The trend of specialization has been an observable phenomenon since, arguably, the dawn of civilization. With a sufficiently Darwinian outlook, it’s even possible to argue that reality on the whole has a tendency towards specialization From a human perspective, however, it’s clear that specialization has cranked its process up a few notches since the Industrial Revolution.
With the advent of factories and the assembly line, jobs that had previously belonged to cobblers (a speciality unto itself) began super-specializing into jobs sewing together individual pieces of leather and other minute assembly-line tasks. With the dawn of the information age, we’re seeing an even further intellectual specialization where, instead of designing shoes, an individual may only engineer arch-support or improve methods to tool the leather and rubber that makes the shoe. Where once constructions were designed and built by architects or engineers, now an individual engineer may only design and build homes, or roads, or the fire-containment systems for commercial buildings under ten-thousand square feet.
In this flurry of specialization, those fields which affect our daily lives have become too complex for most people to understand. We lament the divorce of the people from the political process. Whole grassroots political movements are developing completely out of a misunderstanding of economic and political issues. This is because today, in order to actually understand a national economy, one must have devoted one’s life to studying economic systems. Today, in order to understand how politics happens, one must have devoted one’s life to the pursuit of political knowledge.
And so the rest of us, those who don’t specialize in economics or politics are left out in the dark, not understanding what’s going on, and we feel it. Some of us react by claiming loudly that it just doesn’t have to be that complex and we mandate a simplification of the system. Most of us react by claiming it futile to even try and by stepping away from the politico-economic process entirely, consciously or unconsciously leaving the state of the nation to the experts, the specialists, just like we do every other domain of deep inquiry.
But today, in this very moment, specialization is beginning to develop a problem.
Innovation is, by definition, a change in the way things are done. To innovate one must see a problem that currently is not solved and solve it. This, by definition, requires being able to operate outside the current confines of a particular field. Yes, it is possible inside most fields to innovate using only the tools and techniques of that field. But it is not possible to innovate using the already existing knowledge in that same field.
More to the point, however, the problems don’t necessarily limit themselves to those that can be solved inside the teachings of a particular discipline. Once upon a time, a computer engineer with a background in materials physics could look at a computer system and say to themselves, “Ya know, I think we can do better.” And maybe they, in their study of physics, had learned enough about particle physics to know that the bizarre realities of quantum mechanics offered a solution that could, in theory, fundamentally open computational power to new horizons. But to do this, to develop this innovation, someone had to leave the bounds of their specialty.
In a world where technical knowledge in a given field of study is roughly doubling every two years, it becomes difficult for the specialist to keep up in their own domain, and nigh impossible for them to understand the intricacies of recent developments in other domains. This is why Stephen Hawking, genius physicist that he is, utters such nonsense as “philosophy is dead” and claims that “philosophy has been overtaken by science.” Dr Hawking understands the literature and discipline of physics, but he does not understand philosophy. He does not understand that philosophy stands side-by-side on the forefront of academic study, he doesn’t understand that philosophy is creating theories of metaphysical reality that parallel theories of physical reality (“Many Worlds” does not mean the same thing to all academics) because it is outside his specialty. It takes someone who generalizes, someone who understands both physics and philosophy in order to connect the two and realize that both fields constantly inform the other.
This is one of the benefits of the University environment. Colleagues from departmentally disparate fields can work together to discuss and solve problems, to teach each other and to share knowledge. More than a few philosophy of science papers have listed as a co-author a faculty member of the philosopher’s institution’s natural sciences division.
But as specialization continues to increase, it becomes harder and harder for disparate specialists to communicate. Even inside a single discipline, different fields find communication to be difficult. If one sits in a classroom teaching continental philosophy and uses the language of analytical philosophy (or, God forbid, vice-versa), one’s point will be lost.
So a new specialty is developing or, rather, re-developing.
It has been said that the age of the generalist is dead. No longer can someone study and contribute to every field of study as did heroes of the past like Hegel and Descartes. No longer can an individual work on the forefront of innovation without some specialization. Even a liberal arts education today is more of an educational pyramid, with individual students still specializing (under the guise of “majors” or “areas of concentration”) in political science or sociology, with only a smattering of cross-discipline education. So the age of the generalist is dead; so it has been said.
This thesis may have held twenty, or fifteen, or even ten years ago. It’s grip is shaky today, however, and in ten years it will have been rendered an obsolescence.
Specialists can’t understand the recent advances in other fields well enough to incorporate those advancements into their study. Specialists in separate fields don’t know how to communicate to each other well enough to generate the degree and fluidity of discourse that once may have been held. But separate fields still must draw on the advances of others in order to continue to innovate, often creating new specialties in the process (computational neuroscience, anyone?). This is where the twenty-first century generalist steps in.
In the twenty-first century, the generalist will no longer be a direct source of innovation. In the twenty-first century, the generalist will no longer be the paragon of thought and education he might once have been. But in the twenty-first century, the generalist will be the force of innovation, the medium of communication, and the wellspring of our future.
