Intellectuals Are Freaks

“Intellectuals — a category that includes academics, opinion journalists, and think tank experts — are freaks. ”

I have attended many universities and taught in four (see work background here). I also had a short stint in a political think tank as a researcher. I am not a journalist, of course, but just an opinionated blogger. So, does that make me an “intellectual” — some may say “yes”, but most who know me would laugh and say “no”. I’d certainly rather think that I am not.  Not only do I not have the intelligence to be considered and intellectual but intellectuals have tons of defects that I may have escaped.  Some, though, which I may be subject to.  This article by Michael Lind (from whence I stole the title of this post) make some points which I resonate with. Below I quote a few.  Tell us, do you consider yourself an intellectual? What criticism or suggestions would you have from intellectuals?

  • My point is that people who specialize in the life of ideas tend to be extremely atypical of their societies. They — we — are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of their fellow citizens.
  • Whether they are professors, journalists, or technocratic experts, contemporary intellectuals are unlikely to live and work in the places where they are born. In contrast, the average American lives about 18 miles from his or her mother. Like college education, geographic mobility in the service of personal career ambitions is common only within a highly atypical social and economic elite.
  • In their lifestyles, too, intellectuals tend to be unusually individualistic, by the standards of the larger society.
  • The fact that we members of the intellectual professions are quite atypical of the societies in which we live tends to distort our judgment, when we forget that we belong to a tiny and rather bizarre minority. [I know my judgement is distorted]
  • I was the guest of honor at an Ivy League law school dinner some years ago, when, in response to my question, the academics present — U.S. citizens, except for one — unanimously said they did not consider themselves American patriots, but rather “citizens of the world.” [I too feel this way]
  • The social isolation of intellectuals, I think, is worsened by their concentration in a few big metro areas close to individual and institutional donors like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (where I live) or in equally atypical college towns. [True. But outside of those towns, we stand out as just odd.]
  • it might not hurt if every professor, opinion journalist, and foundation expert, as a condition of career advancement, had to spend a year or two working in a shopping mall, hotel, hospital, or warehouse. Our out-of-touch intelligentsia might learn some lessons that cannot be obtained from books and seminars alone.[Agree, because unlike many intellectuals, I have done these things, and since realized school does not make smart and that the smart folks can be the most stupid folks — self-deluded.]


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Intellectuals Are Freaks

  1. I guess I’m an intellectual, by many standards in the post. I read a compelling book a year or so ago by Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, about anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism in U.S. I suppose people can take intellect too far, but U.S. seems to have swung towards glorification of unreason.

  2. @ SM,
    Yes, the pitfalls of both positions — snobby intellectuals and snobby popularists — are both pretty obvious.

  3. Freaks and dishonest. In fact, the degree of dishonesty among academics is going up faster than that of freakiness.

  4. “Intellectuals — a category that includes academics…”

    I beg to differ. The set of academics is not a subset of the set of intellectuals. Far from being close, in fact. There are academics who are as non-intellectual as can be: they read (and write), for instance, the equivalent of the national enquirer. There are intellectual academics, there are non-academic intellectuals and there are academics who have no clue of the definition of the word intellectual.

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