Specialization is for Insects
January 28, 2006 11:55 AM   Subscribe

"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 A. Heinlein, "Time Enough For Love"
posted by sourbrew (89 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry if some of the links are not fantastic quality. I got about 2 hours into looking some of this stuff up, and admittedly i slacked a bit. In particular it was a real pain trying to find any information on setting a bone, because every site just wants you to run to a doctor. Some of the others presented more nebulous search problems as well. Hope you enjoy.
posted by sourbrew at 11:57 AM on January 28, 2006


This is one of my favorite quotes. Thanks!
posted by hupp at 12:05 PM on January 28, 2006


Also if any of you have any links that would replace some of my less stellar ones, or one for take orders that is not something about disciplining a problem child, I would love to have a mefied version of this post.
posted by sourbrew at 12:11 PM on January 28, 2006


Heinlein's idea of the ideal man, and mine as well. I would only differ on the "having sex with your mother" part, which seems to have been left out of the quote.
posted by fraxil at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2006


The 'fight efficiently' link has some fairly NSFW ads. Please give us a bit of warning about this kind of thing. That apart, great quote and great post idea.
posted by matthewr at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2006


fraxil, i think you misunderstood that portion of time enough for love. Heinlein loved to address social taboos, and to force us to think about them in uncomfortable ways. It was my understanding that he saw incest as acceptable if there was no genetic damage that resulted.

Before lazarus meets with his mother again, he takes two slaves on his ship. The two slaves are siblings and have loved each other since birth. Heinlein explains the genetics behind incest in great detail, and derives a relatively low genetic risk of mutation. The relationship between lazarus and his mother was therefor acceptable because of the low genetic risk.
posted by sourbrew at 12:18 PM on January 28, 2006


sorry about that matthewr... meant to mention that.
posted by sourbrew at 12:20 PM on January 28, 2006


Ah! One of my favorite books, and one of my favorite quotes. And I named my motorcycle Dora.
posted by SpecialK at 12:23 PM on January 28, 2006


wasn't heinlen also big on social nudity?
posted by jonmc at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2006


and polygamy
posted by sourbrew at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2006


Waitasec. I thought the slave twins' chances at reproduction were okay because they were mirror twins and therefore had different genetic information. Lazarus was obviously not the mirror twin of Maureen, nor was Maureen the mirror twin of Ira, or Nancy the mirror twin of Brian, or so on for all the other incestuous pairs. I thought those were only okayed because they wouldn't be reproducing, or if they were, they were on Tertius with all those clinics to fiddle with the genes.

Great post, though. It'll take me awhile to check out all the links, but I like his quote and your idea.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2006


books - No, he went back and fiddled his mom, Maureen, during the time when he was a little boy. I can't remember the title of that book, though ... but it's the one where he ended up dying or close to death.
posted by SpecialK at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2006


SpecialK, that was in Time Enough for Love ;-)
posted by sourbrew at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2006


My husband and I always joke about our "post-apocolyptic skills" whenever we learn how to do something cool that would serve us well in some dystopian future. I'm not much of a fighter though. Maybe my information gathering and organizing skills will be so respected no one will ever start with me.
posted by Biblio at 12:40 PM on January 28, 2006


I know, SpecialK -- but like I said, that was okayed because they wouldn't be reproducing; Maureen was already pregnant.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2006


This will be a lengthy and tawdry historical footnote to some, but Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land was the primary inspiration for a series of early communes along the California coast in the early 1960s launched by Paul Kantner (later of Jefferson Airplane), David Crosby (later of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash), David Frieberg (later of the Quicksilver Messenger Service), and others. These households -- in which money, drugs, and lovers were shared, to greater or lesser success (as described in Crosby's song "Triad," with its line, "sister lovers, water brothers, and in time, maybe others") -- then became one of the models for the hippie communes of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury.

