Thursday, December 09, 2010
Discovering the Academic Intellectual
During my 43 year career in the computer industry as an engineer, project manager, chief engineer, and department head, I have been literally surrounded by high-powered intellects, most of whom had advanced degrees. For one project, for example, I had over 90 PhD level people working for me, together with even more masters degreed and bachelor degreed personnel, and their expertise covered the gamut of specialties needed for man-in-space endeavors. When these 90 were combined with the talent from other companies working on the same job, the concentration of mind power was awesome indeed. The problems we tackled and solved became legend in the manned spacecraft industry. Here was a case where both industry and trained intellectual academics worked together effectively to put men in space safely.
At the same time, our very close cooperation with academia exposed us to another type of academic, professional intellectuals that were a very different and curious breed. They were not on the same page as other intellects at all. Their entire focus was on thinking up ideas and publishing them in the hope that their fellow intellectuals would give them their stamp of approval, and that some government agency would provide them research money to continue to think up more ideas in a similar vein. These were not hard core scientists, but rather denizens of the soft worlds of imprecise disciplines such as literature, psychology, social sciences, and political sciences, where seldom any definitive answers take hold.. There was no use of logic or scientific method involved, but simply what their peers thought to be correct or merely interesting views.
At the time, I had no interest in delving deeply into this phenomena, but as I continued to observe them from afar for years, it became apparent that they had a following not only in academia, but also in government, industry, and politics, and were a significant influence on government policies, foreign relations, legislators, and other idea-oriented people that could potentially put their intellectual ideas into practice. In fact, these idea people were at the heart of the progressive movement, heavily populating professorial positions in our universities, and thus influencing the new generations of students with their most often heretical ideas. In their view, for an idea to be taken seriously, it must be fresh and challenging, yet sufficiently obscure, subject to multiple interpretations, and laden with inside jargon that only a handful of “the annointed” could hope to make sense of it.
What struck me most was their lack of controlled experimentation and hard analysis of their ideas, together with a total lack of taking any responsibility whatsoever for results from implementing their ideas in the real world through their “intelligentsia” compatriots in government and industry. In most cases by the time something measurable was available, these intellectuals were already far away from the idea and deep into dreaming up their next idea set. In contrast to scientists and engineers where failure could result in death of many people, failure of an idea didn’t seem to affect intellectuals in any way, either in standing or pay grade, except to ensure their tenure under the umbrellas of “academic freedom” and “publish or perish”. One exception to this was the fate of Ward Churchill of “Little Eichmann’s” fame, but it took a massive campaign to rid the university of his obnoxious presence.
So I began to accumulate my observations over the years as I encountered these intellectuals, because I belatedly realized that they were in fact a dangerous breed to the American way of life, and in many instances were actively anti-American. Noam Chomsky comes to mind as a prototypical intellectual that fits this mold. Characteristic of the type is, of course, great intellectual depth in some discipline or other, such as semantics and linguistics in Chomsky’s case, and a predilection for giving outlandish opinions on any and all subjects that come to their mind whether they are well-founded and qualified on the subject or not. There are many examples of well-known academics that branched out into open commentary on the world as they see it; Albert Einstein is yet another example of a brilliant physicist but muddleheaded Public Intellectual.
As a beginning, I needed to develop a profile of such intellectuals to help me identify them for what they are as I came across them in real life, reading, or on TV or radio. My profile of such intellectuals became a relatively simple list of applicable phrases to describe their mindset and their actions. Not that every intellectual exhibits all of these characteristics, but most of them will have a significant number of the attributes in their makeup. Obviously, the more attributes one of them shows, the more certain the diagnosis will be that we are dealing with such a person.
So, on to the list of attributes and characteristics as I see them:
Attributes of Academic Intellectuals
2. Egotistic and condescending
3. Certainty of their reasoning with or without proof.
4. Brushes off alternatives with contempt
5. Articulate and deviously able to defend their ideas.
6. Frustrated Idealists
8. Will not take responsibility for their ideas or the outcomes of the ideas if used
9. Prefers the safety of the shadows behind the throne and the protection of academia.
10. Are horribly wrong much of the time, especially in the long view.
11. Will not admit their errors.
12. Tend to support collectivist ideas; socialistic, communistic, Marxist.
13. Supports the concept of non-discrimination across all disciplines and areas.
14, Pacifistic to a fault; hates war; and seems to be fundamentally a coward.
15. Atheist or Agnostic in their outlook on religion.
16. Shows contempt for the common man, and desires to remake him in their image.
17. Attempts to convert their students to their point of view
18. Not objective in their presentations
19. Prefer the academic life
20 Strives to influence government, industry, academia, and the military
21. Narrow expertise in some specialty; attempts to trade on that in other domains.
22. Tend to state opinions as facts without any proof.
23. Is facile in inventing ways that events support their point of view.
24. They drive to remake society in their most often Utopian image.
25. Use pseudo-philosophy to support their views
26. Usually Nihilistic and Hedonistic
27. Flaunt rules, conventions, traditions, and laws--all are malleable in their view..
28. Levelers for: equal outcomes; no discrimination; equal societies; redistribution of wealth.
29. Internationalists—one world government
30. Secular Humanists and progressives
32. Supporters of Big Government, authoritarian, even totalitarian in outlook.
33. Use personal attacks against detractors rather than defending their position (calling the opposition racist, homophobic, etc.)
After composing this list, I was somewhat shocked to discover the unusually great correspondence between this list and my previous list of the attributes of Liberals. This leads me to the conclusion that most Public Intellectuals are Liberals. The converse may or may not be true, since one can be a Liberal without the depth of expertise and the recognition in some field that is evident in Public Intellectuals. It is quite possibly true also that the Elites of the Liberal camp are also Academic or Public Intellectuals.