What it means to be an Intellectual

It has occurred to me recently that people who identify themselves as being intellectual, or are thought of in that way, are often considered arrogant. There seems to be an elitist connotation associated with intellectualism. The image, I guess, is one of out of touch academic ideologue lacking a pragmatic real world outlook.

And this, despite the fact that intellectualism is really nothing more than an attitude of exploration and investigation; an open perspective to ideas and positions of all sorts. Questioning is the essence of the intellectual stance, which, when healthy, stops short of blanket skepticism to arrive at the best possible answers at the moment, aware, always, that better answers may certainly appear in the future.

According to Richard Hofstadter, former Pulitzer Prize winner and history professor at Columbia, anti-intellectualism has probably always been with us but was exacerbated in America by frontier expansion which left behind the social structures of education, religion and government resulting in social regression. The early pioneers found themselves in a more primitive social situation where rule of law was replaced by retributive payback and moral relativism replaced trusting reciprocity between neighbors. By the time religion finally caught up to the westward expansion the unlettered populace responded to a revivalist approach that undermined education in favor of pure passionate religious response.

What makes all this so fascinating to me is the fact anti-education, anti-intellectual sensibilities have not only not dissipated but, judging by current political occurrences gained strength, at least in some quarters. I wish I knew what it would take to get more people to think things through a little better. I don’t think one has to be an intellectual to do that.

root people 3

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s