Both Crosby and Kantner have spoken to me at length about their passion for Heinlein, Asimov, C.S. Lewis, and other science-fiction writers. When Jefferson Airplane was falling apart, Kantner recorded an amazing, recently remastered album called Blows Against the Empire -- featuring Crosby, Graham Nash, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, and others -- the second side of which described the hijacking of a starship by a bunch of acidheads, which earned the album a nomination for a Hugo Award.

During an interview for David Gans' Grateful Dead Hour a couple of months ago, Kantner told me this story: "When I was making Blows Against The Empire, I wrote a letter to Heinlein because I got his address. He lived down in Santa Cruz, in Bonnie Doon, actually, where my first girlfriend lived, so I thought 'well, this is propitious.' And I sent him a letter asking permission to use some of his words and some of his concepts out of his novels in Blows Against The Empire. He wrote me back saying, 'My god, this is staggering' -- something like that -- 'you people have been ripping off my ideas and words for like 30 or 40 years and you're the first person who's ever had the decency to ask for permission.' And he said, 'P.S. Oh by the way my gardener says he went to high school with Marty Balin, who is your lead singer right now, and sends his best.' That was a cute letter."
posted by digaman at 12:50 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Actually, the best post-Airplane work was Red Octopus. And the best San Francisco bands of the era were Creedence, Sly & the Family Stone, Sanatana, & the Beau Brummels, none of whom were part of the whole Haight-Ashbury thing. Just saying.

/music geek
posted by jonmc at 12:59 PM on January 28, 2006


Well, I couldn't disagree with you more. But that's what music geeks do.
posted by digaman at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2006


I mean, to be geekily precise, I like the early recordings of Creedence and Santana and Sly quite a bit. As for "Red Octopus" and the Beau Brummels, fuhgeddaboutit. Now back to Heinlein.

/geek drift
posted by digaman at 1:07 PM on January 28, 2006


Well, I couldn't disagree with you more. But that's what music geeks do.

Yeah.

And I'm not saying that I don't dig the Airplane, I do. They rank ahead of the Dead, mainly because Marty was a better rock songwriter than Jerry Garcia and Grace and Marty could sing better than anyone in the Dead. But no Haight-Asbury band every did a protest song as good as "Fortunate Son," (which rocks like a motherfucker along with being incisive) and none had a rhythm sound as good as the Family Stone or Santana or came up with pop gems like "Laugh Laugh" by the Brummels (produced by Sly). Quicksilver (mainly because Cippolina was such a good guitarist) and Janis are still favorites though. And so's Moby Grape. ;>
posted by jonmc at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2006


Well, seeing Janis was my first experience of going to a concert. To say the least, she made quite an impression. I'm with you on "Fortunate Son," which could have been custom-written about Bush. And yes, Marty was a better pop (that's what you really mean) songwriter than the Dead. But that's like saying that Irving Berlin was a better songwriter than John Coltrane -- i.e., you'd be right, but in the wrong ballpark. But enough.
posted by digaman at 1:14 PM on January 28, 2006


Can't find my plain-text file, so here's a link to The Notebooks of Lazarus Long.
posted by mrbill at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2006


Thought this may be appropriate: How to make fire with a coke (or any other) can
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2006


OK. Just couldn't resist.
posted by jonmc at 1:17 PM on January 28, 2006


I know it's extremely goofy and cartoony (on purpose), but I did kinda enjoy that "Starship Troopers" movie.

But then again, my favorite Madonna song was the one she sang about Papa John Creach, where she tells him she's gonna keep her baby.
posted by First Post at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Surprised myself at the hipies digging Heinlein- always seemed to be a bit right wing about most things- barring getting ones end away with your nearest and dearest and swanning about in the altogeher. Enjoy his stories but always feel a little guilty, same as sniggering at PJ O'Rourke gags. Nice idea from the post and good digressions on Stills Nash et al.
posted by Gratishades at 1:24 PM on January 28, 2006


Thanks.

