Specialization is for insects

From Robert A. Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

6 thoughts on “Specialization is for insects

  1. That’s from _Friday_, right?

    Heinlein had a thing for solving equations. IIRC one of his ideas was to require a voter to solve a quadratic equation before they could vote.

    If I’ve got my dates straight, when he was growing up the USA was much less specialized than it is now — a large proportion of the population lived on family farms, and were pretty self-sufficient. I can’t recall if he grew up on a farm, but I know he served in the Navy. Between farming and serving in the Navy you’d have most or all of those skills down. Still pretty specialized though, compared to a totally self-sufficient animal.

    To the list I’d add starting a fire in the rain, to start.

    Looking at what we’ve learned from the “ice man” is a fascinating glimpse into paleolithic life. And louse genetics indicate we’ve been wearing clothes for only 78,000 years or so. I think we got specialized pretty soon after we started living in cultures. Evolutionarily speaking, developing that kind of cooperation is and specialization is exceedingly rare, and has only happened 14 times or so in the history of life on Earth. I think all but one of those times were in insects. Some folks think that society and specialization, more so than intelligence, bipedalism, pair bonding, tool use, brain size, opposable thumbs and the rest is the hallmark of humanity and the reason that we have been so successful as a species. It may also explain why we haven’t heard much from life on other planets.

    So maybe specialization is for humans and insects — but not the rest of life on Earth. And I think humanity is the only species that doesn’t use genetic determinism, but culture, for specialization.

  2. I can’t remember where I ran across that quote. I haven’t read any of Heinlein’s books, but I liked the quote when I found it.

    I’ve seen the louse genetics figure before. The date is consistent with the out-of-Africa hypothesis than humanity originated in east Africa about 100,000 years ago. Of course it depends on what you mean by “humanity.” Most scientists use the word “human” loosely to refer to any bipedal primate, even for creatures like Neanderthals that everyone now agrees could not have been human ancestors. If by “human” you mean homo sapiens sapiens, it looks like humans wore clothes from the beginning.

  3. That’s my favorite Robert Heinlein quote. Here’s another remarkable one (if only for its political incorrectness):

    “Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house.”

  4. This quote is from one of Heinlein’s masterpieces: the novel “Time Enough for Love”, which I heartily recommend. Speculative science fiction (space flight, time travel, bioengineering and artificial intelligence, for a start, with somewhat of a nostalgic tone of its own) at its state-of-the-art.

  5. While I loved that, and many other Heinlein quotes, and greatly enjoyed his writing as a youth (I would humbly suggest that Iain Banks is the next gen Heinlein, but a bit more advanced due to greater awareness thanks to the existence of the Web over the ‘net — his “Player of Games” is the most outstanding and scientifically/technically imaginative future society construct! ! !) — Heinlein somewhat devolved as he grew older, possibly from his physical illness, possibly from faulty reasoning: many or most of us go through a “libertarian stage” in our youth, but normally outgrow it, Heinlein began as a progressive, but devolved into a libertarian, and held the most perverse and historically malformed ideas on American Exceptionalism, but probably due to all the misinformation being spread about as history during the Cold War. Many of his sociopolitical predictions (America would never start a war, etc.) were completely wrong.

    His last real book (“Friday”), it appeared that Heinlein was finally beginning to grasp the reality as opposed to the manufactured reality.

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