July 29, 2003

Losing the Thread

It always amazaes me to see people completely missing the point of their jobs, or their place in society. Particularly in our society, where we choose our own societal roles. This is a propos of nothing, but I'd like to list a few jobs that routinely get their places wrong, and suggest what those places are.

Librarians are not primarily needed for running libraries. Librarians are needed because they have the skills, training and temperment for cataloging and classifying information. While being the caretakers of books and the places that they are housed is important, it is far more important that librarians help us to organize the knowledge we are being continually flooded with. Some areas where librarians could help would be in organizing online content (or coming up with a uniform system of organization that would work online, and be easy to implement); creating a true encyclopedia, or at least a reference document that lays out where all of the definitive information on any given topic can be found (the encyclopedias we have are simply not comprehensive, and there is no universal catalog of knowledge); or working to define the proper scope of intellectual property protections to serve the interest of creating the largest possible public domain of intellectual property.

Lawyers are not primarily needed for filing lawsuits, or deciding what inoffensive text can be placed inside Spy Kids 3-D glasses to keep someone from being sued1. Lawyers are primarily needed to help non-specialists make sense of the requirements of the law, and to defend ourselves against the predations of an overzealous government.

Speaking of the predations of government, the purpose of politicians and bureaucrats is not to define what our society should be, but to create an environment in which our society can freely develop. Passing laws about private acts, or creating victimless crimes, or making regulations which have some feel-good benefit for "society" (but which actually end up infringing on people's rights) are not the proper actions of our government. The proper scope of our government is to secure to us, the citizens, our rights - and this means that we need to be secure from foreign intervention, violent domestic unrest, and government meddling. The government does a decent job on the foreign intervention part of the equation, and an arguably passable job on the domestic unrest part, but fails totally at protecting us from the intervention of our more meddlesome and power-hungry types.

Finally, the purpose of teachers is to pass along factual knowledge, cultural context, and techniques for gathering additional factual information and for connecting those facts and contextual hints through logic and reasoning. The total abdication of this mission by the teachers in favor of proselytizing for their preferred worldview, boosting self-esteem (without the necessary component of self-worth) and fairness (without the necessary component of justice) and enforced equality (rather than allowing personal achievement) - this abdication is, I believe, where we can lay the blame for the other misunderstandings noted above.

Note 1: the text is "WARNING: Not for extended wear, performing physical activity, or outside play. Not to be used as sunglasses or for any other use other than shown." It's in English, French and Spanish.

Posted by Jeff at July 29, 2003 12:37 PM | Link Cosmos
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