The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Role of the Intellectual

Edward Said,  (h/t Adam Johnson):

Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so, to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralise, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life, it is these considerations, internalised and so to speak in the driver’s seat.

Exactly.  And if you do this, you become a “serious person.” You’re wrong about everything that matters, if when your advice is followed, it causes disaster, but you are well taken care of.


John Edwards


The Three Types of Radicalism


  1. markfromireland

    Exactly. And if you do this, you become a “serious person”. You’re wrong about everything that matters, if your advice is followed it causes disaster, but you are well taken care of.

    A side effect is that you become an intellectual whore, and that you prove comprehensively that any principles you espoused have no value to you other than as a convenient cover for your activities as a shill. The rewards can be material such as a stipend, appointments to various lucrative sinecures in think tanks, or less tangible such kudos or some combination of material and intangibles.

    I admired Edward Said greatly, he had a lot of integrity and no small amount of courage.


  2. Alan

    Here’s another version of the same thought, by John Boyd, US military reformer:

    To be somebody or to do something.

  3. Chuck Mire

    Sure sounds like the results that organized religion causes. Do intellectual people really believe in all of the faith-based hocus pocus that is taught – or do they just do a lot of pretending so they are not isolated from their families and communities – both personally and financially?

    A good book to read – not just skim – is “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

  4. Robert

    As long as one realized Dawkins helped arm intellectually the Randroids and all the other uber social darwinists we in the states are now saddled with…sorry but Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene promotes some rather nasty things whether he meant it to or not.

  5. You can have my copy.

  6. Chuck Mire

    If Dawkins is too strong for your intellectual tastes, then maybe give this classic essay a go:

    LOVE THY NEIGHBOR: The evolution of in-group morality by John Hartung

  7. CMike

    This is a theme Noam Chomsky returns to again and again. (Funny how seldom I see his name mentioned at the progblogs I frequent.)

    The YouTube clip the following was taken from is gone but here are some of the relevant passages [LINK]

    Chomsky continues here [LINK].

    (For the over 45 and over crowd- in the matter of Kinsley, once the most effective voice of anyone appearing regularly television as a representative of the liberal/progressive intelligentsia, here he is well past his sell date in 2004 [LINK]. {This CSPAN clip is slow to load but it’ll play smoothly once it gets there, or the second time through anyway.})

    And just to round out Chomsky’s global perspective on this topic [LINK].

  8. someofparts

    Here’s a film treatment of the topic –

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén