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|The FAIR Conference and the Amateur Spirit|
Aug. 27th, 2008 at 12:05 am
When I learned that historian and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin was giving the commencement address at my university graduation, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. People around me in the audience expressed disappointment it wasn’t someone like Bill Cosby or Bono. But Boorstin had long been one of my intellectual heroes, and I had read everything of his I could get my hands on. The theme he chose to speak on was “Leadership and the Amateur Spirit,” a theme he also explores in chapter 18 of his book Hidden History.
He pointed out that ‘amateur’ has become a dirty word to many people, to their discredit. Boorstin writes,
He points out that democracy is uniquely dependent on amateurs to govern and lead it, and this, too, is a good thing. He writes, “The progress–perhaps even the survival–of our society depends on the vitality of the amateur spirit in the United States today and tomorrow.”
I was thinking about this as I was attending the FAIR Conference, which was organized, staffed, and even largely presented by passionate amateurs. People made presentations almost solely out of love of the topic (though many wouldn’t have minded if you bought whatever book or DVD they had for sale. But even there, I know something of LDS publishing, and there is very little margin for much pecuniary motive in LDS publishing.) We could probably say this about other conferences as well, but it was particularly in evidence there, and I found it both impressive and touching.
In the Church as a whole we have a need for a similar amateur spirit, because we have a largely lay clergy.
Boorstin points out, however, that the American spirit, and democracy itself, is threatened by two forces that Boorstin identifies as the professionals and the bureaucrats. “Both are by-products of American wealth, American progress. But they can stifle the amateur spirit on which the special quality and vision of our American leaders must depend.”
We might wonder if the Church could be threatened by these same forces. Of professionals, Boorstin writes,
He is puzzled by the professionalization of business, which he fears marks the fall of a significant bastion of the amateur spirit. “Who can be trained to be a seeker of opportunity, an unspecialized man of enterprise? What professional curriculum can teach a man to be self-made?”
An equal threat is posed by the bureaucrats:
I suppose we bloggers (the electron-stained wretches of the new century), along with the obsessive amateurs who designed and built the world wide web (more for love than profit, as true now as ever), are carriers of that amateur spirit. But we amateurs can fall prey to our own lesser angels; as degenerated amateurs we become the troll, the crank, and in the Bloggernacle, the gospel hobbyists and the DAMU grinding their endlessly dull axes.