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Via various people (several answers stolen from janetmiles) - observations on a list of things that Robert Heinlein's character Lazarus Long thinks "a human being should be able to" do, because "specialization is for insects."

Personally, I think "every individual has to know how to do all the same things (or else they aren't really a member of the species and must be eradicated)" is for insects, and "having lots of options for how to live" is for human beings. Also I think "being able to work in groups so that different people can contribute their different talents and don't need to do things they're not good at or are physically incapable of doing" is for human beings. (It seems to work pretty well for some insects too.)

The only sense in which I agree with the spirit of the list, if not the letter, is that I think trying to learn and do a variety of things is good for most individual humans, and I think refusing to do or learn something because it's beneath you is not an attitude that helps most individual humans be better people.

* change a diaper -- I haven't done this, as it happens, although I've cleaned shit off of plenty of things and I think that this would probably translate to being able to change a diaper.

* plan an invasion -- Of what? I don't see the slightest utility for this, for most people. I haven't done this. I don't play war games either. I have read many books and watched many movies that involved planning invasions though. Some of them probably had good theories for how to do it well. So I guess I could take a stab at it.

* butcher a hog -- I haven't done this. I'd need to do it with some kind of instructions in hand, and the proper tools, and it would probably be pretty difficult for me given my physical limitations, but I think I could do it.

* conn a ship -- I've steered boats around lakes - rowboats, canoes, sailboats, and motorboats. I haven't done the same with ships and haven't done it on the ocean, and I haven't charted courses for watergoing vessels. I think that would take quite a lot of study because I don't know very much about ships. I'm not very confident about my navigation abilities when I don't have human landmarks and maps of same to plot a route by, so I don't know if I could learn that. No doubt I could learn to do it if I had a GPS to rely on though. Frankly, I have no idea why it's important for a human to know how to conn a ship. Most ships require entire crews that are quite specialized and many humans don't have any particular need to travel by ship. I think RAH/LL were just showing off here.

* design a building -- I can draw a floor plan, and I know a little bit about framing a building and so forth (and know where I could find out more) but unless the building were no more complex than a door, four walls, and a roof, I think I'd need to study architecture to learn how to design it properly. I'm sure I could learn architecture, but I really don't see why detailed architectural knowledge is something all humans should know. If this had said "build a shelter," I might agree with it more; I guess it's silly of me given how little wilderness is left on the planet, but I think a little wilderness survival knowledge is a good thing to have.

* write a sonnet -- what janetmiles said: I am sure I could come up with something that complies with the form. Would it be any good? Probably not. Actually I could probably write a decent sonnet if I practiced hard enough, but rhyming structured poetry is not my forte. I would change this to "Write a haiku." Writing a haiku using all the rules (not just 5-7-5 but the rules about season words and so forth) is devastatingly simple and devastatingly difficult at the same time and it makes you think in good ways.

* balance accounts -- Yes, and I think most people do need to know how to do this.

* build a wall -- I haven't done this but I could learn how; it would be difficult for me to actually do it because of my physical limitations.

* set a bone -- I haven't done this but I could learn how and do it for a simple fracture.

* comfort the dying -- I've tried to do this, I haven't ever found out if my attempts were actually comforting. And I think it's a good thing for people to know how to do, but I think it's more important for people to learn how to grieve - that is, how to address the universal fact of dying.

* take orders -- I've carried out instructions. To me "orders" are something I have to follow without thinking, and I believe it would be impossible for me to do things without thinking.

* give orders -- I've given instructions and had them carried out.

* cooperate -- I have done this and can do this, although I'm less cooperative than some people.

* act alone -- I have done this and can do this. By the way, for this item and the previous three I would also add "Know when to...[take/give orders, cooperate/act alone]." I think that is more difficult than knowing how.

* solve equations -- I have and can. For equations that are more complex than basic arithemetic I might need to refresh my memory about how they work. My brain doesn't retain mathematical knowledge all that well.

* analyze a new problem -- Yes, depending on the problem. This is awfully vague.

* pitch manure -- I can shovel snow; is that close enough? Being able to handle shit without getting completely squeamed is probably an important ability; I don't think pitching manure per se is an essential skill. A lot of people don't get anywhere near a pile of manure any more.

* cook a tasty meal -- Yes, and it's definitely a good skill for most folks to have.

* fight efficiently -- Verbal fighting yes. Physical fighting no, unless "efficiently" means "avoiding physical fighting."

* die gallantly -- I don't see why this is something everyone has to do. We all die whether we know how to or not. Furthermore, to die gallantly implies dying in the service of some cause, probably violently, rather than dying asleep in one's bed. Personally I think I'd prefer the latter.

Finally, in some of the commentaries I've seen people add to the list. The best thing I saw added was something along the lines of "Spot a faulty argument." I like that because to really do it well one has to learn things about logic, rhetoric, and statistics. I think most people would benefit from learning about those things.

I think I might also add "Recognize/defuse an escalating spiral of aggression/fear." That's one of the most useful skills I've ever learned.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2005 11:32 am (UTC)
Personally, I think "every individual has to know how to do all the same things (or else they aren't really a member of the species and must be eradicated)" is for insects,

I agree with you. And what you say has very little to do with what Heinlein wrote. Your words have merit; there's no reason to invent strawmen to allow you to pull them from his long-dead fingertips.

"having lots of options for how to live" is for human beings.

Agreed. And learning skills increases one's options.

The list of individual skills is mostly irrelevant to the main point, though I'll point out that conning a ship doesn't necessarily mean over a long voyage through unknown waters. My own experience with such was across New York Harbor and back; I still had the con.


