If You Are Everywhere, You Are Nowhere

It was a surprise. A political story by The Australian’s Tom Dusevic @davrosz , drilling away at Labor’s thinning crust of respectability, sparing no punches, and starting with a quote. And, refreshingly, not by some old hoary ex-Prime Minister, but by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a polymath who lived smack bang in the middle of the Renaissance. Montaigne had the luxury of locking himself up in his library of 1500 books to write his Essays. Widely read for 500 years now, these essays cover everything in a refreshingly skeptical way. Serious stuff like “There is no passion so contagious as that of fear”. And, importantly, he even anticipated Masterchef: “The Art of dining well is no slight Art, the Pleasure is not a slight Pleasure”

Montaigne (1533-1592)

Montaigne’s quote in The Australian is “When the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere“. Labor has lost focus, says Montaigne, and Dusevic. That’s why their current support among Aussie voters is 28%, says Montaigne, and Dusevic.

Man's connection to the Universe. Drawn during the Renaissance

Renaissance Men and Women are always so arrogantly definite. That’s because they get it right most of the time. From Aristotle to Tagore, Cicero to Goethe, and maybe a hundred in between that are well known, these scribes inhabit a zone just above ordinary mortals. They are focused in everything. They can play a musical instrument, speak seven languages, discuss the major problems of philosophy, understand and argue about science, write posts with quill or keyboard that survive generations, and balance a stick on one finger to amuse their grandchildren, all at the same time. Me, I get one out of six, but hey, that stick doesn’t move.

Many humans are focused in maybe one or two things. In fact, being focused is de rigueur for many self-help groups. Soren Gordhamer in Mashable Business says “Pay Attention, Be Mindful, Do Less To Do More, Don’t Fill Your Mind, Empty It, and Create Space”. For most of us, we struggle to keep on top of our lives.

Manuale del Dilettante del caffe, 1828

And many of us embrace the polymath Renaissance approach, but in relaxed, superficial, casual way. You know, jack of all trades, master of none. We aspire to be Montaigne, but fall short. But we can have a coffee, wave our arms around and speak loudly to anyone in earshot, have another coffee, advise our neighbour about his tomatoes, and we know what’s wrong with bloody Labor. Don’t have to read The Australian. The Italian word is dilettante, from ‘dilettare’ to delight. It’s self-satisfying. A good gig.

So, these are the choices: Renaissance Person, Limited Focus, Dilettante…

Anyone for a coffee?


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