Passion

I’ve been thinking about passion. (Not in the erotic or romantic sense: minds out of the gutter, people! More on the line of intellectual passion.)

I had an interview today for a job in an area that is, at best, tangentially connected with my degree (either of them). One of the interviewers said to me, “It’s obvious you have a lot of passion for your degree subject,” or words to that effect. And I might be reading too much into that, but the implication seemed to be that passion was a finite thing, that having one compelling interest meant having less capacity to be passionate about other things.

I’m passionate about ancient history because that’s where I ended up. But I ended up with a specialism there as much by accident of circumstance as design: it was in front of me, and there would always be more to learn.

I like knowing things, understanding how they fit together, making sense of people and themes – I’ve been known to spend hours learning how volcanoes work, or geomorphology, or the genesis of the space programme, or 19th century medical science; about medieval China and India’s North-Western Frontier under the Raj, about Dutch and Portuguese mercantile colonialism in South-East Asia and its effect on European market capitalism; about social relations in modern Malaysia and the anthropology of taste and class in 20th-century France. About economic relations between states and between people – economists rarely make it legible to ordinary people, but once you relate the numbers to relationships of people and interests and power, it becomes fascinating.

I like language. I like knowing how it works, the varied language groups with their different grammatical structures and the way different languages encode different ways of viewing and interacting with the world in their own ways. I like science, the way new developments have different ramifications for human life and experience and potential, for individuals and communities.

My capacity for passion is no more limited than my capacity for love, or grief. It’s limited only by time and resources. There is very little with a human element I find boring, for crying out loud.

(Data-entry is boring. But you have to do the boring shit to get to the good parts: if a PhD taught me anything, it was that as the prime law. Also the importance of organising your logistics in advance.)

I know there are people who are only interested in one or two things, and the rest of the world can go hang. But I don’t know many people personally of whom this is true. The capacity for passion – for enthusiasm – for taking delight in the topic at hand – seems to be a key component of geekiness. We constrain our passions according to how much time there is in a day, and the ratio of effort:reward, but still.

…I guess I might be passionate about the capacity for passion. Who’d have thought?