Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Friday, July 31, 2009


Pesharim - The Renaissance Gild: An Introduction

Synopsis: The Renaissance Gild is a simple yet effective method of fully developing a wide range of skills within a single individual, and of self-development of the polymathic capabilities and ingenuity inherent in each person.

Introduction: I have been working on this idea for well over thirty years (in one way or another), the accompanying Theory Paper and assorted supplementary material regarding this project for about three years now, and my own Personal Gild Program for a little over a decade. Anyway I thought it was about time to put the idea into wider circulation, both among my friends and colleagues, and as regards the world at large.

What the Renaissance Gild Is: The Renaissance Gild is less a formal agency, organization, group, or club, than it is intended to be an informal "movement of individuals." Though it could also easily become an informal movement among a vast number of individuals (my hope is that this is exactly what will develop over time), or it could even become a more formalized structure for group accomplishment, but I would not want such a movement or organization to in any way suppress or hinder the noteworthy accomplishments of individual Gild members. What is most important about the Gild is the promotion of individual achievement, not the primacy of formal group structure or exclusivity. Indeed no "membership" of any kind is required or necessary other than an honest motivation to achieve and accomplish and the steady, persistent, and patient labor demanded for real and lasting success.

How the Renaissance Gild Operates: One needs no formal degree or training in order to participate in the Gild. One may be self-educated, formally and institutionally well educated (I am both, and I recommend both if possible, but if a formal education is not possible or practical then I definitely recommend a good, solid program of self-education), or even not very well educated. One need not worry in any case, as one may counteract a poor education through a well-developed method of Renaissance Education, which I will discuss at another time.

The Gild is open to individuals of any age. A Gild member can be of any sex, race, background, nationality, or religion. Requirements regarding Gild members are not exclusionary, but rather progressive (not in the political sense, but in the objective sense) towards future achievement. What is actually required of the Gild member is hard work and serious study, along with much practice and persistent application to accomplish those things that are long lasting, practical, beneficial and useful, and/or broad in scope or accomplishment.

To this end I suggest three broad areas or categories of concentration for each Gild member: those of Art, Religion, and Science. Why do I recommend these particular areas of concentration for achievement to each Gild member? The reasons are simple, historical, and profound. Throughout human history, and indeed given what we know of human pre-history the same basic conditions apply, the greatest human advances have been made within these general categories of activity. Men have made their most important (and sometimes most destructive and counterproductive – but our intent is to avoid or overcome those malignant tendencies) discoveries and advances within the fields of Art, Religion, and Science. (I do not rank these categories of achievement in order of importance within my own mind, but rather for sake of simplicity, alphabetically.) Indeed nearly every form of human activity can be roughly classified as falling within the parameters of these three general subject areas.

For example, Art, from the very beginnings of human prehistory has been an important aspect of human expression, and perhaps just as importantly, of representing the world through images and symbols that others could understand.

Religion, also from pre-history onwards, has been an important, if not the most important to most people, method of rendering value to the world, of shaping how men behave towards their fellow man, and of speculating about conditions and events beyond the known and immediately evident world.

And Science (and I classify things like the earliest attempts at the creation of tools, of domesticating animals, of developing agriculture, etc. as acts of science or proto-science – even when such acts were not then understood to be scientific in the modern sense of the term) from man’s earliest roots has formed the basis for man’s attempts to control his environment and to understand and profit from his physical conditions.

Most things that people do or achieve can be classified as arising from an artistic, a religious, or a scientific impulse. Or sometimes from one or more category of activity working in conjunction with the others. For instance was the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a religious act of devotion, an artistic act of inspiration, or a scientific endeavor requiring great skill and technical mastery? Or was it in truth not all three?

So these categories are certainly not hard and fixed, impenetrable the one to the other, but rather all forms of human activity are open, fluid, malleable, and osmotic, and therefore art, religion, and science far more often than not cross-fertilize one another in very productive and beneficial ways.

