Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thoughts on How Society is divided - II

Continuation from here -

This is to complete this post. I had developed the second part in conjunction but my usual apathy got in between.

The comments on the last post have hit quite a few nails in the head. Alam asks what an intellectual really means. His questions are so well constructed that I’ll have to reproduce it in full.

I will dedicate this post to the problem of defining the individual - something I do not claim to be an expert of.

“Does your definition of intellectualism cover only the ability to deconstruct --> reconstruct (which i would like to restate as developing a stand/understanding based on one’s own standards, experiences biases etc) ….In other words is it primarily a method of comprehending the world ….or….. does it factor in other qualitative parameters like the depth and beauty of understanding, the uniqueness of the stand, the simplicity of solution....etc etc... ?

In your scale of intellectualism -

How important in the quality of stand/understanding?

How important is method of arriving at the stand/understanding?

How important is the diversity of fields in which intellectualism can be shown?

And how important is the ability to meaningfully communicate/action on this stand/understanding?”

The dilemma of any clear-cut definition here is beautifully explained by Kesavan – ‘any understanding of reality is built on overlapping categories and leaking definitions.’

The problem emanates since human phenomena are way more complex than our vocabulary.

Intellectualism starts with first understanding this fundamental premise – the limit of the definitions we have put in the world we see. In that the ability to deconstruct is primarily an ability to dissociate a reality with its vocabulary.

Reconstruction, in my opinion, is able to see things without the dogma of vocabulary. To ascribe an enhanced new vocabulary to a reality, and yet to realise that even this vocabulary has its limits. And there it differs from biases and prejudices which applies one simple rule to all realities it faces. (An hour ago, I was developing an interesting theory on the statistical fallacies of prejudices in a separate thought.)

Intellectualism is depth – for me there is no ambiguity here. A man with half understanding in everything is incapable of appreciating anything. A man with a deep understanding in even a single field knows the value of something and in that appreciation of the value he can understand the values other things might reach. Actually, this depth is more like a negation of mediocrity than an affirmation of intellectualism. If you would remember, I had shown mediocrity less prevalent in the people with least resources since they know the depth of their labour and have first-hand appreciation of all value created by labour. On the other hand, the privileged man who’s never known the depth of anything is mediocre.

About simplicity of solutions, I don’t know. It sounds romantic that the best solutions are the simplest ones; but I doubt it. A solution is a solution which works best. From my days of Chemical Engineering, I craved something simpler to understand than formulae which ran into pages. And yet, if these formulae had not been what they were, we might be having more Chernobyls than we’ve had. Here, I make no claim to distinguishing clearly between complexity and simplicity other than simplicity is easier to grasp. I have seen professors who must have been the worst teachers ever since they could never break the complexities into digestible simplicities for us – but they still were top rated researchers.

Diversity is not a precondition for intellectualism. An intellectual who can hover over the world he inherits can actually dive-bomb anywhere he wants, the only limit being the innate talents he’s born with. This ties with the appreciation of depth that he has from first-hand experience. However, the fields of human endeavours is so so vast that it is presumptuous of anyone, even an intellectual, to stray far beyond what he’s capable of without developing a fresh way of looking at the new things.

Can a housewife be an intellectual? Certainly, if she’s aware of her context, has deconstructed and reconstructed the world she inherited, and then chosen to be a housewife.

One quality of intellectualism I have assumed is doubt. As I said, the intellectual is aware of the limits of human vocabulary. And in that sense he’s also aware of the limits of its experience. An intellectual is not a guy who goes on applying commonsense to everything he sees. Instead if confronted by a phenomenon he has insufficient knowledge and experience of, instead of applying the commonsense he’s developed (which becomes prejudices in this case), he pauses and reconsiders.

Ultimately, intellectualism is about action. The awareness with how we live our life. And how we adhere to the right action which this awareness proposes. And therein lies the problem of the “cynical intellectual”, someone aware of the right action but convinced about the futility of all action.

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