Saturday, February 09, 2008

What is an "intellectual"?

Further to my post yesterday:

In his usual memorable way, the delightful Dr. Spooner once said: "I have in my breast a half-warmed fish". I suspect that the definition I am about to offer is little better than a half-warmed fish but here goes: I think an intellectual is someone who defends popular ideas in a particularly persuasive way -- which is why the label is usually attached only to people who are much in the public eye. There are many scholars and scientists labouring away at making a contribution to knowledge and understanding but it is only when they get into the public eye that they become "intellectuals". And if the ideas they espouse are complex or difficult to follow they will simply not get into the public eye. The ideas concerned have to be readily comprehended by the intelligent layman.

And one reason why most intellectuals seem to be Left-leaning is that Leftist ideas are the ones most in need of defending. Some Leftist ideas -- such as the belief that you can provide more and better accommodation for the poor by instituting government rent-control -- are so obviously mad that not even an intellectual could defend them (except in NYC of course). But other ideas -- such as the desirability of universal government healthcare -- are attractive enough to warrant defending. And if you have been to a government hospital lately, you will very likely feel that only an intellectual could defend that idea. I am sure that Hillary Clinton goes to private hospitals.

So I think I can safely say that I am not an intellectual. I get no mainstream media exposure at all. Since I would much prefer to be regarded as a scientist or a scholar, however, I feel rather pleased about that. Most "intellectuals" seem to me to be very poor scientists and scholars -- Noam Chomsky, for instance.

Posted by John Ray

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