labour. The sticky wicket was always of two concerns: First, who controls this; and second ,who preforms it?
But then the comment is also irrecoverably tainted by the proposition that precision = perfection. There are some things in life where precision really helps: piston clearances; tire balancing; mother board assembly and the optics in microscopes. None of course are perfection. Scale down far enough and they will all be imprecise. But this level of imprecision can be perfect for the task for which they were designed. Precision is not perfection to repeat the meme.
I was (and still understand myself as) an accomplished artisan and the delicate balance between precision and perfection was always a question. Too precise = dead form, dead design: too slack simply = sloppy work. There is then also a difference to make between relaxed and sloppy. Look go to your local industrial design store an pick out some interesting espresso cups. The most high modernists among you might desire and therefore like the most symmetrical and thus industrial of offerings. But, let me give you a chance. Send me a photo of your favourite industrial form (espresso only) and I will bet you I can make you more comfortable with something hand (directly) made. Precision works against warmth and depth: slopiness makes us crave precision.
Artisanal production is hereticaly about perfection not precision but it is not imprecise. It is exacting. Hear doth end the lesson.