Concerning Height and Depth

Mutant foxes are shallow.

Or so you’ve likely heard. It’s not a flattering generalization, and I wish people would stop spreading it around. But like most stereotypical notions, it has some basis in fact.

As neofoxes hop about the cultural landscape, across all areas of speculation, creativity, and study, they cannot aspire to plumb the depths of human understanding as did the paleofoxes of lore. “Go an inch wide and a mile deep” is more than just a slogan; it is nearly a physical law in this age of hyperinformation. And the hedgehog dutifully obeys this law.

But the very law that states that it is no longer possible to go both wide and deep says nothing about height, as I proposed in my paper “Out of the Depths and Into the Heights,” which I presented at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, Florida, in 1997. The depths are charted territories, while the heights open out into “a universe exploding with literally infinite possibilities.” Hedgehogs have trouble getting to the heights, but foxes are right at home there. Continue reading

The More Things Change …

Pat and I really need to get down to business. As independent publishers we’ve got eleven books in print, and it’s time to start making money off them. A friend of ours, John J. Walters, was kind enough to send us a book to get started: Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger.

It’s an excellent book, and we’re eagerly squeezing it dry for ideas. That said, we have a not-so-small bone of contention beginning in Chapter 2 and continuing throughout the book. “In today’s information society,” Schwerdtfeger declares unambiguously, “you need to carve out a little slice of the universe and claim it as your own. You need to decide what your specialty is and become an expert in that field.”

It’s the conventional wisdom, of course. If you want to do business these days, you’ve got to have a platform. Now, that’s easy enough for hedgehogs (see previous post). But how do unregenerate mutant foxes like Pat and me “carve out a little slice of the universe”? Big slices—yea, even whole universes at a swallow—are more our thing. Continue reading

Mutant Foxes

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

This aphorism by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus got quite a bit of currency during the last century. A lot of people asked whether, in the world of ideas, it was better to be a fox than a hedgehog.

As you know if you followed the polls, the 20th-century consensus wound up firmly in favor of the hedgehog. After all, the time had passed when one could be universally educated in all subjects and disciplines. There was too much stuff to learn about too many big things. Generalists didn’t stand a chance. The time of the specialist had arrived. And specialists are, by definition, hedgehogs—small, spiny, nocturnal, insectivorous, and extremely well-versed in one big thing.

Through the last phase of the 20th century and the first decade of this one, Pat and I defied this preference and steadfastly remained foxes—omnivorous, narrow-snouted, bushy-tailed, red-coated, and determined to learn as much stuff about as many big things as we could. Continue reading