What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Bnei B
Changing the oil in your car. Sewing your own clothes. Growing your own food. Building your own house. The list continues, full of things that the average American has no idea how to do. As society has progressed, specialization has increased. Through the division of labor, we focus our time and talent on a few niche capabilities, and then through barter and monetary exchange acquire the goods and services others produce that we lack.
This specialization of skill has resulted in a number of technological advances that otherwise would never have seen the light of day; generation of electricity, space exploration, automobile development, computer manufacturing, etc., would never have happened if nobody divided their labor, and we all, like families for millenia did, lived at the subsistence level. By creating a product or service in demand by others, we can offer the results of our labor in exchange for other items we need, for which we have no time to produce ourselves. Thus, the statistician can procure bread and clothing, and the plumber can have a place to live and a car to drive.
While a division of labor results in these and countless other advancements, it is not without its problems. When a society becomes accustomed to and dependent upon that division of labor, a worrisome risk is introduced of that system being threatened by any number of things. Any action to disrupt the fragile ecosystem upon which individuals have come to depend can quickly spell severe suffering at a minimum, and quite possibly death.
Think of a large earthquake, a terrorist attack, a trucker strike, or a power grid failure. Within a couple hours, grocery shelves are wiped out by people who lack the ability to provide food for themselves, and who have not previously stored sufficient to weather a storm. Lines with hundreds of cars quickly form at the gas station by would-be evacuees eager to fill up and bug out. Retail stores are likewise targeted, as people buy all sorts of items they may or may not need, all eager to stock up on things “just in case”. And since the early bird gets the worm, the millions of people who weren’t able to participate in the vulture-like picking of the retail system’s bones will be left unprepared, unsupplied, and unaware of what to do.
Specialization, therefore, is an unfortunate precursor to bondage and dependence. For if we are dependent (in full or in part) upon others for our continued survival, are we truly free? Does the computer scientist who lacks any survival skills truly provide for his family? Or can the accountant who lacks basic subsistence skills claim to be a responsible husband and father?
As a result of our division of labor, we have collectively forgotten basic skills that were largely understood by all just a couple generations ago. Our advances in technology have produced a generation of indolent, fat, ignorant people who need a proverbial IV in their arm at all times to provide them nourishment, protection, and knowledge. Spoon-fed for decades, we have surrendered our self-reliance and squandered our sovereignty. We rely upon the system for just about everything we need, and in the absence of just-in-time delivery, we will either riot, waste away, or give up and die.
The ability to specialize is not inherently destructive, as it can be directly attributed with yielding such marvelous progress our society has seen in the past century. However, foolish people have become comfortable with what others have come to provide for them, and have not taken the time to learn how they might accomplish the same. Few have given any thought to what might happen if this system is severely altered or disappears entirely.
In short, we have become slaves to the system—not subjected to any one person, but to the productive capacities of everyone around us. As a house pet is dependent upon its master for continued survival, so too have we as a society placed ourselves in a state of dependence and subservience. We have divided our labor, and as a result, have chained ourselves to the system. Its fate has become our own.