Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Absolute Dilettante

I recently described myself as a professional dilettante (or something similar) to a friend during a passionate discussion about creativity, over popsicles. I was informed that this was impossible...and I suppose that I agree, but at the same time I truly believe that the word dilettante, and it's meaning in Western culture, has been the unfortunate victim of some form of "smear campaign" of sorts. I'm not implying that this is part of some kind of cabalistic conspiracy (though ironically that word itself has been demonized to the point that it's mere utterance renders the one using it virtually incredible), but I do feel that specialization is so encouraged in our society that the concept of being well-rounded is like the preverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater. (I'll save my rant on the beauty-of and proper use-of cliche's/truisims/axioms later!)

Robert Heinlein is one of a handful of Sci-Fi Authors that have much more to offer us in the field of literature and social criticism than most will allow credit to a genre that has largely been ghettoized and ridiculed. This quote sums up my own philosophy on the subject quite well:

"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."

-Robert Heinlein (from Time Enough for Love)

My opinion is that absolutes don't exist outside of theory and faith. I'm also of the opinion that it is preferrable to be known as a dilettante (common/derogatory meaning being dabbler) rather than a one-trick pony regardless of the perceived importance of any one particular skill. I feel we should by all means have one or two specialties but not at the exclusion of being well-rounded and open minded. This concept was highly valued in the past. The common phrase used to describe this type of person would be "Renaissance Man" but I prefer the term Polymath.

One more from Heinlein before I go. It's as if I've been reading his past-mind:

"Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields, But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so."

Been running into that problem a lot in recent years....More Polymaths and Less arrogant Piss Ants, please!

(Above image: Pythagoras of Crotana - J. Augustus Knapp)

No comments:

Post a Comment