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Toward an Intellectual-Friendly World

I don’t think it’s fair to say that Americans hate smart people. We just hate certain kinds of smart people. We actually like people who are street smart, clever or who have know-how. We value the kind of intelligence that can be measured in outward success. We like applied research. We like inventors. We like people who can take an idea and make millions of dollars off it. What we don’t like are nerds and know-it-alls. We don’t like pure research. We don’t like intellectuals, those types who devote their lives to the pursuit of knowledge with very little hope of ever making a substantial amount of money. You know the old saw, "When are we ever gonna use this in the real world?" (Asked of simple arithmetic by my generation who saw the advent of cheap pocket calculators.) Or, "If she’s so smart, how come she’s not rich?" We like smart people if we can see the immediate application or financial success of their work. We hate smart people when they "live in an ivory tower" and think that they are better than us, while all along they earn less money than we do.

Blame it on the old protestant work ethic. If you’re outwardly successful, God must be smiling on you. Capitalism and conspicuous consumption, our modern legacy of the ethic, form the foundation of our society. In this paradigm, the pursuit of knowledge or wisdom is seen as a waste of precious time. The intellectual’s focus on improving his mind also keeps him from making real money. Time and money are two commodities that we take very seriously. Our emphasis on the practical has been extremely adaptive. Our resourcefulness and industriousness have brought us to the level of the world’s only super-power. But we have come to a point in our evolution as a nation, where our know-how has far exceeded our know-why.

We have made advances in science and technology that we can hardly grasp. We keep inventing, discovering, creating, because that’s what we know how to do best. But we are sadly ill prepared for assimilating our technology into our lives. Our fundamental humanity has not changed. We have been very busy, and that is good, but we also need to think and talk about the aim of our activity. Where are our advances taking us? Is that where we want to go? Who do we want to be? In order to answer these questions, we need to be able to think critically, to have a foundation in ethics, logic and metaphysics. These need to be among our areas of expertise, so we can make informed and reasoned decisions about our future. The word "intellectual" has to cease to be an insult.w

Teri Ryan


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