A while ago, I did something a little weird (ok, a lot weird and annoying, lol). I got on this post on TNC about fellatio and pretty much spoiled the fun for everyone. Did I know what I was doing? Yeah. I often find it hard to deal with how adults find it hard to appreciate that other adults can do certain things deliberately and that therefore they should be wiser in their interrogation of their behaviors. Many of the people who commented on my behavior on that post spoke like they couldn’t conceive of the idea that I did what I did deliberately, that is, in full recognition of the impact of my comments on the enjoyment of other readers and on my own public perception.
Now, that’s not really as surprising to me as you might think. I understand selfishness. It prevents people from seeing things and other people as other than extensions of themselves and their will. Many people take issue with me because I spoil the fun for them, not because I really do anything wrong (nor is spoiling the fun necessarily anything wrong although I think that it can be wrong sometimes). And I have done the same several enough times in my own life to other people. As I have said a few times, I have lived this reality of being called the buzzkill for a long time. It’s not new to me even if I still find it rather painful and unfortunate. So, I’ve known for a while now that many times people respond to me in the manner I experienced on that post – and have experienced on other posts too – it is really because in their minds, they are the center of all existence and their convenience and comfort is the most important reality for all things and all people with whom they interact. Only in so far as they can’t impose their will on some external force will they allow any violation of that convenience and comfort – and many times, not even then.
But what does this mean for this world, for life, for relationship, for community, for society?
How does the world grow? How do human communities develop? How do we approach perfection and a state of existence where everything is good and there is no harm and nothing that causes any kind of damage in the world?
Before you engage any cynicism you may have, consider that it is impossible to endure the demands and rigors of life if you didn’t believe in the ideal of a perfect day when there will be no hurt or harm. This is because the whole point of trying to get something better than what you had a moment ago is because you are, consciously or not, approximating to that perfection you might claim does not exist or cannot exist. When we humans create new technology and propose new philosophies or design new models of life in one form or another, it is always in our quest for evolution into a perfect state of existence. Without that pursuit, we would not even bother with clothes and caves. We would be mindless beasts for whom living or dying is all the same thing.
Thought then is how we grow and make the world better. The quality of our thoughts determines the quality of the life we make with our decisions. This is the proposition of intellectualism. It is also a deep inlay of the foundation of Christianity. Jesus Christ said that a man is what he thinks in his heart. Paul says that humans need to be changed in the way they think in order to do different things than they did. Christianity lays great emphasis on intellectual redemption and development. But, even if you cared nothing for Christianity, it is extremely difficult, in fact, I dare say that it is impossible for anyone to do anything independent of their specific thought patterns. You simply cannot separate the quality of your life from the quality of the decisions you make and that latter is determined by the way you choose to think about life.
But then, thought is not something totally individual. Contrary to the philosophy of Individualism which I think was popularized by the West (The United States of America, specifically), the human race functions very much like a hive mind. We humans do not individually survive well cut off from society. Social isolation tends to affect human individuals in very unpleasant ways right up to impairing immune functions in us. Perhaps there are exceptions but the vast majority of humans need community to survive, to say nothing of thriving. And our interactions are all decision-based. That means that society is essentially a constant intellectual transaction between all participating individuals. Our ideas and moral values are then in constant negotiation. The goal is, as I already said, a perfect state of existence.
This means that at all times, people’s conversations or interactions bring their values and moral judgments to the fore. People with like values will find it easier to cohere while those with disparate values are likely to disagree, sometimes violently too.
But it is much easier to find disagreement than agreement because every human being is a complex quantity. Subscription to a particular philosophy usually happens with heavy editing for each individual. In other words, two people claiming to hold the same beliefs soon find that they disagree on some of those beliefs.
How do we deal with these disagreements and disparities? By discussion and debate. Communities and societies survive because of the possibility of debate and compromise. People table their preferences and then, ideally, debate which is the most reasonable and then hold that one up as the ideal to which everyone is obliged to conform. But that ideal is not always the case. The debates are not always seeking to be reasonable. For a number of people, they are just contests of popularity. So, if logic and reason are not allies to a position, humans tend to employ coercion, force, threats, subterfuge and emotional manipulation to win their position.
The result of this is often retrogression in the human pursuit of utopia. This is why in the long term, it’s not popular with people. After suffering the effects of anti-intellectualism, people tend to get impatient with emotional appeals and less concerned about threats. But, very often, by that time, the damage is done.
Anti-intellectualism is the rejection of the intellect. It happens when people would rather not be prevailed upon to think about things. There is the “you’re over-thinking it” accusation; there is the “you’re too serious (or intense)” accusation as well; there is the “you’re no fun” accusation too when someone demands intellectual scrutiny of something people would rather take for granted because, as they claim, it’s just innocent fun.
But, is it really true that anything can be just innocent fun, completely unanswerable to logic and reason? Take some time and think about it. Is there any stone so small that when it is dropped into the ocean of human life and time, it makes no ripple?
There are many many fora on and off the Internet where human beings negotiate their values and morals. In my experience, the greatest value and, in fact, the most central and necessary to the survival or usefulness of such fora is the possibility of no-holds-barred debate. If people cannot be allowed to think and challenge and hold to a code that they must permit themselves to be intellectually challenged as well, the quality of ideas that they produce will decline and so will our life as a race as well. The truth of this is evidenced many times over in the vast number of poor economies in existence in our world today, not least in our own Nigeria where any display of intelligence and actual concern for life and corporate existence – whether deliberate or not – tends to be considered rude.
Life changes as our thoughts change. I think that it is immediately evident then that we should be very much invested in driving intellectual development and concern for even the smallest things in life. Increased responsibility and investment in life this way will mean better inventions and greater discoveries and more effective policies and plans as well as much much better personal decisions.
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