The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Specialisation as hierarchy-building

A future engineer once told me that if he needed to communicate in another language, he would hire someone who spoke that language to do it for him. He did not say it explicitly, but he saw himself as an engineer. In that -- and that alone -- lay any value for him: to to the point where even learning to communicate was secondary.

Implicit within the societal acceptability (and even rewarding!) of very narrow specialisation is the parallel acceptability of not having to care about anything outside that specialisation. Perhaps this is most easily observed in lobbyists and scientists: tight tight focus on the area of personal relevance, blinkers on all the rest. Why should an environmentalist be required to have any concern about even one thing else ... such as the proposed policy's impact on jobs? Beyond the rubber-stamp dotting of the legal "I's" and crossing of the "T's" (and we hire lobbyists to our own personal image in any case), what in the corporate structure in any way encourages high-level management to consider anything outside the short-term bottom line? or even their own personal short-term bottom line?

Within blinkered perception, it gradually becomes not only accepted but "obvious" that pieces of data can have some absolute meaning outside their context; and consequently any data which can have meaning within the narrow focus (and thus "accurate") is manipulated into a relevant, specialised context so as to illustrate/project that single, "absolute" meaning to others: shades of gray, framed against different backgrounds.

This is how a polemic comes into existence, and is sustained, and cultivated.

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