Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wake Up, Eggheads!

Yeah, I'm talking to you, buddy! (Click for source)
In our modern world, there are people who are not too bright; there are people who are pretty smart; there are people who have slightly better than average intelligence and there are geniuses. Imagine this as a sort of Kinsey scale for intellect, instead of sexual orientation. (We'll call it the "Matsey Scale." Well, I will, anyway, because it amuses me so much.) People fall in-between each point on the scale, so not everyone is able to be neatly categorized. But the problem in modern society is that the not-so-bright spend their lives attacking everyone else for not having "common sense;" the pretty smart people tend to fade into workaday, white collar nothingness; the slightly above average intelligences run things and the geniuses climb escape ladders up into ivory towers and look down on the world, shaking their heads at everyone else's behavior but refuse to jump into the fray and help with working things out, when, in fact, they are the best qualified to do so.

I'll leave the "not-so-bright" alone. They actually have a point, though, much to the their own chagrin, that point doesn't quite completely invalidate the right of people with book-learnin' to exist.

The "pretty smart" have come through life getting good grades, never thinking creatively (the highest level in Bloom's taxonomy and the only true path to excellence) and, so, they have built the gray, mirthless walls around them that they don't have the enthusiasm to push down, even though those walls are made of Styrofoam. These people are the zombies of the intellectual world. They eat other people's sandwiches out of the work refrigerator of life the way zombies munch on brains: slowly, sloppily and without any epicurean joy, whatsoever. In fact, they devour their lives that way, too. The only light at the end of their existential tunnels is that they have a good show on the DVR for tonight.

There is little worse than a moderately-educated person who thinks a master's degree in whatever discipline automatically makes him a scholar, though -- who thinks, because he has done undergraduate work in psychology and politics, that he has it all worked out -- that he knows wrong from right and that the line between the two is so clearly defined that he would condemn whole sections of the populace to misery as a result, if necessary. He never considers that he might be wrong, because his intellectual ducks are in an immovable, righteous row. He has considered everything and has drawn concrete conclusions. Like Oedipus, even if he is wrong, still, he must rule. (In fact, he is much like Oedipus in another way -- but this is a family blog!!) He has decided upon a school of thought and he refuses to deviate. He is powerful because he has the right qualifications and because he has studied the effective handshake; he hands you a paper in the office and holds on to it for a second as you try to pull it away to make you uncomfortable enough to consider his dominance, because he has read that this is effective; he has ingested books on business -- with titles about cheese -- and he knows to repeat your name when you tell it to him so that, like a magician, he can impress you later by remembering it. He has educated himself in order to elevate himself into power, and he has done so. Many of these people become "public servants" but only a small portion of them want to serve at all.

Then there are the beloved, cuddly academics -- the awkward geniuses. They are so interested in learning that they forget to apply that learning to the betterment of the humans around them. They teach a few classes to future geniuses and to forlorn kids looking to fill elective requirements. They write papers and books about Willam Blake and classical influences on his mystical illustrations; they go into jungles and dig up wooden spoons from lost civilizations; they study the breeding habits of the Egyptian kudu-rat. And while all of these pursuits are important in the acquisition of human knowledge, these geniuses forget to look up from the computer, the dirt, or the microscope long enough to climb down the ivory tower's ladder and into the streets to share what they have learned -- to help the "not-so-bright", the "pretty-smart" and the "slightly above average" people to understand their world with some depth, with sensitivity and some originality of thought.

So, it's the geniuses I'm calling to action. Tie your shoes, drop your scrolls and develop some social skills, damn you all. I lived among you in graduate school. I saw the intrepid way you would wade into the most complex intellectual skirmishes, yet, how you would crumble in fear if you needed to talk to someone at a party about the weather. I saw you step into side rooms in the corridors to avoid saying, "Hi, howya doing?" to a passing colleague and then mount a stage in a lecture hall with the confidence of Boudica to talk to undergrads about the manifestations of Hegel's monadology in the third episode of the second season of "McHale's Navy".

Wake up, put on your big-person underwear and bring your wisdom, depth and sensitivity to a world that is left on auto pilot and under the direction of half-educated, "ism" following bureaucrats as a result of your self-sequestration. A lifetime dedicated to learning is a total waste if it isn't shared in meaningful ways.

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