The Philosopher-Mechanic

When GreenPunk becomes more fully developed, and when there eventually exists a large body of new fiction in the subgenre, I would imagine that it’s inevitable that certain tropes and character archetypes will come to be associated with it.  I do not mean that as a negative thing, just an interesting likelihood. For example, today I thought of a GreenPunk protagonist-type that I started to think of as the “Philosopher-Mechanic.”

I heard a re-broadcast of an installment of the Diane Rehm Show (on most NPR affiliates) in which she interviews Matthew Crawford about his book Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford is, in fact, a PhD-holding philosopher, but his main work in life is running a motorcycle repair shop. After trying employment in more academic and “officey” professions, he had the revelation that he wasn’t really suited for a desk job and that he got the greatest satisfaction out of fixing and making things. He makes the excellent point that a viable, sustainable economy needs to somewhere, somehow produce something and that there are all kinds of works opportunities that need to happen on site and can’t be sent offshore (like getting your motorcycle fixed). Also, he notes that in the same way that a lot of large manufacturing operations moved abroad for cheaper labor and laxer environmental laws, a lot of intellectual labor is doing the same thing. A doctor can look at an American patient’s MRI from India just fine, thanks to the internet. Where the real work is, says Crawford, and where the greatest pleasure can be found for a lot of people is in those things that can’t be done over a wire.

This all sounded a lot like a good attitude to have in a GreenPunk world. Repurposing the detritus of civilization, remediating ecological damage, breaking free of Big Energy constraints on human activity, adapting and innovating technology to new and better uses—all these things involve somehow doing stuff and making or repairing things. So this GreenPunk archetype that I am daydreaming about, the Philosopher-Mechanic, is probably a highly intelligent, highly inventive intellect who is also completely hands-on with his or her work and is making things happen in visible, tangible ways in his world. He or she understands that the line between intellectual work and hands-on work is bogus. It doesn’t exist. In a GreenPunk world, the winners and the heroes are probably not going to be the people seated behind desks all day. Maybe they’ll be people with dirty hands and a clean conscience.