I asked some friends how they understood Senator Marco Rubio's very blunt statement that "Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers." I received a variety of answers.
My linguistically conservative friends asserted that we obviously need grammarians more than either philosophers or welders, because Rubio doesn't respect the difference between "less" and "fewer." I admit that "less philosophers" clanks on my sensitive inner ear; nevertheless, I don't think that it's wise to hold presidential candidates to high standards of usage. It would be enough for them to grasp the issues. No one I know is so very prescriptivist that he or she will vote for the candidate who knows less and fewer. I confess to a longing for a more perfect language from our leadership, but traditional grammar is too much to ask, especially since it's evident that our electorate easily acclimated to the barbarisms of bushlingo.
Other of my friends took issue with Rubio's unabashed materialism. They parsed his statement to mean "welders make more money than philosophers and therefore we should have more welders than philosophers." Welding is better than philosophizing because it makes the bucks, gathers the green. If this is what Rubio meant, then his argument is not only crass but wrong. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics proves that both graduates with a philosophy degree and professional philosophers (meaning professors of philosophy) enjoy much larger salaries on average than welders. But even if welders did outearn philosophers, Rubio's argument would still be monumentally vulgar. I don't know anyone who, if push came to shove, assigns value strictly on the basis of earnings. Do we not value men of the cloth, social workers, nurses, small farmers, G.I's, smoke-jumpers and sometimes teachers more than we value pornstars and slumlords? Einsteins more than reality TV celebrities? And as much as we respect the crafts -- electricians, plumbers, tractor and auto mechanics -- we also know that it is not the craftsmen but the philosophers who now as in the past are going to help us think our way out of our plight. Just as Locke and Hume got us out of Aristotle and the Bible and into the age of reason, and Darwin laid the foundation for all the advances of the last hundred and fifty years in biology and medicine, so we now need someone, desperately, equipped with deep learning and an insightful brain, to generate the ideas that will get the new messy electronic world, bedeviled with fundamentalists/terrorists, into some kind of intellectual order. Welders are good, especially when you want something fastened to a steel I-beam, but philosophers have their place as well. Rubio is just too downright short-sighted for most of us. We know that money ain't everything and we want our statesmen to know it as well. Rubio's assertion that welders do more valuable work than thinkers participates in bottom-line American anti-intellectualism. We're a can-do practical people; we can see what welders do. Who knows what the heck those airy liberal philosphers do at those lefty universities? Can they fix a fuse? Can they meet a payroll?
Another bunch of my friends objected that there's no reason why a person can't be both a welder and a philosopher. Why set limits on human versatility? As it happens, I have in my own family a fellow who makes his living with his brain but who also builds his own furniture, can wire a house, and has, strange but true, taken up welding. But I think he'd be the first to admit that he's not a pro at any of these crafts. We live in a world of specialists and it's hard to be perfectly skilled at two crafts, let alone a craft plus metaphysics or epistemology or logic. I understand the longing for the philosopher-welder, but I don't think it's a realistic wish. It's utopian, prelapsarian, perhaps even Marxist. After all, it was Marx who developed the vision of post-capitalist communist society "where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, [where] society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, philosophize after dinner, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or philosopher" (German Ideology ). This is Marx at his least practical. I suspect that his hunters and fishermen would return empty-handed, his herdsman would find that his cows never come home, and his part-time philosophers would boggle over some elementary error in logic or language. So no dice to the philosopher-welder, I'm afraid. Not a starter, Karl.
What I myself would want to ask Rubio is this: how does it happen that there are not enough welders? Rubio puts his faith in the perfect workings of the free market. In theory, the market should have solved the problem of the missing welders by raising their salaries to make the job more enticing. And similarly, it should have lowered the wages of philosophers to dry up the supply. Wait a sec!! Is it possible that the free capitalist market is not doing its job. And if I or Marco Rubio propose that we establish more community colleges and offer potential welders training in their craft at little or no cost, are we not interfering with the proper working of capitalism and the free market? Picking winners and losers, in the dread phrase. It's centralized planning, almost socialism to do so-- certainly anathema to the wing of the party to which Rubio belongs. Riddle me that.
Bottom line: it's helpful for Rubio to advocate for more welders. It's not helpful (nor a credit to his candidacy) to set up a false antagonism between welders and philosophers. Below the bottom line: a democratic electorate need thoughtful voters (let us call them philosophers). Welder need to be philosopher-enough that they don't let themselves be snookered by some demagogue who himself is bookless and factless and history-less. It's a challenge to identify a thoughtful candidate when one of our major parties is offering a full slate of empty but noisy barrels.