December 18,1998 (Ira Pilgrim)


No man can be a pure specialist without being in the strict sense an idiot.

George Bernard Shaw, 1903

We live in an age of specialization. In fact, we have carried specialization to its ultimate end; everything is specialized.

Probably specialization started when the logical decision was made that men would go out and hunt and women would stay in camp and have and care for the babies. This logical decision is now in the process of being reversed and the only thing that stands in the way of a complete reversal is that we haven't yet figured out how to get men pregnant.

There have been some peculiar forms of specialization in the past. In merry olde England, the prince had a whipping boy. When the prince misbehaved, the whipping boy was whipped. These bits of idiocy were restricted to the ruling classes. The laboring classes couldn't afford such luxuries.

Specialization has since proceded inexorably to the present day, where everything is specialized. To make a garment, one group of people make the thread, others weave the cloth, others mark the cloth, others cut it, others sew it, iron it, pack it, transport it and so on until it reaches the person who buys and wears it.

There are still people who make their own clothes, bake their own bread and build their own houses, but these people constitute a small minority of our population.

While no one is looked down upon for changing a tire, a middle aged person who repairs his own car is viewed as distinctly eccentric. He is, in some way, not supporting the established order of things; the way that things are and aught to be. He is a case of arrested development, having been arrested in his teens. A woman who repairs her own car is beyond the pale; she is considered downright peculiar.

Some sports are tied to ways of life. Swimming, which is done for fun by the children, is necessary to a fishing culture. Running was also essential to some cultures. Play becomes institutionalized when younger children play the games that they see the older kids play. I was amazed, when I visited the site of my childhood, to find the kids playing the same games that I played there two generations before. Games with rules train children to cooperate. It was said that "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton". I doubt that it was, but the quote has a nice ring to it.

The rules of sandlot baseball are almost identical to those used by the professionals and they have changed little over years. However, baseball has evolved from something that men and boys did on Saturday afternoon into a spectator sport. Saturday family outings to the ball park have been replaced by viewing the game on television.

The pleasures of our childhood never leave us. What we enjoyed as children, we will enjoy as adults. A psychologist once pointed out to me that the the reason that I took to skiing in my forties was because I had enjoyed playing in snow as a child and skiing was just adult snow play. Hawiians don't ordinarily enjoy skiing unless it's on water. Most children of today enjoy television. Think about it!

Now even the play of the working class is specialized. We now have professionals who play for us while we watch them on television. And the players are also specialized: once a catcher, always a catcher. Some nascent professional ball players begin to specialize in little league.

If this trend continues, it won't be long before the dinner ritual will be replaced by a family sitting down in front of the TV set to watch profession eaters eat. There will even be the Gourmand of the Year and an Eater's Hall of Fame.

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