The Argument Against Specialization


January 7, 2015 • Latest, Madness • Views: 1704

“Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility.” -Michael Pollan, “Cooked”

I’ve been thinking about this quote the last few days. My failures as a professional–using the States’ high measurement for success, I’d say I qualify–stem from exactly this: A failure to specialize. I chose to do something–write–but haven’t devoted the time needed to properly succeed at it. I could have spent that time going to law school, grad school, getting a job at an advertising firm and moving my way up, writing for a local newspaper and climbing the ranks that way. There are a hundred ways to make myself feel like shit.

Maybe it isn’t for me.

After spending 30 days in a row backpacking, I haven’t hiked ten steps in the five months I’ve been back from the John Muir Trail. Five months. That’s nearly half a year! Some of that had to do with a rut I’d been in when I got back. I’ve written about it before. I felt sort of shaken up and wasn’t quite sure where or how I was going put myself back together again. One friend from the trail, Dave, hikes obsessively during the season. Multiple day long hikes a week. Adventure bloggers I follow are very similar.

I don’t. I sort of wish I would. I’d like to be a specialized adventurer, and this blog certainly presents myself that way. But when the days off arrive, some of those days I want to spend indoors writing a book, others I want to spend cooking. I have days spent at the library researching battles from World War I, other days crafting and building things, and even more spent playing and raving about a video game. I like all of these things. Perhaps it takes more fortitude than I’m capable of to sacrifice the things I like, to only do the thing I love.

Yet I need these things. They fill out the corners if you can pardon a Hobbit expression. The quote from Michael Pollan’s book is the first defense I’ve read lately for my lifestyle. I shouldn’t say “my” lifestyle. It isn’t my lifestyle at all. It’s most of our lifestyles. We like many things. The best of us can entertain on a variety of subjects, whether it’s art, business, travel, cooking. Isn’t Anthony Bourdain’s appeal his versatility beyond cooking? His wit? His know and knowledge on everything beyond food? Specialists, though the bread and butter of our capitalist world, are often boring. At their worst, they come off as manic, obsessive assholes *cough* Michael Jordan *cough*

That’s not most of us. We shouldn’t feel guilty for spending an hour to eat lunch in peace, for enjoying breakfast at a table. Filmmakers should read books, novelists should watch movies, everyone should play more video games unless their pretentions prevent them from doing so. All of us should be well versed. We’ll be better off because of it.


© 2015 Christopher Dart

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