Do We Really Need Intellectuals?

In my last post, the anniversary post,  I pointed out that I am probably not on my way to being hailed as a great leader of any political ideology.  That doesn’t mean that I am not possessed of some measure of intellectual qualities that have, to some degree, been honed beyond the average.  But the question remains whether or not I, or, for that matter, most intellectuals are really relevant.

What has become the yardstick for any intellectual to be worth his or her salt is whether or not one is published.  “Written any good books lately?”   I dare say that, if one were to take everything I have written and codify it into a table of contents–a tweak here and there–I would have a rather large tome to lay upon the world.   But the question would still beg the asking as to whether what I had produced would have anything to add to the world’s knowledge, or whether I had said my piece in some way that made the truth relevant to a new person.

I have links to many sites on my blog page.  I don’t think that it’s too far-fetched to imagine that one could go to several, or perhaps just one, of these other sites and find all the same information that I have previously disseminated.  I am also sure that most of what is spewed by pundits and experts in all the hot new books is nothing more than perhaps a new twist on some ancient, time-tested philosophy.  And I also know that much of the drivel that passes for the new and wonderful is really just the old and already debunked.

The question must be asked, then, as to why so many people buy so many best-selling books on everything from finances to food and yet are so utterly confused as to what makes for a simple, prosperous and peaceful life.  Why is it that so many people keep pinning all their hopes on a political system whose operatives are no more informed than the masses?  Perhaps it is the candy store syndrome.   All those tempting ideas out there just waiting to be sampled for the paltry price of $39.95.

I often have to ask myself, when doing research, if I’m going to get more out of a 1000 page book than I would out of a concise and well-written pamphlet with large print.  When in college, I made the mistake of buying The Complete Works of Shakespeare for study in my course on the bard.   While it was good, in the one sense, to have it all in one place at my fingertips, it was also easy to grow weary of being on the same page for so long and trying to concentrate on the small printing.  When I once got the one play bill on little pages with large print, I was amazed at how much easier it was to make headway.  Turned out to be the only week I managed an “A” in an otherwise dismal performance.

Yes, sometimes it takes a mighty big book to do justice to a subject, such as the fall of the Roman Empire.  But often times a big book is merely to impress one’s colleagues and exact higher royalties.  As I have said before, one bucket of bull byproduct smells the same as 100.  It’s just easier to get through it.  We intellectuals do like to revel in our ability to spin rhetorical gold from straw, however.

If you follow my blogs, you understand that I both admire and revile Abraham Lincoln.  One of the things I admire about him is that he understood how to be concise.  At the Gettysburg Memorial, Lincoln was preceded by the honorable Edward Everett who proceeded to present the address for the occasion for the better part of two hours.  (Lawyers like to talk long so that no one wants to listen or can understand what they said.  It’s much easier to vote in laws to pad their own pockets when no one is listening.  Consider that most of our legislators down through history have been lawyers and you begin to understand why they have all the power and we, the people, have none.)   Lincoln’s dedication of just two minutes was so well received that it has been come down to us as the address to remember.  Point is that he could craft his words well and with much economy.  Would that so many of our intellectuals today could follow his lead.

The following article from the Mises Institute serves to tell the tale of the misquoting of  F.A. Hayek, one of the founders of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics.

Peter Boettke, celebrated Mises disciple, believed that Hayek was of the opinion that only intellectuals could be trusted to disseminate to the masses the most important economic and political philosophies.  In fact, as the article drives home, Hayek had the opposite view that intellectuals were an unnecessary filter that would stifle the  free flow of thought and also seek to gain a profit from truths that they themselves were merely passing on.  Hayek even went so far as the suggest that copyright laws are immoral, because most ideas under copyright are really the work of another that has been craftily bottled in some way as to make it the property of someone who did not build it.  (As a song-writer, I understand that this happens all the time in music.  A few changes here and there, and a new copyrighted “arrangement” comes on the scene.   To be fair, several of these are honestly good original improvements or adaptations of the source.  But many others are thinly-veiled attempts to take credit and royalties away from those who deserve them.  There are many other types of fraud perpetuated in the music industry, but that’s beyond our scope today.)

It’s got to be the case that every truth is now on the internet somewhere.  Unfortunately, it’s buried under mountains of lies and speculation (and even quite a few statistics).  It is a natural inclination to want to be led, to look for a champion who will deliver the truths on a silver platter.  But there is a danger in trusting your knowledge of truth to another.  Everyone agrees that cult leaders can lead the flock down deceptive and dangerous paths.  What holds true in religion holds true in all other intellectual pursuits as well.  The best way to know the whole truth is to mine it from the source. Middlemen are often over-rated.



Filed under Economics/ Book Reviews

2 responses to “Do We Really Need Intellectuals?

  1. I suppose that the question will arise as to what all the intellectuals should do for a living if they are not allowed to make windfalls on their witticisms. Well, we already know that most wind bags are tenured in some overpriced university. So, half of them will still be able to live comfortably blowing hard. And the other half should maybe be employed by some manufacturer that actually produces something. See the related article from yesterday’s blog. It’s not just the philosophers who make millions for doing nothing.

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