There are of course also fields of human activity that could be considered sub-categories of the general fields of Art, Religion, and Science. As an example some fields of human enterprise naturally fall into more than one category of classification. For instance both Business, and Athletic performance can variously, depending on the particular circumstance involved, be considered an Art, a Science, or both. For this reason as regards my own Renaissance Program, rather than trying to determine whether I think my business and athletic enterprises are more truly Art, or Science, or both, I simply classify them as separate sub-categories of activity. I do the same with the fields of Politics, Social and Civic Activities, and Philanthropy and Charity operations. I also maintain a separate category for my various Avocations, because some are scientific in nature, and some are artistic in nature, and rather than confuse or overcomplicate the point I simply classify them separately. But generally speaking, if I wished, and for sake of simplicity, I could easily enough classify even activities like business, athletics, philanthropy, and my avocations as being Artistic, Religious, or Scientific in character. For ease of understanding I will give my example of how the Renaissance Gild works by employing the simple and general categories of Art, Religion, and Science. But first let me give my own brief descriptions of how I define Art, Religion, and Science for the sake of understanding how the Gild best functions. You are of course not bound by these particular descriptions or definitions. I offer them merely for the sake of illustration and to provide clear and concise examples of possible and pragmatically functional definitions.

Art - All of those concerns normally associated with the Arts and with creative functions of all kinds. It is everything from sketching to film to architecture to painting to music to writing, and even to things like acting and dance (I have little personal interest in acting and dance, but they are arts, so I include them in this description). Art assists with the way one perceives the world, and with how one represents the world to others.

Religion - How a man conducts himself towards his fellow man, towards other creatures, towards his world, and towards God. How he disciplines his behavior and does good towards others. His moral character, the practice which assists him with bettering himself and the world, and most especially important, towards establishing, maintaining, and bettering his relationship with God. The example of God he follows, the closeness of God in his soul, his actions in this world, and how he prepares himself for his life after his physical death.

Science - The methods by which one seeks to perceive and understand the physical aspects (and perhaps in some cases, other aspects) of this universe, how it operates, and in what exact manner(s) it may operate. How one seeks to master and manipulate both matter and energy, and to what ultimate end and in what way. Science is both an act of seeking to understand the physical universe and to control it or shape it for the better.

An Example of How to Use the Renaissance Gild:

An individual chooses one major accomplishment or perhaps two or more minor accomplishments for every year to two years, as a stated goal for achievement in each of the three various categories of Art, Religion, and Science. Each person picks what is best and most natural to themselves as far as the exact goals to be attempted, and as regards the sub-categories and sub-disciplines within each general branch of Art, Religion, and Science to be undertaken.

For Example:


I intend to paint three canvasses in oil detailing my famous ancestors, their backgrounds, environments, and some of their exploits – major achievement


I will write and publish a small book of poetry, and learn to play the piano – minor accomplishments


I will go on an extended Missions trip to help the people of Madagascar with their spiritual, medical, and physical needs – major accomplishment


I will assist the poor of my local community, and I will give more money to charity and/or volunteer more of my time to worthwhile charities – minor accomplishments


I will perfect my invention to the best of my ability and thereafter market it for the benefit of the public and for my own benefit and profit – major accomplishment


I will conduct experiments in chemistry, biochemistry, and medicine to develop a better method for preventing and treating burns, and I will use my new telescope to make detailed observations of the moon and nearby planets hoping to make a new discovery – minor accomplishments

As I have previously noted one can also develop sub-categories of endeavor, such as Civic Accomplishments, Political Aims, Avocational Interests, etc. in which one can also detail one’s personal aims and objectives.

Of course what each individual considers a major, or a minor accomplishment will vary with the individual concerned, but I offer the following examples above as possible guidelines for developing your own Renaissance potential.

Once one accomplishes one’s stated desire within any given field or category of activity then one records that accomplishment in one’s Accomplishment List (discussed below) and replaces the accomplished goal with a new objective.

