Saturday, August 08, 2009

Thoughts on how socity is divided - I

A foolish but valiant attempt to state my developing notions about our society graphically.

I see society in two dimensions – resources and intellectualism.

Resources is linked to wealth and income and hence is the economic stratification with the upper, middle class and lower class depicted in the vertical axis roughly according to their distribution.

Intellectualism is tougher to define – it can begin with an innate genius or be the result of sustained application – but it ultimately results in a mind which deconstructs the world it inherits and tries to reconstruct it based on what it sees. It often entails much inner suffering and courage to break the rules of the mob.

Strivers are people who understand and respect intellectualism, somewhat, but realise their limitations and choose to follow the herd and even strive to get ahead.

A mediocre mind is one who does not even realise that there might be doubts and happily follow the herd.

I would dwell on this as this is a very important parameter and most often mistaken. Intellectualism is not about petty academic achievements , wealth and corporate jobs. In fact, almost all the high flying job descriptions – consultancies, investment bankings, CXOs – fall in the striver bracket – since intellectuals are people who cannot function within a structure (since they are essentially deinstitutionalized) and work either alone or in small groups – and chase ideas and not profit. Here, a special note – I included that rare but persistent breed “the cynical intellectuals” among strivers since they choose to behave so.

Intellectualism is the ability to see where we are as individuals and societies in the continuum of history – and the courage act on our ideas of which direction it should take. A striver has limited vision and courage while a mediocre man has neither.

Intellectualism requires, among other things, that the person is not exactly at the threshold of survival (As Camus points our bodily instincts of preservation supersede our mind), that he sees a world where he sees the ideas and rhetoric of his class fail, and that he has the resources of literature art and other intellectuals to give him some direction where he might find his answers.

Hence, the graph shows that the thin slice of intellectual elitism in each income segment increases with income since the survival necessity decreases and the availability of resources increases.

On the other hand, mediocrity also follows the same pattern. The reason being that a mediocre man is more or less impervious to the flaws of the arguments of the society he inherits and instead follows it blindly. To achieve this state of mind, a man has to essentially be without work. To labour is to struggles, and to realise the essential inequalities inherent on the system. Only a man who does not have to labour can be blind to this - though of course there are always room for baffling exceptions.

Hence, the richer you are, the more the probability that you do not have to be in a situation where you realise that the world is not actually fair - that production is no way linked to claims of consumption.

This is not so hard to accept. Imagine our own rich gentry. Some of them are artists and most of them are snobs - since snobbery is the last refuge of the incompetent against the deluge of upwardly-mobile strivers invading the world which fell in their laps but they do not have the ability of defending on the very fundamental principles which made those riches possible. Hence, the story is more or less the usual. A couple of generations strive to build an empire and the succeeding generations either become artists or loll around in cocktail lounges snorting at the accents of a nouveau-rich invading their erstwhile territories -- or the manner in which he holds the stem of the wine glass.

This, more or less, is how I think our society is structured.

In the next post, I will put forward my thesis on their roles.


Alam said...


So the question that comes to my mind is - 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?

and the last interesting question... where do you place yourself in this grid :-)

Nothing Spectacular said...

valiant indeed!

i dont think intellectualism should be on the horizontal axis - it should be effectiveness. where would you put winston churchill (or even barack obama) on this x axis? where do great leaders of men (or great army generals lie)?

similarly, what about the unknown geniuses who did nothing but developed (very comprehensive, no doubt) unique views of the world?

what point intellectualism unless for a purpose?

TradeExpress said...

im fine with intellectualism devoid of purpose. in fact i think that's the very point - you don't start out with a pre assumed purpose, which gives you a greater chance of organizing human knowledge in new ways, opening new vistas of knowledge, offering new perspectives. in fact its the questioning of commonly held "purposes" that defines the intellectual.

i would think that this brand of intellectuals is VERRRRY small in number. a larger number would fall in the category of cynical intellectuals.