One of the hallmarks of any industrial society is the division of labor. There have always been specialized trades (i.e. cobblers, blacksmiths) but the last two centuries has seen a great rise in hyper-specialization. While a cobbler’s workflow may have been vertically integrated, with the cobbler handling every aspect of production, now the same product may be forged by two or three or four.
This change is not necessarily a bad thing – far from it, it has enabled massive leaps in economic productivity and a rise in the standard of living. One could even argue that this in turn helped the West escape the Malthusian Trap.
I believe it is incorrect to strictly equate more specialization with more efficiency, however. When you are creating a Ford Model T, ten men may lead to 200% greater productivity than if you are manufacturing that automobile by yourself. But one hundred men? You will certainly see productivity and quality decreases trying to cram that many men into the creation process. There is a sweet spot which maximizes production and efficiency that, unfortunately, not every company will aim for.
More and more industries have become hyper-specialized, to a fault perhaps, so our educational systems have adapted. Before, a young man or woman was educated in a way designed to make them outstanding citizens with strong moral fiber. With liberal education gone, universities and public schools are now job readiness farms. One could also make the case that this removal of liberal education is a deliberate assault on a once-ubiquitous Christian morality, but that is an article for another time.
This may not, at face value, appear to have that great of a negative impact on individuals. I would argue, however, that this removal of the Tridium and Quadrivium has had dangerous effects on men and women, making them more reliable on the support of others (including the government) for once basic services. You could say that we created a generally intelligent populace at the expense of having a very wise one.
This push for greater and greater specialization means less time in education or training on other critical aspects of being a well-rounded individual. This is due to the need for more and more testing in order to certify different degrees of specialization. I spent nearly two-years of focused study outside of schooling in order for me to obtain my CPA license, just one of nearly half a dozen equally strenuous designations which specify competence in other non-public variants of accounting. Do you know what happened after I received my license? I was able to read more, I was able to focus more on my now-wife, I worked out more. Heck, I started a podcast and blog which have been running for over a year now.
My case may be extreme but it is merely one example of many in our modern specialized world. Great indicators of this are things from the drastic increase in meals eaten that are prepared by restaurants (to over 50% of all meals in the country!) to the rise in depression to the lack of basic life skills in younger generations. Granted, all of these are not caused by your college not teaching you how to deal with these; nevertheless, I believe the remedy is the same.
It’s time we bring back the Renaissance men.
It’s become too acceptable in our society to focus only on work and then waste your life away in entertainment the other hours of the day. This creates weak, spineless men and women who will find it harder to undertake any great labors later in life. The remedy for this is to begin to expand your areas of expertise and knowledge. By spending time and effort doing so, you will begin to counteract depression, acedia, or plain apathy by creating different vectors of accomplishment and contentment. More importantly, by spending your time wisely on arts, hard skills, or the study of theology or the world (or, better yet, all of these in due proportion), you will learn to appreciate the True, Good and Beautiful in life.
There is one other important reason that I believe is necessary to bring up, even more so given current affairs: self-reliance.
Becoming a renaissance man is a direct challenge to your dependence on others to give your life meaning, happiness, or just basic services. With the world and economy still dealing with partial lockdowns due to COVID-19 and disruptions in civil services becoming more frequent due to riots, racial and cultural tensions, and the like, you may not be able to rely as heavily on others to provide for you as you once were. Take the restaurant example – with many of them closed (most temporarily, but many permanently) to enforce social distancing, a whole cohort of young people had to learn how to cook.
Perhaps a more obscure example would do as well. Right now, most Americans rely on their smartphones, televisions, and other technologies to bring them any form of relaxation and entertainment. What happens when these experience disruptions? Better yet, what happens when they start to promote content that goes against your beliefs or openly insults them? We need to ask ourselves whether it is a good thing that our happiness and hobbies are directly reliant on a mega-corporation with its own agendas.
To be dependent on anyone is a sign of weakness and immature child-likeness. Unfortunately, so many of us are dependent on technologies (as me and some other men noticed just in our first week of Exodus 90) to an extent that is not often known. Nevertheless, we should work towards becoming mature, well-adjusted adults. We should strive to be better than hyper-specialized couch potatoes and cultivate self-reliance and a love of the Good, True and Beautiful.
I’d like to make a follow-up post to this that gives an accessible beginner’s guide to cultivating self-reliance and becoming a Renaissance man. I’m not perfect, but as a formerly hyper-specialized couch potato, I have gained some experience with becoming more self-reliant over the years that may help others do the same.
About The Vital Masculinity Project
Our goal is to restore classical masculinity by encouraging men to pursue virtue and brotherhood. While there are many competing voices on manliness today, most have forgotten this foundation of character while instead focusing on externals. We strive to provide practical steps for all men to begin their journey to becoming virtuous. Visit our Journal for reflections virtue and manliness or check out our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any of your other favorite podcast providers to listen to rich conversations about them.