What is Idiocentrism?

A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes


The Idiocentrism Project
(2005 update)

My plan from here on out, God willing, is to write and self-publish 2,000 words a week for the next ten years or so (approximately until I'm 70). Of these million words, I hope for 200,000 to be longer pieces of substantial permanent interest. The rest will be lighter and less ambitious, but few of them will be time-dependent and I hope that 80% of them will retain some interest.

At some point I hope to spend time in China where I can resume my Sinological studies. I also hope to do more writing about music, but I find writing well about music to be almost impossible.

Ambitious things I hope to write include a translation of the Portuguese fiction Menina e Moca; "Questions and Answering in the Tao Te Ching",  "Genghis Khan, State-formation, and Protection Rent"; "The Co-ordinated Rise of the Individual and of the State"; "The Rise of the Mongol Empire"; something about the Diamond Sutra; something about the misuse of rationality, especially in economics; and something about the many imperfect descriptions of the "self"; and something about methodology and non-fiction.


Idiocentrism presents my version of generalism.  Because no one can know everything, generalist knowledge is inevitably partial, contextual, particularist, perspectivist, and idiocentric.

My models are Montaigne, Herodotus, and perhaps Nietzsche. My contemporary guides are, among others, Stephen Toulmin and Michel Meyer.

Many academics, driven by the need to  specialize, end up with only a pidgin generalist language comprised mostly of scraps of the methodology imposed during grad school. As a result, the actual generalist dialogue of today is carried on by a motley crew of publicists, futurologists, management consultants, sci-fi writers, motivational speakers, prosperity theologians, pyramid-scam gurus, and the like.

The drive toward specialization has coincided with a top-to-bottom crisis of morale in many areas of the university, and probably is one of its causes. The university organization of scholarship in its present form is only about a hundred years old and seems to be ripe for replacement or transformation.

The definition of generalism is that it does not systematically exclude anything. A specialist attains rigor by the use of various stipulations and assumptions which narrow the topic under discussion, so that ultimately a hypothetical truth is obtained, the application of which to unstipulated actuality is uncertain.

Generalism is thus the opposite of universalism, since only by the methodological narrowing of the aspects of reality under discussion can certain universal truths be obtained. Generalists talk as best they can about every aspect of reality, whereas universalists try to find perfect truths about some narrower aspect. Generalism is always imperfect, and there can be no single generalist canon. The various generalists put together individual packages according to their own interests and abilities.

In many respects the universalist specialist can be compared to a technician or worker, whereas the generalist can be compared to a manager. Specialists always know their jobs better than the manager knows his job. This is a formal necessity, since managers are responsibility for everything, whereas specialists have defined responsibilities. At the highest (global) level of organization these days, many doubt that anyone is minding the store at all anymore. The global system seems to be defined by a struggle between powerful specialists with simplistic overall views and narrow interests. (Government bureaucrats, corporate executives, academic professionals, and ideologues are all specialists in their different ways.)

In contrast to the intensive-agriculture model of of specialization ("fields of study"), my project might be compared to hunting and gathering, or to "slash and burn" shifting agriculture. I wander among the hedgerows gathering what I can find, occasionally settling down to grow a crop and then moving on. Or it might be compared to cheese-coring: cheesemakers can't test a whole 500-lb. block of cheese without destroying it, so what they do is to take a number of core samples from various different angles. Certain coring strategies work better than others, but within those rules every tester will take different cores.

Idiocentrism is not a spinoff of something else, but my primary institutional affiliation and publication outlet. (This does not mean that I am reluctant to affiliate or publish elsewhere, but just that I'm too old to wait any longer for something to happen.) Self-publication, which is what this is, tends to get you classified as a crank. Maybe Idiocentrism will get some attention, or maybe it will just end up as my own personal indulgence or Watts Tower.

All statements are answers to questions. Idiocentrism is my answers to my questions.

Forget the BA 

"Can I Afford a PhD?" 

The Purpose of the Humanities in the Modern University 

My long-term hope (a vain one so far) is for Idiocentrism to be not only self-supporting, but a source of support for my writing. Prospective patrons can click on the tarsier:




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