"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."
-Karl Marx,* The German Ideology
“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.”
-Robert Heinlen, Time Enough for LoveIt's always interesting when you see an ideal held by both sides of a deep ideological split. This sentiment points to the praiseworthiness of developing all aspects of our nature, burnishing virtues of mind and body and spirit.
This was Plato's idea as well: the virtues should prove to be a kind of unity. Courage, for example, means doing the right thing under threat: so you must also have the virtue of practical wisdom, to know what 'the right thing' happens to be. Knowing is likewise of little good without the capacity to do, and so you ought to have trained your body to maximize its capacities for action. This, in turn, opens new ranges for the expression of courage: developing a capacity to swim strongly and well means that it may be courageous for you to save a drowning man, whereas it would not be courageous but foolish for someone who swims poorly to try.
So far this morning I have replaced the belt on a lawn tractor, arranged a plumber to fix the leak in the basement pipes, read and considered some philosophy, and killed a huge and bothersome nest of fire ants.** Most of those tasks are unpleasant, but the sheer variety of them makes it rewarding. It's pleasant to exercise so many different faculties, even if each individual exercise -- philosophy aside -- is no special joy.
* A Marxist friend of mine tells me that this quote is really one of Engels' contributions to the work, and that Marx hated it. I assume he's right about that, although I haven't seen the documentation. It makes sense, as Marx was economist enough to fully grasp the benefits of specialization -- and the necessity, at his point in the Industrial Age, of maintaining that efficiency in order to support his new kind of society. It may not always be necessary, though: tasks that benefit from specialization are very often the kind of tasks that can be automated. That frees the man to be a man again, not a widget or an insect. Indeed, if he is not to starve, it requires him to show the flexibility that is the mark of a man and not an insect.
** Unless environmental legislation should someday retroactively protect the fire ant species, in which case I have no idea how that rock got turned over, the mound dug up, and poison poured all over the furious beasts. It's a complete mystery.