Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nobody Is Batman

We all know this one:

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.Heinlein

Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, MacGyver, Bond, Edmond Dant├Ęs  -- the list of literary polymaths is very long.  We admire people who can do it all.  I am not one of those, though I have always been something of a generalist.  On a farm, being a jack of all trades and master of none is fairly standard.  I’m not really good at much of anything – in fact, nothing that I can think of offhand, but I can hack and ham-fist my way through about anything. 

Cross-pollination is what makes my apple trees bear much fruit.  There’s also cross-pollination in skills and ideas.  The experience of decades of writing code and solving problems on a computer sometimes spills over into figuring out how rebuild a lamp that is shorting out, replace the drive belt on a lawnmower without losing a finger, or how to take apart the chipper I jammed with too much green wood.  The habit of tracing something back to where it starts, of visualizing how something has to work will solve an electrical wiring problem the same way it will fix a core-dumping C program.    

Most prepper-types get this instinctively.  It’s not wise to be too wrapped up in one aspect of being well-prepared.  Similarly, we ought not be overly committed to any one possible future path.  Those, like me, who expected equities to go off a cliff long ago, have lost money.  I could not bring myself to leave all my investments in stocks, but I have been able to sleep at night.  The small percentage that I did leave invested has kept me from feeling too bad about it.  Nevertheless, the last four or five years prove -- if I had any doubt, that, while predicting the future is easy, predicting it correctly is a lot tougher. 

We do not know what tomorrow holds.  Our nation may fracture further.  There may be internal conflict.  There may be some sort of international conflict, large or small, that changes all the current dynamics.  Something may trigger a global economic collapse.  Ebola may roar back or some other plague may become the threat du jour.  In the 1965 movie, The Battle of the Bulge, one of the characters, played by George Montgomery, tells a less experienced soldier, played by James "Dano" MacArthur, to "stay loose".  After Montgornery's character is killed, MacArthur's character repeats the line to those following him.  It's always good advice.  Tunnel vision in any area can be detrimental.   

It is fascinating to watch people who have developed some ability, skill, or talent in the extreme whether they be musicians, chess grandmasters, dancers, gymnasts or other athletes.  While the prima ballerina was working very hard to reach the acme of her profession, there were a lot of things she could not do.  People who have a "knack" or a gift in some area may be able to do well without much effort, leaving them free to pursue growth in other venues, but most people who are really good at something sacrificed in other areas to perfect their art.

I'm not sure it's altogether healthy -- physically, psychologically, or socially, for most of us to over-develop in any area.  If a person has some special gift, that's different.  No one could criticize a person like Bruce Lee for his devotion and sacrifice.  No one would question the sacrifice of an artist like Van Gogh or Michelangelo. 

Being in good physical condition does not mean being able to match the physical prowess of a Navy SEAL or even an NFL running back.  Being a decent shot does not mean being able to make a thousand yard shot with a handgun like Jerry Miculek.  It doesn't mean we shouldn't work out, practice, and study.  We ought to have some fun doing it. 

Don't let the spectacle of someone else's specialization dissuade you from pursuing growth, good health, fitness, education, and the development of skills in a more general way.  Don't allow dark, dire scenarios of the future discourage your more modest efforts at self-reliance or rob you of hope.  

We do not have to be the Batman.


  1. The internet is great for bursting one's bubble with respect to pride in one's skills. Always somebody better out there.

    As I age, I am developing a respectful "learn from the master" attitude rather than my old, envy-based one where I think, "Oh, I can do that". Which reflects a shifting of my world view from egalitarian to hierarchical.

    Also, I'm changing my attitude from "I have a better way of doing that" to
    "Let's see if I can repeat what he did".

    My wife and I were discussing the other day, we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves if we didn't have the challenges of building this homestead.

  2. ... what to do with ourselves ,,,

    Some days my plan would be nap.

    You're right about bursting bubbles. I see the stunts some of these kids do, or that parkour stuff, and think I could never have done that.