For many years, humanity was an interdisciplinary creature out of a matter of necessity. Specialization was a high-risk choice, because local conditions could change suddenly and irrevocably – and specialists tend to respond disastrously to change.
Humanity of 10,000 years ago was part hunter, part gatherer, part herbalist, part astronomer, part meteorologist, part biologist, part doctor, part builder, part crafter, part animal trainer, part mystic. You might be better at one thing than another, but ultimately you needed all of these pieces of knowledge to be able to survive. Considering that this was an era that was pre-writing, knowledge was likely crowd-sourced within a tribe, such that the loss of a member or a few-members would not mean the irrevocable loss of all expertise that the tribe relied upon. Being a generalized specialist wasn’t only in your immediate self-interest, it was also in your long-term self-interest (when factoring in your tribe).
Yet, we modern humans are not. Industrial, urban, agricultural society has favored intense specialization. Writing, knowledge systemization and social systemization have encouraged people to excel at one knowledge stream to the increasing detriment of all others. With hyper-specialization, we don’t just have a career – we have become our careers. And while such an approach is absolutely fine in a period of low to no change, in periods of change and population stress – such an approach increasingly becomes detrimental to the survival of the individual, as well as to the ultimate survival of the group.
What better example do we have then the highly dynamic reality of our planet’s recent climate? As the Earth struggles to find a new equilibrium point for the global climate, everything in the planet’s ecosphere is being pushed out of equilibrium and into free-fall. What were previously outlier events – 100-year floods, 100-year droughts, 100-year heat waves, 100-year blizzards – are becoming 10-year, 5-year, and yearly events. And in an eco-climatic free-fall scenario, change does not proceed linearly – it accelerates over time, which is what system theory would tell us (until we hit a new equilibrium).
And yet, the mainstream of humanity is still pretty out to lunch with what’s happening. Why? How the heck did Homo Sapiens Sapiens – the CONQUERER of the biosphere and the hyper-apex predator of the third rock from Sol – manage to CHECK OUT whilst there’s a global, civilization-imperiling freight train rolling down the tracks straight at our faces?
Apart from the fact that we spend over 90% of our lives huddled inside of climate-controlled offices, cars, malls and homes (and are trying to remain willfully ignorant) , we’re also pathetically specialized inside of our happy hermetically sealed chambers of lifelessness. Having trained our brains to focus on pretty much one meme stream of data, it’s difficult for us to review other streams, let alone construct a coherent picture out of several. For the vast majority of us, interdisciplinary thinking is not a skill we are taught in school or the office. We’re essentially taught to be good at One Thing and let the nebulous mass of humanity in our society somehow take care of The Rest.
And since we didn't receive the training to approach the world in an interdisciplinary manner, we are ham-strung in making linkages between events that are taking place in our world. Our ignorance is not just in WHAT is happening outside of our climate-controlled lives, it is how these things interrelate and how they inevitably impact us.
"Backwards Stone Age" interdisciplinary thinking informs us that if we want to minimize risk to ourselves and do something crazy (like minimize our extinction probabilities?), then let's move away from low-lying coastal areas. Let's start growing our own resilient and diverse food crops. Let's expand our functional diet to include things we wouldn’t normally eat. And most of all, let's minimize the external liabilities for own survival (like fossil fuel derived energy, industrial agriculture, commuting 50 miles to work, cheap plastic crap from China, etc.).
In other words – we’re inside of an epic population stressor event: LET'S GET GENERALIZED.