In time the aim of your personal Renaissance project is to develop a wide range of useful and beneficial skills, to study widely and to be able to converse ably and competently on nearly any subject, to become ever better at what you do best, and over time to fully develop and exploit your own set of talents, your own genius, and your own polymathic capabilities. What separates the ultimate objective of the Renaissance Project from a standard set of Goals and Objectives (which are usually limited and aimed at only a specific, discreet, or narrow intention) is the Real Purpose of the Renaissance Model. The aim of the Renaissance Model is not merely to achieve a certain set of goals - but to achieve a certain set of goals and objectives and thereby to accomplish certain important and worthwhile work while one lives in such a way as to master and develop one’s full range of Artistic, Religious, and Scientific capabilities simultaneously, and in conjunction with each other. The aim of the individual Renaissance Program is to develop one’s individual Artistic, Religious, and Scientific capabilities and abilities so that each field of endeavor supports and compliments the other, and so that a person can best exploit and express their own individual force of Arete. In that way one seeks to become both a polymath, and to gain a real mastery of understanding in the way different fields or disciplines of activity and knowledge interrelate the one to another. A secondary and yet vital benefit derived from the individual Renaissance Project is the fact that one becomes acutely and intimately aware of the full range and breadth of possible capabilities inherent within one’s self.

Tracking Gild Accomplishments: Various methods of Goal and Objective setting, achievement, and tracking are possible in regards to the Renaissance Gild. However I highly recommend the use of the Accomplishment List. The Accomplishment List is simply a list, using the same basic format as the Gild itself, that details what accomplishments and achievements you have already made or completed in regards to your own Renaissance Program. In that way you can see what you have achieved in the past, those areas of enterprise in which you have the most apparent ability or capability and tendency towards success, and furthermore you can use the information regarding your past achievements and accomplishments to set newer and better goals and objectives for what you would like to achieve in the future.

Background on the Project and Gild: I plan on writing a long paper or essay, maybe even a short book on the Renaissance Gild. Though the idea is a simple one in execution (see sections above). I developed the idea by studying how geniuses and polymaths like Erasmus and Goethe and More and Bacon and Archimedes and Da Vinci thought and worked. I came to the very obvious and simple conclusion that many people like this achieved so much in so many wide and diverse fields of enterprise simply because they both had a wide range of interests (and thus studied widely), and most important of all attempted to do a number of different things in various disciplines or fields of activity. It may seem an obvious point that anyone wishing to become a polymath must attempt many things in separate and various fields of activity, but in our modern world and society attempting many and different things is often subtly, if not overtly, discouraged. For instance the common refrain of many in our time, “that’s not my field,” as if to say, that is beyond my real capabilities and expertise while unconsciously (and often falsely) supporting the idea that only the “specialized expert” could possibly know of what he speaks in that category of activity. It is extremely hard for me to imagine an Erasmus, an Archimedes, a Saint Ignatius, or a Da Vinci saying with any sense of seriousness, “that’s not my field.” That sort of self-imposed smallness of mind would be naturally repugnant and ridiculous to such men. For good reason. What one doesn’t know one can easily enough learn and then master if one is determined to do so. Only lack of imagination and desire condemns the modern man to his narrow corner of shackled enterprise and accomplishment.

(To tell you the truth it has been my observation that most people already do a number of different things in different fields of activity. The difference between this normal state of affairs in life, however, and the idea of the Renaissance Gild is that the Renaissance Gild encourages such activities to become noticeable and formalized, to become concentrated, focused, and intentionally overt rather than merely unfocused and with no real overarching objective, aim, or purpose. For instance a person might play ball, work a job, take part in his church, invent something, and so forth and so on. But that individual sees all of these diverse activities as separate and mainly subjectively unrelated spheres of action, and rarely thinks to integrate these activities into a single, conscious, coherent, objectified, and useful method of both life examination and life achievement. The point of the Renaissance Gild is to produce a goal-oriented and integrated Great Life, one that focuses upon enjoyable, necessary, and intended achievements, and thereby is not simply a sort of meandering, unconscious, vague and listless life of seemingly accidental occurrences and achievements – regardless of whether one’s achievements are truly accidental or intentional. The aim of the Renaissance Gild then is threefold, to produce a Great Life with real purpose, to be aware of the fact that the various activities of one’s life lead towards a greater and more integrated and more thorough Union of activities, most of which, if not all of which, can be when properly perceived viewed as a coherent whole, and finally by having a Great Life and by being aware of the fuller integration of one’s various individual activities, to produce ever newer and greater Goals and Objectives that serve to increase of augment the Great Life that one already enjoys. In other words the Renaissance Man or Woman has a Great Life that is both fully integrated and perpetually improving, and ever therefore ever more progressive.)