As it happens, I recently found a electronic copy of Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (I was just googling around "Simon Jester" and "Old Dome"); and just today stumbled across "If this Goes On —"

Normally, I'd not download copyrighted works without permission, but — well, I've probably purchased a dozen copies of Moon and half a dozen collections containing "If This Goes On —", and given that Heinlein has been dead since 8 May 1988 and Virginia Heinlein for three years this month, well, I think Prof de la Paz wouldn't mind too much if read the Master's work on my handheld.
posted by orthogonality at 1:24 PM on January 28, 2006


I don't think that idea really applies to modern life. In service-based economies where most people live in urban areas and post-graduate degrees are needed for jobs that pay what H.S. graduates used to get in Heinlein's time, I would think specialization is absolutely necessary to get by.

Also, as something of a jack of all trades and knowing a couple others like me it becomes obvious after a while that you simply cannot get good at more than a handful of things in your entire lifetime. I really envy the guys out there that are just really good at one or two things. They also benefit quite a bit from specializing in one or two skills. Could you imagine Jimi Hendrix quitting guitar playing for a few years just to become a synth player? *shudder*

Like a lot of Heinlein's philosophy all this sounds great in theory but in practice its something else entirely. Unless you expect civilization to collapse and need a quick and dirty political system (Heinlein's libertarianism) and some basic boy scout skills to start off your mad max society. His books are full of more pro-military and libertarianism tripe. Geeks have been obsessively analyzing this guy for ages and it hardly seems worth the effort. To his credit he has written at least two very good sci-fi books.
posted by skallas at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2006


I really envy the guys out there that are just really good at one or two things.

Well, that has it's downsides, too, in the whole tunnel-vision and limiting of experience that limits one's ability to understand others and their tasks and abilities.
posted by jonmc at 1:31 PM on January 28, 2006


Sourbrew: Oh, man, you're right. Duh. The book's broken up into sections so well with the flashbacks that I often mistake the stories for entire books.
posted by SpecialK at 1:32 PM on January 28, 2006


skallas, i think that the ever increasing number of blogs dedicated to DIY is a complete contradiction to your entire point. Sure specialization is important, but you gotta have a way to kill time. A complete human in Heinlein's view has found something constructive to do with his spare time.
posted by sourbrew at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2006


Also, as something of a jack of all trades and knowing a couple others like me it becomes obvious after a while that you simply cannot get good at more than a handful of things in your entire lifetime.

Good, or magical ... it depends where you are on the spectrum. I can perform CPR, shoot 10 rounds of .22lr with a pistol in the black at 25 yards, fix a motorcycle, program a computer, navigate by stars, cook dinner, keep house, build a house, start a fire, sew functional clothes ... but that's because all of those things are interesting, and it just turns out that the one time I need them... I'll have them. It's not like they took any effort to learn the basics of, really.

If you talk to the people who are really specailized, you'll find that the only place they really have a lot of focus is their career. Ask about their hobbies.
posted by SpecialK at 1:44 PM on January 28, 2006


In service-based economies where most people live in urban areas and post-graduate degrees are needed for jobs that pay what H.S. graduates used to get in Heinlein's time, I would think specialization is absolutely necessary to get by.

Heh. If marginal tax rates are high enough, it's cheaper for a doctor/lawyer/accountant to work less at his job and fix his own plumbing, replace his own alternator, paint his own house, fix his own roof, iron his own shirts, manage his own investments, etc.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:49 PM on January 28, 2006


Personally, I can program by the stars, cook house, start a motorcycle, navigate by computer, fix functional clothes, and shoot 10 rounds of .22lr with a pistol in the black at 25 years into someone who needs CPR.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 1:51 PM on January 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


I can make toast.
posted by jonmc at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2006


Possibly, but if you visit Make or Hack-a-Day the stuff there is created by people who are either professional coders or engineers. If not pros then students. Its how they spend their spare time also. Same with open source. The people writing this stuff are not plumbers who are self-taught hobbyist coders. They're students or pros with time to burn. They're not expanding their skills, they are using their skills in a different area. Well, you could say they are expanding their skillset but they're still programming computers not designing villas. One of the big criticisms of open source is the idea that anyone can add a feature or fix a bug. Err no, the user certainly can't.

