Specialisation: The diversity that improves our lives.

Late last week, I was under the weather. For less than two hours work (in the form of my wage) I had access to a life-time’s expertise in medical science and the end result of many hundreds of thousands of research hours in medicine.

Two hours of labour resulting in a speedy recovery through to achievements of a specialist society.

Yes, I know I’m labouring on the point addressed in my previous two posts, but I could think of no better example of human ingenuity and of the wonderful health and happiness capable through our specialising societal structure.

It’s not to say we’re using such a structure efficiently and for humanistic prosperity. Equality is sadly lacking as is a core need to acknowledge our dependence on environmental factors we are currently working hard to degrade beyond repair.

However, as I feel I have harped on about since my beginning on the blogosphere, the way forward isn’t the way back. Thinking in such a way is merely a fear response; we should never have gone this way, let’s head back.

Unfortunately we’ve grown too large in number for the path back to that world of yesteryear and anyone with a serious understanding of history will confirm that it wasn’t utopia anyway; it was even more backwards and plagued with hardship than we lucky ones (the only ones likely to dreamily look to times long gone) have ever known.

But the key is mentioned above. Through specialisation, I seemingly received goods and services greater than that I could have created for myself. If left to myself, the illness would have passed long before I could understand it (or, depending on the ailment, taken my life prior). As for the medicine; that would be an even greater process of discovery which history has already confirmed would take longer than a single healthy lifetime.

By removing the personal need of food production (and otherwise, basic survival), societies can diversify their skills base. This has proven to be the basis for the most successful societies historically (see Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel) and is just as important today. Where societies have freed individuals up from such basic survival requirements, they have improved food production, health care, education and other services. Nowadays students are taught to utilise technologies over pure mental training, thereby allowing them to achieve greater results sooner*.

However, what is sorely unappreciated in debate and social awareness are points such as equality and sustainable resource management. Sure, people in some corners do devote their energies on such topics, but in no way to the levels at which medical science is, which is ludicrous when one points out that subjects of sustainable resource management are focused solely on maintaining our life support system and equality focused on prosperity and dignity for each of our species.

They are subjects just as fundamental to society as is medical science and yet, as the blogosphere clearly demonstrates, they are openly, if not proudly, mocked by a large proportion of developed societies. That such people are able to scorn environmental concern or those who question the ethics to the current widespread disparity demonstrates a gaping lapse in education that needs to be addressed.

The same could also be said of those purist who hold onto utopian ideals of times long gone. The humble English peasant had already cleared much of the region before the industrial revolution just as the Native Americans had driven species to extinction – including nearly wiping out the bison – before a change in culture that led to the mantra of balance romanticised by the westerners today. It is unrealistic, devoid of what we currently understand about history and ultimately as detrimental to our sustainability as the former case.

To mirror nature is to continue to do as we currently are; that is, blindly chew up resources, simply cannot work. Watching various species population levels shows boom and bust over time. When any species develops adaptations to assist in it’s exploitation of resources, numbers typically increase. However, they don’t prosper indefinitely. Something reins their numbers back, whether it’s a resource crash, disease or predation. Many have long wondered how long the resource boom can continue in our case. We’ve been lucky with our advancements, but matter is only matter and we only have so much of it in a form that is useful, without efficient processes to convert waste matter back into useful matter.

On the other hand, the are ways in which it is sensible to mirror nature. This is the case for diversity and specialisation. Where the freeing up of people from the mundane aspects of survival can be continued, there should also be a growing emphasis on all the fundamentals of survival – including sustainable resource management and equality.

Again, it’s basically about becoming mechanics to our life support system. It’s not an extreme-green-lefty point, but rather so blatantly obvious that we’ve overlooked it. Just as I, for very little labour on my own behalf, benefited on the wealth of medical science investigation, we would all benefit greatly directly and indirectly through greater specialisation in the sciences of sustainable resource management.

Likewise, increasing equality benefits us all through many ways. The two most obvious are both the improvement to the quality of life for each human and also the potential for greater numbers of minds freed from mundane aspects of survival able to devote effort to problem solving. Each conflict is a clash between ideologies and very often one regarding limited resources. Again, more problem solvers, educated and cared for at a humane level locally will counter such urges to conflict. I know this point is very hopeful in it’s own right, but we certainly have a great chance for civil communities through improved standards of living and educations than as it stands.

We have prospered immensely through specialised skills made possible through job diversity – much the same way that an ecosystem becomes more resilient through increase biodiversity, yet we fall short on some fundamental aspects that will require addressing at some point; either when the proverbial hits the fan or (hopefully) when we collectively accept the situation and work feverishly on preserving and enriching the life support system we have remaining.

* As much I do complain about this, it still benefits us and, in all truth, it no different to the early inclusion of the abacus to the class room to help students calculate quicker than they could without it. It proves to be part of the evolving process compounding our social knowledge output. Purists will never be comfortable with this and even I’m not entirely, however, a single lifetime is fleeting and the underlying theories and laws are on record for the “hardcore” students to tinker with and improve on over time. This too is specialisation which allows others to make use of this understanding without the fundamental theory behind it, maximising output.

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