Featured Post

Abortion is The Evil of our generation

So yesterday I came across a rather  appalling article  that tried to make it sound like states having increased abortion restrictions were ...

Friday, April 5, 2013

The dangers of placing too much value in intellectualism

Have you ever had an opinion you're completely confident in it being correct (and I use the term correct loosely.  It's just to illustrate a belief in "being right") that when anyone presented a counter opinion to it, you immediately scoffed, dismissed, didn't really listen to nor bothered to form counter points of your own in reply?  I'm pretty sure we all have at one point and probably still have a few of those that we keep with us.

And while it's quite plain that doing so is really poor communication practice, how many realize that it's actually wrong to do since it's born out of intellectual pride?  You see, whenever you react in this manner, you're believing that your conclusion is the only valid or correct conclusion to the point where you're above "wasting your time" with someone's "inferior arguments".   It's condescending and arrogant, two symptoms of a prideful person.

As humans born into sin, this kind of intellectual pride is something that comes natural to us.  In our effort to bring ourselves up, we bring others down.   It's our natural inclination to puff ourselves up (aka swell with pride) when we first learn  some piece of knowledge, particularly when we learn it before others have "caught up".  And the above situation is a result of our tendency to puff up.

On a small person to person scale, such as the situation mentioned above, this can be an annoyance, but can also be mitigated by other, less arrogant and perhaps more level headed persons.  The point where it becomes dangerous is when a culture starts placing intellectualism and itellectual prowess above everything else, including God.  Now this is the part where someone might go "ah ha!" and begin to label me as anti-science, backward thinking, religious fanatic, etc. etc.  But hopefully they would, in part due to their supreme intellect, hear me out.

It's good to recognize and value those people of high intellectual caliber. Their potential for contribution is pretty high as they could possibly figure something out that many people could not.  Intellectualism is about the mind, one of a human being's most valuable asset, thus utilizing it to accomplish greater things is obviously a noble pursuit.  It's when we start automatically assuming other qualities about an intellectual, such as they're both smart and wise, while also reducing the relative value of other qualities not immediately associated with intellectualism, such as common sense, morality, decency, and integrity that we get ourselves into trouble.

For starters, being intellectual does not make one smart.  There are plenty of smart people who are not intellectual just as there's plenty of intellectual people that aren't that smart (despite them thinking themselves such).  Same thing with wisdom.  Increased knowledge and a sharp intellect does not equate to wisdom.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a large number of intellectuals are not wise at all because, given their culturally inflated sense of self worth, they foolishly replace wisdom with their own intellect.  Paul even touches on this in the New Testament when talking about the Roman and Greek philosophers in Romans 1:22:  "Professing themselves to be wise, they were utter fools".   Wisdom is gained through the discernment of experience, not through the extrapolation of intellect.  Thus when not only does an intellectual believe himself to be wise because of his intellect, but also society does as well for the same reasons, we end up placing our faith in someone that may be neither smart nor wise which in and of itself is quite dangerous.  As Obi Wan Kenobi said, "Who's more foolish? The fool or the fool that follows him?"

But, what really makes placing intellectualism on such a high pedestal dangerous is its one-two punch in bringing down other human qualities around it.  Just like it's our human nature to bring ourselves up by bringing others down, the nature of intellectualism is to sneer at other qualities and aspects of life that are "lesser" according to one's intellectual standards.  Things like common sense are considered too subjective and undefinable, so aren't as important, or valuable, as one's intellect.  Morality, decency, and integrity?  Those are all relative so they have no applicable value in a universal setting.   People championing these qualities get the "stupid and backward" label slapped on them by the intellectual (to varying degrees of course).   So, not only are intellectuals believing themselves to be wise and smart, and perhaps just "better", they at the same time label those whose disagreements fall outside the purview of intellectualism, or even worse the intellectual individual's smaller sphere of intellectual focus, as ignorant fools who should be dismissed.  The irony.

So, does our society exalt intellectualism to this level?  The answer is unequivocably yes.   This type of intellectual veneration is so deep and ingrained that it's about as ubiquitously unnoticeable as water is to a fish.  Let's take a quick look at pop culture.   One of my favorite shows is Dr. Who, which chronicles the travels of the titular character "The Doctor" and his various companions through space and time.  It's quirky and interesting, feeding my (usually well fed) inner geek.  The Doctor, at least in his most recent incarnations, has a very modern "no guns, not ever" policy; something that makes me roll my eyes just a little at how overtly political it is, but it's not enough to keep me from watching.  Anyway, instead of guns, he always uses his unmatched wits, and isn't shy about touting his uneclipsed cleverness, to overcome seemingly impossible odds.  He is so effective at this, that whole enemy alien armies fear him and have labeled him the most dangerous and powerful being in the universe (heck he even takes on Satan in one episode) - all because of his massively superior intellect and wits (although having a near indestructable time travelling vessel certainly helps, it's pretty rare that it's used to save the day).   Now, if that's not celebrating the ultimate superiority of intellectualism, I'm not sure what is.  On a more common observation, the opinions coming from a more "intellectual" person are typically seen as "better" than those not so intellectually inclined.  I recall an atheist friend of mine pointing out how on average those that believe in God are on average less intellectual than those that do not.  My response was "so?" which baffled them since by worshipping at the intellectual altar, they were unable to understand how someone less intellectual could be as "good" (or better) than a more intellectual person.

Some of the most glaring examples of this type of hyper valued intellectualism is the attitudes those supporting various progressive causes  have toward any opposition to their cause.  Those that are opposed to changing the definition of marriage are, almost immediately, labeled bigots and haters and pretty much anything that equates to the lowest of the low.  Those that question the methods of climate change advocate research are put into an anti-science, backward thinking bucket.   This valuation is so profound that its grip on politics stifles honest reporting and mature political discussion.  For example, when senior White House Advise Dan Pfeiffer not only scoffs at any reporter that asks questions based on links seen on the Drudge Report, a popular conservative news aggregator, but laments how it 'damages what we're trying to do', you know for a fact that the Obama administration believes their opinions and solutions are beyond reproach from such a site that run by individuals that philosophically disagree with them.   In other words, they're not interested in considering other ideas or that they may be wrong, they know they're right.  And why wouldn't they think so?  As a result of inflating intellectualism's value, they see themselves as wise and most likely the smartest people in the room.

While this behavior is quite common among progressives, it's definitely not limited to them.  Any Christian that fails to consider a non believer's argument against Christianity is also guilty of this.  They, the Christian, already know the answer to the same old and tiring non believer critiques, right?  And any parent that isn't willing to hear their kids out on a contentious point (which is not the same thing as debate), propagates this type of pride that stifles real listening.

If I were to distill this down to a single point, it'd be that it's this replacing God with human intellectualism as the most valued aspect of a person is what's causing many of the problems we're experiencing in this country.    It's an arrogance saying "we don't need God, all we need is our  minds".  Yet, looking at the past few decades, our collective intellect's track record looks pretty terrible.  So if you want to see the danger of putting too much value in intellectualism, just look around you right now.  We're reaping the results of the cultural shift that started to take place 50 years ago...