Are intellectuals overrated?

Posted on Updated on


In today’s America and Europe, few social classes are more respected than the intellectual.

What exactly is an intellectual? For this piece, I’ll go with the Collins English Dictionary definition:

 1) a person who enjoys mental activity and has highly developed tastes in art, literature, etc.

A problem, is that Americans tend to confuse intellectualism with logical thought and deep intelligence. The typical intellectual in America usually has a degree from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.  To me, the intellectuals “highly developed tastes in art, literature” means they love a long, boring, pointless yarn, or obsess on a single brush stroke in a 19th century painting.  I’ve read books that intellectuals drool over, and by the time I finished (if I finished at all) wondered what the hell happened in the last 350 pages.  I guess that’s why I like Stephen Hunter’s books.  Hunter says that he only knows one way to write a story. It’s a series of events leading to a violent resolution of the problem.  Call me unsophisticated and barbaric, but I can’t make it through 10 pages of Umberto Eco.

Stephen Hunter’s main protagonist in his book, Bob Lee Swagger, is a metaphor for all sophisticated non-intellectuals.  A Vietnam veteran and sniper, he is the best marksman in the world, he hunts, he lives alone in a remote wilderness cabin, he can fix a car, live off the land, and kill a man when a man needs killing.  And he hates Umberto Eco.  Or at least I bet he hates Umberto Eco.

Who is actually more valuable to the world, Bob the Plumber, or Noam Chomsky?  If society fell apart, who would you rather have around?  A guy that could help build a system for clean water, or an MIT professor who’s hands would tremble if they touched a rifle?  I’m not saying that intellectuals have no place in the world, but like actors, they’re very overrated.  Most engineers are not intellectuals.  Yet they are responsible for designing the infrastructure that makes our nation so impressive.  Engineers don’t live in a world of unproven theory; they can’t or projects fail and people die.  Intellectuals on the other hand, are, as Ralph Peters states in his essay, Dogma and the Dead,

those men and women, freed from the necessity of labor, who prefer theory to reality and who footnote while others fight our nation’s battles.

Intellectualism is a primary reason for the decline in the status and capabilities of males throughout the nation. My father and grandfather could do so many more useful things than most men around today, including myself.  I know which buttons to push on an IPhone, but my father could weld, rebuild a motor, hunt and skin a deer, and repair the roof on a house.  I’m betting Noam Chomsky can’t do any of that.  Yet Chomsky is known world wide and his kind are revered and many would emulate him but not my grandfather.

Intellectualism breeds cowardice.  John Fowles, a noted intellectual and author in the 70s and 80s, states the following in his book The Magus:

 If a person is intelligent, then of course he is either an agnostic or an atheist. Just as he is a physical coward. They are automatic definitions of high intelligence.

Can we say he is wrong? When one thinks of an intellectual, does one think of a religious military man?  Instead, the man in uniform who believes in God is the butt of jokes from the Left.  He is a zealot, with little depth, who desires the abolition of the federal government, that all flag burners be hung, and all people of color be resigned to riding the back of the bus.

In truth, the intellectuals glibness is a shield from him having to do anything really tough or physical.  Most intellectuals are so cowardly as to even avoid sports.  There are of course exceptions.  But where is the intellectual sportsman nowadays?  It was not always this way.  Men used to be good at many things, and there were some who were masters of both physical and intellectual skills.  Many of our founding fathers fit this bill.

Thomas Jefferson:

“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.”

Such men still exist, but are so exceedingly rare that we ascribe to them a moniker which denotes that they belong not in today’s age, but in the 15th century.  We call him a Renaissance Man.  

Indeed, so far removed are these types of men, they may as well be called Neolithic Man.  Read about Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Goethe.  Roosevelt spoke 9 languages, wrote 17 books, commanded the Rough Riders and lived his well-known Strenuous Life.  

Could Noam Chomsky wear suspenders like this? I think not.

