Berkshire Hathaway vice-chair Charlie Munger gave a commencement speech at USC’s law school, and it’s, well, I guess the term is pure gold. A sorta-transcription is available here, but these are the money blocks:
Nothing has served me better in my long life than continuous learning. I went through life constantly practicing -- because if you don’t practice it, you lose it -- the multi-disciplinary approach and I can’t tell you what that’s done for me. It’s made life more fun, it’s made me more constructive, it’s made me more helpful to others, it’s made me enormously rich. You name it, that attitude really helps.
Now, there are dangers in it because it works so well that if you do it, you will frequently find you’re sitting in the presence of some other expert, maybe even an expert superior to you, supervising you, and you’ll know more than he does about his own specialty. A lot more. You’ll see the correct answer and he’s missed it.
[ … ]
Marcus Cicero is famous for saying that the man who doesn’t know what happened before he was born goes through life like a child. That is a very correct idea. If you generalize Cicero, as I think one should, there are all these other things that you should know in addition to history. And those other things are the big ideas in all the other disciplines.
It doesn’t help just to know them enough so you can [repeat] them back on an exam and get an A. You have to learn these things in such a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life. If you do that, I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll look to your right and left and you’ll think, “my heavenly days, I’m now one of the of the few most competent people in my whole age cohort.” If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows.
Though not apropos renaissancemandom, this bit also triggered vigorous head-nodding:
Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind. You see it a lot with T.V. preachers -- many have minds made of cabbage -- but it can also happen with political ideology. When you’re young it’s easy to drift into loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of this ideology. It’s a big danger.
In my mind, I have a little example I use whenever I think about ideology. The example is these Scandinavia canoeists who succeeded in taming all the rapids of Scandinavia and they thought they would tackle the whirlpools of the Aron [sp.] Rapids here in the United States. The death rate was 100%. A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into, and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology.
I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak. This business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very, very important thing in life.
But, as noted before, I’m a man who hates ideologies.