Menial labor won’t take us into the future. We need vision, even if it’s only myopic vision…
I have awful eyesight. I wear a lens prescription that, before the advent of modern refractive materials, gave me those coke-bottom lenses. Mind you, without my glasses I’m not so blind I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.
But I imagine it would be tough eating.
It’s a handicap. When I was a kid, I mentioned to my eye doctor that I had probably ruined my eyes reading. He responded that it was more likely the reverse, that because I couldn’t see very well, I chose to read and do things up close rather than run around and play ball.
Then some years ago I came across a reference that reported that some kids with bad eyesight don’t necessarily start out that way. Rather, their eyes are fine at birth, and then worsen in the first few years.
However, their interest in doing things close-up starts before their eyes go bad.
Handicap or Advantage?
Odd patterns like that are of interest to me as a biologist. They suggest, strongly, that there may be some genetic pattern at play here. First of all, why should a child born with good eyes later develop bad eyes? That suggests not a handicap, but a selected pattern, which in turn suggests some competitive advantage. And the fact that a child with this condition is interested in doing things close up, even before her eyes go ‘bad,’ strengthens the argument for a selected behavior.
One of the benefits to bad eyesight is reflected in the name of this blog: I’m a bookscrounger. I read pretty widely. When I was a kid, my brother would make wild fun of me for reading the cereal boxes at breakfast. But through reading, and curiosity, I made it through med school, and that certainly provides some advantages.
It also led me to question things. Someone once asked me what my hobby was and after thinking, I said “Thinking.” Before I had kids and a family, and before my body aged to the point that I couldn’t handle much caffeine, I could make a huge tumbler of coffee early on a weekend morning and write and think for hours. There were days I didn’t get out of my bathrobe until after noon.
Reading I go places that many do not; thinking, perhaps I go places that no one has. So my near-sightedness may give me a far-sightedness which transcends physical, temporal, and even conceptual, boundaries. My poor eyesight – perhaps – gives me great vision.
I remember one of my medical school professors relating a story about how he, as a resident, was one of several residents working on a patient in cardiac arrest. My professor was a short guy, and there was a former college football player among the other docs in the room. The footballer physically moved my prof to the foot of the bed and said, “You: supervise.” Which is critical; if everyone in a code is running around doing something, and no one is sitting back just looking and thinking, important things are missed.
I previously posted about women in the military, and how a team of only the strongest men isn’t likely to be the strongest team; that a group is strongest when it can do many things, and respond to many kinds of challenges. The strongest men might not even be the best in hand-to-hand combat, as a martial arts master can defeat someone much larger. And for some types of trench warfare, small and quick can be an advantage (the ‘Emmitt Smith’ strategy). The point is that the modern military, like all teams, needs many talents, and it is a mistake to parse out one strength and assume it represents universal strength.
And that insight, together with the problem of eyesight vs vision, brings up an important part of this blog: success in the modern world requires that we look at the functionality of things rather than the superficial or the popular, and try to understand what is really happening. It is not enough for simple-minded partisan arguments, ‘This is right, that is wrong.’ What may appear to be wrong or even dangerous in one setting, may be quite advantageous in another.
Which brings us back to educating children, and why our educational paradigms train most of them for menial labor. We have noted that human progress is accelerating, and that innovation was rare for most of civilization. When things aren’t changing, when competition is about numbers, brute force, and menial labor, there simply isn’t much need for thinking. If you’re building a pyramid, you need many, many people to serve as menial labor. Even the skilled craftsmen, the stone carvers and the woodworkers, do not need much education, they mainly need physical strength and endurance, and years of training and practice to execute a few rote skills. As evidence, consider that almost everything that carpenters and stone cutters spent years mastering in centuries past was highly skilled menial labor: they can now be done, with great precision, by an amateur with power tools. Just as the men who moved the stones were human bulldozers and cranes, so the men who fashioned the materials were human power tools.
And they just didn’t need many architects.
So throughout history, we have needed a lot of people, doing a lot of menial labor, and not much thinking. Life was brutal, there wasn’t much excess available, and compassion was a luxury.
Even today, it won’t do for everyone to sit around in their bathrobe until the afternoon, thinking up new ideas. There is only so much change we can handle at one time, and for the most part we must remain conservative.
But we live in a time in which things are changing quickly. We need to change our thinking, change our educational theories, and change how we change.
Up next: Rusty Nails & Rusty Paradigms
Old Barn courtesy of Pixabay.com.
Pyramids at Giza courtesy of Wikimedia.org.