Recently I was drawn into the consideration of intellectuals by reading Eric Hoffer's The Ordeal of Change. I thought parts were dated (it was written almost 60 years ago), but many of his insights interest me. And then, over the past few days, I realized what was happening with intellectuals in our time.
What we have in the West is a plague of superfluous intellectuals: college graduates who've been trained to be the overseers and thought leaders of the world and who are finding no place for their skills. They are desperate to enlighten the world but have found all the jobs taken.
And so, predictably, many of them are working doubly hard to get attention in any way possible… and that means pushing the edge of their current beliefs that much farther.
These people, an army of them, are running amok, causing all sorts of mayhem.
How This Happened
Consider a child born in 1995. He or she was led to believe – nay, bludgeoned into believing – that their life path would go from homework to college to a pampered white-collar existence. They were further led to believe that anything less than a bachelor's degree would leave them with a second-rate life, a second-rate spouse, and a second-rate family. This belief was thrust at them literally thousands of times, from kindergarten through high school.
And so, this young person made his and her way through the compulsories. They really believed that they were enlightened by the process and that they deserve the aforesaid pampered existence. Bear in mind that their professors believed themselves to be a real-life illuminati: a class of illuminators. And so, by getting the approval of the professors – and especially so for the masses of young people certified in political and social "sciences" each year – they understandably believe themselves to be enlightened.
This may seem crazy to those of us who are 50 and 60 years old but not to the kid born in 1995 who's been given a script and followed it. He or she was certified as a thought leader by an utterly self-confident illuminator class. Some of them will actually say, "I want to enlighten you." And like their professors, they look at working people as ignorants who don't even know how blind they are.
This is how we came to be confronted with all manner of quasi-insane ideas from people bent on enlightening us. Consider the war against free speech on college campuses: You can speak only if you say what superfluous intellectuals want you to say. If not, it's hate speech and they will shut you up… forcibly if possible. Consider the need for safe spaces and comfort pets and a dozen other insults to adulthood. All of these come from superfluous intellectuals who are grasping for whatever attention they can get… anything that will make a splash and get someone – anyone – to acknowledge their importance.
How Intellectuals Succeed
Superfluous intellectuals, needing desperately to do something that matters, have taken the obvious course of pushing into new territory. The old territory has been covered by older intellectuals who have no inclination to give up their positions.
By far the most effective way for intellectuals to succeed in the West has been to criticize all things Western and traditional. (We explained why this works in a previous article.) Success comes by telling Westerners they are vile, cruel, and hateful. Think of the successful public intellectuals of past generations: the Gloria Steinems, Jesse Jacksons, and Al Gores. They all tell the people of the West that they are bad: They don't care enough, they're filled with hate, they've trampled others under foot, and so on.
And so, the superfluous intellectual does the same, only more so, by pushing their complaints into new territory. This is how we get hundreds of voices claiming that skin color (in this case light skin, or "whiteness") identifies one as a monster… a born abuser. Blindly desperate for validation, they fail to recognize racist filth as it comes from their own mouths and pens.
How Far Is Down?
It's important to understand that intellectualism-gone-bad can descend very far. After all, there are no real barriers to thought. An electrician who goes too far shorts out a circuit. A plumber who goes too far has a building full of leaks. Intellectuals who go too far give us the Soviet Union.
Consider also that the ultimate victory for an unhinged intellectual is to get people to accept and defend that which instinctively repels them. In my neck of the woods, I see this in park districts spending serious money to make people love bats. You can probably insert your own example.
So, if we reward the superfluous intellectuals or even just say nothing, things could descend quite a long way.
But more than blaming the young people pushing things over the edge, we need to blame the structure that produced this: the compulsory educational system that conditioned them to expect something that could never be. We have no use for armies of idea-sellers. Rather, we need producers, and the more the better.
Illumination, furthermore, does not come from a few years at the feet of arrogant academics. Illumination comes the hard way: by endless reading; by trials, failures, and successes; by tragedy and triumph; and by long experience. And even then, it's never more than partial.
At this stage of human development, humility becomes us… and arrogance can be fatal.
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