It depends where you want to draw the line. DIY basic home repair and using software to balance your checkbook goes without saying. But the level of complexity of modern systems is nothing to scoff at. Heinlein says "program a computer." Ok. How much serious time, effort, and classes do you need to write your own simple word processor if need be. Or an app to track your books and CDs? Nowadays the software is out there in free or commercial forms. There's a lot to be said about wasting time by redesigning the wheel.

Of course, knowing the basics of a lot of things will alway be helpful, but the idea that people should shy away from specialization because its a flaw insects share (last i checked there were more beetles than anything else on this planet) is silly. The quote is ambigious enough to where you can list through the things you know and say "Yeah, right on!" But if taken sincerely, its something of a loaded phrase to discourage specialization, which is more important now than ever.

The above ignores quality issues too. You and your pals might get together and build a shed using some DIY guide only to have a useless barely standing box uglying up the backyard. Now if you and your pals main hobby was small construction it would be a different story, but how could it be when you're all off learning to program in C++, sail a ship, shoot a man, talk to a dog, and juggling flaming salmon?

I think this quote kinda plays into our want and need for a diverse experience in life, but in an very old fashioned way. Its not good enough to read a good book or travel to a distant place. To Heinlein you need to write the great American novel, build a ship, and if you can, shoot a man on your way out. Its romantic in a way, but not enough to slyly criticize the specialist writer out there who is making a real effort to write a few novels. Compare a serious writer to the National Write A Novel crowd for an example.
posted by skallas at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


"specialization is for insects."

Try saying THAT when you're being eaten by Starship Troopers style bugs.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2006


Well, skallas is right in the sense that this is the sort of romantic quote where everyone can say "right on!" but is not exactly something to live by.

Specialization is hardly modern, it's what we've been up to for dozens of millenia to improve our efficiency and create civilization. Specialization is human.
posted by Firas at 2:07 PM on January 28, 2006


Well then i guess i shouldn't have spent all that time on my mad crossbow skillz.
posted by sourbrew at 2:13 PM on January 28, 2006


I'm not sure, but I think this is an attack on the idea of taking things slow, doing a good job, "haste makes waste," etc. Its anti-Communism really. For the Soviets to specialize in collectives must of driven Heinlein crazy. I'd go as far as saying all his work uses sci-fi as political metaphor a la 1984 and his attempts to just write sci-fi (Friday) shows how weak of a storyteller he really is.

btw a Heileinesque hero can do these things and do them well, but that hero is also a work of fiction. This person he describes is a wild-west cowboy and outside of the military framework is really not very civilized at all. I'd rather live in an urban area full of specialized "insects" all doing their thing than a frontier town where the local doctor is also the sheriff or the local prostitutes also run the bank. Romantic and cool yes? Realistic? No. Political? Hell yeah.
posted by skallas at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2006


Could you imagine Jimi Hendrix quitting guitar playing for a few years just to become a synth player?

I don't have to. I saw Michael Jordan try to become a major-league baseball player.

Heinlein was a wonderful writer (at his best, which in my opinion does not include Time Enough for Love), but he was no more a Thinker than any other fiction writer. Tolstoy's ideas on History are just as silly as Heinlein's on Being Human. We pay these people to tell us stories, not decide the great issues of life for us.
posted by languagehat at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2006


We pay these people to tell us stories, not decide the great issues of life for us.

Arent stories and songs and art in general one way of figuring out the great issues of life? It's my favorite at least.
posted by jonmc at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2006


limthread links = stream-of-consciousness OR non-sequitur
posted by spiderwire at 2:56 PM on January 28, 2006


I have nothing to say, other than I just finished re-re-re-re-re-re-reading "The Number of the Beast".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:59 PM on January 28, 2006


jonmc: I can make toast.

