The Nonsense of Taylorization…

The year after I graduated from high school I worked as a laborer at a company called Nu-Fab.  Nu-Fab builds pre-fabricated housing products, including things like pre-made walls, laminated beams, gable ends and gable ladders, and (most of all) roof trusses.  I spent almost all of my time at Nu-Fab building roof trusses.  It was not a good job.  I still get a Pavlovian shiver down my spine whenever I’m home in Saskatoon and happen to drive by that building on 45th St.West.  I worked there for a little under a year, building roof trusses day in and day out.

A few years later I was working at a small church in rural Manitoba, and we were planning a trip down to an orphanage in Mexico.  We were going for about a week, and we would be spending a significant portion of that time building two new houses for the people there.  While I was talking to my senior pastor it came out that I used to work at a place that built pre-fabricated houses, and that I spent almost a year building roof trusses.  He asked me if I would be able to help out designing or building the roof system for the houses we were going to be building.  The answer, as anybody who has ever worked on a factory floor could guess, was “no.”  I could swing a hammer, I could run the pneumatic press, and I could read the set of directions provided by the drafters and engineers.  Given a bunch of wood and a saw I was lost.

I’ve recently started reading an awful lot of Roland Boer’s work, and tonight I began reading his Political Grace.  In the Introduction he discusses the question of what he refers to as “Taylorization,” which is basically the assembly-line process for manufacturing that Henry Ford perfected and popularized (Boer xviii).  Boer challenges the notion that stark lines can be drawn between things like theology and economics and philosophy and whatnot, as well as the idea that one or another of these can be used to explain all of the rest (economics as an explanation for religion, or religion as an explanation for politics, etc).  With regard to Calvin he writes, “[my] study of Calvin leads me to suggest that we need to drop this harmful approach and realize that such a Taylorization is a fiction” (xviii).

He is, of course, utterly correct.  We do not need more line laborers in the great factory of academia.  We don’t need more thinkers with skills and mindsets analagous to my truss-building expertise.  We need something else.  We need synthetic, integrative thinkers.  We need people who’s thinking is more analagous to my father’s truss-building skills.  You see, my dad is a carpenter of the first order.  When he wanted to build an extension onto the back of his garage so that he’d have a dedicated workshop, he didn’t go to Nu-Fab to buy pre-fabricated trusses.  Instead he taught himself to use AutoCAD, then taught himself to design some simple 5/12 pitch trusses, then he built from scratch the jigs and set-ups required, and then he made his own trusses.  And you know what?  They were better than the trusses I made.

My dad is a synthetic builder.  I want to be a synthetic thinker and writer.  So screw Taylorization…let’s start exploring how our thoughts about God and reality and government and social relationships and capital and everything else overlap and inform each other, and then move on from there.