Against Specialization

| January 14, 2011

No one takes thought very seriously, except those who claim to be thinkers or philosophers by profession. But that doesn’t stop it from having its own apparatus of power—or its being an effect of its apparatus of power when it tells people: “Don’t take me seriously, because I think for you, since I give you conformity, norms and rules, an image”; to all of which you may submit all the more as you say: “That’s not my business, it’s for philosophers and their pure theories.

—Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues, 13.

One could say something similar of Education in general. If we take it seriously it is as something for the professionals, for those with a taste for such absurdities. Even, or perhaps especially, the professionals know that it is not to be taken seriously. What is serious is rather that it be taken seriously. A serious business. For the general audience, those who have a dim recollection of having themselves gone through school, to take it seriously is to insist that others—teachers, politicians, students, their children—take it seriously.

Education does not exist without this displacement. This specialization. It has many mechanisms (including, even, we should be clear, the argument for “liberal arts.”) Deleuze articulates one familiar to the professional Philosopher:

The history of philosophy has always been the agent of power in philosophy, and even in thought. It has played the represser’s role: how can you think without having read Plato, Descartes, Kant and Heidegger, and so-and-so’s book about them? A formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought—but which also makes those who stay outside comform all the more to this specialism which they despise. An image of thought called philosophy has been formed historically and it effectively stops people from thinking.

Could it be that the supreme challenge of education is to figure out how to stop? It is not enough to leave, to find a respectable profession. The strange courage required is to stay long enough to unlearn the drive for literacy, for a proper education.

Taken altogether, the drawn out apathy, the art of procrastination, the going through the motions, the extraordinary percentage of dissertations not completed, represent perhaps a dimly perceived strategy of thought. Nevertheless, we are perhaps not so good at it, losing much in the battle.

The challenge is to become, as Deleuze said of Sartre, “the breath of fresh air from the backyard.”