Sunday, August 7, 2011

On intellecutals

Recalling a few years ago that during the rule of King George (now supplanted by King Obama) I remember the fretting over how "anti-intellectual" the country had become. That is, by virtue of the election of Bush that the country had no use for intellectuals and was openly hostile to them. While some may write this off as simply partisan slander I believe there is some truth to this.

An intellectual in the traditional sense was a learned man who pursued the truth through study. He was devoted to all sciences (including the liberal arts, considered sciences back in the day). His education was diverse and varied, and at his command was a variety of information from philosophy to history to physical sciences.

The ultimate goal of the intellectual was pursuit of the truth in all forms. Indeed society treated the pursuit of truth as a noble calling. He was considered a sage, imparting wisdom and truth to all who would hear it. It was a respected and noble role.

The problem with such noble callings is that they relied on this notion of truth. Truth that was universal and constant in nature. His studies reflected this as philosophy and history were subjects that he would be most familiar with. Attempting to find truth in any and all fields, the intellectual would attempt to be at least proficient in all relevant subjects.

But without the notion of universal truth the notion of an intellectual collapses. The main purpose, that which defined the calling and the use to society evaporates when the concept of universal truth is denied. And with it the reason for the intellectual to exist.

It is not surprising then that when those who inherit the tradition of intellectualism deny the foundation of that tradition those who fund and support those traditions feel cheated. By denying the fundamental nature of the calling they also sever the reasons for supporting the field.

The modern intellectual defines his position not with the pursuit of the truth but the size of his brain. The more data accumulated, the most his worth is. Thus a modern intellectual does not use his brain but simply worships it.

Now the common man sees this shift. Initially then idea was that the intellectual would learn and impart truth to the rest of mankind, and mankind in turn would support the endeavor. But the modern intellectual is turned in on himself. It is no longer about the truth but how smart he is. And the intellectual looks down with scorn on those who do not share his knowledge as one looks at a cockroach.

Our common fellow resents this (and rightly so). Why should I pay for someone to sneer at me? He should be just as willing to shovel dirt as I am. These things he asks himself. And he comes to the conclusion that the intellectual is not worth keeping around.

But now there are two errors. The first is the intellectual who worships his intellect. The second is those who think the intellect is not worth keeping around. Both assume the doctrine of the lack of objective truth. And thus both arrive at different conclusions about what tondo with the intellect.

Until we relearn the notion of objective truth neither side will have much use for each other. One will continue to worship himself, the other will attempt to figure out how to kill the self appointed god. It is not surprising then that we now find ourselves between those who worship the intellect and those who have no use for it.

No comments: