17 februarie 2017

On being an intellectual

What does it mean to be an intellectual?

Someone asked me this question recently when I claimed to be one, and for once I stopped to think what it meant. Two important points came to mind.


First is that intellectuals are prejudiced in some significant ways. It's uncomfortable to be aware of our prejudices--we would all like to believe that we aren't prejudiced, and we claim that we behave fairly, but it's just not true. Intellectuals are prejudiced in favor of anyone with better credentials. We will always prefer a clever theory over anything else, because cool logic sounds better and is more gratifying than the story of someone who gained actual experience.

We are especially prejudiced in favor of anything that is written, as if getting published is proof of expertise. The more professional the writing looks, the more we trust it, without doing the work or the research ourselves.

But keep in mind that God doesn't dress things up that way: the Gospel is often preached by the weak and uncredentialed, and He does His work by small and simple means. If we wait to act until we encounter something that impresses us somehow, we will despise and reject that which is of most worth because it has no "beauty" that we should desire it.

Second, we intellectuals believe that we are smarter than others, that we know more because we are more studious, more well-read, better educated, and taught by experts. Thinking about the exclusive knowledge we have gained gives us an ego boost. We especially like to debate ideas, insist that our expert is better than others', and debate the relative merit of various theories. At best, the purpose of the debate is to learn and acquire new information. At its worst, however, the purpose is to prove our superior intellect.

The problem is just that: everything is just theory. We value knowledge, but we don't put it into practice. We debate theories endlessly and obsess over them, but we rarely commit ourselves to actually doing the work to see if a theory is actually true. What being an intellectual amounts to is that we sit around endlessly debating and acquiring knowledge--but we never act!
O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. 
Whatever excuse we may give ourselves for postponing action, the simple acquisition of knowledge is what we feed off of, but it is a hunger that is never really satisfied because we never put the acquired knowledge to good use, thereby "setting aside" the counsel of God.

I want to be a person who speaks from experience, not someone who regurgitates the ideas of others who may or may not know what they are talking about. My instincts are still always to trust what has been published, what has credentials, what looks more official--I want to overcome this and become someone who treats all information with an equal measure of doubt and consideration. Most importantly of all, I want to be someone who acts!

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