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Intellectuals, Graduates, and ummm

This post was initially headed in the direction of parsing a little history around the word intellectual. It just didn’t come together as a single post, and I am not great at separating a long post into constituent parts – so the beginning of my posts on men of letters as they were once called, will begin next week. On the other hand, during the course of my research (actually, I was avoiding the work and watching PJTV’s Bill Whittle), I ran across a video by a guy over at PJTV that gave a graduation commencement address that is unlikely to be heard. You might have heard of this guy; his name is Bill Whittle.

My generation was pampered beyond good sense, we were molly coddled and told a pack of lies – all with good intentions – “yes, you’re a special, unique, creative little soul…” and as a consequence, I wonder if we have failed our own children by placing notions of self-esteem above both common sense and reality. Have we done our children a disservice? Bill Whittle’s recent serving of Afterburner: Graduation Nation, really hits the mark. It’s another installment that is worth the ten minutes it takes to watch it, and it strikes at least tangentially on my topic of intellectuals…

Part of what has motivated me to write a series on intellectuals is in response to current “experts,” both within and without our current administration, speaking ex cathedra on matters us common folk simply wouldn’t understand. Online, print, and video articles seem to have taken up this topic with a certain verve. I’ve also just about finished a couple of books that have seriously sparked my interest and curiosity. The first is Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, and Technicians by Tevi Troy. The second is by an author whom I greatly admire, Thomas Sowell, and his newest book is Intellectuals and Society.

I often find it depressing that many will use “quotable quotes” from books or movies without understanding both the author’s intent and the context of quotation. I have been guilty of this on too many occasions, and I understand the desire. For example, in keeping with the subject on both counts, a common Thomas Jefferson quote used throughout the media from blogs to movies is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This is from a letter written to William Smith while Jefferson was in Paris, dated November 13, 1787. A more complete quote that reveals some of the context is illuminating:

What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. Link to the letter

Changes the tenor of the quote just a little bit, hey? I was honored by my oldest daughter when she called one day and said, “Dad, you’ve got to watch The Rock! You’re the Ed Harris character. Get it. Watch it.” So I got it. I watched it. And was flattered beyond measure – and yet hoped that I was more like the Michael Biehn or Sean Connery character. Now I’m not so sure, and I think my daughter had a better insight into her old man than, well, the old man did. Ed Harris uses Jefferson’s line (only a part) in protest of lying and uncaring government. He and Sean Connery’s characters were thinkers, men of letters, intellectuals. Where have our intellectuals gone wrong? As a teaser for what’s to come, I’ll share something out of Thomas Sowell’s preface to his book:

Distinguished professors, gifted poets, and influential journalists summoned their talents to convince all who would listen that modern tyrants were liberators and that their unconscionable crimes were noble, when seen in the proper perspective. Whoever takes it upon himself to write an honest intellectual history of the twentieth-century Europe will need a strong stomach.

But he will need something more. He will need to overcome his disgust long enough to ponder the roots of this strange and puzzling phenomenon. ~Professor M. Lilla, Columbia University, in his book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics

Certainly the defense of both Mao and Lenin by our last few crops of intellectuals is confusing… considering that together they have killed their millions, in fact, more than all of America’s war casualties on both sides. A strong stomach indeed.

So family, friends, and readers all, remember, though I gave up religion for lent, I still find wonderful verses in the bible – as I still read it. Remember I Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Remember to watch the video! Click a picture or the link at the top of the post.

Tear me up in the comments 😀

Cheers all

  1. Jeff
    June 10th, 2010 at 09:28 | #1

    Tear you up?! I’m actually known at the detention center for telling the kids, “Yes, you are a beautiful and unique snowflake. Just like all the other beautiful and unique snowflakes in here.” There are far too many people believing themselves of value to the world simply by being born. I recently described the state of Virginia as “the only state I know where everyone is the most important person in the world.”

    This mass-narcissism affects the bulk of the United States, I believe, and it’s only getting worse. Just yesterday I did some thinking on the way home along these lines when I heard of a new practice called “mini-marriages.” This is where two people get married but live apart so they don’t have to deal with each other constantly in the hopes that the divorce rate will decrease. Why can’t two people live together in harmony anymore? Because everyone needs to be the winner. Arguments aren’t settled these days, they’re swept under the rug to bubble because saturnian egos colliding would lead to the destruction of one or both.