"I have trouble with toast. Toast is very difficult. You have to watch it all the time or it burns up." - Julia Child

skallas: juggling flaming salmon

I think I've found my new hobby.
posted by Aster at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2006


I loved Heinlein's juveniles: I still have a copy of The Rolling Stones around somewhere, and I still love the snap of his dialogue. Ditto The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But anything to do with Lazarus Long smacks to me more of gradiose self-indulgence than of something I could respect on any level as an intellectual production.

digaman's history about the hippie's embrace of Stranger In A Strange Land reminded me of some of the worst aspects of the Sixties, as well. It's an interesting thing to look at, in terms of the Utopian tradition in America, but it was ill-thought out, and those experiments tended to end in failure at the slightest bit of genuine adversity (or relationship complications).
posted by jokeefe at 3:06 PM on January 28, 2006


the Utopian tradition in America, but it was ill-thought out, and those experiments tended to end in failure at the slightest bit of genuine adversity (or relationship complications).

Well, that's Utopianism for you. Utopianism is one of those childish things that need to be put away. You can't make a perfect world when it's inhabited entirely by imperfect beings. You can't create a perfect world, just deal with the one we've got.
posted by jonmc at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2006


Reading "To Sail Beyond the Sunset", which seemed to me to be several hundred pages of the heroine trying to get into her father's pants, put me off Heinlein for life.
posted by teferi at 3:18 PM on January 28, 2006


Tolstoy's ideas on History are just as silly as Heinlein's on Being Human.

To be fair, the quote is not exactly 'Heinlein's idea'. He conceived it, sure, but the only person who 'owns it' (ie., advocates it and has to defend or be judged by it) is the fictional character who declared it.
posted by Firas at 3:30 PM on January 28, 2006


...it was ill-thought out, and those experiments tended to end in failure at the slightest bit of genuine adversity (or relationship complications).

No disagreement here. But I think it's going too far to say that those early communal households I was talking about were "thought out" much at all. It was a bunch of poor, young, unknown folksingers playing for pass-the-basket on the coffeehouse circuit, sharing expenses and modest living quarters, taking LSD before it was illegal, and reading Heinlein and the Beats. This was even before the Byrds, remember, and the hippies were still several years away.
posted by digaman at 3:38 PM on January 28, 2006


The 'fight efficiently' link has some fairly NSFW ads. Please give us a bit of warning about this kind of thing. That apart, great quote and great post idea.

I wonder if anyone is seeing how incredibly ironically funny that statement is...it's ok to read stuff at work about beating someone to unconsciousness with any weapon at hand, but god forbid there be some boobies on the page.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:41 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


To his credit he has written at least two very good sci-fi books.

Yes, Beyond This Horizon in 1942 and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel in 1958. Both of those were written well before his libertarian windbag granny porn phase.
Heinlein had to be praised at all times. He would arrive in Chicago without prior notice, phone me with an order loosely translated as, “I have arrived; bring acolytes and worship me in my ordained manner.”

He had this really peculiar tangentialness about himself as if he deliberately tried to set himself apart from all others. This was evident in his unusual choice of clothing (sitting around in silk pajamas and dressing robes), and in his imperial manner (never allowing anyone to sit higher than himself). He also paid fawning attention to females (with a sneer and a wink; they terrified him), and absolutely never ever permitted himself to hear a negative word associated with himself.
Heinlein Happens
posted by y2karl at 3:46 PM on January 28, 2006


y2karl writes "loosely translated as, “I have arrived; bring acolytes and worship me in my ordained manner.” "

Fuck, y2karl, that's a pretty loose "translation".

Surely, you of all people, someone who has at times been egregiously smeared right here on MetaFilter, recognizes a spiteful smear?
posted by orthogonality at 4:10 PM on January 28, 2006


So sitting around in silk pajamas and dressing robes is a bad thing?

No wonder Migs doesn't come around much any more.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:40 PM on January 28, 2006


Heh, Crash.

Teferi: Yeah, most of us agree with you, I think. Turd of a book.

This person he describes is a wild-west cowboy and outside of the military framework is really not very civilized at all.

