I've heard the theory many times that specialization of labor
is a good thing because it lets us develop a single aspect of the body of knowledge to its furthest extent. Nice idea, but this is not how life works
. While some people do have cool jobs, like particle physicists
who describe the substance of existent reality
. Most people do not reap the benefits of specialization and instead spend their lives developing the most efficient way to build a Big Mac
The argument that people can't fit all this mundane knowledge of daily life into their minds is a flawed one. People can. Everyone knows someone who can fix a leaky faucet, build a book shelf, and purge a computer of spyware while overhauling the rear hub of a bicycle wheel. AND have a day job. This is not some unique superhuman, but the inherent potential within everyone.
Ok, so specialization doesn't make life more fun or help us discover absolute reality. So what is it's anthropological function? This answer is pretty mundane: more people need more jobs. If the guy down the street fixes your shoes, then you have to find a way to pay him, and he found a way to pay his rent.
Consumerism is the consequence of both colonialism and a population boom. Running through this idea is the reality of power demonstrated by colonialism which manifests itself as control and found its embodiment in physical reality as the machine. The incarnation of control came about as a result of population growth in Europe and expanding European empires throughout the world. This resulted in large numbers of far flung peoples being administrated under the same control regime. A difficult task if there ever was one, especially when income disparities needed to be maintained. This necessitated the manifestation of industrialization. It is important to note here that the idea of control is inseparable from disparity of resource allocation.
With all this in mind, after the development of the machine as an object of physical reality it became a social object which then proceeded to influence evolving social trends and social organization itself became a machine in its own right. This process is described by Alfred North Whitehead in more abstract terms as concrescence. Right about 1900, with the rise of scientific management specialization of labor became a big fad that has yet to really fade. Workers in a factory became indistinguishable from machines and actually as technology developed robots began to replace workers.
That attitude which Piter was describing earlier, well I've seen it too. This is the ramifications of identifying human behavior with the machine such that we are all cogs. This mechanical behavior is obvious to everyone, but what is not so obvious is that it is the direct experience of a violent control over our daily life. The problem here can be identified singularly as the control archetype. I know I talked about population booms but the number of people isn't the point. The point is that the problems come when you try to control this large number of people. I agree with him that history is not inevitable. We have a choice in the matter, however it takes effort. This building of something better is fun. If you happen to be sick of being a cog in a machine, then stop acting like one. Do it yourself!