The twenty-first century generalist may not know how to combine tablet computing, news media, and the medical research industry in a sustainable fashion. He may not know each field well enough to be able to engineer a solution that is effective, popular, relevant, and profitable. But he does know each field well enough to know that it can be done, and he knows each field well enough to know who to bring together to make it happen.
The twenty-first century generalist will get the astrophysicist and the sociologist to sit at the same table and talk about human society and its place in the cosmos. The twenty-first century generalist will be equal parts engineer, poet, scientist, philosopher, salesman, businessman, con artist and mystic. And it’s this mult-faceted specialist-in-general that will re-mobilize the disaffected masses. It’s the twenty-first century generalist who can see those people that today’s intelligentsia think of as the huddled masses—the idiots pushing this country towards Idiocracy—as the specialists even they are. The generalist will know that construction workers and massage therapists and slacker stoners are every bit as important for the accomplishing of greatness as are the heroic intellects sat aloft in their airships floating above the ivory towers of yesterday’s now-irrelevant elites.
The country, the world, is not headed towards doom. It is not headed towards a sea of incompetence and inadequacy driven by a greater and greater polarization between the masses specialized in their daily lives and the governing authorities specialized in running the show. We are at a cusp point, yes. We are at a place where the tension between the governed and the governing is at a screaming crescendo, but the solution is already developing. The tension will not break this country, will not break the world. The tension is already delivering artists, individual instantiations of a moment of holistic vision that will deliver us from the deepening stream of specialized non-communication. From thesis and antithesis, we have synthesis.
There are seven billion people in this world. The generalist is the air that carries the sounds they make to bring us together to build a future.
I was in the bookstore today looking at the shelves containing my soul, my heart, my dearest love, pure thought expressed under heading “Philosophy” sandwiched (perhaps ironically, perhaps fittingly) between “New Age” and “Christianity” when I realized that the results of thought are no longer useful, entertaining, illuminating, enlightening, true. I realized that now the question is modes of thought of ways of thinking of manners of discover of means to access the truth from our own power.
I thought that Hume had it right–and that article I read—we now know reason to be objectively empty; reason is built from axiomatic assumption yanked from the proverbial ass: FUCK “self-evident truth.” It just doesn’t exist (right, non-Euclidean geometry?). And I’ve known for a while now that continuing to move through the point-A to point-B machinery of logic wouldn’t serve my holistic purposes anymore and now we have to examine slices of reality of different shapes, for different purposes, from different angles and we have to–if we wish to understand deeper and appreciate more and sense greater—unhook ourselves from the bonds of reason and step into a more continuous flow that moves with a great big “bite me” in the face of discrete typographical formalisms.
Not to say that those formalisms don’t have value: they do. They’re gorgeous, they’re wonderful, they’re powerful, but they aren’t the whole damned story, are they? Of course not. Nothing is the whole story. There is no whole story. The whole story is the slice of the story at every moment from every angle summed up into this instantaneous, momentary experience of subjectivity exploded outward into concrete absolutism.
And I realized that to revolutionize thought, to think in new ways, that was the way to access step three or four or n where n is the current stage of philosophia plus one. So here I am taking a leaf out of the postmodern novel and not restricting my motions of abstraction into the logical, the reasonable, the discrete and typographical and just letting go into a flow of thought, the mind-stream as it were or psychosis or whatever you wanna call it, it’s my real.
So we flow meaninglessly perfect from this moment unto the next with fingers hammering out apparent nonsense into the digital world for your consumption if you so choose. But this nonsense, see, it makes sense to me. Or if not sense, at least it begets a manner of understanding, it communicates an idea past that which pure logic in the Aristotelian sense could deliver.
If we want to move forward we have to realize that the logical field has been holistically captured; all that’s left are the internal details. But there’s more to be thought outside the domain to logic and this is where it is, in interpretable, objectively vapid thought-vomit that stews in its own inanity and glorifies itself with its own ironic inconoclasm, shattering meta-levels all the way into the annoyingly transfinite and wishing it hadn’t missed the lecture on induction across the infinite myriad of infinities.
Think with me, my friends, and glorify in your own absolute relevance being achieved through a following through with the patterned scale of your own intellectualism. My “meaning,” my intention should no longer be the source of your understanding of my words or my understanding of your words. Let the postmodernists have their way and we, the philosophers who don’t produce our work under the title of “literature,” shall be freed even from ourselves and that, my friends, that is thought’s next level, next moment, next pirouette into the skies of the absolutely unlimited theory.
If we reject the dual thesis, we deny, by definition, a reality of separation. Whether we do this as monists who positively assert that reality is One or we do it as more literal non-dualists and simply deny that separation is a definitive and absolute quality of Being, we are moving ourselves into a mode of reasoning whose articulation requires reason prior to separation.
But a word is a symbol whose meaning is some separated thing, quality, or action. While understanding this in a hard-and-fast manner is a mistake—a word more realistically means a sort of nebulous cloud of ideas—there is still, by necessity, a separation inherent in the act of articulation. When we cast ideas or trains of thought into language, we are imposing the semantic structure on reality; many non-dualist schools of thought spend considerable effort trying to bring the student away from linguistic thinking.
