Friday, December 14, 2007

the rise of the mediocre

I've been enjoying a bit of a back and forth with Lee Anne over at Adorable Device of Destruction (where does she come up with this stuff?! grin) about what happens to a military that no longer admires the society it is sworn to protect.

She refers to an excellent article by Robert D. Kaplan, On Forgetting the Obvious" in The American Interest, and says:
Kaplan explores the divisions between a small, elite warrior class and the American public. He views this separation as symptomatic of the diminishing importance of faith and nationalism in American society as well as an unwillingness to admit that war is a fact of life.
What came to my mind was C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man in which he explores the consequences of "debunking" the kinds of values that have traditionally undergirded our society - and, I would add, especially our "warrior caste". (who else, these days, do you hear talking about love, duty, honour, country? AND paying the price for those values, I mean. . . .)

The biggest reservation I have, though, about any kind of an "elite" group is the tendency for the 'rest of us' to slide/skate into mediocrity. Have you noticed that, with increased specialization, there is an increase in the big mass of us that has no clue what is going on?

With more and more specialists, we get more and more ignorance of those not specialists.

As tempting as it is to leave such weighty matters to the "specialists", I begin to think that we can't afford not to think about these things ourselves. We already have personal trainers to handle our flabby bodies, lawyers to take care of our disputes, police officers to "safeguard" our property at home, doctors to manage our health, accountants our wealth, dieticians, personal life trainers, shoppers, child care providers, lawn care "specialists", housekeepers, pooperscoopers, dogwalkers, color analysts, feng shui-ists, spiritualists, tutors, astrologers - need I go on?!

I came across Thoreau's Walden recently - in connection with building one's own house - and was struck by what he said about "divisions of labor" and thinking:
But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men?

I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve?

No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

1 comment:

Lee Anne said...

I need to revisit Walden and read the Lewis. Excellent post -- especially the focus on specialization.

Why do you think we have so many "specialists" to micromanage existence? When did we become the great delegators over our own lives and bodies? It's not surprising, then, that we do not know much because we have others know for us.

I come from a rural background where specialists are not available (or affordable); I know a great many people who through tradition and self-teaching learn to build/repair, plant, cook, and hunt.

How do we give people the desire (and perhaps the confidence) to become self-reliant, self-learners? Again, for me, it all goes back to education. (Putting Transcendentalists on my nightstand reading list)

Thanks for the exchange -- I'm enjoying it! Going off to ponder...

Since I left the university to finish my diss ALONE, I don't get this back-and-forth of ideas often. Really, thank you!