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HDWW, Addendum

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So, John Oliver says:

>>>Mique has been talking about the history departments in Australian universities.
I tend to agree with him. They have adopted a politically correct party line of
historical interpretation. Am I expected to respect them as “intellectuals” who
work with ideas or should I despise them as people who have destroyed the
concept of a university as a place of free thought and free debate?

And my answer is:


What you should do is recognize that what you don’t like about them has nothing to do with whether or not they’re “intellectuals.”

It’s not their intellectualism you don’t like.

It’s their specific ideas.

So criticize their ideas,or criticize the group they actually belong to, but don’t mislabel them “intellectuals” as if that is what causes them to falsify the history of Australian aborgines or to get on the bandwagon for Pol Pot. 

Some of these people may be intellectuals and some may not, but the category they actually belong to that you don’t like isn’t “intellectuals.”

Written by janeh

February 24th, 2010 at 11:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'HDWW, Addendum'

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  1. The odd thing is, I’m still by and large in agreement here–but the exceptions are worth noting.

    Reiterating an important point: you can argue that Sowell’s definition is biased, pigheaded or even perverse, but given that he has clearly stated a definition, you can only say that he’s wrong in his statement if you can refute it in reference to the class as he defines them.

    The Jane definition–“an intellectual is somebody whose work in with and through ideas, and who brings to that work a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the life of the mind in his civilization (art, music, literature, philosophy, history, et al)”–clearly has a typo somewhere. Perhaps his work IS with and through ideas? But while you could find dictionaries to agree with it, it’s too broad to define a class at one end, and too narrow to admit some people who obviously ought to be included at the other.

    Maybe 10% of my office work “with and through ideas” (or should)if we’re not overly fussy about what sort of ideas. If many of the writers of the Constitution are to be included, how many could have passed the art and music sections of the qualifying exam? Could Toynbee? Could Marx or Freud?
    An intellectual is a type of person, but what sort of type? When we define a profession, we talk about what people do. Being an incompetent plumber, musician or military officer doesn’t mean you aren’t one. And a class is largely a matter of mutual recognition. You can be an embarassment, but still be “one of us.” Ward Churchill got the boot–along with most of the Grievance Studies Department professors, for being inadequately “credentialed” which wasn’t included in the previous definition at all. This would seem to make intellectuals not a profession OR a class, but a licensed element of the profession–like a New York cabbie with a medallion, as opposed to a gypsie cabbie who will still drive people from place to place for money. I would, of course, have to know the minimum school ranking and terminal degree required to make one an intellectual to discuss that seriously. No. On second thought, I couldn’t take it seriously under any circumstances.

    Does anyone else recall the discussion of good company vs the best company in Jane Austen? (I’m thinking in PERSUASION, but I could be wrong.) Better, I think, to say that “an intellectual is someone whose work is with and through ideas” consider what sort of ideas qualify, and say that certain types of knowledge help to do it well. Otherwise, anyone whose ideas we dislike can be thrown into the intellectual outer darkness for inadequate knowledge of French country dances.

    But that comes within inches of yesterday’s rejected definition of an intellectual as someone working–largely teaching or writing–in certain fields.

    A plumber is still a plumber, even if his pipes leak. And a professor of Philosophy is an intellectual, even if his theories won’t hold water.


    24 Feb 10 at 6:05 pm

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