Specialists and Wisdom

The specialist’s mind.— The problem with specialists, as Socrates reasoned with perfect clarity, and as modernity exhibits ubiquitously, is that the specialist knows about one thing, but through a combination of the pride of competence and the disproportion of exclusive focus, gradually comes to imagine that the one thing he knows is the lynchpin of all reality, such that he mistakes his extremely narrow knowledge for universal wisdom. That is, specialization tends toward illogical reductionism. The distorting effects of this reductionism are nowhere more apparent and practically dangerous than in political discussion, which becomes a cacophony of competing specialists capable of seeing only their own expertise, and oblivious to the wider world of concerns and human understanding to which their specialist’s pride has blinded them.

Hence, the economist believes all political and even moral questions are reducible to market principles. The psychologist believes all social problems or dissenting views may be explained in terms of maladjustment, anxiety disorders, or sexual hang-ups. The doctor believes all human thriving equates to physical health and life-prolongation. The businessman believes all human conflict is deal-making, and all social improvement a bigger bank account.

And the man who has spent the bulk of his adult life in government believes that all problems and concerns may be solved only through the machinations of government and increased regulation. Being a specialist at purse-snatching and pettifoggery, he naturally equates wisdom with having the longest snout and the fewest scruples.

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