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Fingerspitzengefuhl.  There is no equivalent word in English.  Expertise doesn’t quite fit.  Know-how comes closer.  Literally, the German word means “fingertip-feeling.”  The sense of the word is an intuition, both deep and broad, about the nature of things.  Such intuition comes from hands-on experience of what works and what doesn’t work.  For convenience, we will refer to the German word as gefuhl.

For centuries, our nation’s rapid ascendency has been because of the plentiful gefuhl in America.  Much of it was brought to our shores by technically skilled immigrants – many from Germany.  More than that, Americans, of pioneering necessity, became practical people, taking pride in know-how.  Gefuhl best describes the original American practical culture.

No more.  Today the elitist media, academic, and political culture is more comfortable with airy abstractions.  Real-world experience is discounted in favor of ungrounded theory.  Progressives, to this day, pine for Marxist socialism despite a century of Marxist bloodshed and misery.  Theory trumps reality.

Perhaps it starts with our schools.  Progressive multiculturalism denigrates, and attempts to shatter, the obvious superiority of Western civilization.  It most particularly attacks the very successful American melting-pot version of Western civilization – an America built up from hands-on experience.  American achievements and successful methods are scorned. 

Our vitally important tech schools aren’t helping.  They have lost sight of what a broadening university education is supposed to deliver.  Recently, I attended an aerospace industry expo.  There I got into a conversation with a senior government program manager – a man who builds and flies satellites.  He is finding that most freshly minted Millennial college graduates have two major handicaps.  The first is that they focus mostly on career advancement.  The intrinsic fascination of space satellite projects is of little interest.  Second, even people arriving from graduate engineering programs have almost no technical, or intellectual, breadth.  They know just one narrow technical specialty.  They have no great desire to develop gefuhl.  The manager finds that it is increasingly difficult to staff a program that requires people to have broad perspectives. 

This lack of curiosity is only partly the Millennial students’ fault.  More likely this is the fault of our current politically correct culture.  After all, these youngsters have grown up in the initiative-smothering environment of P.C. schools and risk-averse helicopter moms.  Then, too, Millennials are constantly being bombarded with mustn’t-do, can’t-do P.C. propaganda from the intertwined Political-Media Complex. 

The fallacy of abstract theory has had a particularly adverse impact on our now faltering economy.  Business schools are a big part of the problem.  Professors without business achievement – professors without gefuhl – now teach that the only requirement for corporate success is to maximize profits.  This, they say, the stockholders demand.  No other factor is important.  These academics tell us that maximizing profit calls for minimizing labor costs.  Thus, manufacturing goes to low-labor cost foreign lands, and America suffers.

Whatever happened to the old slogan “doing well by doing good“?  Prioritizing doing good used to be the high road to business success and great profits.  No more.

For multiple generations, American political policy has favored the export of American-created technology and manufacturing to other nations.  After the Second World War, this made some kind of sense.  We were then dedicated to rebuilding destroyed lands.  But for many decades it has been a self-destructive policy.  Unlimited free trade now seriously jeopardizes our national security.  And this policy has created a powerful interest group of elitist globalists who make their fortunes in opposition to American interests.  This group now has immense political influence.

It has become commonplace for globalists to point out that in today’s world, America is the leader in design and engineering.  Why, then, should it matter where the products of our design genius are manufactured?

An incident from my own experience gives insight.

Back in the 1970s, I was tasked with masterminding the development of an instrument to fly in space.  A critical component of that instrument was a very thin slice of conducting foam.  Since there was no such material in the market, we had to make this item ourselves by cutting down a thick sheet.  Being inventive, I suggested to my model shop machinist a way to make the material.  He tried my way and failed.  So I suggested another way it might be done.  Again, my suggestion failed.  Then, one morning, I walked over to the model shop and was presented with a perfectly formed specimen.  When I asked how the machinist had achieved this miracle, he replied, somewhat sardonically, “with a razor blade.”  Obviously, there was more to it than that.  In his domain, he had gefuhl.  I didn’t.

The clear message is that there is a lot more to manufacturing than good design.  The people who actually build things have skills that designers don’t have.  When American-designed products are manufactured in Mexico, it is Mexicans who develop manufacturing gefuhl, not Americans. 

This cuts to the heart of national security.  During the Second World War, our armed forces were magnificent.  But historians tell us that it was our manufacturing skills that, more than anything, won the war. 

Many today say we will never again be faced with such an all-consuming conflict.  But can they really predict the future?  Prudent people carry insurance against the unexpected.  When we toss our manufacturing capability to other lands, we lose the ability to quickly adapt to unexpected emergencies.  We lack that insurance.  We lack the needed gefuhl.

One current example is telling.  Our air forces now depend almost exclusively on precision-guided munitions.  Even though we are not engaged in a full-scale war, our rapid expenditure of munitions in the war against ISIS has almost entirely depleted the stockpile we had built up over the years.  Even though production is slowly ramping up, it will take several years just to replenish what we have used up.  It will take still more years now that we know we must increase the size of the stockpile we might need for a really big war.  In the meantime, our forces are hurting for lack of sufficient production.  And that is for munitions that have always been produced in the United States.  Imagine the situation if these munitions had been made overseas, as is now the case with most of our electronics.

What will happen if some trading partners turn against us?  What will happen if a war cuts off all shipments to the U.S.?  How will we respond if we don’t have the necessary domestic production – even of things as basic as clothing?  What will we do if, most importantly, we don’t have large cadres of people with production fingerspitzengefuhl?

