Thursday, March 7, 2013

Maintaining Useful Skills

One of my favorite retail outlets is Joan Fabrics. The franchise sells all kinds of textiles, of course, but also a quite wide range of tooling for sewing, quilting, knitting, jewelry-making, and on. Being a male I’ve not been trained in any of these crafts, but it gives me enormous pleasure when visiting the store, usually with Brigitte but also occasionally on my own to buy gifts, to see how many women are in the store, to see how knowledgeable they are. They are maintaining useful skills. Quite a few of them are young—suggesting that the skill is being passed from one to the next generation.

Readers of this blog know by now that I expect industrial civilization to pass within, say, about eighty years. Fossil fuels will run out. I’m also (as who isn’t, deep down?) committed to the continuing welfare of society; disorders are coming; we should be prepared for that. And one way of doing so is by maintaining skills useful when the machines all die away.

To be sure, right here and now, we can’t all turn into farmers, weavers, tailors, carpenters, smiths, charcoal burners, lumberjacks, paper-makers, hand printers, calligraphers, cabinet-makers, shoemakers, clockmakers, food canners, well-diggers, and masons—all able to do these things without electrical energy, oil and gas, fancy chemicals, and steel or plastic tools. But we can be, indeed we should be, cultivating useful skills of the old-fashioned sort as hobbies. That will maintain a skill-base when, as we used to say in the Army, the balloon goes up.

Many who cultivate hobbies do so, indeed, by buying very expensive modern equipment. That is a start, of course. Learning how to use a fancy saw or a good sewing machine is one way to come in touch with wood or fabric. But more power to those who go beyond machines and begin to take an interest in how people did things in, say, Civil War days. Limited sources of energy and basic industries—like iron and steel, cement, and weaving—were present then and will be again as we gradually abandon our vast dependence on cheap energy. And the wider the skill set, the more teachers there will be to whom the young can be apprenticed as the New Age dawns.

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