Polymath or Monopath

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Increasing specialization has led us away from becoming polymaths and instead toward becoming monopaths:

It means a person with a narrow mind, a one-track brain, a bore, a super-specialist, an expert with no other interests — in other words, the role-model of choice in the Western world.


Ever since the beginning of the industrial era, we have known both the benefits and the drawbacks of dividing jobs into ever smaller and more tedious ones. Riches must be balanced against boredom and misery. But as long as a boring job retains an element of physicality, one can find a rhythm, entering a ‘flow’ state wherein time passes easily and the hard labour is followed by a sense of accomplishment. In Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur (1962) there is a marvellous description of Neal Cassady working like a demon, changing tyres in a tyre shop and finding himself uplifted rather than diminished by the work. Industrialism tends toward monopathy because of the growth of divided labour, but it is only when the physical element is removed that the real problems begin. When the body remains still and the mind is forced to do something repetitive, the human inside us rebels.

The average job now is done by someone who is stationary in front of some kind of screen. Someone who has just one overriding interest is tunnel-visioned, a bore, but also a specialist, an expert. Welcome to the monopathic world, a place where only the single-minded can thrive.


  1. David Foster says:

    Interesting article. Regarding the Bedouin cook’s idea: I can see how you’d duct-tape the valve stems together to transfer air from one tire to another, but how on earth do you push in the two little recessed valve rods to actually open the valves and get the air to flow?

  2. Grasspunk says:

    Maybe imagine they use a small stone or stick and keep trying things until they get the right size to push them both in at once.

    If they are like tractor tubes you can just unscrew the valve and tape the base.

Leave a Reply