Fingerspitzengefuhl.  There is no equivalent word in English.  Expertise doesn’t quite fit.  Know-how comes closer.  Literally, the German word means “fingertip-feeling.”  The sense of the word is an intuition, both deep and broad, about the nature of things.  Such intuition comes from hands-on experience of what works and what doesn’t work.  For convenience, we will refer to the German word as gefuhl.

For centuries, our nation’s rapid ascendency has been because of the plentiful gefuhl in America.  Much of it was brought to our shores by technically skilled immigrants – many from Germany.  More than that, Americans, of pioneering necessity, became practical people, taking pride in know-how.  Gefuhl best describes the original American practical culture.

No more.  Today the elitist media, academic, and political culture is more comfortable with airy abstractions.  Real-world experience is discounted in favor of ungrounded theory.  Progressives, to this day, pine for Marxist socialism despite a century of Marxist bloodshed and misery.  Theory trumps reality.

Perhaps it starts with our schools.  Progressive multiculturalism denigrates, and attempts to shatter, the obvious superiority of Western civilization.  It most particularly attacks the very successful American melting-pot version of Western civilization – an America built up from hands-on experience.  American achievements and successful methods are scorned. 

Our vitally important tech schools aren’t helping.  They have lost sight of what a broadening university education is supposed to deliver.  Recently, I attended an aerospace industry expo.  There I got into a conversation with a senior government program manager – a man who builds and flies satellites.  He is finding that most freshly minted Millennial college graduates have two major handicaps.  The first is that they focus mostly on career advancement.  The intrinsic fascination of space satellite projects is of little interest.  Second, even people arriving from graduate engineering programs have almost no technical, or intellectual, breadth.  They know just one narrow technical specialty.  They have no great desire to develop gefuhl.  The manager finds that it is increasingly difficult to staff a program that requires people to have broad perspectives. 

This lack of curiosity is only partly the Millennial students’ fault.  More likely this is the fault of our current politically correct culture.  After all, these youngsters have grown up in the initiative-smothering environment of P.C. schools and risk-averse helicopter moms.  Then, too, Millennials are constantly being bombarded with mustn’t-do, can’t-do P.C. propaganda from the intertwined Political-Media Complex. 

The fallacy of abstract theory has had a particularly adverse impact on our now faltering economy.  Business schools are a big part of the problem.  Professors without business achievement – professors without gefuhl – now teach that the only requirement for corporate success is to maximize profits.  This, they say, the stockholders demand.  No other factor is important.  These academics tell us that maximizing profit calls for minimizing labor costs.  Thus, manufacturing goes to low-labor cost foreign lands, and America suffers.

Whatever happened to the old slogan “doing well by doing good“?  Prioritizing doing good used to be the high road to business success and great profits.  No more.

For multiple generations, American political policy has favored the export of American-created technology and manufacturing to other nations.  After the Second World War, this made some kind of sense.  We were then dedicated to rebuilding destroyed lands.  But for many decades it has been a self-destructive policy.  Unlimited free trade now seriously jeopardizes our national security.  And this policy has created a powerful interest group of elitist globalists who make their fortunes in opposition to American interests.  This group now has immense political influence.

It has become commonplace for globalists to point out that in today’s world, America is the leader in design and engineering.  Why, then, should it matter where the products of our design genius are manufactured?

An incident from my own experience gives insight.

Back in the 1970s, I was tasked with masterminding the development of an instrument to fly in space.  A critical component of that instrument was a very thin slice of conducting foam.  Since there was no such material in the market, we had to make this item ourselves by cutting down a thick sheet.  Being inventive, I suggested to my model shop machinist a way to make the material.  He tried my way and failed.  So I suggested another way it might be done.  Again, my suggestion failed.  Then, one morning, I walked over to the model shop and was presented with a perfectly formed specimen.  When I asked how the machinist had achieved this miracle, he replied, somewhat sardonically, “with a razor blade.”  Obviously, there was more to it than that.  In his domain, he had gefuhl.  I didn’t.

The clear message is that there is a lot more to manufacturing than good design.  The people who actually build things have skills that designers don’t have.  When American-designed products are manufactured in Mexico, it is Mexicans who develop manufacturing gefuhl, not Americans. 

This cuts to the heart of national security.  During the Second World War, our armed forces were magnificent.  But historians tell us that it was our manufacturing skills that, more than anything, won the war. 

Many today say we will never again be faced with such an all-consuming conflict.  But can they really predict the future?  Prudent people carry insurance against the unexpected.  When we toss our manufacturing capability to other lands, we lose the ability to quickly adapt to unexpected emergencies.  We lack that insurance.  We lack the needed gefuhl.

One current example is telling.  Our air forces now depend almost exclusively on precision-guided munitions.  Even though we are not engaged in a full-scale war, our rapid expenditure of munitions in the war against ISIS has almost entirely depleted the stockpile we had built up over the years.  Even though production is slowly ramping up, it will take several years just to replenish what we have used up.  It will take still more years now that we know we must increase the size of the stockpile we might need for a really big war.  In the meantime, our forces are hurting for lack of sufficient production.  And that is for munitions that have always been produced in the United States.  Imagine the situation if these munitions had been made overseas, as is now the case with most of our electronics.

What will happen if some trading partners turn against us?  What will happen if a war cuts off all shipments to the U.S.?  How will we respond if we don’t have the necessary domestic production – even of things as basic as clothing?  What will we do if, most importantly, we don’t have large cadres of people with production fingerspitzengefuhl?



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