The guys lead off this week with A Requiem for the Renaissance Man. Paul posits that market capitalism has killed off the possibility of the Renaissance Man. Large markets reward specialization as niche-players reap outsize rewards for excelling in a narrow market. These market participants need only excel at their specialization because they can outsource all their needs to a large and complex market that can feed, clothe, shelter and entertain them. This is in contrast to the rural farmer, who by necessity, must be a jack of all trades: he and his wife must bring in the harvest, cook, sew, build shelter and repair the wheelbarrow, all by themselves. Small markets require generalization. Some of the great polymaths in history – Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill – were able to master many domains, because knowledge was shallow. Now that each domain is so deep and broad, cross-disciplinary mastery is no longer possible. The guys then ponder whether a careerist can be a Renaissance Man… Do the demands and structure of a full-time job preclude the possibility of engaging with the world in a fluid way? Does responsibility kill the possibility of The Renaissance Man? Pete recounts how a finance friend of his had to schedule time in his calendar “to be creative.” The conversation then evolves into a discussion of how the market economy supports (or fails to support) the creative arts in Europe, the UK and America. Financial accountability is hard to achieve with artistic projects, the fruits of which often take years to develop and mature. Network television takes a different, more expedient approach than the BBC or cable television in the US. Finally, Paul confesses his love of “Panto”, a uniquely British invention and Pete explains the long-standing reputation of England as a “story-telling nation” with a tradition that reaches back through Elizabethan times to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
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