I disagree. I think that there's still a place for the generalist in modern society, although I agree that you won't find many individualistic generalists in a modern city society. You'll find many more specialists in city societies, because as a bunch of people pointed out, it's not *worth* knowing how to do a little of everything.

But I think if you consider a less urban setting, you'll find that there's more value in knowing how to do a little of everything and do it well. Heinlein was describing much more of a "renaissance man" who did everything that he tried to put his hand to well, if not with an expert's touch and finish.

It's worth pointing out that anyone can choose how to spend their life. If you're more inclined to be a generalist and you'd be happy that way, by all means, do so. If you've found something you love and can become myopic, great! Do so. Just don't try to be a myopic person when you're really intended to be a generalist. That way leads becoming a suburban prick with an SUV that 'camps' on weekends, does a poor job at home improvement, and a drinking problem.
posted by SpecialK at 5:42 PM on January 28, 2006


It was a bunch of poor, young, unknown folksingers playing for pass-the-basket on the coffeehouse circuit, sharing expenses and modest living quarters, taking LSD before it was illegal, and reading Heinlein and the Beats. This was even before the Byrds, remember, and the hippies were still several years away.

I think I had in mind the brief flourishing of hippie communes here in BC during the early 70s... of course we're still really only talking about a decade long period of time. (A good book on the subject is Justine Brown's All Possible Worlds.
posted by jokeefe at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2006


).

Ahem.
posted by jokeefe at 5:54 PM on January 28, 2006


A tirade against specialization by someone who lives off-world is pretty rich. It also works pretty well for a sci-fi writer. Much, if not most, of the translation to reality is done by specialists.
posted by Wood at 5:57 PM on January 28, 2006


when i was in sixth grade my grandmother loaned me her copy of stranger in a strange land to read.
posted by RockyChrysler at 6:09 PM on January 28, 2006


Specialize in a useful field and you'll always find work. Generalization is for the unemployed.
posted by bshock at 6:50 PM on January 28, 2006


Hey, I go to Heinlein's alma mater, and I think I understand some of where he got some of his ideas for the broad generalist; I am taught how to navigate by stars, give and receive orders, conn a ship, die gallantly, plan an invasion, fight efficiently, cooperate, and act alone. Of course these are part of my job. But also, there they train on tangentially related things too: writing sonnets, programming computers, setting a broken bone, solving equations, analyzing problems. These things aren't specific to my job so much as the powers that be think that everyone should have some of these skills. It makes you more well-rounded, adaptable, and better able to confront tasks for which you are not trained.

On broad basis, the U.S. Navy, which Heinlein spent some time in, is much more generalist than other navies; almost every member is trained somewhat to do every other person's job. Also, you usually can't just be an engineer or a line officer or other specialization (much like the British Navy), for you must be all in one. This might have been the seed of the pro-generalist quote and sentiment. As someone once said comparing officers to enlisted, 'one has knowledge an inch wide and a mile deep, the other a mile wide and an inch deep.'

I don't think we should all be able to program a computer. But we should be able to see the computer as more than a box where we put things and things come out (magic). We should be able to figure out the basics of why computers work, fix problems with them as they occur, and most importantly, how to find the information you need if you're out of your depth. But not just to 'leave it to the experts.'

We need generalists. Look at doctors. We need more general practitioners, but many go for a specific area of expertise (it pays better), sacrificing some (but not all) of their range for focus. But living in the country presents problems.

And as Ghost in the Shell reminds us, 'Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness.'
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:04 PM on January 28, 2006


A specialist is simply a generalist who never tried.
posted by warbaby at 7:16 PM on January 28, 2006


Specialize in a useful field and you'll always find work. Generalization is for the unemployed.