Modern intellectuals are the masters of big, overgeneralized and many times, very bad ideas.  Education seems to be no guardian against byzantine theorems implemented on the masses “for their own good.”  Most intellectuals are excellent writers, thus their ability to persuade revolutionaries and even governments that their ideas just may work.  10,000 years of human civilization be damned.  Marx: Intellectual.  Al-Qaeda’s roots sprung from an Egyptian intellectual named Sayyid Qubt. The intellectual has a fantastic capability to criticize the best and ignore or become a supporter of the worst.  He thinks hes being smart and clever by being obtuse.  Thus the never ending screeds pronounced by intellectuals against the United States, and the quasi-adoration for tyrannical regimes and apologies for al-Qaeda.  They are critical of Abel, while finding a comrade in Cain.

An argument leveled against such movements as the Tea Party is that it is “anti-intellectual”. What the Left means by this, is that the Tea Party is not made up of intellectuals, but of people who actually work for a living.  The people who actually know how to fix a car or a toilet and enjoy a Stephen Hunter novel.  Chomsky is nowhere to be found in their libraries.  In truth, anti-intellectual in this case means people who can ponder the big picture, but who can do many other things, too.  Running a business and fixing an engine takes smarts and education.

At around the age of 28, I realized that I’d been wasting my life.  There was so much to learn and do and so little time.  A sense of urgency swept over me.  I had to obtain knowledge in everything.  I had to be an outstanding softball player in the city league I played in, become an expert marksman, read voraciously, learn a second language, write a book and go to war.  But there’s still so much to be done.

So, intellectuals have their place.  It’s just that the world could use a lot more John Galts and fewer Gore Vidals.  Unfortunately, the enrollment rates at universities for engineering and other “hard” sciences has significantly dwindled.  This is because intellectualism is, at its kernel, more about appearing smart than doing what is meaningful.  And this is because what is meaningful is tough.  A line repeated throughout my novel, For Want of Knowledge, is “Nothing good is easy.”  A little more respect needs be given to those who make the world go round on a daily basis.

In ending, here’s Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Are intellectuals overrated?

    Royce said:
    July 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    A sweeping indictment of those who occupy the pages of the NYT, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, and lead most of the protest movements. These are the people who stand behind those who make their lives possible while denigrating those same people. During my active career I learned (the hard way) to avoid hiring Harvard graduates because they never wanted to work — they expected to be put in charge and tell others what to do. The same with MIT graduates — they never seemed prepared to actually do the technical grunt work — they felt they should only be put in charge of R&D projects because that was what they were trained for. I discovered that I always had better success hiring people from unknown colleges with decent grades, crappy jobs while in school, and a willingness to work. Like you I tend to have a low opinion of those people who contemplate the trivia without any practical skills.

    WTP said:
    October 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Well stated. Speaking of TR quotes, a favorite in the regard:

    “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

    “Citizenship in a Republic,”
    Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

    As for that picture of TR…First time I noticed he’s wearing both a belt and suspenders. Doesn’t trust his own pants. Of course I can say that ’cause he ain’t around no more…uh, right?

    WTP said:
    October 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    And on a similar note…5 ways intelligent people screw up their lives…

    1) They may believe that learning about something is the same as doing it.

    If you had a restaurant, whom would you rather have running it for the next year? A seasoned veteran of a restaurant business with a decade of experience and an average IQ or Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant scientists who ever lived? Keep in mind that Tesla used to falsely claim that he had created a death ray, never married because he thought great inventors should remain celibate, and spent the last decade of his life obsessing over pigeons. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/09/29/the-5-unique-ways-intelligent-people-screw-up-their-lives/

    WTP said:
    October 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Another interesting take on the subject by David Thompson who comments on his own excellent blog here:

    In his books and interviews (see here and here), Sowell defines his terms fairly carefully. As he writes in the introduction to Intellectuals and Society,

    Here “intellectuals” refers to an occupational category, people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas – writers, academics and the like. Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no-one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual… Engineers and financiers deal with ideas at least as complex as those of sociologists or professors of English. Yet it is these latter who are more likely to come to mind when intellectuals are discussed. Moreover, it is the latter who most exhibit the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour associated with intellectuals.

