Many years ago, I taught the inaugural edition of my Philosophy of Welding seminar. I began the semester by introducing some of the problems that would hold our attention during the semester: What is welding? How is it distinguished from other activities that claim to be welding? Is there a distinctive being-in-the-world characteristic of the welder and his tools? What makes a welded work beautiful? How should such works be shared? In the political economy of welding how is value created and sustained? Do we have a moral obligation to weld? And so on.
My reading list for the class was not excessively ambitious: I stuck to some of the usual suspects–Heidegger and some of the works of the Shipyard Collective, for instance–and concentrated on a few key passages in each, hoping close attention to them would repay dividends in the form of rich class discussion. Early in the semester, I began to notice that one young student did the readings diligently, came to class prepared, and engaged vigorously in all ensuing discussions.
This was no idle interest; no lofty, disengaged, from-on-high tackling of philosophical problems. This young man was in the trenches, on a mission. And it was quite clear what it was: defending–nay, aggressively speaking up for–welding and welders. He had air-tight definitions for welding: necessary and sufficient conditions for it neatly marked its domain off from the impostors clamoring to be let in; he offered an at-times-almost-mystical description of the relationship of the welder to the welded (and the tools that mediated that relationship); he spoke movingly of the affective responses that welded works provoked in him, deftly bringing in Kantian notions of the sublime; he offered a creative theory for how welded works could be copyrighted and welders granted patents for their work; he described the outlines of a political economy for welding that would allow welding to continue to generate surplus value in a world increasingly dominated by the intangible and the immaterial; and most movingly of all, he offered a passionate, stirring, argument whose fascinating conclusion was that we have a duty to weld, a moral inclination that must be obeyed.
It was on this last point that we passionately disagreed. Even though I recognized the importance of welding, I could not bring myself to accept this argument. Surely, one could assign welding a respectable position in our hierarchy of valued activities without taking the final move to make our engagement something that acquired normative weight. But this young man would not budge. Welding, as an activity, had normative implications; it gave our lives meaning and value; it was the tide that would raise all boats. It was not the cement of the universe, but it was the tool that brought the fabric of space-time together.
By semester’s close, our disagreements had grown sharper. When it ended, it was clear I had lost my student. My failure–and the rest of the class’–to accept and internalize his arguments seemed to have turned him off philosophy altogether. I do not know what had so animated his passion for welding, but it was clear and distinct, an important motivational force in his psychological dispositions.
Last night, I saw that young man again. Marco Rubio is now a presidential candidate for the US, and his passion for welding has not diminished one bit. And neither has his disdain for philosophers.