Monday, July 22, 2013

Revolt of the Masses. III

Whenever I propose to limit the franchise to a competent minority,  people immediately assume that I wish to restrict the vote to what are commonly considered the "educated" portion of our population: those commonly considered the "elites".  That isn't my intention because it's quite obvious that our ruling class are just as responsible for the decline in civilisation as are the mass-men hordes. In fact, what has been so striking over the last century is just how frequently our "best and brightest" have failed.  Take the GFC.  Out of all the world's published economists only a tiny fraction predicted it. Given its size and systemic origins, the profession's failure to predict it is akin to the science of astronomy failing notice the moon. (Some of the guys on the list made lucky guesses!)

The problem with Economics is that it is hard. Competency in the subject requires a knowledge not just of economics but human nature, culture, psychology,  law, geography and so on. A broad deep knowledge of the subject is a prerequisite and yet this requirement runs counter to the policies of our Universities which encourage specialisation.  Gasset sees the specialist as a typical, but more technically accomplished mass-man.
Specialisation commences precisely at a period which gives to civilised man the title "encyclopaedic." The XIXth Century starts on its course under the direction of beings who lived "encyclopaedically," though their production has already some tinge of specialism. In the following generation, the balance is upset and specialism begins to dislodge integral culture from the individual scientist. When by 1890 a third generation assumes intellectual command in Europe we meet with a type of scientist unparalleled in history. He is one who, out of all that has to be known in order to be a man of judgment, is only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognisance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name of "dilettantism" to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.
I think when Gasset uses the term "man of science" he uses the term to cover all sorts of technical "specialists", not just those connected to the pure sciences.
For, previously, men could be divided simply into the learned and the ignorant, those more or less the one, and those more or less the other. But your specialist cannot be brought in under either of these two categories. He is not learned, for he is formally ignorant of all that does not enter into his speciality; but neither is he ignorant, because he is "a scientist," and "knows" very well his own tiny portion of the universe. We shall have to say that he is a learned ignoramus, which is a very serious matter, as it implies that he is a person who is ignorant, not in the fashion of the ignorant man, but with all the petulance of one who is learned in his own special line. 

And such in fact is the behaviour of the specialist. In politics, in art, in social usages, in the other sciences, he will adopt the attitude of primitive, ignorant man; but he will adopt them forcefully and with self-sufficiency, and will not admit of-this is the paradox-specialists in those matters. By specialising him, civilisation has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his speciality. The result is that even in this case, representing a maximum of qualification in man--specialisation-and therefore the thing most opposed to the mass-man, the result is that he will behave in almost all spheres of fife as does the unqualified, the mass-man.
Here he pretty much describes Charlton's "clever sillies". Their high IQ seems channeled into one small area, otherwise they resemble the mob. Gasset recognises the subtle hubris that comes to most when they become experts in their fields.  Confident in making pronouncements in their own area of expertise they see no problem in making pronouncements in fields outside it.  In fact, in my own dealings with lots of professionals, it astounding just how ignorant they are of areas outside their own specialisation, and how their own opinions on certain issues echo's that of "Joe Average".  Arts graduates tend to be woeful when it comes to scientific issues and the STEM guys are arts averse.
The most immediate result of this unbalanced specialisation has been that to-day, when there are more "scientists" than ever, there are much less "cultured" men than, for example, about 1750. And the worst is that with these turnspits of science not even the real progress of science itself is assured. For science needs from time to time, as a necessary regulator of its own advance, a labour of reconstitution, and, as 1 have said, this demands an effort towards unification, which grows more and more difficult, involving, as it does, ever-vaster regions of the world of knowledge. Newton was able to found his system of physics without knowing much philosophy, but Einstein needed to saturate himself with Kant and Mach before he could reach his own keen synthesis. Kant and Mach-the names are mere symbols of the enormous mass of philosophic and psychological thought which has influenced Einstein-have served to liberate the mind of the latter and leave the way open for his innovation. 
Gasset recognises that most of our high status professionals are really nothing more than higher skilled technical artisans.  To him, there is a world of difference between being "educated" and being "cultured". For culture demands the big picture, not the narrow specialisation. The reason why  "the centre cannot to hold" is because no one in charge sees how they interrelate.  The men who built European culture--Renaissance Men--were "encyclopaedic"; their inheritors, specialists.

After reading his statement on Einstein, Kant and Mach I followed it up by seeing if Einstein had anything to say about  the matter. He pretty much backs up Gasset's assertion.
I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. (Einstein to Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)