I, personally, even as a kid, was never by nature or interest comfortable with the Hyper-Specialization of Modern Society and Culture. The idea that people become "Experts" in an extremely narrow, or ever increasingly narrow, field of activity.

This idea, this ideal of the modern expert and the narrow-specialist seems both a joke and a simple-minded delusion to me. It is based upon the canard common in our society, fostered by “knowledge experts and educational gurus” that there is simply too much to know, and therefore it is a basically bootless undertaking to know many things correctly, much less most things well. And that therefore it is a wasted effort to know what you do not know. But ironically, and obviously if one thinks but a short period of time upon the matter, by becoming an "expert" in an extremely narrow range of knowledge and activity one fails to be able to see the evident interactions between wide ranges of different types of activity, action, and thought in both the functions of nature, and the real behaviors demonstrated by men in their actions. The modern expert is often as blissfully ignorant of nature (and her operations) and the wider world around him, as he is of the simple observational arts, body of information and experience, and obvious human interactions that would make most of the behaviors of his fellow man far more visible and comprehensible to him. He has traded “expertise” for genuine understanding, and narrowness of contextual experience for true comprehension. All because he too often uncritically accepts the words and conclusions of others who deem themselves experts based merely upon the notion that they are satisfied with knowing more about less that at any other point in human history.

When Hyper-specialization occurs then people willingly blind themselves and their capabilities to how the world, and to how human activity, really functions, tends to act, and to react. Hyper-specialization and the modern mania and juvenile fascination (giving rise to the corresponding false assumptions of that self-same fascination) with the "expert" does not in the long run create real experts. It instead creates a sort of pseudo-expert, a priest of sub-par and fractured knowledge, a mere facade of real expertise, an alias of and an alien identity among countless other so called experts who seem to have an intimate grasp of their subject matter but usually lack even the most basic and fundamental understanding of how their particular field or discipline functions when in contact with other forces or influences, or when in operation in the real world.

To counter the modern mania of hyper-specialization and the ill-conceived fashion and fad of the contemporary expert I went back to the Renaissance Model (which in itself is based upon the far more ancient model of the well-rounded Classical Genius, men like Archimedes, men filled and consumed with Arete) and started to develop a counter-program and counter-cultural ideal which is really just my current reinterpretation of the Polymath and the Genius fluent in many fields of activity and productivity.

Thankfully I see much evidence that our culture has tired of the Hyper-Specialized expert, and that it is now far more dubious and critical of such a fantastic creature. You see this counter-reaction with the development of various think tanks devoted to a wide range of enterprises and studies, you see it in more modern career paths (where people move from one field or discipline to another with relative ease and with confidence in the pursuit of their various enterprises), you see it in various books being written, in the development of the multi-capable Special Forces Soldier, and so forth and so on. There is a blurring of the lines and a breaking down of old, outmoded, and artificial divisions of thought and activity. You're even slowly seeing it in politics with the disenchantment of the idea of the "expert politician." So I'm hardly the first to notice or promote such trends in our society.

But doing away with a thing is not the same as replacing a thing with something better.

And long ago I decided to devote myself to the idea of the Renaissance Man, rather than to the modern conception and misconception of the Expert. What is needed in the contemporary world is a New Breed of Man, who is in reality merely the very best kind of man, filled with the very best kind of virtue (Arete), from the very best ages of the past. What is needed now (especially now) is the Renaissance Man (who sometimes arises from the ranks of the Professional, and just as often arises from the ranks of the Amateur). The Art, Religion, and Science of the Renaissance Man, properly undertaken, is the cure for the modern (shallow minded, narrowly accomplished, and often wrong) and artless, aimless, and ignorant Expert.

