Amol Rajan: Decline and fall of that great craft, the Knowledge

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

It used to be that if you wanted to get a black cab driver in London talking, you hit the subjects beloved of talk radio: crime, immigration, welfare, Europe, that sort of thing. Nowadays there is a much quicker route: Addison Lee. Mention this rival and your man up front will splutter for all England about that cab company's tyrannical influence.

Earlier this week, I was in a black taxi and mentioned the dreaded rival. The driver, Ray, burst into a torrent of abuse, and reached fever pitch with this assertion: "Them ******** ain't even done the Knowledge!". Two years and four months Ray had laboured to commit London's streets to memory all those years ago. Now Jimmy Nobody from Nigeria just uses a bleeding sat-nav. I didn't have the guts to say what I was thinking, which is that for Jimmy Nobody the Knowledge would be a waste of time, and the customer couldn't give a hoot anyway.

The Knowledge is a working-class institution. Many thousands of men used it to earn salaries throughout their working lives, by which they paid their taxes and fed their families. But the decline in use of the Knowledge, when instant sat-nav can direct any driver from A to B, is a potent metaphor for one of the most important changes to modern Western societies. It's an obsession of this column. I call it The Great Hollowing.

Poor people in the West are confronting nothing less than an existential crisis, brought on by globalisation and rapid technological advance. Both are stealing jobs; the former by supplying cheaper manpower in the East; the latter by substituting (cheap) machinery for (an expensive) labour force.

In the process, certain types of craftsmanship will be lost. Following Immanuel Kant, the conservative imagination distinguishes between pure and practical reason. The former, being based on abstract theory, is a tissue of illusions. The latter, being rooted in experience, contains wisdom and truth.

Therefore any attack on craftsmanship, which is a depository of practical reason, is to be resisted.

Unfortunately for Ray and his ilk, this trend cannot be resisted. It is both irreversible and a calamity for the affected. Largely unrecognised by the political class, globalisation and technology are robbing the poor of an essential component of meaningful life: paid employment.

Just as the Knowledge will decay and disappear, so other institutions and crafts beloved of the Western poor will die, drowned victims of the remorseless tide that is The Great Hollowing.

 

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit