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Victor Davis Hanson made an effort to explain working-class people to his colleagues who inhabit the institutions where he spends half of his life as a scholar in California’s institutions of higher learning by drawing on the experience of the other half of his life as a farmer. He recounted watching a man repair a hydraulic machine without having to look at a repair manual – the depth and detail of specific knowledge the man had at his disposal was impressive.
I used to work on cars back when they had carburetors and distributors, points to adjust and coils to replace. Cars still have coils, although I can’t recognize them anymore, but the points have joined the dinosaurs. In short, I found out that I don’t understand the cars they are making these days at all.
To figure out why headlights don’t work back in the day, for example, I’d check the headlights to see if they were burned out, check the fuse, and, if the fuse wasn’t blown, check the switch in the dashboard. Was the switch getting power? Was the switch good? Was there a short in the wire leading from the switch to the lights?
These days, if you look for a power wire going from the dashboard switch to the headlights you won’t find one. Instead, the switch is connected to a computer module that controls the functions of the dashboard. That module is connected to a computer network that may connect all the 40 or 60 other computer modules in the car together. The dash module sends a message through the network to the body module to power up the headlights when you turn the switch or if any number of other conditions arise. Fixing the headlights may become an exercise in computer network diagnostics.
And it’s the same with just about every other function in the car. Even the fuel tank has its own computer module that sends messages to the dashboard module and other modules about how much fuel is in the tank, but also handles such information as fuel tank pressure, tank venting (using another sophisticated system that didn’t use to exist), and perhaps fuel temperature.
This state of affairs allows the car to do all sorts of things that cars didn’t use to do. Using information on the car’s network, the body module will lock the doors when the car’s speed exceeds 15 miles per hour. The headlights turn on when the door is unlocked if it’s dark. The door unlocks at a touch, and so on. There are obviously a lot of advantages to this, but also disadvantages. With everything in the car connected to everything else, a bad sensor in a door handle can cause the whole car to stop working. One bad module and the car may be bricked.
There is still a role for feeler gauges, wrenches, and screwdrivers in fixing cars. A brake job is still done pretty much the same way (if you ignore the computer sensors attached to the wheel bearings). But repair work also requires the use of special-purpose diagnostic computers called scan tools and other sophisticated electronics. The first step in many car repair jobs is to use a scan tool to check the state of the car’s computer modules and see if the modules are reporting any problems. And it is not then just a matter of looking at codes and repairing what the computer says is bad. Interpreting the codes can be a challenge.
I recommend a YouTube channel called “South Main Auto” if you’d like to go deep into the weeds of auto repair as it’s done now. I’ve viewed several videos, and I’ve already lost track of the number of different electronic devices, computers, laptops, scopes, and other “tools” Mr. O, the repair guy, uses. ( How much do all these tools cost?) Mr. O at one point said that 75 percent of his time was spent in researching technical auto issues on line. And this is a one-man repair shop in a small town in upper New York State.
So, today’s car repair people have to have detailed knowledge and, as you can see from Mr. O’s demonstrations, have to be able to think systematically and logically. Just one of the guys we consider to be “uneducated” working class.
Victor Davis Hanson calls such people more like artisans than working class. I suppose so, if the artisan uses a computer-controlled pottery wheel or lathe, undergoes months of technical training, and passes an exam to become certified as a potter or furniture maker, and so on.
And it’s not just auto repair. Whether you talk about HVAC or operating earth-moving equipment the detailed and specific technical knowledge required has exploded. The gap between the people who do these jobs and the unemployed is getting to be very large. The intelligence required to become proficient in these occupations has become high.
If Democrats had deliberately sought to cut the unemployed off from any chance at on-the-job training or apprenticeship, they could not have done better than to propose a high minimum wage. The amount of time a person needs to be trained in one of these jobs is getting larger and affordable alternatives for training are few.
Perhaps just as significant, the gap between the working class and intellectual elites is shrinking intelligence-wise. Pols and pundits who huff and puff about populism might bear this in mind — they are not nearly as much smarter than working-class people as they think they are.Published in