Tuesday, July 10, 2007

and on that note

DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN INTELLECTUALS AND PSEUDO-INTELLECTUALS by Sydney Harris, Detroit Free Press, (11/20/81)

*The intellectual is looking for the right questions to ask; the pseudo is giving what he claims to be the right answers.

*The intellectual is evidently motivated by a disinterested love of truth; the pseudo is interested in being right, or being thought to be right, whether he is or not.

*The intellectual is willing to admit that what he does not know is far greater than what he knows; the pseudo claims to know as much as can be known about the subject under consideration.

*The intellectual states as good a case for his adversary as can be made out; the pseudo sets up a straw man and beats it to death for the sake of seeming superior.

*The intellectual is deeply and constantly aware of the limitations of human reason; the pseudo makes a deity of reason and tries to force it into realms it cannot penetrate.

*The intellectual seeks light from whatever source, realizing that ideas are no respecters of persons and turn up in the most unexpected places from the most improbable people; the pseudo accepts ideas, when he does, only from experts and specialists and certified authorities.

*The intellectual advances an hypothesis that he hopes may be true; the pseudo propounds a dogma that he insists is true.

*The intellectual recognizes that opposites are not always contradictory, and may indeed reinforce each other; the pseudo paints a picture in black and white, right or wrong, leaving no room for a contrary viewpoint.

*The intellectual knows there are no final answers to human questions; the pseudo makes each tentative and provisional answer sound like a finality.

*The intellectual is courageous in opposing majority opinion, even when it jeopardizes his position; the pseudo slavishly follows "the most reliable authorities" in his field sneering at heresies.

*The intellectual never talks down to his audience, but tries to be as clear as possible; the pseudo talks above his audience to mystify and impress them.

7 comments:

STS said...

No clearer explanation need be offered for the near-complete absence of intellectuals in American political culture. None of these traits comport well with the dogmatic tenor of contemporary America.

zeropoint said...

This Sidney dude is verbally enthroning "intellectuals" as creatures with the buddhic type qualities of divine discrimination.

If this were true, then intellectuals would never be known, since divine discrimination diaallows definition. That is; a REAL intellectual's drive-to-divulge would conclude immediately upon his first attempt vocalizing a conclusion.

Mr. Harris takes great pains to paint a portrait of the perfect intellectual while simultaneously confessing his involved ignorance of such in this statement:

"The intellectual recognizes that opposites are not always contradictory, and may indeed reinforce each other; the pseudo paints a picture in black and white, right or wrong, leaving no room for a contrary viewpoint."

Had he honestly understood this statement, he would not have consumed the calories necessary to put paper to pen to promote his understanding of the difference between an intellectual and a pseudo-intellectual.

And here is the contrary viewpoint for which he leaves no room:

Intellectuals and Pseudo-Intellectuals are not opposites since the absolute intellectual would very much appear to be a absolute pseudo-intellectual because he would have reached the point of Infinite Knowledge.

Infinite Knowledge = No More Questions

We are all somewhere in-between the Two-cum-One.

This treatise was nothing more than an ignorant attempt to apply a godlike quality to the word "intellectual" and to apply a devil-like quality to the non-word "pseudo-intellectual."

Will we ever let religion go?

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Ruby said...

To me, a true intellectual endeavors to these qualities. I don't see that the author is saying intellectuals and pseudos are complete opposites at all. Indeed, to glean that perception, one would have to ignore the quote: "The intellectual is deeply and constantly aware of the limitations of human reason;" Why be dogmatic when your system is inconsistent by definition? (Godel)

Sydney's definition of a true intellectual is a good working definition, and pragmatic. How would one get to be a true intellectual? You could start with this list right here! The ability to communicate and debate in a positive way without letting the ego take control. A true intellectual is an asymptote that we who desire to, aspire to.

I myself want to be an intellectual! Sometimes I am. I've had to learn to admit when I'm wrong (sadly, it didn't come naturally...). I learned that when I'm wrong, or don't understand something, it's liberating to admit it, and it feels great, whereas if you stick to your guns, dogma-like, it is completely suffocating. (Marshall McLuhan wrote that "diehards, die hard".)

I know I'm getting all McLuhany here, I guess he represents a true intellectual to me, but he also stated that "we have all the answers, what we need now are the right questions".

I'll ask my students what they think of this!

zeropoint said...

Therefore, someone who hopes to someday be an intellectual can be called a "pre-intellectual".

And it seems, using Sidney Harris' eleven commandments, that a pre-intelllectual is still in danger of falling into psuedo-intellectualism if she swerves off the path.

But if one is diligent and rightfully attains the verbal designation of "intellectual", does the hope to be an intellectual then transform into hope to be a "post-intellectual"?

Or does the intellectual then enlist herself in a lifelong labor searching for answers which, Harris' proclaims, can never be known?

And if this endless search is chosen will contentment come from the search, or will contentment come from identifying oneself as an "intellectual"?

Or is contentment irrelevant?

If contentment is irrelevant, then why not cut across the infield and become a psuedo-intellectual?

Or better yet, one can call oneself a "post-intellectual" and do whatever one wants to do with the rest of one's life.

"I used to be an 'intellectual' but now I am a Renaissance person."

"Look here. Watch how fast I can dig this drainage ditch."


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Dude said...

Ruby,

Methinks "zeropoint" is a Dadaist, and most appropriately self-named.

Ruby said...

I actually like that moniker- "pre-intellectual" - it fits! Hey, I could also say that in living my life, I'm "pre-dead"!

Seriously, I say post-intellectual is a worthy goal. (though goals are for intellectuals). Look at the greatest of the greats in history, they were beyond left-brain, anaylitically logical, step by stop. They had .... they had......hmmm.... can I say Zen?

The greatest thinkers have both a sense of logical causality the way an "intellectual" as we know one does. But, a post-intellectual, I would define as someone who is beyond the limititations of logic, and has a capacity for a simple, clear, instantaneous vision that can superscede a mere plodding critical analysis. Let's say that the post-intellectual doesn't go through increments, but jumps, Leaps, out into understanding at the speed of light.

It's like developing nations today, leaping over industrial era, right into wireless technology. Boom, their 20 steps ahead of the west, mired as we are in Bonanzaland.

I don't know if the contentment is irrelevant or not, but I learned from a real Wise Guy that it's the journey, not the destination. Destinations are for intellectuals, journeys are for pre-/post-intellectuals!

Personally, I woulndn't be a pseudo-intellectual beacause I'm cursed with integrity. Then again, as those real crazy dadaists, the Tantric Buddhist Monks say, "to the pure, all things are pure".

PS. I printed this list of criteria out and am gonna give it to my students tomorrow. Hmm, community college algebra students, who knows? Might spark some brain cells............

zeropoint said...

Zeropoint can't be a Dadaist for the simple fact that he has never had any children.

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