Ok, I apologize for this week. A friend of mine generously agreed to teach me 3D computer assisted design on Thursday, and I had a cold last night and just fell asleep after work–so there were only a measly 3 posts this week! To make up for it, I will put up this week’s sketches tomorrow in a special Sunday post—so tune in then (and bring all of your friends and loved ones too!) but first, here is a rare Saturday post–a weird jeremiad about guilds.
“Guilds” you are saying,” didn’t those die off in the middle ages? We live in a glistening modern world of opportunities now!” Actually, guilds didn’t die at all—they have morphed and proliferated in ways both beneficial and detrimental to society. We should think seriously about this and ask whether the ambiguous benefits of guild outweigh their unfair anti-competitive nature.
First let’s quickly go back to the Middle Ages when there were two competing ways of learning professional trades. You could go to a guild, where weird old men made you do sit on a bench and do menial tasks for twenty years while you competed in pointless status games with your cruel peers (and underwent fearsome hazing). Assuming you survived all of this, you became part of the guild, and participated in its quasi-monopoly on trading fish with the Baltic, making oakum ropes, scrivening, alchemy, accounting, or whatever. Savvy readers will see the roots of the AMA, the Bar Association, and even our great universities and trade schools (and maybe our secondary schools) in this model.
The other way was the master/apprentice system. This is now most familiar to us through wizards, kung fu warriors, artists, Jedi, and other fictional characters—which is to say it has not proliferated in the modern world. A wise master would take a favorite student under his/her wing and teach them the ropes. This system had the advantage of being better and faster than the guild system—it can truly foster rare genius– but it had all of the Jesus/Peter, Jedi/Sith, father/son problems familiar to us through fiction. Namely the master frequently held on too long, became evil, started giving sermons in the wilderness, or otherwise went bad: or the apprentice decided they did not want to wait but were ready to paint naked ladies instead of mixing paint…or to enchant brooms or to fight the howling serpent gang.
During the nineteenth century, law and medicine were learned like gunsmithing, coopering, and hat-making: through apprentices. It worked fine for law but not for medicine (although I am not sure 19th century medicine was worthwhile anyway). Today we have universities and professional schools controlling all the ways upward in society (provided you have adequate money and have passed through endless mandarin-style standardized tests). It is making society sclerotic. Anybody who has spent time in a contemporary office will instantly recognize the parochial narrow-minded professional mindset encountered at every turn. We have a society made up of narrowly educated reactionaries monopolizing each profession. Time to open things up a bit with a different model. The apprentice system worked well in the past. Let’s try it again (and get rid of these smug gate-keeping professional schools in the process).
Frankly I suspect that Doctors alone should have guilds. It is the only discipline important enough and complicated enough to warrant the stranglehold protectionism of a professional association. The great medical associations make use of master/apprentice-style relationships later on in a doctor’s training anyway, and they have proven themselves responsible guardians of their sacred trust in numerous other ways. Lawyers, florists, morticians, artists, clowns, accountants, underwater welders, actuaries and other dodgy modern professionals should compete through the open market. If you want to be a businessman find a businessman and train with him until you know enough to defeat him in open business combat. If you want to be a florist or a computer programmer, find a master florist or a master programmer. Disciplines like geology and engineering could keep pseudoscientists and frauds out of their ranks with continuing brutal tests.
Of course it is possible that this whole post is merely an angry reaction to troubles in my own extremely subjective profession, art. Contemporary art schools are thoroughly worthless in every way. Back during the 50s and 60s, a bunch of doofy political theorists took over and hijacked art (which has many unpleasant similarities to political theory…but which is not political theory). Art has been a meaningless game of celebrity and identity-politics ever since. It is sadly devoid of the master craftsman aspect which once made it great. I didn’t learn art at a famous art school. I learned from a great master painter…who went a bit bonkers and moved off to China to practice veganism and sit on a mountain. That is the way things should be! This business of going to Yale or RISDI needs to be thrown on history’s scrapheap.