A Place for Cafe Refugees and Others Like Them

I have been trying to understand how people can be intelligent and accomplished in their areas of expertise and yet be so ignorant in everything else.  I have come up with at lease some clues to this particular phenomenon.

The answer lies I think in the advancement of technology. We – and by this I mean society and/or people in general – were generalists.  By this I mean besides being expert in one particular area, they had to have some general knowledge of nearly everything that had to do with living and surviving where they were. Raising crops, hunting, building etc. When the industrial revolution started and more mechanical apparatus appeared, they had to learn about that to. You simply could no just own an automobile, you had to know something about how it functioned as well. Or your tractor or electric appliance.

There were few mechanics and service personal to maintain it for you. And most could not afford to have some one else do this for them. Even the rich had to know how to fix their cars if they broke down as this generally happened far from any service facility.

People built their own houses, ran the plumbing and when electricity came in, quite often wired them as well. You had to know something about you heating system to keep from freezing in the winter.

This was even the case up through the 1950s and even part of the 1960s.  It was very common for people to do at least some repair on their radios and television sets.   After WWI housing was quite scarce so if you wanted or needed a house, you bought the land and built it yourself. Building even electronics form kits was very popular up through the late 1960s. Companies like Heath and Allied Electronics, Eico, Dynaco and even the Fisher Radio, H.H. Scott and Harmon Kardon all offered kit forms of the audio equipment.

But by the 1970s this all changed. People stopped having to know how to do these things. In fact servicing and/or building most things was difficult if not impossible by the 1980s.  There became a bigger and bigger disconnect.  There general knowledge and desire to find things out the existed also cultivated a general interest in other respects of life as well. The country, politics, medicine, science.

Thanks to technical advances we not longer need to be generalists and can focus on specifics but this I think has a down side in that we have in general  learned to ignore or at least do not wish to learn about anything that we do not want to or do not feel is relevant to or lives. This attitude seems to be advanced in higher education where one is expected to choose a very specific major.

Even within a discipline this is the case. Specific areas of engineering, computers, medicine, physics and on and on.  People have become ignorant of the world around them because it is no longer required to be knowledgeable about it to function in society.

Cross Posted at TPMAHOLICS

Comments on: "The creeping ignorance of society" (10)

  1. That was before we started working 60 thru 70 hours a week out side the home both wife and husband so we could pay the bills. You don’t have much time to practice the crafts. I have noticed a lot more sewing, scratch cooking and home maintenance since this down turn. We are not throwing away as much but fixing cars and things. Schools have stopped teaching trades and home ec the last 20 years. That also has an effect on it too.

    • This is true momoe. I think that it is also the reverse as well. People are having to work more because they are having those things done for them that they use to do for themselves. This in and of itself is an added expense. When in they used to keep and maintain their cars and TVs and radios and lawn mowers etc., they are replacing them this cost more overall. Kind of a catch 22.

  2. I would love to see the US move towards a four-day work week with the same pay, much as some European countries already do. Would also be nice to see us take a month off in the summer. But then, the Republicans would say that’s too socialistic.

    Why is that they shoot everyone in the foot when they go after programs that are too “Marxist”?

    • because they refuse to believe that the old rules no longer work. Their is also a resentment they have and project on to others. David Seaton at Dagblog said it best I think.

      Then there is another type, one that has neither inherited great wealth nor managed to make a huge fortune by investing genius or creating the world’s most widely used computer operating system. These are people who have more money than the average (or at least they imagine they do) it is true, but they don’t feel lucky… they feel that they have worked very, very, hard for every dime they have (perhaps they feel they have worked harder than they actually have) and being better off certainly has not sweetened their natures one bit. To see anyone receiving anything or even enjoying anything they haven’t suffered to obtain offends them deeply.

      The old cliche’ of “I had to suffer there for you have to suffer.” Where in they themselves resent having to do the work of getting to where they are.

      • Oops, I meant this to be a reply to both of you after having read Momoe’s comment. But, I think you understand that already.

  3. another trope said:

    I think that most people have a least a basic awareness about this dynamic in themselves, but rather than accept this dynamic as part of living in the modern world, turn against that knowledge. The result is an increasing collective belief that this knowledge is inconsequential or insignificant. Suddenly knowledge about Paris Hilton is no different than knowledge about the Constitution. The same level of discrimination applied to sources on the implication of impending health care reform is the same one applies to rumors about Brad Pitt being unfaithful.

    • You do have a way of putting things in perspective trope.


    • OMG! He’s being unfaithful??

      Just kidding. You are absolutely right in that. Look at what happens when we have a power outage due to a storm or such. Some folks are used to it and deal with it just fine. They keep cans of sterno on hand, and battery operated radios, etc. But how do the folks who, say, work on Wall Street deal with it? They feel inconvenienced and angry and frustrated and don’t know how to handle not having power for a day or two. It’s a total catastrophe to them.

      • This very true. And not just the Wall Street type either. Things that were not a big deal when I was young and now a BIG DEAL.

        Oh…another blizzard…another hurricane…etc. Everyone knew what to do. They would say so on the TV…like remember to…..etc. But you did not have the plice or fire dept. cruising your street tell you to stay indoors and giving instructions.

        It wasn’t something that was covered 24/7 like some major catastrophe. The casualties brought on by Katrina were at least partially do to ignorance of what to do and when.

  4. I thank my Dad . . .

    This a great post CM.

    Although through school, due to the urging of my Mother, I was a Fine Art and Music major. My Dad was the one who raised me as a generalist. He only reached the 8th grade in Newton, Iowa before he enlisted in the US Navy where he was trained and served for 10 years and through the end of the war aboard the USS San Francisco as a Shipfitter. He taught me the crafts. All the crafts. He taught me basic trouble shooting skills that apply to anything and everything. It’s an obsession with me. But it’s the greatest gift I have ever received.

    And I’m still taking college courses at the ripe old age of 65 years.


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