    He offers further clarification, at length, including the inclination to ‘self-exalt’ by airing certain political assumptions (which may not actually work and may even be disastrous). His examples tend to be people who rarely implement – and almost never suffer the fallout of – their own ideas, their own Plans For The World, and who therefore persist in making errors about very basic things – often economics, autonomy and human nature. Surgeons, for instance, tend to be clever people, often very clever indeed, but they tend to see the consequences of their mistakes and, one hopes, learn from this. An English lecturer, however, can spend decades extolling the virtues of communism and the goodness of Marx, despite all evidence to the contrary and with little risk of losing his job or even being called on his hokum.

    http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2012/10/the-hum-of-intellectuals.html

    WTP said:
    October 31, 2012 at 3:13 am

    BTW, here’s another excellent post on PJ Media, via David Thompson’s blog, about intellectuals in academia.


    For some, especially those who are well-educated and well-spoken, a sort of irrational furore at “the system” governs their political make-up. Why don’t degrees and vocabulary always translate into big money? Why does sophisticated pontificating at Starbucks earn less than mindlessly doing accounting behind a desk?

    http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/why-liberals-think-what-they-do/?singlepage=true

    Frank1 said:
    November 10, 2014 at 9:33 am

    The main problem with intellectuals today is that they do not use their intelligence for the right reason: that is, to lead one back to God, to keep alive in society the highest moral and religious values, etc.

    In fact, intellectuals still have a large impact on our society, as you note…but now they promulgate the false religion of leftism which is concerned only with this world.

    I consider myself a religious intellectual…and there are many of us, and in fact through most of history intellectuals were the great preservers and teachers of religion.

    As to the average person, I respect them; as the Bible says they ‘keep the world going’…but as the Bible also says the average person focused on their work will ‘not become wise’. If some blue collar types find that offensive, so be it…we must remember that non-intellectuals are just as capable of arrogance as intellectuals, as when because they cannot understand the purpose of some intellectual pursuit they declare it pointless.

    ultramontane said:
    July 25, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I consider myself an intellectual, and a firmly catholic one. I believe that my faith would be much weaker if I just followed the general culture which promotes trickle-down atheism coming from the pseudo-intellectual class. I think true intellectuals are interested in theory because they are interested in understanding how the world works in all its facets. I am a psychiatrist by trade but I read about everything with concentration in areas that will lead to greater understanding. Yes, it is important to balance your life, including physical activity, have fun, socialization, practical duties, take care of your family, work, etc. But an intellectual, or a person who pursues knowledge and understanding for its own sake without an agenda is leagues above others in terms of appreciating and living a good life. I get bored to death with conversation with practical people very quickly. Practical skills are important but will never lead to wisdom and a well-developed mind. Your mind is what separates you from animals and where humans can develop their potential most highly. Practical work needs to be done but is not important in itself but for a greater goal. One should not get lost in the practicalities of life and trivial diversions instead of developing their mind. As long as God is put first, everything else should fall in place. One’s faith will be much stronger if based on intellectual reasoning instead of just emotional reasons.

    WTP said:
    August 4, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    But an intellectual, or a person who pursues knowledge and understanding for its own sake without an agenda is leagues above others in terms of appreciating and living a good life. I get bored to death with conversation with practical people very quickly. Practical skills are important but will never lead to wisdom and a well-developed mind.

    Practical work needs to be done but is not important in itself but for a greater goal. One should not get lost in the practicalities of life and trivial diversions instead of developing their mind.

    Without applying what one knows, or more likely, what one thinks one knows, in the real world of practicality, how can one be certain that they know anything? Much of what has passed for knowledge coming from so-called intellectuals of the past, especially the past 100 years or so, has been exposed as folly with the advent of the broad access to knowledge and counter-knowledge that the internet and Google have given us. Neither of these tools would exist if we waited for “intellectuals” to build them. They were built by people who gained understanding much more by trial and error than theory.

    I stand by the quote I provided above 3 years ago regrading intellectuals, to wit:
    1) They may believe that learning about something is the same as doing it.

    If you had a restaurant, whom would you rather have running it for the next year? A seasoned veteran of a restaurant business with a decade of experience and an average IQ or Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant scientists who ever lived? Keep in mind that Tesla used to falsely claim that he had created a death ray, never married because he thought great inventors should remain celibate, and spent the last decade of his life obsessing over pigeons. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s