Saturday, November 24, 2007

Intellectual or Charlatan?

What makes a person an intellectual?

To us plebs it’s one of those words that you’re sure you know exactly what it means but ultimately, when asked to explain, don’t. I asked a few friends in my local pub what they thought it meant. The responses varied from ‘clever and different’ to ‘clever and trying to get a message across.’ All had romantic connotations with the term and conjured up images of Soviet dissidents and other opinion formers that brought about change to society. To my friends the term implies ‘somebody clever that tries to bring about change for the good.’ They also defined it as someone with a superior intellect. When asked to explain how this intellect is measured they were all at loss for an answer.

According to Wikipedia, which I will quote generously, “an intellectual is one who tries to use his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate, or ask and answer questions about a wide variety of different ideas.”

This definition seemed a bit too all-inclusive so I delved further.

The expression “man of letters”, has been used in many cultures to describe contemporary intellectuals. The term implied a distinction between those "who knew their letters" and those who did not. The distinction thus had great weight when literacy was not widespread.’

So with literacy now widespread and the ability to express oneself with the written word thus of not such a great distinction, the question remains: How can we conclude someone is an intellectual?

Clearly the ability to string ambiguous and important sounding sentences together does not automatically qualify one as an intellectual. Not anymore. I would venture that the opposite is true because anyone with some form of intellect will take into consideration the level on which people communicate and thus adapt the style of writing to be understood by all. Charlatans use indistinct terminology to masquerade as something they are not; using words as the magician uses props. Safe in the knowledge that most who do not really understand will subconsciously categorize it as something too clever for them and consequently something they will not voice their opinion about because it can, and will, expose their ignorance.

I guess what I’m saying is that the ability to bullshit does not automatically equate to intellect. It just makes for more entertainment when the bullshitter happens to be intelligent as well.

Nowhere does any definition describe the term intellectual as someone who ridicules those who are not considered intellectuals or those that disagree with them. Yet this seems to be something that’s often a prominent feature amongst the self-appointed intellectuals.

This brings me to Ronald Suresh Roberts.

Is he an intellectual, charlatan or both?

When will he move on to become the self-appointed ‘power behind the throne’ in yet another third world country and where will this be?

Will he go down in history as an intellectual that my grandchildren will learn about at school?

I shudder at the thought.

In many definitions, intellectuals are perceived as impervious to propaganda, indoctrination, and self-deception.”

That Ronnie is not.

I will rather go with the Dutch definition of an intellectual as someone who has ‘unrealistic visions of the world,’ or the Hungarian one as being ‘too clever’ or an ‘egg-head.’

It just seems more applicable in this case.

Monday, November 19, 2007

SAD Can Kill You

I need to explain why I have been so quiet of late

I’ve been living in the Northern hemisphere for more than five years now. Winters with snow were a novelty for a Boertjie from the Southern tip of Africa. So what if it gets minus 25 degrees Celsius? You can dress up warm and don’t have to be out in the elements for more than a few minutes at a time. That however, wears off and after four winters one begins to swear along with the rest the moment it starts getting colder.

Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world. A lot of people scoff at this and blame it on Swedish efficiency i.e. Sweden was the first country in the world that kept statistics of suicides. The rest of the world is only starting to wake up now and their records thus not as up to date as the Swedes.

Another reason put forward for the high suicide figures is SAD. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) A terrible depression brought on by the lack of daylight. Over and above the feeling of utter worthlessness one struggles to get out of bed and have absolutely no energy. Typing one line on a computer seems to be just too much effort and thus do not materialize.

Fortunately the treatment for this disorder is simple and fast. Light therapy is effective in 85% of diagnosed cases within four days. What it entails is one to two hours exposure per day to a light source with at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting. One sits about three feet away from the box housing these lights and can carry on with tasks like reading or writing. Staring directly into the light is not necessary but also not harmful to the eyes.

Unfortunately the diagnoses for this disorder are not so straight-forward. Primarily because the symptoms include misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem and are thus slow to be acknowledged by the afflicted. Avoidance of social contact is also very common.

SAD hit me about a week ago and I can vouch for its destructive capabilities.

A few more treatments to light and I will be back to my normal revolting self again.