The Classically Educated Manifesto

I was up last night thinking about Life, the Universe and Everything, and I realized that I’m just not quite satisfied with the traditional answer, 42.  In fact, I already know that I see the world differently from nearly everyone else, and I was wondering whether the rest of the people who see life the way I do would be interested in reading my thoughts.  I guess, we’ll find out here on this blog.

The thing is I see myself as falling into two broad categories, both of which are unpopular with some camps for some reason or another (they are equally popular in other camps, of course, so that’s all right).  I am 1) a global citizen and 2) a generalist.

Let’s start with #2, first.

Being a generalist in your professional life essentially means that the only thing one is good for is people management (or flipping burgers, but I’d rather not flip burgers if I have an option – nothing wrong with flipping burgers, but I try to avoid it due to the lack of money it is often associated with).  Essentially, technical careers are not open to me because I’m wired in such a way that I’m much more interested in the big picture than in dedicating my time to really, really, learning one specific skill at a world-class level.  I respect experts who spend their spare time reading technical journals, but I really don’t understand them.  Obsession and focus is something I have a truly hard time with.

I am much more interested in an ever-changing management role where no two days are the same, where each week brings a different set of problems, and where, with a basic management and analytical toolkit (you DO need to have an understanding of quite a few different systems) you can face up to most issues.  The truth is that management is more about people than about analytics at the end of the day – being highly analytical helps, but won’t make or break a good people manager.

I am the same in my personal life.  If you look at my bookshelves, you will find everything from Dante to classic car magazines, intermixed with a bunch of SF, Austen and Wodehouse.  Plus the Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter.  I spend my time watching the 1001 films to see before you die, except when playing old arcade games on plug in TV stuff.  Except when I’m in an airport.  Or playing some sport or other (living in Argentina means that that sport is usually soccer, but I love surprising my American friends by hitting a decent curveball into the bleachers or tossing a football seventy yards, although admittedly I haven’t been exposed to decent pitching since I moved back from Mexico, so I might not be able to do that anymore).

The first thing I do at a new city is visit art museums.

The interesting bit, at least to me, is that I don’t do any of these things on a superficial level.  I like to get into the subject.  So in almost any given conversation, I will be the foremost expert on Austen, on Matisse and on Asteroids.  I will also be able to converse intelligently on whether Dan Reeves (the coach, not the former owner of the Rams) deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  I will generally be the only professionally published writer in the group – and definitely the only one who has been paid for having published fiction in genres ranging from historical, to mainstream to erotica to science fiction.  Plus a variety of scholarly articles on everything from literature to traveling in Syria.

This is not always a good thing.

Most people tend to be very good at one single thing.  They love that thing with a passion, and will dedicate their lives to it.  Rock climbing.  Computers and gaming (this is particularly bad because it encompasses both work and private lives: the cliché of the programmer who is also a prolific, passionate gamer, is true more often than not).  They tend not to understand a person who is only reasonably well-versed in a subject and who, when things get truly interesting and detailed will become enamored with the next shiny thing, only to return to the first subject when fancy strikes.

There used to be a name for this: classically educated.  This is now nearly an insult, calling to mind, as it does, images of an aristocracy for whom there was no necessity of specialization.  People specialized to survive, being a competent polymath was seen as an elitist pastime, and to a large degree, it still is.

Which brings us to point #1.

Having been brought up all over the world gives one a very different perspective on nearly everything (which is why the old aristocracy had the Grand Tour as part of the aforementioned classical education).  It brings the big picture into focus and makes the local news seem trite and extremely tangential.  I feel equally at home in Milan as in New York or Buenos Aires.  One of the things I’m most proud of is that, when walking along a street in Damascus, other pedestrians (and sometimes people in cars) would stop me to ask directions.  My ability to explain, in Arabic, that I have no idea how to get anywhere because I’m from Argentina, and then answer basic questions about Argentina was just icing.

The point is, I feel part of a group of people to whom the city they are currently in in just that: the city they are currently in.  There is no real difference in living or spending time in one place or the other, and countries are interchangeable.  Basically, if you feel that nationality is important for something other than ease of entry into the countries you want to go to, then you don’t understand this group.  It used to be that it didn’t matter if you were a prince in Spain or in Ethiopia – the important thing was that you were a prince, and nobility the world over would open its doors for you.  The global fraternity is the same.

We don’t understand Davos protestors because, to us, the world is already one single entity.  Protesting against globalization is like complaining about gravity: a very silly way to waste your time.  This has nothing to do with our politics, income or even  just with our worldview.

So, if you feel like it, hop aboard!