Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Praise of Tinkering

I absolutely love, as in desperately, to tinker with machines. Motors, computers, ideas, the works. Right now I'm tinkering with language and consciousness, but I'm happy as a clam working on a car or woodworking my old and now departed wooden boat. These are things which, ultimately, make some sense and pose a challenge to me that I can resolve.

What I really enjoy is to be faced with an insoluble like, say your girlfriend runs your car dry of oil when you're in China and the camshaft gear disintegrates. You have no money for either the complicated repair or a different car or even for the parts. Or if something breaks inside your laptop. Or like when the canvas sunshade over the glider rots out.

What I really really hate is giving in. I hate going to the store to solve the problem with money. I hate having to look for the official solution, especially now that there isn't a store on the planet any longer which stocks stuff to fix things. Almost. What I really hate is buying a new one since it's always schlockier and WalMarty no matter how hard I try to resist. But I'd hate it even if there were good stuff around. Honest.

Last time the generator (that's how old it was - I do mean generator and not alternator) on my boat stopped generating I was able to find a shop that would rewind it and which still had ample stock of the Bendix (maybe?) parts which once were standard. Farmers still used these on their aging tractors. Old farmers.

I knew the shop would die with the old guy I was dealing with, who charged me the reasonable fraction of the cost of a new part which is what he grew up with. Maybe $50, but I know it was something I was thrilled to pay. Especially faced as I would be with a very expensive 12 volt alternator conversion for my 6 volt system, which at one time was all the rage. I'd held out! I'm so virtuous!

The coolest things was when I saw my exact engine, even painted with the same paint which I'd scrounged from the boatyard dustbin, on display at the Adirondack museum as an artifact from days gone by. Sure, I suppose there's some likelihood that somewhere in China they're now running a plant from the tooling they bought lock stock and barrel (a merism for replaceable, manufactured, interchangeable parts stuff, if you ask me), from the shuttered plant on this side of the great East/West divide.

Or maybe there are still enough farmers to create a demand for what I need. Well, except TSC, catering to ex-urban wannabees will take care of that along with the agribusiness folks. (do they really count as folks? I guess if Al Qaeda does then they do, eh GWB?). We tinkerers are being driven out of business, even as we get catered to.

Yeah yeah, Harbor Freight is like a walking wet-dream to me, but it makes me feel really really guilty. Like I don't want to be caught in there. Still, I can't help myself, buying shitty Chinese tools just because they price them below the threshold of impulse. Even knowing that I'm contributing to the destruction of Western Civilization.

These are guerrilla tactics now, being deployed against us all to keep us on the grid. State-sponsored terrorism to keep us all down on the farm as consumers. No really, I mean we all live on a consumer farm, as in we're the crops and it's worse than the Matrix. Way worse, because in our case we don't even have a prayer to come awake now.

Well, don't ask, don't tell because at the end of the day I'm not about to give up drinking coffee. And you can always find some comforting pabulum to sooth your mental agitation. It's all good, right? Things will work out in the end.

But that frame of mind which requires abject openness to the stuff around you, whether confined in the space of a garage or a boat at sea, or the space of your bank account, that's when human energy comes alive. There's nothing like the satisfaction of fixing the doo-hickie with a whatchamajigger. Especially when it feels as though the fix came from the sky.

There's even a New Thought theory about that called the Law of Attraction, which just simply has to be so much bullshit like Scientology of something. But to me, whatever you want to call it - call it Jesus for all I care - it's a lot nicer than that new car feeling the globe's all still so crazy about.

Maybe I'm math challenged, but a new car to me just feels like a big huge burden of indentured servitude to pay for it. Or maybe I'm just discipline-challenged and never did save up enough so that I could pay from ready cash.

Or you know, maybe this really is the money driving us all out of business. I think there are maybe no more new gadgets that I need. I think that lots of people are bored with Facebook anymore, and wouldn't trust a Chris Lee style blond bimbo as far as he could throw her. How do you even really know what sex you're dealing with? Everything's been shrink wrapped!

So, whatever. I consider the tinkerers impluse to be noble, in effect. It's a resistance against the machine, by taming it and making it human. It's a way out from the helter-skelter of needing always more and newer. It's the opposite of sublimated eroticism.

But it doesn't get you hired, nor make your ideas into bona-fides. For that you need a tenured position. Oh, wait, those are being done away with too. Darn!

Anyhow I can tell you this for certain: It's not humanity which is winning the survival of the fittest race. We've consistently misconstrued that as a contest. It's not a contest. It's the context and so far our lusts are being used for the survival of the machine memes. It's our inhumanity that's winning.

No mistaking that it's the basics which ensnare us. The same stuff which powers evolution by tricking us into reproduction for the sake of our selfish genes. Our tool-making has allowed it to run amok and now we're all in service to our tools, um, yeah, just like we always have been.

OK, gotta go back to practicing my iron crotch kung fu. Inside joke. Sorry.

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