In this era of fake news, fake degrees and fake people, fake research, etc. how can anyone claim to be an intellectual? I don’t think any person considers themselves an intellectual, I don’t think anyone should. The meaning of ‘intellectual’ is suspicious if we have to define it we have to be really specific. I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately, the word intellectual keeps cropping up and I question myself.
According to me, a real intellectual is someone who knows when to stop. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t like being told that they don’t get it. So a real intellectual would be someone who knows how to tell them without making them feel like they’ve been outed. Every time I hear politicians speak, I feel like whatever little intellect I have is being spent trying to make sense of what they say. It’s marvellous how some people can speak without hearing themselves.
Even the officials who are in the highest positions in the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), the top investigating agency in India have resorted to a childish blame-game over corruption and impropriety. I will give you another case in point, the Supreme Court recently allowed the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 into one of the most popular temples in India, Sabrimala. This too has become an issue, the conservatives saying that this would desecrate the temple. The argument is hinged on the fact that the women who have been permitted as per the law lie in the age bracket of menstruation.
Clearly, intellect doesn’t prevail as most people would like to believe. I know this will become a great topic for academic discussion, I can visualise the research that this will generate. But that’s the whole point, nothing changes on the ground. That remains the burden of all those who are part of the elite club of intellectuals. I applaud the powerful editorials coming out in the papers as these issues spiral into a crescendo but it pains me to think only a few will read those editorials. I only read them because I was solving the Sudoku puzzle in the morning.
We go to universities being sold the idea that we’ll be agents of change, but I’m sitting behind my laptop writing when I perhaps should be at the temple fighting for my right to enter it. Even the #MeToo movement in India, I have been noticing a thread of jokes being circulated on WhatsApp, mocking the movement and its implication. That’s when I know we’re begging for change in a world that isn’t ready for it.
I know I’m a pseudointellectual, but it pains me that those in positions of power can’t even pretend to be intellectual. Perhaps we can perform slam poetry on these topics to snaps in the audience who resonate with our words, we’ll make videos demanding solidarity, we’ll put up statuses but that’s it. The reality is the darkness of those WhatsApp forwards, the reality is that I will never visit that temple, because I can’t and also because apparently, I am impure.
It’s remarkable that what bothers the conservatives is what is natural, the fact that women menstruate, or the fact that harassment is wrong. We can intellectualise it but at the end of the day, it comes down to this. I don’t mind the psuedointellectualism, I mind the hypocrisy. I mind that we’re fine with things until they happen in our own backyard. I mind that those who are supposed to be investigating crimes take part in them. I mind that those who have power don’t know how to use it.
Society’s flaws keep people like me working, if everything was good and right, what would I write about? Perhaps we need to forget the word ‘intellectual’ and replace it with the word ‘people’. We’re all just people, however intelligent, however flawed, however unreliable. The minute we use the word ‘intellectual’ we’re pinning expectations on people who may not be able to live up to it. When you think of them as ‘people’ it’s easier to accept their deeds. The word ‘intellectual’ must forever remain an adjective and not an identity.
It’s a dangerous word. We have intellectual moments, thoughts and roles but we’re all people just a sum of all our qualities. The more we narrow the definition of ‘intellectual’ the more we will find that nobody qualifies for it. Let’s leave it undefined. These movements, these problems they describe us better. I am not saying we can’t be ‘intellectual’, academics are supposed to engage in ‘intellectual’ prospects but let’s leave it at that.
Even the most ‘intellectual’ people speak gibberish to their babies and dogs no matter how eloquent they may be otherwise, even they make mistakes, even they have trusted people they shouldn’t have, have been yelled at by their moms, chose horrible haircuts when they were younger, got speeding tickets, have drunk-texted their exes and have said things in the wrong place or at a wrong time. Let’s stop pinning our hopes on those who have power, that’s never really worked out for us, has it? I think we’re all just trying to get by some of us make worse choices than others and there’s nothing more in this topic left to intellectualise, I’ll leave the rest to the academics.