Son and Heir of Nothing in Particular: The Pains of Being a Generalist

There’s a quote somewhere that says in order to be good in specifics, one must first be a generalist. I agree with this, but cannot be currently bothered to scour the internet for it.

The idea of being a generalist isn’t necessarily about being a “jack of all trades, but master of none,” either, or even just a “master of one,” as I think the original quote goes, but simply having “a broad general knowledge and skills in several areas,” as my internet search engine defines it.

It seems to me that generalists are necessarily critical thinkers as well, which creates a lot of tension in a mainstream society dependent on unthinking acceptance, rote memorization, and loving a life of free-range slavery. Critical thinkers are again and again bashed over the head by a common foe: the logically fallacious, perennial appeal to authority defense of all kinds of nonsense.

Generalists also have a lonely life. Because unlike the insanely micro-focused, accept-it-on-authority comfortable class, there is no God or leader whose “word they can take for it,” and no rote-memorized system or track to blindly follow to the goal. The critical thinker is floating on a sea of unknowns, in a small, wind-whipped dinghy called logic, which frequently gets punctured and fills with water, which must be bailed out. What the generalist does notice, however, is that the others around him are also in such dinghies, but with virtual reality headsets and tactile bodysuits on, so they cannot see the water full of circling sharks (and other both wonderful and threatening mysteries) or feel the cold wind blowing.

This isn’t to say our critical thinking generalist always sees clearly either. No, far, far from it. But at least the first step has been taken. Remove the headset, see the situation. Part of that situation: many dinghies have sunk, with the VR-suited occupant tragically realizing at the final moment that something was amiss, lungs filling with water. When the generalists see this and shout to warn the others, they are laughed at.

Some headsets are labeled “religion,” and others are labeled “political party” (which is itself just another religion), and still others are labeled with crowned dollar signs.

Our generalist, here, is a bastard. No home. Feeling himself at times to be “the son and heir of nothing in particular,” as the lyric from The Smiths’ song suggests. There’s no place to neatly fit.

People don’t like generalists, generally speaking. When they draw comparisons between what others see to be vastly incomparable topics and areas of life, the specifists tell them they are crazy. Because they can clearly see in their headset and feel in their body suit that there is no connection between them and these other crazy ideas.

The man in the “government is necessary” headset cannot even fathom an order existing in an anarchic setting, let alone logically argue against such possibility. When you tell the woman in the “Democrat” VR headset that she is essentially the same as the woman in the “Republican” headset (in that she blindly accepts whatever position her political hero spouts), she laughs at you. “Republicans and Democrats are vastly different, you idiot!”

So the generalist floats on. Sometimes encountering the rare, other generalist thinker along the way. This is a joyous occasion. Because then they can get into specifics. The overarching goal is to get as many people as possible to take the headsets off and begin to search for land, and to build an actual life.

For the time being, we’ve just got to deal with the mockery.

“Listen to this guy! Telling us we’re actually lost at sea! HAH! I can see right now that we are not. He’s insane!”

By Voluntary Japan

Living life.

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