Now don't mistake my real intention, I have nothing against the idea of Expertise, or the Expert, in general or per se. Real Experts serve a valuable and necessary function, and one should be good at what one does, and knowledgeable about any field of activity in which one is employed or engaged. But I am in truth speaking (throughout) about the difference between the modern ideal of the expert, and Real Expertise, which by its very nature requires at least as much breadth of understanding in how to interact with the rest of the world, as it requires depth of self-understanding and self-critique. You have to know what you are doing, and how. Then again you must also know why you are doing what you are doing, and where and when what you do fits together within the larger context and scope of the world.

So I began work years and years ago, back when I was a teenager actually, on an answer to and counteraction against the modern ideal of the expert and the promotion of the principle of hyper-specialization. Those who have known me for a long time probably remember at least some of the conversations we had on these and related matters, even as kids. Of course back then I didn't call my counteraction the Renaissance Gild, or anything as formal and well structured as that, as it was more a sort of vague and internalized concept of mine than a fully realized and incorporated notion. I simply spoke about my disdain for overspecialization, that I held more with the idea of anti-specialization, based more on what I didn't like about specialization than what I wanted to replace it with, because at that time I did not really know how to, or with what I should be making such replacement. I’m sure though that many of you remember me speaking of the age of Renaissance ideals and of the polymath, and of my admiration of the advances made by such Renaissance individuals. (In this particular respect I use the term Renaissance and polymath almost synonymously.) But over time I developed, in my twenties and thirties, a program, set of studies, system, and counter-ideal with which to replace the concept of over-specialization and the modern expert. I eventually called that the Renaissance Gild. So originally (when finally settled upon a real course of action, or counteraction) I set out to set up a Counterprogram of Great Work, (of how people approach Work and Career, and to what end) and a counter-cultural concept. That was my original motivation. I've worked upon my own personal concept, ideal, form, and program of the Renaissance Gild for about 10 to 12 years or so now. I would only very rarely or only in emergency situations suggest anyone undertake anything I have not first experimented with and tested upon myself. So I do not offer this program and concept as mere theory (being driven, motivated, and consumed with theory alone is unfortunately the province and proclivity of far too many modern experts), but as a personally tested method of operating.

Eventually though (after using the Renaissance Gild as the basis of my personal way of approaching work and achievement) I decided to integrate the Renaissance Gild Ideal into the Homeschooling Educational Program I had developed for my own children. Although I have never told them this formally or openly (though I have often stressed the importance of ingenuity and wide ranging knowledge to the development of real capability), they have both been practicing their own Renaissance Gild Program for a very long time, and it is an integral and vital component of their homeschooling and wider educational program. I think the evidence bears out how well it has worked with them because I often get comments and compliments from others about how "smart and well-rounded" my children are, and how capably they act and perform. Part of this is genetic (their mother is smart and strong too, like my children, even if her capabilities are sometimes under-developed and under-utilized), part is desire and natural (innate) capability, part is the moral and educational discipline I have imposed upon them, but a large part of their capabilities derive from their Renaissance Training and conditioning.

(I also strongly suspect that Renaissance Training and activities work to counteract the ennui, boredom, listlessness, and "drifting - lack of real goals and objectives in life - so common to modern societies and cultures. Unfortunately cultures and societies such as ours far too often eat-up excess energy and potential productivity on the part of the individual with distractions of unending desire for escapism and hunger for too much entertainment - as we have discussed elsewhere. Renaissance Training and Work tends to counteract this sense of listlessness, boredom, confusion, and lack of motivation and accomplishment. However as I said earlier I think the younger generations are much better qualified and prepared than we were - especially the baby boomers - in this sense. I often see a sort of intuitive understanding and counter-reaction against the ennui of modern life and culture on the part of many young people. Many young people are anxious to achieve and "do something worthwhile," even if they are often not certain or are confused as to what might actually qualify as being worthwhile. In any case it is very hard to be distracted, listless, depressed, and aimless when one is busy and consumed with meaningful work and achievement.)

Nevertheless as I've said there is a difference between knowing what you don't want to do, and having a solution or useful method by which to achieve the opposite. So over time I developed the Renaissance Program(s) to both counteract the current situation and paradigm and to provide a model for a different way of living and working.

End of Introduction.


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