2.6. Why We Can’t Agree on Anything

Ever wondered why we have all these different sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and spiritual traditions that can’t agree on anything?

Have you ever wondered why we have all these different sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and spiritual traditions that can’t agree on anything?

I mean, sure, to some extent, we’ve been arguing about this stuff since the beginning of civilization. But it didn’t used to be this bad.

Ancient thinkers like Aristotle, Confucius, and Thomas Aquinas flowed freely between science, philosophy, politics, and religion in their works. So why are those disciplines so separate and fragmented today?

It was really during the Industrial Revolution that our modern sciences, philosophies, and political ideologies were developed. And the Industrial Revolution was a time of huge socioeconomic change.

The biggest innovation of that era was a shift in our division of labor, toward mass specialization.

We realized that when people just focused on doing one small task really well, instead of trying to do everything well, we could use assembly lines to crank out products of greater quality and quantity.

That assembly line process works really well for concrete objects, like cars. But what if you aren’t producing something so concrete? What if you’re producing knowledge and ideas?

Knowledge production is an industry too, just like building cars. And so the very same model of assembly line specialization was imposed on how we generate new knowledge.

And let’s be clear—there are some benefits to this approach to generating knowledge.

It’s good to have some scholars spend decades studying their little area of expertise, sharing their discoveries with everyone, so we can all benefit.

But when everybody’s a specialist, when everybody’s an expert only in their little area—then we run into problems.

Because assembly lines only work well when people understand their roles, and there’s a clear, organized process for putting everything together.

Otherwise, it devolves into arguments over who should have what role, who should be in charge, and how it ought to be assembled.

It’s a recipe for all the totally chaotic, contentious, counterproductive arguments about knowledge, ideas, and beliefs that we have today.

It’s a recipe for coming up with a bunch of cool, new, shiny car parts…but failing to put them together into the powerful, smoothly running car we could have.

We’ve made a ton of advances in the past hundred and fifty years. But instead of our ideas becoming more cohesive, they’ve become more fragmented. Instead of people cooperatively putting the pieces together, our arguments over who should be in charge and how they should be put together have become more heated.

We don’t have separate disciplines. We don’t have separate sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and spiritual traditions.

There’s just one project of figuring things out, making sense of things, and using that knowledge to create a better world. There’s just one big project of human inquiry.

We’ve shattered that project into a million pieces. And now we have to figure out how to put it back together…without getting sucked into all these unproductive ideological arguments.

 

This is the 34th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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