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Okay, here’s the thing.


Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never

To get sarcastic on this blog.

When I said Ward Churchill didn’t have the credentials, I was being sarcastic. 

And I’m beginning to think I’m really bad at this, because I never seem to be able to get out from under when I do it.

Ward Churchill does not have the credentials to be an academic.  No major university–and he teaches in one–hires full time faculty with less than a doctorate, and really doesn’t promote them to full professor without one.  Churchill not only does not have a doctorate, but his master’s degree is from a third tier (at best) school in a largely irrelevant field and his publications are…how should we put it?…less than scholarly. 

Churchill is a creature of the grievance departments.  His only claim to expertise in anything was his (false) self-identification as Native American, and that was the only reason he was hired.

Churchill lakes the erudition to be an intellectual, and erudition is essential.

“Intellectual” is not a job.  It’s not something you do.  It’s something you are. 

And it doesn’t matter what Thomas Sowell’s definition of “intellectual” is, either.

I am not criticizing Sowell for his arguments.

I’m criticizing him for using the word “intellectual.”

It doesn’t matter how he’s defining it, because most people will never read the book.  They’ll just see the title.

And since “intellectual” has a standard definition, a lot of them will think–with perfectly good reason–that the title refers to the standard definition.

And that Sowell is therefore bashing ACTUAL intellectuals, rather than the weird little group of intellectuals-and-others that he’s aiming at.

And that fourteen year old kid of mine, the one with the talent and the drive and the  passionate commitment to the life of the mind, will get the impression, yet again,  that anything to the right of Keith Olbermann is antagonistic to everything he loves.

It’s bugging me that I seem to be having a very hard time getting this across. 

And no, don’t tell me I’m doing that thing where I go, “Oh, you’d agree with me if you only UNDERSTOOD!”

I have no idea if anybody would agree with me or not, but when these posts are followed by people saying “but you can’t change Sowell’s definition!” then no, I’m NOT being understood. 

Sowell’s definition of “intellectual” is IRRELEVANT to the argument I’m making.

Okay, it’s rainy, I’ve just gone through a copyedited manuscript where the copyeditor apparently didn’t know things like that there’s a church (the building) and the Church (the total institution), so that she kept lowercasing “church” in all cases and then rewording things because I wasn’t making any sense. 

Among other really interesting things.

I’ve got to go get this thing to UPS before the snow starts.

So let me throw a (rhetorical) bomb, and see what happens.

This is from the book Last Exit To Utopia by the late Jean-Jacques Revel.  He’s describing the French LEFT in politics. but it reminds me of something else a little closer to home.

So here it goes:

<<<<<Populism boils down to simplistic ideas, unwarrented assertions, erroneous or grossly exaggerated facts, ad hominem attacks on opponents, the art of stuffing the heads of a well-trained audience by delusions of conspiracies by “the real rulers of the world”–whether Jews, capitalists, journalists, television producers, the agents of globalization or whoever happens to be the current hobgoblin.”

Like, you know, “intellectuals.”  And “the elites.”

Written by janeh

February 25th, 2010 at 7:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Cranky'

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  1. Maybe the word “intellectuals” has been skunked – misused so often that it either no longer has a single meaning, or has one that isn’t necessarily the ‘life of the mind’, but it soften something closer to “political polemicist”.

    I can see it must be infuriating to realize that so many young people don’t even know that they can spend their lives learning, thinking and debating the really big ideas that underlie our civilization, or which are proposed as replacements for or amendments to these. And it’s even worse if they think they can, but think they have to adhere to a particular political or philosophical orthodoxy to do so. I suspect that last hasn’t always been an unusual problem, though.

    But what to do about it? It’s all very well to identify a problem, but then you need a solution. Or at least, a partial solution.

    And deepest sympathy for your struggles with the copyeditor. I’ve never written a book, but remember my sufferings through the editing and revision of the longest paper I ever wrote – if the person doing it had been that clueless about English, the process would have been intolerable!


    25 Feb 10 at 7:26 am

  2. OK, first lesson: If your primary objection to Sowell’s new book is that the title will discourage kids who don’t read it from examining conservative ideas, don’t begin the tirade with “Sowell is wrong, because by defining ‘intellectual’ differently, I can come to a different conclusion.” Start with “Sowell’s title damages his cause and mine.” For that matter, don’t wait three or four days to say that whether he’s right or wrong is immaterial to you.
    (“What IS the title of Sowell’s new book, anyway?” he asks.)

    Second lesson: It’s ALWAYS a bad idea to be sarcastic about a subject when you’re normally fanatical. That confuses readers. And you’re very defensive normally about the upper half of the First Tier and their degrees.

    As for defining intellectuals not by what they do but by what they are, didn’t we start with a definition of an intellectual–a Jane definition, not a Sowell one–as someone working with certain ideas? That sounds more like an activity than a condition. I don’t like “definitions” which say, in effect “we know who we are,” though they can be very handy when the time comes to discard embarassments.

    Which is, of course, the primary reason I dislike them.


    25 Feb 10 at 5:18 pm

  3. “And that fourteen year old kid of mine, the one with the talent and the drive and the passionate commitment to the life of the mind, will get the impression, yet again, that anything to the right of Keith Olbermann is antagonistic to everything he loves.

    It’s bugging me that I seem to be having a very hard time getting this across. ”

    Sheesh! I’ve blown away two attempts to answer this point in detail.

    To heck with the detail; let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

    Your sons and, I suspect, most other kids with the ability to achieve a life of the mind will either come from privileged backgrounds with sufficient family intellectualism and relative wealth, or simply be so brilliant, like Sowell, to make it despite the real and perceived obstacles to be faced by most adequately talented people. But the reality for the rest is relative poverty, the need to work to survive all levels of their education, and to compete for limited opportunities in academia against more privileged people while
    still trying to live a semblance of a normal life among family and friends who most likely share neither their talents nor their

    Given all the real obstacles in the paths of the average life of the mind aspirants, the sort of concerns you express above about the discouragement perceived in the criticisms of “intellectuals” –
    however defined, whether such criticism is informed, like Sowell’s, or ignorant, like mine, simply pale into insignificance.

    Neither your son nor anyone else with the talent and ambition will take the slightest notice.


    26 Feb 10 at 2:47 am

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