Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Great Quotes: Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was the author of Starship Troopers (1959), one of my favorite sci-fi books. Although a socialist in his youth, by the 1950s he had become an anti-communist (he defended Senator McCarthy on several occasions) and held strong libertarian ideals. The novel I'm currently reading, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) most obviously reflects his political views. Ironically, many of his books became popular with the hippie crowd, particularly his Stranger In a Strange Land (1961).

The following quote comes from Lazarus Long, the hero of Heinlein's Time Enough for Love (1973). I think it's an effective expression of the libertarian ideal of self-sufficiency:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

This quote is a great description of the Renaissance Man; something that's not as highly valued as it was in previous generations. I think modern society has become excessively specialized. This is most apparent during bad economic times, when cutbacks in certain fields cause many of those laid off to have difficulty finding another job. They may have extensive experience and skills, but their skill set is simply too restricted.

Even more frightening is the idea that, if deprived of modern conveniences and comforts, many of us would lack the knowledge and abilities needed to survive. Although it's remarkable that humanity has advanced so much over the past few centuries, we've simultaneously lost simple skills that our ancestors considered essential.

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