Jun. 21st, 2005 04:47 pm (UTC)
And what you say has very little to do with what Heinlein wrote. Your words have merit; there's no reason to invent strawmen to allow you to pull them from his long-dead fingertips.

But it's so much FUN to invent Heinlein/LL strawmen!
Jun. 21st, 2005 05:52 pm (UTC)
Heinlein, through the mouth of his character, says that "every human being" should be able to do all of these things. I don't think it's inventing strawmen to look at the logical extension of that statement: that anyone who cannot do all of those things is less than fully human. This is a sentiment with which I cannot agree.

firecat, thank you for taking this approach. I've been resolutely ignoring this meme while it was still of the "bold what you've done to show how close you are to Heinlein's idea of a full human" variety. You've inspired me to take a closer look at some of those things "every human being" is supposed to be able to do and express my own opinions about them.
Jun. 21st, 2005 12:03 pm (UTC)
Diapers: I'm certain you could.

Orders: It is sometimes useful to be able to follow instructions immediately and without question - in an emergency, frex. I know I have issues such "orders" to Rob and only explained later the reasoning. I also know some people who cannot respond immediately *at* *all* to *anything* and I can see that being very unpleasant in an emergency situation.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 21st, 2005 12:30 pm (UTC)
I'm not physically capable of the two-ankle grip, though it *is* the easiest way for people who can do it. We came up with workarounds.
Jun. 21st, 2005 01:57 pm (UTC)
There's a skill to it, but it's one I mastered as a child--it's easier than, say, playing the piano.

Heinlein, like many (myself among them) admired Rennaissance wo/men IMO. I don't need to know how to do all those things, and I know how to do quite a few that he did not mention, but I like the general idea of knowing how to take care of yourself and others. ("Die gallantly", IMO, is hyperbole suited to that character--I know the book.)
Jun. 21st, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
I can sometimes follow orders/instructions in an emergency. When I say that I can't do something without thinking, I mean that I need to come up with a plausible reason to do it. "emergency" is a plausible reason. I don't have to stand and ponder about everything, and I don't have to hear someone else's detailed reason.
Jun. 21st, 2005 01:18 pm (UTC)
I think that most of these can be dropped from the list entirely if you have the, "analyze a new problem," skill down. There are a few things on that list that are pretty critical to know how to do right without a lot of experimentation. Setting a broken or fractured bone, for example, you don't want to muck with and screw up a bunch of times. Some of the things on the list struck me as pointless, but others struck me as things that if I had a need to do it, I could figure it out. (As an example from the top -- changing a diaper. I'm sure that most people could figure out how to change a diaper if they had to, especially given several attempts over time to get the skill down pat.

I think, though, that far too many of those strike me as totally unnecessary. (For example, why does someone need to know how to write a sonnet? It's one very specific form of one type of creative expression. Is it more important than painting in watercolour, or sculpting soapstone, or writing instrumental music, or performing a ballet, or writing elegant code, or designing a hamonious garden, or...?)
Jun. 21st, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
My List
I remember Jr. High School, where the girls all took sewing and cooking, and the boys all took shop and woodworking. I don't know how they do it now, but I've been thinking of what I think the young should learn.

Sew a button.
Sew a hem.
Use a power saw safely.
Change a washer in a sink or shower faucet.
Assemble things from boxes of parts, by reading the directions,and either following or disregarding them, whichever works best.
Give directions to one's house or other destination.
Boil water.

They are all pretty basic, but I can't do all of them.

Jun. 21st, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC)
Re: My List
I would have to read my household repairs manual to do items 3 and 4.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: My List
3. I have a circular saw that UncleSocial and I are both afraid to use.
4. I know how to call the plumber.
Jun. 21st, 2005 07:59 pm (UTC)
Metaphor? Hyperbole?
I wonder if Heinlein / LL were subtle enough for a little of either in making a point?
Jun. 21st, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Metaphor? Hyperbole?
I suspect so.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 01:37 am (UTC)
Re: the list...

* change a diaper -- I haven't done this either, but I've cleaned poop off dogs.

* plan an invasion -- I don't think this is a necessary skill. I hope it isn't!

* butcher a hog -- I haven't done this either. I don't know that I could, given how heavy a typical hog is. I have, however, separated the parts of a chicken (much easier to handle). I'd think learning to gut a fish would be more important, anyway.

* conn a ship -- I have no idea why it's important for a human to know how to conn a ship either.

* design a building -- Right now it's not a needed skill, but it could become one. I could probably do it if I had to.

* write a sonnet -- I've done it in both English and French for school. I've never felt inspired to do it since.

* balance accounts -- Agreed.

* build a wall -- Physical limitations might not come into play, depending upon the nature of the wall. I've built one with styrofoam "bricks."

* set a bone -- I could probably learn to do this.

* comfort the dying -- BTDT. Sometimes it's not so much comforting as much as "being there," "being real," and not sugar-coating things. I still remember how my mother would always smile and insist my brother and I smile when visiting her in the hospital. The first time I went to visit her by myself (I was old enough to drive) I didn't bother with the fake smile. Grandmom asked, "Why do you and your mother always have those friggin' smiles on whenever she comes to visit me?" I told her why; she rolled her eyes, and we had a good laugh with real smiles.

* take orders -- Agreed. Some folks like to "doctor" orders.

* give orders -- Agreed. Some folks can't think on their feet.

* cooperate -- Abso-honking-lutely.

* act alone -- Yes!

* solve equations -- Agreed.

* analyze a new problem -- Agreed.

* pitch manure -- BTDT.

* cook a tasty meal -- BTDT many times.

* fight efficiently -- I wish I could.

* die gallantly -- I think the meaning of this is "die with dignity," and I can agree with that, although it's not always doable.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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