06 February 2011

A Slipping Away of Competence and Human Capital Over Time?

...in a hard place, independence and self-reliance were the most sovereign of virtues and looked upon as the elements of character that made a man or a woman “worthwhile.” _Rex Murphy
NationalPost

In the National Post article quoted here, Rex Murphy is looking back at a recent bygone era of practical competence and self-reliance. Modern people in the year 2011 perceive their advanced technologies and lives of relative ease as signs of superiority. And yet, what is lost when generations of children are raised so as to be unable to lift a finger to provide practical sustenance for themselves or those they care about?

We know what is gained in terms of productivity, when specialisation of labour is practised. But when children spend most of their formative years -- outside of their school indoctrinations into political correctness and groupthink -- playing video games, watching cartoons and movies, texting friends . . . what will they do in a large-scale catastrophe to provide for personal and group survival?
...when I look to the Newfoundland of 50 years ago, look to it as my native province really was, not as I now retrospectively would like it to have been, I see in that hardscrabble time and place certain features of character and life that present a worth and depth all too rarely encountered today. Furthermore, I think most present day Newfoundlanders would agree with me — they were a better crowd then, those Newfoundlanders on the edge of our memories from a couple of generations back. They were a modest, hardworking, uncomplaining and above all a self-reliant people...

...The people of old did not advertise their diligence, industry, their life-long persistence at the hard, hard business of getting food and shelter for their families, and of making do with what they had. This was a time before the Oprah gene of emotional incontinence and reckless, exhibitionary self-worship so tormented our species. Newfoundlanders had the grand old gift of shutting-up about what they endured, why they endured it, and how much it cost them to endure it...

...They were tough, and in addition they were incredibly, ferociously self-reliant. Self-reliance was a foundation rock of their entire character. Be careful that you never accidently cast a doubt or a slur on a man or woman’s ability — and total determination — to be utterly free of any dependence on anyone else whatsoever.

I remember one old man who after a life of being on the water decided to build a long-liner all by himself. Cut the timbers, hauled the wood, planed, hammered and sawed away for the whole of two full winters: no neighbours to help, just him and a few tools. At the end to look across the road and see the magnitude of what, solitarily, he had built, the grace and finish of it, too — was to marvel that one man had so much within his own capacity and determination. I know he was proud that he, “just a fisherman” had so much skill. He was proud of his craft. But he was more proud that he could engineer this whole project all by his own 70-year-old self. He needed no one. Had to ask help of no one. Took money nor grant from no one. This was his boat....

...That self-sufficiency and the intensity of the commitment to it was the real hallmark of the Newfoundland character. It showed itself not just in large projects — such as building a boat — but in the lesser gestures of everyday as well...For many people, especially in the outports, this meant keeping a few farm animals and growing in a back garden of potatoes, cabbage and turnip. Together with fish and game, they had their own food supply. _RexMurphy-NationalPost
Murphy talks about self-reliance in Newfoundland, but the same ethic was practised across the rural areas of North America -- from seacoasts to mountains to the great plains. People were self-reliant because they had to be, and had been required to be so for as long as they could remember.

Modern people have largely forgotten any world except one where one supplies any need -- service or substance -- through a monetary (typically credit card) purchase. It is not so hard to imagine situations where the modern infrastructure of universal supply and demand might break down. A broader competence would come in handy in such situations. Another situation requiring self-reliant and resourceful competencies will be the opening of new frontiers in space and on/beneath the oceans.

A smarter society -- smarter than the currently deepening Idiocracy -- would raise its children with such possibilities in mind.

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