In the early 1970s, the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein issued a dictum, often quoted since, that “specialization is for insects.” Truly capable human beings, he wrote, should be able to do almost anything from changing a diaper to commanding a warship. It is a noble sentiment that celebrates human adaptability and resilience, but it’ wrong. While there was once a time when every homesteader lumbered his own trees and built his own house, this not only was inefficient, but produced only rudimentary housing.
There’s a reason we don’t do things that way anymore. When we build skyscrapers, we do not expect the metallurgist who knows what god into a girder, the architect who designs the building, and the glazier who installs the windows to be the same person. That’s why we can enjoy the view from a hundred floors above a city: each expert, although possessing some overlapping knowledge, respects the professional abilities of many others and concentrates on doing what he or she knows best. Their trust and cooperation lead to a final product greater than anything they could have produced alone.
The fact of the matter is that we cannot function without admitting the limits of our knowledge and trusting in the expertise of others.”
-Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 14-15.