Saturday, August 13, 2011

Competent Men

A "competent man" (or competent woman) according to Wikipedia is a stock character in a novel who exhibits a wide range of abilities and knowledge; a form of fictional polymath.

Many superheroes in comic books and science fiction novels are of this character type. Sherlock Holmes, as another example, was a Competent Man. Howard Roark (The Fountainhead) was, in my opinion, Ayn Rand's "competent man" characterization. Batman is another example.

The late amazing science fiction author Robert Heinlein - who had an unbelievable imagination, in his award-winning novel "Time Enough for Love" had his "competent man" character Lazarus Long speak the following words:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallently. Specialization is for insects."

I like that.

Why am I thinking of Soubriquet right now?

Or even Re... Well, that would be TOO arrogant. :)

No, Max is not a polymath. He is an indefatigable philomath, though; this blog's very existence is some evidence of that. And now he knows of Robert Heinlein and Lazarus Long. And even Hildegard of Bingen.

There is nothing like a long-distance shot to the head to make Max talk oddly in his posts.


  1. A man should also know how to clean up his own messes and sew a button back on his shirt (or pants).

    And read.

  2. You, a philomath?
    When I find out what that means I will disagree.

  3. I can't even shoot straight enough to hit a wrinkled little walnut-sized heart at 5,000 miles, so don't be accusing me of competence.

  4. "Die gallantly"?

    Dream on. I intend to become a zombie. And I'll wear a baseball bat-proof helmet. Maybe in kevlar, to better resist chainsaws.

  5. I love Heinlein and his work (at least until his mind started to go there toward the end - still great vocabulary and characters but rather obsessed with orgies).

    I probably qualify as a polymath and there's no shortage of them in my novels either. Not everyone of course, but my own background is very jack-of-all-trades and I find it gives one a different perspective, particularly when faced with the unknown. It's one reason I favor those kinds of characters when I throw them to the wolves.

  6. I love reading your posts... they always enlighten me.

  7. I have to go consult my dictionary. Them thar's big words. At least I know what shard means.

  8. @Shakespeare - Sew a button on the back of his pants? I don't get it. Well, the part about writing a sonnet while changing a diaper made sense.

    @Addulamite - a philomath is a burner of bagpipes.

    Wait. That's "pyromath."

    @Sobriquet - winged helmets is where it's at. I don't know how those didn't make his polylist. Dunno about the baseball bat. I don't think there is such a helmet to protect against baseball bats and chainsaws.

    @Stephanie Barr - Leonardo Da Vinci was a polymath. I think the word you are looking for is dilettante. :) No, you may well be a polymath, if you have the competence and not just the knowledge. I would never argue with you. You know yourself, like Socrates said. But then, Socrates was no polymath. You conn pretty well, I'll say that. :)

    @Jeff King - You have such good taste. Polydent will do that. :)

    @Sue - Why couldn't the Asian dry cleaner get the stain out of the salesman's suit? Polyester. Hahahahaha. Does the pope crap in the woods? Is a bear Catholic? Sigh. I got a million of 'em. I am a polyhumoroid. :)

    btw, I called PBS and made a pledge and gave them your name and address. In case you get a bill, you'll know. I told them you just loved the 40 year old Masterpiece Theater reruns and just wanted to do your part to keep the excitement coming.

    Well, I didn't tell them your address because I don't know your address. I just told them "Sue from the Midwest; 500 dollars."

    @Sheila - Hi Sheila.

  9. @Max - Hi Max. Why are you dragging me into this one? I can do many of the competent things that Lazarus Long thinks important, but so far I haven't tried dying gallantly. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

  10. I was a Heinlein reader, back a ways.
    I liked his style, his worlds, in which there were futures that seemed eminently plausible.

    Some of his later stuff was a bit loopy, and a bit sinister. Like the darker side of him creeping out.



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