The Thief of Curiosity

Posted on July 20, 2011 by


As a society we increasingly accept the concept of multi-tasking as a substitute for excellence in any single discipline.  The appearance of busy is a cloud through which real accomplishment can rarely be measured.  Prior to the trend, being well-rounded was a high pursuit – that meant that a person was exposed to a variety of subject matter and experiences – academic, spiritual and physical – in order to better reveal talents and passions, develop focus, the ability internally collate information, and self-regulation – learning to learn, as preparation for a specialization aligned with one’s aptitude.  Specialization was the ultimate goal.

John Taylor Gatto describes the application of the mechanism, and the organic process:

“Well, anyone who’s had the experience of a discipline, whether it’s gardening, or pottery, or dressmaking – or, auto mechanics!  Give me the ten worst children on planet Earth, and let me open the hood of a car and have a skillful mechanic with tools working on it, and I’ll tell you, the majority of those kids will be standing around watching.  Just watching so intently, what’s going on.  I think that’s a universal need, a yearning, an appetite, and learning a discipline’s the best way to feed it.  I wouldn’t worry about it being exactly the right discipline, either.  Once somebody gets the hang of a discipline, they’re able to segue into another.

(emphasis mine)

Now, we are seemingly suspended in perpetual intentional indecisiveness, burdened with diminishing intellectual stamina, and tending toward a secret distrust of sustained interest.  Fixation, any show of intensity, be it regarding a religious standard, a field of study, or a family menu, is demonized as restrictive, illiberal, legalistic.

In the secular world, the lack of pressure to focus in any meaningful way has had a predictable consequence.  We have practiced short-term thinking to the exclusion of anything else.  We train ourselves to be disinterested, and in so doing we are destined to become uninteresting.  We have abandoned the art of observation – a critical survival skill, among other things – and the skills of engagement and interpersonal communication, for the reliance on technology to not only inform and entertain us, but to be a substitute for humanity itself.

Gatto, again, from his article, What Really Matters?:

“Talking to machines as we have come to prefer to do does make us intimate with the way machines think; it also conceals from us the degree to which our own lives are mechanical and our own thoughts well-controlled like the thoughts of machinery.  Have you noticed that machines don’t ever surprise you after you know their habits?  The purpose of market research is to remove surprise from human behavior, too.  When we lose the power to surprise each other, we lose a chunk of what it means to be human.

This problematic dynamic does not limit itself to the realm of popular culture.  In adopting this way of going, we become progressively more satisfied with multi-tasked ethics.  The mark of curious intelligence – being able to objectively grasp multiple concepts simultaneously, has been misaligned with the mark of a high moral code.  “Open mindedness” has become an excuse for poor judgment, or a lack of judgment altogether, and a substitute for making a reasoned decision based on both intellectual and ethical integrity.  It creates the new Rite of Self-Absolution, accountability to nothing but one’s own conscience, without control for corruption, and a warped social ecumenism.  Making a decision that is moral requires the effort of isolating ones emotion from what is real.  We are reduced to:  If I feel something is right, then it must be, at least on some level, or it would not have occurred to me.  The mere fact that the information is brought forth serves to justify it, as we shuttle between the personal cults of emotion and political correctness, which are fluid and situational,  rather than the community platforms of logic and morality – that which is real.  If you cannot know anything, definitively, then you are incapable of solving any conflict, and more importantly it becomes impossible to prevent any conflict.  Conflating simple emotion (I feel) with the complexities of true compassion serves only to confuse empathy with real benevolence.

Lack of specialization, all around,  is a needless human poverty.  It requires abandoning standards in favor of standardization, as with education.  It requires replacing compassion with regulation, as with charity.  It will require,ultimately, the obfuscation of our humanity, if no one is very good at any one thing.