Intellectuals & Society- Part II


The Individual

If there were a typical pathway for Intellectuals, what would it look like? Of course we cannot pigeon hole all intellectuals into a neat little box, as their backgrounds vary dramatically. Some may come from a life of affluence, while others may have had to struggle for years, having had a more modest upbringing. But for arguments sake, lets assume many come from the former.

This is the perception I have, which I believe to be common to Intellectuals. In order to understand why some intellectuals seem to develop into the intellectually ignorant, we must delve into their past, to better understand their conditioning. This isn't to say I am right, nonetheless it is the perception I have.

I would hazard a guess that most Intellectuals were born into a degree of affluence. I'm not suggesting they are always born into millions, but their parents are likely high earning professionals. The parents of these children probably went through University and achieved above average grades. The parents were probably masters/ phd students, placing an emphasis on academics. Coming from a wealthy background the child and teen probably received a private education, which again placed an emphasis on academic performance. There is a possibility that their immediate social system was made up of like-minded individuals and families, conversing in a manner not common to most. In order to perform at the highest levels, an inordinate amount of time is spent in the books and researching online, further stifling and impacting on standard social and behavioural development. If this individual is raised in a wealthy family, they probably live in a wealthy neighborhood and area. This results in a disconnect from people who reside and exist in the so called lower rungs of society. The outcome of this environmental disconnect is a lack of understanding of certain groups and a sheltered existence. Finally they make it to university, where they choose a subject, which is heavily focused on theory, further aggravating the disconnect from general awareness and understanding. While at university they make like-minded friends and over the years become lost in an echo chamber. The institution, the lecturers and other students start to shape their adult perception and beliefs of how the world functions. As they are still young adults the possibility that they have had a great number of eye opening experiences is low, this results in a highly vulnerable and malleable understanding of the world. This vulnerability makes them receptive to the ideas of people with emotionally assertive opinions. At this point they have developed within the scope of their lived existence, the outcome is the emergence of a well meaning academic whose understanding of the world is significantly disconnected from the raw and harsh realities. When they look at problems, they view them through a theoretical lens, taking all of the emotion and grit out of the reality. They theorize and determine the solutions to complex problems mathematically, often dismissing and avoiding the undesirable truths, particularly when solving social issues.

Now these students have become the teachers and lecturers of the next generation, they have lived and existed within a scope of limiting reality. Their ideas are reinforced by their peers with little grounding in reality. They are passionate about their subject of choice as they have committed their identity to it, resulting in personalisation of their area of expertise. For this reason they must be right in order to reinforce their purpose and existence, disagreeing with them is an attack on their life's work, their ego and character. They must work to establish their ideas and beliefs as truths at any cost. They have come to believe in their ideas without a hint of doubt and as a defined intellectual, develop a type of arrogance and superiority complex. They are no longer students and in their minds cannot learn from a lesser human being. They have now become the giver of truth, the tip of the spear and their knowledge is beyond contestation.

It is important to highlight the fact that I am not talking about all intellectuals and that this post isn't designed to undermine knowledge nor intelligence. Knowledge is a pillar of human evolution, but knowledge without connection to reality is not really knowledge at all. Ideas, concepts and theories are just that, they are seldom based on practice and the experience of such things lies mostly in the imagination of the intellectual. Yes books contain knowledge and wisdom, yes they are based on the practice and experience of others, but knowledge and wisdom evolves, new experience must be sought and learning through different experiences is essential for growth.

As pioneers, intellectuals have a responsibility to avoid connecting too much emotion to their ideas, to be cautious when introducing and implementing new ideas based solely on theory. The decisions made at the top, filter down and form the realities at the bottom. A error in judgement made by highly influential people, can result in significant suffering for others.

I will leave you with this thought.

Imagine an intellectual decides to study 'street smarts'; they read about gangs, drugs, street language and behaviour. They develop theories based on their understanding of 'street smarts'.

Alternatively- A volunteer works in a crime ridden area of a city. They grew up in the same neighborhood and know many of the people. They haven't had a formal education beyond the public schooling system. They are on the ground everyday with the people.

Who has the greater connection and greater understanding? Who can blend in, relate and truly empathise with the people suffering in this environment? Who really understands the issues that have created the problems for the people in this part of the city? The Intellectual or the Volunteer?

Although approaching problems from an academic point of view is often essential and necessary in many cases, it leaves a gap in understanding, a gap in knowledge and is disconnected from the harsh realities. An intellectual may be intelligent based on conventional IQ testing, but does this truly translate to the real world with the greatest level of integrity and substance. The answer is no.

The individual intellectual can be of great benefit to the world, however, remember, they are human, their lived experience, beliefs and conditioning influence their thinking, which means the concepts, theories and ideas stemming from their thinking are prone to error and bias, just like anybody else's. If we want a better world, communication between intellectuals and the people on the ground, is absolutely essential.

Next- Intellectuals and Society Part III- Misguided Ideas

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