What comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘intellectual’?
Some people gravitate towards it either through some sort of self-identification or goal. It represents security and power in your own knowledge and the knowledge of other intellectuals.
Intellectual is a word that immediately turns some people off. For many, it conjures memories of rather unpleasant experiences with people or ideas. This image of intellectualism for so many people is one of needless and semantic conflict. They are images of petty arguments and mazes of inconsequential musings existing only in the ivory tower of academia or between the more annoying and misguided members of our society.
So intellectualism is a sort of dividing issue in this dichotomy. To me this is particularly interesting given that at its core, intellectualism is a pretty simple concept: use reason to determine truth. Pretty basic, right?
This is important because our reason leads us to ask questions and make sense of things. Often, this can be difficult (and not for everyone) because one question frequently leads to another and eventually we get to asking questions that we could not possibly have a sure answer to. Think about when someone asks you “Why?” over and over and over again. Eventually you come to a point where you don’t know why! And you get mad at the asker for pursuing such a needless train of thought.
But an intellectual would argue that it is not so needless because if you cannot answer any given “why?” along that chain of questions, how do you know the rest of your answers are true? And even in asking that I think many people would revert to saying that “they just know.” That’s apparently good enough of an answer just to escape having to think about it.
But, it is not a good enough answer to determine what is true and what is false. And if you disagreed with someone on something, it would not be an acceptable answer for them to give you. You would think the person ridiculous and closed minded.
Even in paradoxical musings we discover ways in which we might have some wrong thinking. And while it is not for everyone to pursue these questions and musings to their eventuality, is it not complete ignorance to throw them off as worthless?
But then, is it not also ignorant to claim that it is through your reason alone that you have uncovered the secrets of the universe?
Intellectualism has turned into a cult of reason for those looking for security in their own knowledge. It says, “If it cannot be reasoned given objective observation, it cannot be true.” This can be used to support any way of thinking, however. If you wanted to believe that only what is physical is real, then you can reason through that. If you wanted to justify God’s existence without any supernatural revelation, you could. For many, reasoning into a way of thinking provides a security where you have all the answers. Or maybe if you don’t, you know someone who thinks the same way as you who does.
But in the end, all logic is circular. At some point of that chain of “why?”, you must say “just because.” God exists because He does. Or, energy exists because it does. Reason is only one part of discovering truth and to claim it is your reason that holds the key to truth ignores its shortcomings and thereby ignores other methods of learning truth.
If there is one thing I have learned about reason and understanding in my time spent learning and understanding things, it is that perspective rules your mind. Even in a controlled experiment, if we aren’t aware of something that could be affecting the results, then our perspective would limit our ability to understand the truth of what we observed. I have changed my own personal views on exegesis and theology countless times not because God told me to or because what I was looking at changed, but how I saw it changed.
Therefore the true art of intellectualism should be conversation.
In conversation, we can learn the perspective of someone else. We can change our perspective and see things from different angles.
But instead of conversing, we intend to prove how much we know and why we are right. Or we wish to avoid conflict so we avoid conversation. Or we avoid thinking about things altogether to make ourselves feel better about living our lives in ignorance of difficult questions.
But in conversation, we instead pursue an issue from multiple perspectives. Not for the sake of being right, but for finding truth. It is not a conflict, but a journey.
It’s time to stop making intellectualism something other than it is. What we believe is important. Not everyone is made to go on long intellectual journeys, but to disregard those who do or what they find along the way by avoiding conversation is pure ignorance. As is determining to prove your knowledge is correct and everyone else is wrong.
The man who thinks he knows something is a fool. The man who realizes he knows nothing is wise. Those who listen will become wise.