Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1 2014: To be or not to be—an intellectual, that is.

“An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.”

Aldous Huxley

“...the danger that American society as a whole will over-esteem intellect or assign it such a transcendent value as to displace other legitimate values is one that hardly troubles us.”

Richard Hofstadter

‘Man as Industrial Palace,’ by Fritz Kahn, 1926—courtesy of that brilliant site, www.brainpickings.org

Every now and then (not too often to be painful, let me stress) I feel a pang of guilt that I don’t think more deeply about issues like the meaning of life. Somehow, I feel that as a thinker and writer, I should. After all, if I did, I might just qualify for “intellectual” status—which, I like to imagine, would do wonders for my ego.

Or do I have to be French to be an intellectual? It’s not a term that is much in use in the U.S. We prefer to classify by occupation—albeit accompanied by a token adjective (“successful businessman,” “distinguished academic” etc.). To grant a group of our fellow humans superior intellectual status seems to be un-American. Besides the word “intellectual” implies success—and how can one be genuinely successful in this Great Nation without making money—or, as a minimum, by being a celebrity?

By acquiring power? Very true—but it is increasingly rare today that the acquisition of power doesn’t lead to money (and vice-versa). It is how the game is scored in these United States.

I have the strongest sense that this situation does not work to our advantage. But relax—I say that as a thinker and writer, not yet with the authority of an intellectual.

I’m working on it.

Asimov: antiintellectualism


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