Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A friend suggest that I read Intellectuals by Paul Johnson. It is an entertaining look at the lives of those who considered it their duty as intellectuals to transforms the lives of society and others.

The work probably should have been called "Intellectual Bullies." Rather than a treatise on ideas, it is more a recounting of how alpha males simply use their cunning to manipulate others. I disagreed strongly with Paul Johnson's conclusion that there is nothing worse than the tyranny of ideas. Johnson's entertaining list of foibles of intellectuals is more about people using their cunning to manipulate others than about ideas.

The worst part of the book is that Johnson, a conservative, chose only to look at the foibles of of intellectuals on the left. By doing so, he essentially invalidates any real conclusions we can make from the work...as it is possible to point at Johnson and denounce him as partisan.

Regardless, I found the book quite interesting. Since the rise of Kant, the intellectual community has been afflicted with a strange notion that there is a trascendental system of ideals that our betters are in touch with.

I think the common thread in the works of many such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Cantor, Russell, etc.., is that there is a higher ideal that an elite few can perceive. This elite group are the masters of the paradox and are the shifters of paradigms.

Paradigm shifting is not simply a process of ideas, it is a process of politics. The paradigm shifters determine who is in power and who is not. Although paradigm shifters use ideas as a disguise, paradigm shifting is first and foremost a political process.

The failed dot com world littered the business landscape with paradigm shifting wannabes.

Paul Johnson does a great job of questioning the qualifications of intellectuals and super stars who took on the role of intellectual. The debate at the end of the book, however, should not have been about the character of the philosopher king but about the nature of philosophy itself. What role should philosophy play in society?

The underlying premise of many intellectuals (especially after the rise of Kant) has been that philosophy is a pursuit of the ruling class. The philosophy of the philospher king dictates how people should live their lives.

I believe this very premise is wrong. I believe that everyone holds their own individual philosophy. The primary concern is not the philosophy held by the elite, but in the philosophy held by the people.

The goal of my short story Brainwashing (the story of a philosophical janitor) was to show that everyone holds a philosophy. The philosphy helps manage their triumphs and failures. Having worked several jobs as a janitor and having personal experience with janitors, I realized they had very profound views of the world. I also realized that what maintenance workers do is extremely important.

Our goal as a society shouldn't be simply to elevate a few to the role of philosopher king, but to elevate everyone and to encourage more thought about what we are doing as a people. Back to the janitor: In Nickle and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich works a brief stint as a cleaner. I find it very interesting how she begins to apply her knowledge to the task, and realizes that the firm that hired her was doing more to spread germs with bad cleaning technique.

Our goal in education shouldn't be just getting people out of the cleaning industry, but to increase knowledge so those that are in the field do a better job.

Paul Johnson's discoveries are not about the tyranny of ideas, but about the tyranny of intellectuals who try to deny others the legitimacy of their personal thoughts.

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