Monday, April 2, 2012

On Intellectuals

Unlike most guys my age, whose heroes are over compensated sports figures, my heroes are public intellectuals and scientists. I love the public intellectual. Being a typical left leaning mid-Atlantic resident, I love and respect the stereo typical northeastern liberal intellectual. But don't think for a moment that it is only those on the left that I admire. Some of my current favorite intellectuals are those on the right, and even those who believed in god. What I respect more than anything, is not necessarily the positions of the intellectual, but rather their charisma and style.

Two deceased intellectuals I like are William F. Buckley and Malcolm X. They couldn't have been more different. William F. Buckley was a right-leaning, American conservative, though not of the neo-con stripe that we are more familiar with today. With his proper Mid-Atlantic accent, he was wildly articulate, arrogant, snobby, and in a way came to epitomize the old-school, upper class, North Eastern intellectual. He leaned toward the right politically on issues, he was a believing Catholic, and he often debated on this behalf. Malcolm X on the other hand, found Islam in prison, where he also educated himself, and became the loudest and most militant voice of black dissent towards the unjust racism that permeated through nearly all of American culture in the mid-twentieth century. I have sadly yet to read his auto biography, although that is on the agenda. What originally impressed me about him, was his articulateness and style in debates I saw of him on YouTube, even though he sometimes argued in favor of his faith. Just because I am a left leaning atheist, it certainly does not mean that I cannot recognize intellect when I see it, and these two gentlemen were prime examples.

Then of course there are the public intellectuals who are more in tune with my personal views. There's Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomski, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Danielle Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Kraus, Chris Hedges, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, A.C. Grayling, Albert Einstein, David Hume, Massimo Pigliucci, and so on. I love intellect and its high profile ambassadors.

One problem I think many Americans seem to have, is with public intellectuals, or intellectual-types, either running for public office, advising those who do, or being a bit to influential in public discourse. There is this perceived disdain by much of "middle America" for the scholarly, educated, ivy-league breed, intellectual types, presumably because they cannot relate to the regular "folks", who go out and earn a living not just be being smart. It also seems that educated intellectuals tend to gravitate to the left politically, and morally, and regard the uneducated in a condescending manner. They feel intellectuals focus on moral and ethical terms too much in theory, and not in practice. Sure to the scholarly intellectuals racial integration might sound good in paper, but its practical implications were another matter altogether.

One reason why I reject hip-hop culture, but not necessarily its music, is because of the glorification by so many in the culture of ignorance, and their rejection of knowledge. I can never be a part of a culture that celebrates and embraces ignorance as if it were a virtue. But that's just me. I consider myself a private intellectual. I have yet to enter the public stage and voice my intellect in favor of me. That can't come soon enough. Until then, I will rejoice in the intellectuals I find stimulating, and enjoy their better merits.


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