Until your specialization ceases to be useful.
posted by SpecialK at 7:42 PM on January 28, 2006


I always liked Matt McIrvin's paraphrase:

Everyone should be able to: fire a gun, clean a gun, buy guns from somebody else, treat gunshot wounds, comfort the dying who have been shot by guns, field-strip a gun, construct a gun from spare household items, draw a picture of a gun, write about guns, complain about gun laws on Usenet, collect guns, sell guns on eBay, and write poetry about guns. Specialization is for insects.

posted by straight at 8:49 PM on January 28, 2006


Specialization is for insects

Who will win. Suck it, generalists.
posted by eriko at 9:12 PM on January 28, 2006


Whatever you do, avoid anyone who takes this quote seriously.
posted by jjg at 9:34 PM on January 28, 2006


Fifteen out of twenty. Maybe sixteen if leeway is given on one more. Still unemployed. Read Heinlein stuff through early teen years and wouldn't waste my time rereading any of it because there are so many other really good writers. Nobel prize for literature list is my reading goal.
posted by X4ster at 10:47 PM on January 28, 2006


I'll have to get back to you on the "die gallantly" thing.
posted by Cranberry at 11:49 PM on January 28, 2006


Lord Chancellor writes "It makes you more well-rounded, adaptable, and better able to confront tasks for which you are not trained."


I just gained significantly more respect for Annapolis.
posted by orthogonality at 12:58 AM on January 29, 2006


A very good point was brought up about how Heinlein-style generalists are not really "civilized". I know a great many will disagree with it, but I personally feel that was the entire point. If you hold to the values those generalists tended to maintain, then yes, civilization is bad for us as individuals.
posted by nightchrome at 1:09 AM on January 29, 2006


To be fair, the quote is not exactly 'Heinlein's idea'. He conceived it, sure, but the only person who 'owns it' (ie., advocates it and has to defend or be judged by it) is the fictional character who declared it.

This is a fair point about many writers. It is not particularly pertinent here. In Heinlein, it's always perfectly clear who's speaking for the author.

orthogonality: Did you even read the piece y2karl linked to? Here's the part just before what he quotes:
I had to remind myself that I knew Heinlein well, not casually. After a certain point in time, we moved in the same circles both professionally and socially, knew all the same people for all the same reasons. We attended the same meetings, conferences, seminars, parties, and testimonials. In many cities, many states, many buildings, many offices, many corridors I was able to observe Heinlein at close range, for years, and to note how he reacts with and toward people. I did everything I could within myself to contain all of these things, to deny them, and to try to wish them away, only that didn’t work at all; it never does.

Heinlein had to be praised at all times....
Unless you also personally knew Heinlein well over a long period of time, it sounds to me like you're the one who's talking out of your ass. Surely you're not under the delusion that authors you admire must be good people? The behavior described for Heinlein is all too common among successful but insecure writers (and others).
posted by languagehat at 5:06 AM on January 29, 2006


Heinlein seems to be mostly about how young, nubile girls are always trying to have sex with the older, gruff, writerly gentleman.
posted by signal at 7:19 AM on January 29, 2006


That's what the later Heinlein is like, and unfortunately that's what people seem to associate with his name.
posted by languagehat at 7:41 AM on January 29, 2006


15 for 20 and happily "unemployed". Who needs a job when one is self sufficient and can trade excess goods and labor with one's neighbors? Granted, my advantage is a rural setting. It would be much more difficult to grow most of my own food in a city with urban space constraints.
posted by turtlegirl at 7:47 AM on January 29, 2006


Heinlein seems to be mostly about how young, nubile girls are always trying to have sex with the older, gruff, writerly gentleman.

These young girls won't let me be, poor poor pitiful me...
posted by jonmc at 8:43 AM on January 29, 2006


Heinlein seems to be mostly about how young, nubile girls are always trying to have sex with the older, gruff, writerly gentleman.

Better that than about how wonderful little girls' panties are or about how someone can save the day because she understand from experience that child-molestation is really just good fun for the kid too, like certain living dirty-old-man writers I could mention.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 AM on January 29, 2006


The behavior described for Heinlein is all too common among successful but insecure writers (and others).

I think this portrait of Heinlein sounds plausible specifically because so many of his characters also act adolescent and call it mature.

