For as long as I can remember, my greatest academic insecurity has been my lack of focus. I have never been able to grab hold onto one particular subject and wholly specialize my knowledge within it. When music became some what of an integral part of my life during the high school years, as per the usual rebellion/reflection phase, my taste and knowledge flourished. I knew what I liked and why I liked it. I don’t mean to brag, but I really had superb taste because I was never discriminatory to genres and always used reason and logic, along with aural aesthetics, to make my case for listening to music ranging from the Dead Kennedys to Kenny Rogers to Iron Maiden to the Pussycat Dolls. But even with this intense relationship I found with music as a 15 year old, I never went beyond. Conversations with other music enthusiasts would leave me looking like the ignorant one; one without the ‘trivia’ knowledge that seemed to be vital for liking music. I didn’t know all the names of the members of Pink Floyd, even though it was and still is one of my favourite groups (only Syd, Roger and David matter anyway). I didn’t know enough about underground heavy metal or hip hop culture. I didn’t know anything. But I knew what I loved and I knew what was good and what wasn’t because my ears told me. I could hold a three hour long conversation about the musical demise of AC/DC after the death of Bon Scott based purely on all the albums I owned and had listened to, but I couldn’t name you producers or interesting back stories or anything of that sort. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I saw this beyond music – I saw this, then, as a major weakness: I was unable to holistically understand something which was extremely close to me.
This was, in large part, due to the fact that my passions were spread thin, but always fierce. Music was a passion, but so was social activism, current events, world war II history, dance, and on and on. Focusing on one passion has never been an option for me because it merely does not exist in my mind. The singular has only ever existed as a marital status category, and nothing more. Everything else has to be in the multiples. I’m thinking this is largely in part to my conditioned multi-tasking feminine wiles as well as the result of my obsession with the 1960s and its fluidity when I was 10 years old.
Anyway. This inability to focus is with me till this day. During my four years of undergrad, I did not have an academic focus. I mean, I focused on Middle East Politics and History, but even then I know enough to get by and not as much as someone now pursuing a Masters within the field should know. Sure I was interested in the Middle East, but I was also interested in topics such as group identity, nationalism, secularism and the nation-state, place of religion, institutionalized education and a bunch of other pretentious stuff that wasn’t necessarily exclusive to my region of specialization.
But is it really all that bad?
A few weeks ago, one of my professors told me and another student during class that if he had one piece of advice he could give us it would be to focus. This made me smile because after an almost 10 year intellectual battle with myself I’ve come to completely opposite conclusion.
Some of the best thinkers and scholars of our time were not specialists. Remember the Renaissance man? Yeah? Yeah? Yeah, he didn’t specialize in anything except being awesome. The idea of specialization is a new concept and in my honest opinion extremely limiting. It limits intellectual capacity. I’m not saying it makes you stupid – of course not. But it does limit the perspectives you can achieve on various issues once you confine yourself to a particular field. And this is all definitely tied into our modern education system which is out to produce good little modern citizens meant to keep up the state homogenization process by becoming part of the conventional job market. We pursue education and knowledge, here in our societies, because it’s how we put food on the table and how we attain what we desire. Why can’t the education be the end goal itself? Why can’t unrestrained knowledge be what we desire? Why isn’t that satisfying anymore?
But it is satisfying. Amazingly satisfying. Once you’re able to expand yourself through your knowledge you begin to see weird links between things. All of a sudden things you learned in chemistry fit into your approach to politics. Gender relations and military strategy become strangely similar and complementary. Everything just fits in its complete incoherency. And this fitted incoherency helps make a little more sense of the ever-changing, crumbling, and regenerating world around us.
And I think that’s pretty cool. I mean, how many people can successfully compare WWII German military strategy to their approach to relationships?
Yeah. Thought so.