Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The true scandal of Wisdom

My wife once as a compliment called me an intellectual.  I wondered how she could hurt me so.  If there is one thing I take from my political conservative upbringing is a distaste for what I would call the intellectual culture. An attitude of superiority among those considered "educated" within the top tier universities.  That they are somehow "better" than the "average Joe."

This attitude has always had the whiff of hypocrisy to it.  The posturing of intellectuals telling us that all men are equal and reminding us that they are superior for telling us so.  Those who decry injustice and double standards while employing both trying to convince you of their views.  

I have written before about how I feel about intellectuals.  The modern charlatans who would pose as our learned men all the while dismissing the idea that truth can be learned only saw off the branch they are sitting on.  What is at the heart of this is the lack of distinction between "intellect" and "wisdom."

Intelligence is simply the accumulation of facts.  The intellect is the knowledge about events and properties of the natural world and things such as the history of mankind.  These things can be useful but that traditionally has not been the reason why men have taught their children about things like history.  

Wisdom is the discernment of higher truths, acquired through the practice of virtue.  It is not the result of a college education (though ideally education can assist it) but of a life lived in the practice of a disciplined life oriented outward.  It allows us to use what we know to understand the higher order of truths and grants understanding about things like the human condition.  

Without wisdom intelligence is simply a matter of who knows the most trivia.  This trivia can be "useful" in a strict material sense but does not yield the fruit that wisdom provides.  The intellect becomes vapid and shallow.  The boast is a hollow one.

So what is the scandal of wisdom?  It is simply that wisdom is available to everyone.  The Oxford professor is on the same plane as the Oxford janitor.  Wisdom offers her gifts freely to those who seek it regardless of one's station in life, so long as one is willing to work for it.  This work is in the form of virtues such as humility.

The reason why it is a scandal is that Wisdom does not play favorites.  The Oxford professor is not more important than the Oxford janitor.  One does not need to hold a professorship or even a job.  No degree is required, no distinction is afforded.  For neither is there Ivy league or community college, neither professor or janitor.  All are the same in the eyes of Wisdom.

And that is the real scandal.  We can no longer look down on the lowly janitor because he did not go to Harvard.  We can no longer hold in contempt the religious farmhand because he is not versed in the ways of evolutionary biology.  We can no longer award prestige and worth based on the notion of advanced degrees.  Wisdom rewards any who would pursue her.  And for those who would prefer that she be beholden only to those who hold such prestige, they find Wisdom a woman of poor taste and reject her.  Such is their loss.   


Chris (Longmont, CO) said...

I agree with you completely. This is where I will quote from G. K. Chesterton, where he says: “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

The problem I have with the 'educated elite,' is that they try to pass off 'progress' as something which it isn't. They don't say where they are going ... only that they are going away from the past. Again, G. K. Chesterton says: “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

CatholicGuy said...

Hi Chris,

Which work did Chesterton write the first quote? Otherwise thanks for your input.

mcarlin said...

You've mixed terms in saying intellectualism has the whiff of hypocrisy.

"This attitude has always had the whiff of hypocrisy to it. The posturing of intellectuals telling us that all men are equal and reminding us that they are superior for telling us so."

No hypocrisy: all men are created (morally) equal, and then some of us make ourselves (intellectually) better.

So, first, we're talking about equality at birth, and in the other we're talking about inequality at maturity. Second and more importantly, we're talking about moral equality in the first sentence, and intellectual inequality in the second.

mcarlin said...

Grr, no matter how many times I read over a post, I always make a grammar error. One per post, strict minimum :-P

CatholicGuy said...

"No hypocrisy: all men are created (morally) equal, and then some of us make ourselves (intellectually) better."

My point is that they equate the two. How often has one declared themselves "better" men simply because they have a Phd? That they should be running the show because of their academic credentials? By denying the concept of universal truth and objective morality the only metric of "better" is the amount of trivia they have in their head, which they call "knowledge."

Your comment is precisely what I'm talking about. The idea that a man is "better" because he is educated. It is the modern stupidity of the modern intellectual.

CatholicGuy said...

Although on further reflection hypocrisy is a poor choice of word. It is an inconsistency to be sure but hypocrisy requires a willingness to be deceptive. Mea culpa.

I suspect your objection lies with my statement that modern intellectuals equate intelligence and education with being a superior human. I maintain this attitude is so prevalent in media and academics as to be taken for granted.

Chris (Longmont, CO) said...

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, Dec 2, 1905, quoted in George Marlin, et al., More Quotable Chesterton p. 139.

Chris (Longmont, CO) said...

I will admit that part of me was just too darned lazy to further my education ... but the rest of me saw the 'educated elite' as a club that I didn't want to belong to. I was among those who for a long time disdained and hated the world of academia for the very reason you are discussing here.

CatholicGuy said...

Thanks Chris!