Not that it makes that analysis totally spot on- but I also find it hard to think that you can't get any insight at all about the writer's character from his works. Especially one like Heinlein, who wrote so many near-duplicates of the same character in most of his work. So I do find it plausible that Heinlein was a pompous ass in public on many an occasion- he worked in a profession known for pomposity, his subgenre is known doubly so for that trait, and he designed many identically pompous characters. The man did understand power.
posted by perianwyr at 10:00 AM on January 29, 2006


Heinlein was easily my favorite author for much of my adolescence, but these days he's just embarassing to me. Some of his books have strong overtones of racism and fascism (see The Day After Tomorrow and Starship Troopers.)

He was always big on defining people by their practical capabilities. Is it in Time Enough for Love where he states that people who can't do Math are subhuman? What a disgusting sentiment that was.
posted by Coventry at 4:41 PM on January 29, 2006


Some of his books have strong overtones of racism and fascism (see The Day After Tomorrow and Starship Troopers.)

BRAIN BUG!

I know, I know
posted by spiderwire at 5:02 PM on January 29, 2006


I remember one of his short stories where a pretty girl makes a delicious open-face sandwich out of the errata in a bachelor's fridge shortly before the sun explodes (and shortly after taking off all of her clothes at a bus stop). For her, a link to the bbc food site, which has a handy widget where you type in ingredients (ie. whatever you have lying around) and it'll whirl out some appropriate recipes for you.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2006


Have enjoyed Heinlein's books since I can remember. I'm surprised that few mention what I think to be one of his better books, 'Friday'. It's a spy thriller set in a future where polygamy is common, the world has balkanized, with an 'artificial person' as the protaganist. Lots of delicious issues and Heinlein tackles them all with interesting results.
posted by IndigoSkye at 6:42 PM on January 29, 2006


"Some of his books have strong overtones of racism and fascism (see The Day After Tomorrow and Starship Troopers.)"

Uhh starship troopers was a pro racial integration novel. Thats why it was so controversial. Its the portrait of an ideal man, a mans man. Who in the end turns out to be Filipino. In fact you don't find out till the last page.
posted by sourbrew at 5:47 AM on January 30, 2006


My father was too busy and distant. I was 'raised' by Mr. Heinlein. I'm happy, in large part thanks to him. Heinlein taught me even a teenage faggot, such as I was, could have balls of steel.

Heinlein was rather libertarian, but more pragmatist. These are held by most libertarians as contradictory. Tough shit.

It always amazes me when people get so upset to discover that Robert A. Heinlein was human, subject to the same weaknesses as the rest of us.
posted by Goofyy at 7:20 AM on January 30, 2006


starship troopers was a pro racial integration novel

The entry in this FAQ entitled "What race is Rod Walker in 'Tunnel in the Sky?'" has a very nice little writeup of Heinlein's approach to race.
posted by event at 7:26 AM on January 30, 2006


I know nothing about archetecture and my wife does all the cooking. Man I gotta get my head outta my ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:32 AM on January 30, 2006


(Or spelling)
posted by Smedleyman at 7:32 AM on January 30, 2006


An 80-plus-post Heinlein thread, and no jscalzi?

**boggles**

I don't think it's a bad thing to try to be a bit more well-rounded and be able to do a bunch of different things. Note that an "expert" level of proficiency is not required, just that one can do a number of disparate things reasonably well.

Even people who are super-specialists in terms of their work or career can usually do a bunch of other things, too.

I liked Friday, too. But then, I have a high tolerance for crap SF; as long as it's written well, I might not notice it's crap until someone points out why. At least with crap SF movies, I know it's crap, but I still usually enjoy it... :)

On the downside of Heinlein, my parents's marriage blew up because of experimentation similar to Kantner et. al.'s with the concepts in Stranger In A Strange Land.

Fun book, but don't try it at home, kids. We monkeys aren't quite that evolved yet.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:20 PM on January 30, 2006


lol
posted by lazaruslong at 10:32 PM on February 13, 2006


wondered if you might show up
posted by sourbrew at 9:42 AM on February 15, 2006


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