If then, as is said, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao,” and any articulation is of its nature incorrect, why should the philosopher—as thinker, teacher, shaman, or guru—bother, then, to speak? The answer, I think, lies in the capacity of the mind to abstract.
Immediately and selfishly, the articulating process allows us to see how close we can get. It’s a way of testing our own skill in a game of man-versus-reality, to see what we can, in our cleverness, capture about a non-dual structure in a dualistic system. It allows a game of thinking that hones the skill of articulation like no other, especially if the thinker can hold in mind the pre-linguistic structure of reality during the moment of articulation.
More usefully, however, if the philosopher views a non-dual framework as a way of seeing reality that can improve the lives of others, that philosopher may attempt to articulate the inarticulable in order to help paint a rough picture of the path of thought that should be taken for the student to reach that same understanding.
This seems like an inherently elitist undertaking, and I suppose that in a very real sense it is. The supposition that the speaker has achieved some kind of “secret knowledge” that he or she is attempting to impart upon the listener is without question presumptuous. But if the speaker speaks in recognition of the validity of an infinite array of paths, and speaks with humility in the knowledge that the path which he or she speaks may not be the path for the listener, then I think that the presumption is dissipated, and that the speaker then speaks as a person offering advice to a friend.
Words, then, can become a tool that we can use to shape an idea in the mind of another; we can use them to sculpt a form and to help develop a position that, when the other person reaches out and grasps it, allows the assumption of the positionless position, and steps the person through the gateless gate.
We do not believe ourselves to be speaking truth, because we understand that speaking truth is not something that is done. We believe ourselves to be a finger pointing towards the moon, and we try to remind ourselves and the person to whom we’re talking to not confuse the finger for the moon.
Around election season, I’ve noticed that a lot of people have this really bizarre tendency to bitch about every possible candidate and, in the end, make their choice among the lesser of evils. The theory is that if you don’t participate in the democratic process, you don’t have the right to bitch when it generates shoddy results. Here’s the thing, though: that’s crappy reasoning.
See, one of the big questions in political theory is the question of “legitimacy,” or the source from which a government draws its right to rule. In a democratic system, the general theory is that a government draws its right to rule from the consent of the governed. In a pure democracy, the idea is that the participatory system is itself the government. And in a true democracy, this is arguably the case. However, in a democratic republic, the people do not run the country. In a democratic republic, the elected representatives run the country with a hedging placed on them by the people and the law.
In such a system, the government doesn’t draw its legitimacy directly from the people. It draws its legitimacy from the participatory process, which in turn draws its legitimacy from the people. To frame this from the voter’s perspective, when you go to vote, you’re not strictly saying “I agree to abide by this government” or even “I agree to abide by a government with the people I’ve chosen as elected officials.” When you go to vote, you’re saying “I agree to recognize the authority of the participatory process.” The participatory process then collects the whims of the electorate and sums that into a certificate of legitimacy for whomever the process elects.
The point of this is that when you vote, you are indirectly agreeing and giving legitimacy to ANY government generated therefrom. Meaning that you have, in effect, implicitly accepted the right-to-rule of any elected official, regardless of their relationship to your personal vote.
Now, this in itself is not a new line of thought. Most Americans do implicitly agree to abide by the mandates of the government, regardless of the individuals actually running that government. But what isn’t realized is that bitching about the general state of the political domain is hypocritical. Indeed, if, having voted, one claims that “all politicians are crooks,” or “they’re all bastards anyway,” one is refusing to accept that one has granted legitimacy to those politicians.
Further, if one participates in the electoral system, one is granting authority to the government to make and enforce laws, since these are functions clearly stated in the government’s foundational documents. As such, anyone who votes is signing a contract agreeing to abide by the laws of the government, regardless of the merit the voter believes the laws to have.
However, this means that those who don’t vote are the most entitled to bitch about the state of the political system, and that those who don’t vote aren’t ethically bound to follow the law. When one does not vote, one does not grant the government legitimacy, one does not consent to governance, and one does not agree to abide by the government’s laws.
Now, there are obviously processes of the government in which most of those who fail to vote are involved, most notably the receiving of government services and paying of taxes. But if the individual understands their taxes to be levied under duress (which, frankly, they are) and that reception of those services is a means by which they recoup their losses, then the give-and-take inherent in that particular exchange can be legitimized without legitimizing the government on the whole.
At this point, it is no longer the non-voter’s ethical duty to follow the laws of the system because of a social contract with a law-making government. If a resident so chooses to abide by the law, they can do so through different processes (e.g., violating laws stresses the social system on the whole [of which the governmental institutions are only a subset], and the social system on the whole may have legitimate authority or be worth preserving), but they are not bound by contract, as a voter is, to recognize and abide by governmental authority.
The moral of the story, then, is thus:
- If you vote, abide by the law. You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.
- If you don’t vote, you’re free to interact with the legal system howsoever you choose (or, in other words, the laws don’t apply to you).