    I further wondered if this has fed into degrading the belief in romantic love, where two people are able to complete each other – make a single unit. Women are largely taught that the idea of romantic love is degrading, the very suggestion that they’re not a complete entity leaves them as less than human. This argument ignores the fact that the male would be suffering the same thing, putting them once more on an even if different field, but it’s not convenient to an over-reaching feminist cause. It’s further reinforced by ‘cosmopolitan’ males who hold the African standard of polygeny up as the natural state of things (due to a lack of self-control in my opinion). This ‘natural state’ has led to an HIV epidemic. Nature usually favors the path with the best survivability, doesn’t it?

    At the center is the individual who wishes to go beyond the bounds of what it means to be individual. They take the word to mean “me and only me” rather than one entity among many. Instead of “I think, therefore, I am” it’s “I think, therefore, I am better than you.”

    I went to bed wondering if I needed to hurry up and die before I’m crushed under the divine weight of so many demigods walking the earth demanding worship for their uniqueness. Don’t even get me started on urban-diva-culture. I have to admit to a little satisfaction at imagining every overly-manicured razorbeast calling themselves a diva lined up to let Sean Connery discipline them old-school.

    I suppose now that I’ve said that I can never run for political office… and I feel like I’ve just been to therapy. Thanks, Steve.

  2. June 10th, 2010 at 14:53 | #2

    I came here to write a brief note regarding Steven’s post and then got caught up in Jeff’s comment.
    Steven, I agree with your comment about the use of quotes. I, too, have often used the part of the quote that meets my need, which to be honest, probably distorts the meaning beyond recognition. I’m not sure how bad that is, if the quote (as I have limited it) serves the purpose to make the argument or explanation more understandable. If it is just to twist the words and make it look like Anne Frank loves Nazis, then that is bad and should be avoided. Will try to look at Bill Whittle tonight. As always, your post made me think – well written, challenging, fun.
    Now for Jeff’s comment. It made me think of something that happened in California about 20-25 years ago. Here I am going from memory and may not be as accurate as I should be (just don’t have the time today to research it). I think it was the Legislature that wrote a State Law that required the State Department of Education (not that they or the teachers unions objected) to create a new curriculum in all California Schools. It was basically mandating “self esteem training.” Teachers were required (and may still be) to teach children that they were all equal and all good and that basically no one was bad (just caught in bad circumstances) and that we must love ourselves. When I finished barfing, I made the decision to move out of California.
    .-= tom Vail´s last blog ..20 – 40 (issue #20) Your Favorite Issue Goes Here =-.

  3. June 11th, 2010 at 14:03 | #3


    I gotta tell ya Jeff, I sure do miss the JavaSpook! You’ve a gift for taking what many democrats would call a “murky, complex problem” and throwing it into stark and “simple” relief. And you manage to do it with a style that cuts to the quick and yet conjures up a wry smile or two… sometimes even a belly laugh… because really, laughing at the misery is truly better than crying about it.

    So, when are you gonna do a guest column for me?

    Your comments about romantic love and the “over-reaching feminist cause” made me cringe – precisely because I have seen some of its effects. Is there a solution that can be implemented or taught? Should we jump right in and start trying to turn “the groves of academe” into a bastion of diversity… of thought rather than ethnicity or gender?

    You’re welcome for the “therapy” 🙄 and thanks for the razor sharp response! Oh, and about that guest column…?

    Cheers Buddy!

  4. June 11th, 2010 at 14:19 | #4

    @tom Vail

    I got caught up in Jeff’s comment too – he’s actually a hell of an analyst… that can write! I’ve taken quotes and bent them myself – and I really don’t have much of a problem with a little bending as long as I’m not pretending that I’m calling on this or that founder “who agrees with what I’m saying – see? He said virtually the same thing, except better…”

    A good example is the movie “The Rock.” He uses precisely the quote I mentioned, and though the writer bent it, it works because when Ed Harris says the line, not only is he engaged in a little insurrection, it is for the reasons Jefferson alluded to in his letter. A side benefit of course, is that when Sean Connery self-righteously quotes Solzhenitsyn he does it for the wrong reasons – of course, the movie goer might not be familiar with that, which I think the screenwriter counted on…

    So I definitely get your point too – because I’ll likely keep using awesome quotes that sound better than my own words 😎 but I’ll try to keep my intentions and outcomes honorable 😆

    Cheers Friend!

  5. June 12th, 2010 at 11:10 | #5

    Great post!

  6. Jeff
    June 13th, 2010 at 16:04 | #6

    @The Skald
    Guest column? It’s in the mail.

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