Thursday, February 16, 2012

I blog about all these .... and that is why I am a "failure?"

As I get older, I seem to get even more amazed at how little I know.  As I joke around with students, the library building on campus serves as a physical reminder that I don't know a damn thing.  At USC, there were libraries all over the campus, and they all served me well in conveying whatever I needed to know and ensuring that I knew that I didn't know.

My innate interests in a whole variety of topics draw me into strange readings and places.  For instance, I was reading a news item at the Christian Science Monitor website, and it had a related link, which was a test on science literacy.  So, of course, I took that test and got a tad disappointed that I got only 44 out of the 50 questions correct.  It should be 45, I thought to myself, because my finger slipped over the touchpad and I clicked an incorrect answer.

My blogging also reflects this curiosity about everything around me.  It also means that sometimes the visitors to the blog are people who have searched for, ... well, like in this list of some of the search words that brought visitors to my site yesterday. 

It is neat to look at this list and think that my interests are so diverse--from half-sarees to ecuador to the armenian genocide! 

There is a serious downside to such a diverse intellectual interest: the half-wit that I am, this means that I "lose out" in the professional world of specialization.  After all, I am not a Freeman Dyson, for instance, to be a specialist in a gazillion things. 

Thus, choosing not to be a specialist in any one topic means that I am not the expert on the productivity of left-handed female labor in farming in Timbuktu.  While this is an exaggerated example, intellectual specialization has become so reductionist that talking to academics has become boring anymore, given that most want to talk about is only a topic or two in which they are "experts."  Intellectual insecurity also seems to preclude most academics from getting out of their comfort zones; it ain't easy, I suppose to say "I don't know" when we have PhDs :)

I am very happy to tell students I don't know a damn thing.  Strangely enough, my admission of ignorance makes most of them convinced that I am putting on a show that I don't know.  One student remarked in class a couple of years ago, "oh, false modesty!  we better be careful with you then."  Students have also told me that this attitude of mine is such a contrast to most faculty they have experienced, who, apparently are so convinced that they know it all that they freely bullshit on topics that are far outside their "expertise." 

I would rather be a failure in the twilight of a mediocre career than pretend to be an expert bullshitter in a medicore career :)

And my blogging on all things that interest me shall continue as well!

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