Specialization: A Double Edged Sword

It’s a blessing and a curse. The miracle of specialization increased our productivity exponentially. Adam Smith‘s discoveries are responsible for helping to lifting billions out of poverty. Specialization is truly a miracle, and I am not suggesting that we return to the days before the assembly line. I will argue that specialization brings with it several problems.

Specialization leads to a populace ill-equipped to solve problems and think creatively. Doing the same task or related tasks over and over does not help our problem solving skills. I worked a factory job once for about three months. I made plastic interior car parts like dashes and floor runners. Every day we would stand in front of one machine shaving mold flashing off and rushing the part to a bin so we could back it back to the machine in time for the next part. We were all like machines ourselves for the entire 8-hour shift. My mind would wander and I would use it to escape the drudgery. The repetitiveness didn’t seem to bother many of my co-workers. I also noticed that many of them were not the DIY type. They were more of the type that would just call a guy when something broke.

I can’t say I really blame them. The work was exhausting, and to add insult to injury we had just bought a foreclosure that was in bad shape. It really wore me out to work 8-12 hours in the factory, then go home and remodel! I think I was one of the few working there who was actually building skills and knowledge outside work. It’s amazing to think that someone can do work equivalent to making 2-3 cars per month without the ability to run a 1/2″ PEX line or patch a hole in drywall. Let that last part sink in a bit. We were all making about $12 an hour for enough productivity to build 2-3 $18,000 cars each month!

As productive as specialization may make us it has led to a dramatic loss of skills. Our ancestors were not specialized. Sure, there was the guy who could make a kick-ass arrowhead and the gal that tanned hides to make everyone clothes. There always has been and always will be specialization as long as the laws of economics hold sway. However, the arrowhead maker could also hunt, fish, start a fire, preserve meat, tend to plants, or repair damage to his home.  Wild humans had talents and abilities that were unique to each individual, but they also learned a variety of skills in addition to what they were really good at. Specialization and the comfortable lifestyle it provides, can be a trap. Escape the trap by mastering a diverse skill set just like your primitive ancestors did.

Here’s the challenge: dedicate yourself to learning new skills every day. It would be best if it relates to rewilding somehow, but just take time to learn something new. Try to master a new skill each month. Be the guy your friends call when something breaks instead of calling someone else to fix your own problems. We have no excuse! Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have Google or YouTube. You do! You can literally learn to do just about anything you could dream of doing for free, in the comfort of your living room. So, what are you waiting for? Go learn something!

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