We have also noted how power structures successively dominate over human affairs had for aeons successfully imposed a “specialization” upon the intellectually bright and physically talented members of society as a reliable means of keeping them academically and professionally divided – ergo, “conquered,” powerless. The separate individuals’ special, expert glimpses of the separate, invisible reality increments became so infinitesimally fractionated and narrow that they gave no hint of the significant part their work played in the omni-integrating evolutionary front of total knowledge and it’s power-structure exploitability in contradistinction to its omni-advantaging potentials. Thus the few
betweenbecome uselessly overadvantaged instead of the many becoming regeneratively ever more universally advantaged.
(Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, p162)
My first reaction on reading the above was that Fuller did not need to write like that. The wording is dense and arcane, difficult to parse. The whole of the book Critical Path is difficult reading, and much of it goes right by me in a comfortable way – I am happy not to need to know what he is writing about.
But this passage stuck with me because it answers a question I have long wondered about – how our society manages to marginalize its best and brightest, leading them to useless careers doing specialized work that has no real purpose other than to cordon them off and render them into eunuchs.
I just completed a very complicated tax return for a client. I am one of those “gifted” souls who can do that sort of thing (I pause here: I am in a profession littered with people of remarkable talent in this field. I have sat in rooms with them and died a slow death of tedium and boredom. There seems to be no personality in these rooms, no humor or self-deprecation, no awareness that most of what we do just doesn’t matter.) As a young man with children I needed to make a living, and so became an accountant and then studied for the CPA exam, passing it on my first attempt. In a class of perhaps 100 or so candidates, I was the only one to do so.
Special, eh? At one point when I had an office in Billings, MT, I looked at a bank of six files and realized that three of them were devoted to history, current events, my real passion. I was not advancing in the professions as I was supposed to. I was distracted by real life.
Those rooms full of accountants, those seminars I sit through, are a waste of human energy. We do nothing more important than to protect wealthy people from overpaying their taxes. Slowly over time the IRS as roped us in and brought us around to work for it and against our client, by law. But even so, one step above all of that is pointlessness. So what? If my client for whom I just gave birth to the tax return ends up paying a thousand more than he should have, I have failed, he’ll never know it, and life goes on unaffected in total by my laborious pursuit.
As professions go, there are more demanding ones than accounting and taxation. Astrophysics is demanding, as is music, metallurgy, civil engineering, medicine. Each if these have yielded tremendous benefits to is, made our lives better and easier. I have no illusions about that.
Here’s another example of specialization: Dow, back in the sixties, bragged about “better living through chemistry.” Dow manufactured napalm, a mixture of gasoline and gels that burns human flesh. In its early versions, people exposed to napalm could jump in water and escape some of its effects, even survive. The Dow Boys fixed that however, and napalm advanced in its usefulness because it still burned humans up even when immersed in water.
Not too far from us here in Morrison is a Lockheed plant. They are an important part of Denver’s economy, with many high-paid specialists busy making weapons. That’s common throughout our country. The whole of Southern California and Silicon Valley, MIT, major Texas communities are nothing more than Pentagon dependencies. These are our best and brightest. We live in a rich country that has a crappy public education system, useless news and information, rotting infrastructure, highly inefficient transportation, a crappy medical delivery system, a crappy diet, mindless entertainment and a deeply indoctrinated citizenship.
And our best people, smartest and most useful, are specialized and know nothing of any useful pursuit to solve these, our most vexing problems. They are busy devising new ways to murder people.
That’s specialization. Fuller said it very well – he must have, as his passage caught my eye, made me think. Well done.