The Intelligentsia

There is little I dislike and despise more than the intelligentsia–people who consider themselves the intellectual elite of whatever society they’re currently occupying.

Rather than disagree with a statement, they disparage the speaker. Rather than countering an opinion, they trivialize it. And to ensure that all recognize their elevated position they wield the putdown with masterful skill.

Want an example? One of the best, or should I say worst I’ve seen recently was the following:

The problem, essentially, is that Dave came into this debate late, and he’s not up to speed. He’s a smart guy, God knows, and as entitled to an opinion as anyone, but a lot of people have been wrestling with these things in somewhat more depth. Vague, general statements about playgrounds and bullies are merely inapt analogies, not arguments.

While I may agree with Glenn Reynolds–the owner of this statement–that Dave should not have resorted to name calling, such a coldly deliberate and condescending putdown could only have been designed to permanently undermine any opinion that Dave might have on this issue. In ivy-covered school terms since Glenn is a Yalie, Bad Form.

Dave’s use of name-calling may have been inappropriate, but surely Dave at least deserves respect as a participant in a debate about an issue that impacts him.

Of course, this begs the question: do we have to respect one another? The intelligentsia would answer with a resounding “No!” However, I have found that the respect we give to those who disagree with us is largely proportional to the confidence we feel in our own arguments, and our ability to argue. And this translates into the language we use. For instance, saying “I can’t reason with you on this issue”, is an honest expression of frustration and implies no underlying disdain of the opponent; saying, “you’re incapable of reason” is a putdown, pure and simple.

Contrary to first impression, the intelligentsia has nothing to do with being intelligent or educated or well-read. For instance, Loren from In a Dark Time is all three, and freely shares his love of poetry and books and other forms of writing in his weblog. Loren has the potential to be intimidating, yet when I leave his weblog I don’t leave feeling less than what I am because I’m not as well read or as educated as Loren.

The reason why I am not intimidated by Loren’s writing is that he has an ability to share greater knowledge without condescending to the reader. This ability not only takes writing skill, but also an empathy with the reader, something Loren has, but the intelligentsia can never have.

Empathy. Empathy is the true delimiter between the intelligent and the intelligentsia. If we’re empathetic with others, it becomes extremely difficult to disdain, to trivialize, to putdown.

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