Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Am Smarter Than Heinlein


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, Time Enough For Love

I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Heinlein.  I mean, I liked Stranger in a Strange Land, but the rest of his works seem like thinly veiled attempts to talk about how the military is humanity’s greatest accomplishment.
The military takes nude coed showers?  Okay, time to read Starship Troopers.
Normally, I’d just ignore Heinlein (I mean, he is dead), but this quote keeps resurfacing.  People seem to think this quote actual wisdom, not something said by a character in a science fiction novel.
"But quoting science fiction movies appropriate is."
It’s not all bad.  It’s not only useful to learn how to change a diaper, but it also teaches you how to deal with your own revulsions.  If you can comfort someone who is dying, you can also cope with your own fear of dying.  And, hey, everyone should be able to analyze problems and cook and cooperate.

The rest of it is baloney.

I need to know how to plan an invasion?  Really?  You honestly think someone is going to give me an army?  Yeah, that will work out well.
"Okay, great job, guys!  Now, we just need to engage the enemy."
You want me to learn how to set a bone because people shouldn’t specialize?  How about dentistry?  Who here wants me to read a few books and then drill their teeth?  While I’m at it, I’ll make my own drill since I can’t trust anyone who specializes in making dental tools.
Luckily, I have a role model.
If I need open heart surgery, I’d rather have it done by someone who has specialized in it.  Would you rather have some guy who learned how in between programming computers and planning invasions fix your heart?
"Calm down!  I've done this twice already."
Specialization is something only humans do by choice.  We need an updated quote that accepts that fact.  Here’s what I came up with:

A human being should be able to change a leaking diaper, clean a house, make a website without using a web design tool, perform CPR, write a paper without making silly grammatical errors, spend time with the elderly, be productive working in a team, be productive working at home, explain a scientific theory to a fool, challenge authority, feed a family, defend itself, accept its own mortality and prepare for it.  Specialization is what humans do.

-Matthew Kagle, I Am Smarter Than Heinlein

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