Superficial Interest

Superficial interest?! What's that all about?! It's quite obvious; it's the supposed interest someone has in something - but only until they have to research it. At that point, they back off a bit. Well, a lot - and I intend to subject the poor reader to a rant about it.

You might be wondering why I didn't just start railing against dilettantism; the trouble with that is that dilettantism also has a more neutral sense, one of the amateur or the curious dabbler. As someone who tries very hard to avoid being an elitist prick and who believes that academia should be open to all (seriously, for a nerd like me a good university with a good intellectual culture seems like some kind of sexy heaven, but it's also maddeningly frustrating to me that most people don't have access to this world and one of the only reasons I even know about it is through some of my teachers), I would hate to be in the position of attacking inquisitive amateurs - hell, I'm an inquisitive amateur myself and I think it's one of the best ways to encourage people into learning. My quibble isn't with amateurs wanting to know things - my quibble is with people who say they want to know things but don't want to put any of the effort in.

Now you might be wondering what exactly I'm on about. Surely academia isn't exactly taxing? Even discounting some research and exploration, which can be difficult if not dangerous, using that much brainpower can be harder than it looks. (I only wish I were joking about this; I'm fairly fit and don't have serious physical health problems, but I've been known to sit down to bash out an essay and find myself getting tired because of the sheer amount of stuff I have to say and how I have to think it through. Cue frequent chocolate boosts and wishing I had a shorter day so I could break up my essay into little bits. Apparently this is a fairly common phenomenon among students, too!) And I'm not even getting into research and practice - if you truly care about a subject, you've got to keep your skills sharpened. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy going on a reading list spree and translating a beautiful piece of Latin or thinking about physics and maths, but it does eat up my time. If you really want to get the most out of a subject, you have to put so very much time and effort in.

This is why people with only a superficial interest in a discipline irritate me. They claim to be interested in, say, the lute, but do they know anything about it? Do they know about its tunings or the variations in lute tablature? Do they know about its history and revival or the composers who wrote for it? Jesus fucking Christ, I'm not even that interested in the lute myself (though I dabble in listening to Renaissance and Baroque music), and yet I could find all that through Wikipedia. If I wanted to find examples and good recordings of lute music, I could go on the internet, maybe ask people. We live in an age where non-specialist knowledge is widely available, even to people like me with relatively little free time. I honestly don't think there's an excuse for claiming to be interested in something and yet not bothering to do any work on it.

My biggest problem with superficial interest, though, is that it's a slap in the face to actual students and academics; it implies that something people have been known to devote their entire lives to, and if not their entire lives then at least significant amounts of time, is worth as little as the passing fancies of some pretentious, empty-headed git who aspires to culture and learning yet wouldn't know either if they punched said pretentious git in the face. Centuries of study have to be distilled and puréed for the entertainment of some idiot who can't be bothered to treat it with the respect it deserves - and it does deserve respect for contributing to the corpus of human knowledge and for the immense amount of work that went into it. These people did not, as someone of superficial interest or even the casually curious might do, go and have a cursory look on Wikipedia; they ran experiments, or they tried to thrash out some kind of meaning from corrupted manuscripts (which are sometimes faded or have other writing on them, making any editing of an ancient text more difficult), or in other words researched and researched and researched. They spent their lives working so others could know things, and to pass by most of that when you claim to have a true zeal for learning is an insult to all their effort; you wouldn't know these things, or have access to that knowledge, if they and thousands of others hadn't worked for it.

I encourage amateurs to inquire and to dabble, to get a better understanding of the world around us. I've no problem with people flitting from subject to subject if they're having trouble finding a discipline. But I have a huge problem with people who profess interest in something and yet can't even be bothered to find out the basics about it. It's an insult to the amateurs and academics alike who truly toil to understand things. And that's why I can't stand it.