The Jack-of-All-Trades Is a Master of None

Some voices (of the batshit insane variety) in Israel cry out for armageddon. All you foreigners reading here are probably not unfamiliar with such messianic tantrums, and this is also probably not an exclusively Israeli/Jewish/whatnot phenomenon.

One Shmuel Shmueli, some sort of ultra-orthodox wingnut fundamentalist, has published an ad in the Israeli daily newspaper, “Ye’diot A’haronot”, calling for a preemptive strike against Iran.

I’m going to leave aside the paranoid rantings of this poor, neglected soul, (oh, if only malign idiots such as Shmueli were neglected and ignored rather than just sad and insane) and focus on an idea I had after reading his ad.

In hunter-gatherer times, all individuals in a human society (which was probably only a few-families-big) had to be adept at pretty much everything that was the state of the art at the time (namely, sharpening spears and finding smarter ways of collecting berries). Since becoming adept in such simple skills takes little to no time, this was never a problem.

At some point or another, humans had the privilege to specialize. The warriors become novices at food collecting, but masters of war and defense. The food collectors and hunters were essential for the sustainability of society, but were useless as warriors and completely vulnerable.

A similar analogy was made by evolutionary biologists (“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean Caroll springs to mind) to illustrate  the advent of specialized organs and tissues.

In the time of bacteria and simple eukaryotes, every member of any society was pretty much equal in “skill” and adaptability as any other individual. When very ancient organisms begun to huddle together to form colonies and eventually multicellular organisms, the idea of tissues finally became possible. A tissue is the biological parallel of a professional burgher: tissues that photosynthesized while the other tissues were responsible for, say, reproduction could “focus” entirely on photosynthesis (the algae version of food harvesting) and completely neglect reproduction (needless to say, in modern organisms, most cells are sterile or incapable of sexual reproduction).

In case you’re a bit lost, this little bit has anything to do with the earlier paragraphs because reading through the paranoid tirades of Shmueli made me think of a scenario in which all men will have to fight. When I say “fight”, I don’t mean “donate sweat and effort for one’s country”. I mean fight, as in combat.

I thought of my status, as a young man, mostly obsessed with pushing words, reading, and writing and occasionally, with honing esoteric skills, and how could I possibly be of any use to a world poisoned by war. I thought of my father, a deaf and aging old man, of the weak, infirm, and prepubescent. And I thought of a world in which they would all have to fight just as that idiot Shmueli implies (in any event, an all-out war will make every man, woman and child either cannon fodder or militia forces)

And then I realized that it just won’t work. If everyone did the exact same thing, you would not have the kind of super-organism that allows for specialized “fighting organs” that would have the privilege of fashioning their fighting skills to the optimal degree while the rest of the non-fighters take care of other aspects of living, including words pushing and science. If everyone fought, all you’d have is a huge mob of averagely skilled fighters.

Fact is, you need people to stay home and blow glass, saw wood, build houses and do basic research. You need this kind of versatility, this kind of freedom of occupation – even for the ever practical reason of sustaining a professional, indefeatable military force.

Perhaps, in this regard, even if I was utterly useless physically (and I’m not, I’m in fairly good shape and I’ve been doing Karate for more than a decade) – I still wouldn’t be useless for this country’s stability and defense. Freedom is not just a perk strong societies get once they grow up or after they’ve established their military might – it’s also a mandatory ingredient for a society that can protect itself.

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5 Responses to “The Jack-of-All-Trades Is a Master of None”

  1. calculated emotions Says:

    Hey, when did you change the layout again?
    I liked the former background better but the fonts, links and such are better now.
    What happened to the Atheist network links or whatever it was called?

    Oh, and I no it’s not good conversation but still, all I have to say about this post is that I think it’s really good. 🙂

  2. calculated emotions Says:

    Know, my goodness, know, not no.

  3. Freidenker Says:

    Don’t worry, it’s a common homonym typo. Listen, do you notice the e-mail notification checkbox? (comment subscription) – I find it very hard to keep commenters here without it.

    Not only is this a new theme, but I can change the background in the theme as I please. I don’t know if non-admins can do it, but I Have a vista-like “start button” and even a taskbar with a clock in it. Coolest theme ever!

    I still wish I had a proper threaded comments plugin, but intensedebate sucked too badly.

  4. Uzza Says:

    I like the new layout too.

  5. Freidenker Says:

    Uzza, check out the little “start button” on the bottom left corner of the screen. You can change the theme background yourself!

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