Spend some time around the old Internets, and you might start to hear a thing or two about how AJATT is “extreme”, Khatzumoto is “insane”, and “I want to learn Japanese but I don’t have time for that AJATT stuff; who does that guy think he is?! I have a right to watch reruns of Dawson’s Creek“.
Spend some time being alive, and you might get some kindly, herb tea-drinking, yoga-doing people say things to you like “slow down”, and “it doesn’t have to be so hardcore” and my all-time favorite of all time: “all in moderation“.
“All in moderation”. Never has a phrase so bugged me. In all my life, never has an apparently reasonable-sounding piece of advice been so pregnant with mediocrity. It’s like a little perpetual-motion excuse factory. It’s the “get out of excellence free card” of life. It’s easily as bad as — perhaps worse than — the “you just have to be born with it” brand of stupidity.
A young kid wants to be an amazing golfer or mathematician or programmer, but a sinister alliance of parents, schoolteachers* and neighbors start saying things like “life isn’t all about success” and “she needs to be well-rounded and fit in with the other kids”, and “kids need to play in the mud and get bitten by ticks and catch a bit of Lyme disease now and then; that’s what childhood is about! Why, in my day…”
Let’s get a few things straight:
1. Life is about success. Don’t try to B.S. people and tell them it’s not. ESPECIALLY don’t try to B.S. children and tell them it’s not; it wastes valuable time, and forces them to spend good money later on repairing the damage. Half the reason personal development books even exist is to fix the forced “aim for the middle at all costs” brainwashing that so many kids are exposed to. The only question comes in what one defines as success. But to tell people that it is not about success is not merely to tell Santa-Clausian lies, but to commit a grave act of psychological abuse that will only hurt the listener later in life. See debt, wage slavery for details.
2. Even if you (not you — you’re a ravishingly good-looking person with piercing intelligence and impeccable taste in blogs (you read AJATT, don’t you?!) — I’m talking about the bumbling special needs cases who say things like “now, now, all in moderation”) are down for now, don’t be like alcoholics and try to pull everyone down with you.
3. I will take the childhood minus the tick-borne diseases, thank you very much
4. No one gives a flying fork about “your day”. “Our day” may have its weaknesses, but it is orders of magnitude better than “your day”. It would take obscene quantities of Larabars and Jelly Beans to get me to trade our day for your day.
Whenever someone wants to do something great, whenever someone wants to break free from the shackles of assumed wisdom, there always seems to be some idiot ready to whip out the “all in moderation” (AIM) card. Whenever someone’s aiming high, someone jealous of the would-be high-achiever will come out with this lupine idea in ovine vestments, and tell her to just AIM.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating going to extremes for the sake of going to extremes. I am not advocating hurting yourself — no good can come of one achieving oneself to death or injury. I am just saying this:
All in moderation.
Including moderation itself.
Most of the time, it’s fine to be moderate. But there are times, places and situations where one needs to be moderate about being moderate. There are times, places and situations where one needs to be thoroughly immoderate.
Things are such that we can only be immoderate about a few things. But it turns out that this immoderacy frequently makes for a better life for us and indeed the entire world. Remember friends, it was “moderate” in Europe 150 odd years ago to only bathe seasonally. It was “moderate” to perform surgery without washing hands. Yeah, that went well…
Native speakers — Japanese kids — never run away from Japanese; they never give up; they never make excuses; they never avoid; they never skip. They live an immoderately Japanese life. There is no stop; there is no break; there is no gap; there are no exceptions; it is never “a busy day”. No matter whether there are inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, sick, well, happy, sad, tired, hyper, at home, on the road, bathing, walking, running…everything is in Japanese, all the time.
The same goes for native speakers of every language. That is why they own so hard. Not because it was how they were born, but because of how they have lived. Their language might as well be a force of nature. Most Japanese kids have been in a room without Japanese about as many times as they’ve been in a room without air. This is epic stuff, man! This is freaking…living with Baak Mei.
But wait! Hold the phone! Simmer down now! Simma dahn nah! Shouldn’t they be more moderate? Shouldn’t they be AIMing? Shouldn’t they be mixing in other languages — you know, to get “well-rounded” so they don’t overspecialize? They need a balanced linguistic diet, right? Japanese is just one of the many languages of the world, right?
Native speakers are the yardstick by which all linguistic success is measured. They are the gold standard. If we want to be golden, would it not behoove us to set aside our pride and excuses, and take a good, hard look at how this gold is actually made?
For their immoderate skill, native speakers pay an immoderate price in time. Let’s say (being very generous), that it takes a native speaker 12~18 years to reach adult level. Call it 150,000 hours. If each hour were worth a dollar, that would be $150,000. We “adult-onset native speakers” are wanting to “buy” a “product” that costs “childhood native speakers” “$150,000″ in time.
Understandably, we don’t want to pay that much. But if we get a $150,000 product for $10,000 or even $20,000 or even $30,000, i.e. at about 10% of the full price, shouldn’t we be overjoyed? It’s like buying a brand new $200 flatscreen monitor for $20. It’s a good freaking deal. Gosh, buy two or three.
But the AIMers are telling you “don’t aim so much”, “you’re not a native speaker, so it’s okay to be and sound like an illiterate halfwit”. The AIMers want us to have native-level rights without native-level responsibilities. The AIMers want us to “be moderate” and attempt to “buy” a $150,000 skillset for less than $1000 — that’s now like trying to buy that brand new $200 flatscreener for a few cents — all because of some nebulous, moralistic truism that never got anyone anywhere. Now who’s being immoderate?
Sometimes, it’s the most moderate, sensible thing you could possibly do.
*A vanilla, English-speaking-background American friend of mine had two parents who had been missionaries in Finland and both spoke fluent Finnish. When they had their first daughter, they decided to raise her bilingually in English and Finnish. Long story short, it appears that the school district more or less forced the parents to stop teaching the daughter — and subsequent children — any Finnish. Way to go. Which all seems to go against a point a made earlier, but…you know…deal