Identity and Specialization

Okay, after two flashback posts I am now back to the present. Obviously my interests include art, religion, reading, and running. This blog provides a platform for me to indulge in all four. It might make more sense for me to separate these subjects into their own blogs, but one of my goals is to find and build connections. Heaping a variety of topics together makes sense in light of this goal.

Of course connectedness can be taken too far. Balance is important. Just as over-homogenization can lead to blandness, over-connectedness can lead to over-specialization. Think of the Borg in Star Trek. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The Borg terrify us because individual identity disappears as each recruit’s “biological and technological distinctiveness” becomes just another cog in the Borg collective. We’ve seen this dehumanization most clearly in factories following the Taylorism model (brilliantly parodied in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times), but also in two other trends: (1) the pressure to blend in, and (2) the pressure to specialize.

America has been called a melting pot of culture, and that description has taken some heat. Not everyone wants to melt into one uniform bisque. Some would prefer to think of America as a stew, in which many ingredients come together but each retains something of its own characteristic while at the same time adding to the taste of the whole. In my own family, languages that were spoken as recently as two generations ago have been lost. Any hint of my German, English, Dutch, Norwegian, and Bohemian ancestry has been assimilated into a homogeneous North American gruel. It’s a shame that more of the flavors of the home countries haven’t been retained.

It is also a shame that society, and especially the job market, today is rigged against the Renaissance person. The jack-of-all-trades is frowned upon as a useless generalist or dilettante. A polymath is someone who might be good at Jeopardy but little else. In our race to specialize, though, it is easy to forget how closely connected we are, and how our actions have repercussions outside of their immediate spheres. My desire is to forge a unique identity while maintaining an awareness that I am part of something greater.

I think science must consider ethics. I think religion must acknowledge history. I think entertainers and athletes (sometimes the line between the two is blurry) must recognize their role as influencers. I think politicians should look at both the micro and macro, the short and long terms. And in the tiny scale of this blog, I think it’s okay if I mix art, religion, reading, and running into one stew.

Or maybe this is just an elaborate rationalization for my inability to focus on any one thing.


Anthropocene Reviewed reviewed

Having recently written about connections on this blog (Book Habits), I thought I would turn my attention today to another exploration of connections: John Green’s podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed (Anthropocene Reviewed), in which Green “reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.”

Google Dictionary defines Anthropocene as “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment,” which is itself a controversial and fascinating topic.  In each episode of the pod, Green talks about two things, for example: “Teddy Bears and Penalty Shootouts” or “Hawaiian Pizza and Viral Meningitis.” The two subjects of each episode aren’t necessarily compared to each other. In fact, Green rarely ties them together in any way, but simply having such disparate things reviewed in close proximity to each other invites one to find connections. (My personal favorite two episodes are “Velociraptors and Harvey” and “Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad.”) Each episode is around 20 minutes long, and is thoughtfully written. A special pleasure is the quality of John Green’s delivery. His speaking voice is well-suited to the introspective nature of the pod.

Green’s fans also know him from his zanier podcast Dear Hank and John, made with his brother, and highly successful YouTube channels like VlogBrothers and Crash Course. He can rightly be called an internet superstar. Before turning his attention to the internet, John Green had already published his first two young adult novels, Looking for Alaska (winner of won the Michael L. Printz Award, which is given by the American Library Association literary to recognize the “best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit”) and An Abundance of Katherines.  It was on YouTube, however, that his fame exploded. Beginning in 2007 with Brotherhood 2.0, Green’s online presence has made him a celebrity, and one of the internet’s top educators and communicators. This from a man whose first video (January 2, 2007) begins, “I’m not going to be good at this!”

Just as I enjoy finding connection between different books, and between books and everything else, I enjoy discovering and following the connections among the Green brothers’ many projects. The Anthropocene Reviewed is a podcast which should appeal to anyone who is broadly curious about life and its interconnections. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed 4 ½ stars.