Monday 7 July 2014

Specialization is for insects

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Donato Giancola
SciFi buffs will care that it is Robert Heinlein's birthday today (07/07/'07).  He was one of the top flight triumvirate when I was reading SciFi in my teens along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I daresay that younger chaps are reading great stuff (Wind-up Girl anyone?) from the genre which has been published since I more-or-less stopped reading that stuff 30 years ago.  But I think you may enjoy some of that older classical material. Heinlein was also notably ahead of his time and leading the way to creating strong, credible characters who were dusky or had a uterus. He loathed the casual anti-semitism of authors from the 1930s and 1940s. He used the off-planet freedom of SciFi to encourage different and creative ways of handling earth-bound problems "Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well." Heinlein had, and has become an icon for, a rugged self-sufficiency and has been tribbed both by hippies in Birkenstocks and the U.S. Marine Corps in mirror-bright combat-boots. He leaned rather to the right of that spectrum espousing patriotism and a bunker full of beans and ammo to withstand Armageddon.  Me I'm into the dreamier self-sufficiency of John Seymour: carpentering my own lumpy furniture and making coffee out of dandelion roots.  That's how we finished up on the farrrrm, planting trees, making bramble jelly and bottle-feeding lambs. The job at The Institute, teaching on such a mad variety of courses, has made me to realise that I am a generalist.  That is not a great attribute for modern science where success usually accrues to people who "know more and more about less and less" as Mahatma Gandhi defined an expert.

Of the attributes of a real man as outlined by Heinlein in his famous quote at the top of post, I've mastered 15/21 but I'm not telling you which. If some of them annoy you, then Heinlein has achieved his purpose from beyond the grave More. When I've had my own office, I've put those lines on the outside of the door to wave a flag for work-life balance.

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