Suffering for Mastery

A look at Scholars and Olympians.

Learning (increased mastery of a subject) only occurs when preceded by interest.

An uninterested person may memorize data to pass a test, gain a certification, or pass through a similar gatekeeping process. They will soon forget the contours and nuances of this knowledge, because the only purpose in their study was to pass through a gate at a specific point in time. For all time beyond that point, they view the study as "meaningless." (If they believed it was meaningful, they would be interested.)

Learning in an area with little to no pre-existing knowledge can be carefree. The avid reader can go through the first few books on a topic effortlessly; each page contains new and exciting insights.

Continued learning will lead to the extremely painful process of creating a sort of mental crucible. New learning must be compared carefully with prior learning. The possible validity of each new addition must be assessed in the context of the existing information. Far from the carefree early stages, this process can be extraordinarily slow.

Even more difficult is understanding and fairly representing different schools of thought on a particular topic, even when compared against your own chosen school. You have decided they are wrong. So what? Do you understand what they are saying, or have you emotionally latched onto a favorite and (just as emotionally) dismissed the beliefs of others?

Becoming a learned scholar (not simply a well-read ideologue!) requires just as much suffering as becoming a top performer in a physical pursuit worthy of Olympic contest.

The Olympian's sweat, injuries, and commitment are visible.

The Scholar has a much less visible road of suffering: Sleepless nights agonizing over details that others find trivial. Continually tearing down old knowledge and reinforcing with more thorough understanding. Risking total detachment from usual social circles because their mind is on subjects that are hard to explain, and that no one they know wants to listen to anyway.

The Scholar and the Olympian are not better or worse than each other. They pay different costs to achieve mastery.

But a true scholar is also just as rare as a world-class athlete. There is a popular belief that society should be "left to the experts" and public matters should be decided "scientifically." This is preposterous on its face. Even if one could gather every single one of the vanishingly small number of true scholars, what is the chance that they all also possess the superhuman ability to govern others impartially?

It's as preposterous as saying "every person should receive free, 1-on-1 coaching from an Olympic athlete." It isn't possible, and any attempt to make it possible would be a catastrophe.

This is no defense of the status quo of governments around the world. The problems still obtain for any form of government, for any population, in any country. People are easily swayed, ruled by emotion, selfish, prone to shortcuts, and a huge majority spend their entire lifetime without becoming "world-class" at anything.

If someone has mastered themselves so completely as to resist all of these weaknesses, they have no need or desire for political power. They are already a fully actualized human being, and entry into the political world--which is filled to the brim with the worst sorts of behavior--is the last thing they want.

If they have dedicated themselves to becoming "world-class" at ruling others, then they have been actively studying the very behaviors that make politicians so hated.

Becoming an honest, thorough, virtuous human is antithetical to ruling others.

(This post was originally made on Facebook. The date has been set to match the original post.)

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