We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“By the end of that summer, I had concluded that the population cannot be divided into an intellectual class and a nonintellectual class; instead, I concluded, everyone is to some extent an intellectual. The college professor is an intellectual who, it is hoped, applies his intellect to his teaching and research. The skillful auto mechanic is an intellectual who uses logic to eliminate various possible causes of an engine’s failure in order to narrow it down to the actual cause. Everyone is an intellectual. Compulsory schooling has robbed millions of people of the knowledge of their intellectual birthright.”

David Henderson, reflecting on how he learned to be less dismissive of folks who had not been to university. I am glad to say that I have never suffered from that form of snobbery: having a smart-as-hell dad who could have gone down the academic route but who chose a different path does help, of course, in providing a firewall against striking superior attitudes.

The way things are going, not going to university will be a badge of pride.

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15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I heartily agree with the view in your quotation of David Henderson. All the different measures of human ability should be on a continuum; putting people into classes, and other such quantisations, just lose the completeness of truth.

    I do agree that university (or other extension of full-time education) is not the only route, and is not the best route for many people: education is more than vocational training; apprenticeships (with part-time training) are a better route for many jobs that extended full-time education. Also, people are different; some are much more hands-on and learn better through experience than in the classroom or library, or at an Internet terminal; some develop later than others; some suffer distractions, and should be allowed to recover from that.

    However, I seriously doubt it should ever be a badge of honour to have rejected a route to education that was suitable and easily available, or even a particularly suitable one that was available only with difficulty. Also, let it not be forgotten that education is a life-long process.

    As to why one should not turn down such things: even if one is not coarsely ‘classified’, the demonstration of one’s place in the overall pecking order of society and employment is a requirement for getting on. Without having the more obvious demonstrations of such ability (exam certificates etc), life is more difficult. By choosing to make life more difficult for oneself, there is the risk (though not the certainty) of missing one’s ultimate potential.

    Best regards

  • Paul Marks

    Read and think.

    At the start of the 20th century there were virutally no government schools in Iceland and it was a very poor country – yet almost everyone could read, often more than one language.

    So the idea that government is needed to teach people to read is a false one – for the British case see “Education and the State” by E.G. West.

    Read works on subjects that interest you – and read works on the same subjects written by people who oppose the opinions of the writers you have first read.

    Compare – and also think for yourself.

    Of course experiencing a lecture (on television or in a hall) and disscussing (in physcal meeting or over the internet) is useful – but no substitue for reading and thinking.

    And none of the above need have anything to do with a university.

    However, (as Hayek and Oakeshott were fond of pointing out) much knowledge can not be put into words – and can only be gained by doing the task (under a more experienced person if possible).

    Such “tacit knowlege” may not be the sort of thing on can explain in words – but a skilled craftsman is using his mind as well as his hands.

    The idea that all thought is in words is a common error of academic intellectuals.

  • John

    Mr. Sedgwick,

    I’m not trying to speak for Jonathan in any way, but I took his remark to mean that we may be approaching a time when a university degree is widely regarded as either not showing “one’s place” or of signaling something negative.


  • RayD

    I’ll grant you that intellectuals are usually graduates, but it had never occurred to me that graduates were automatically intellectuals. I’d always assumed that true intellectuals were born, not made.

    Further more, if I’d ever been stupid enough to consider myself superior to a good mechanic, I like to think I’d either have the good sense not to mention it, or the humility to preface it with “To think I was once stupid enough to believe…”

  • Gabriel

    The way things are going, not going to university will be a badge of pride.

    That would be nice, really, especially considering the increasingly woeful state of university education. However, though I don’t doubt that there are exceptions (I know one, but only one), in my generation not going to any university gnerally means that you’re thick as mince and lazy to boot.

    I am not superior to a good mechanic qua mechanic, but I am superior to some semi-literate whose recreational activities are limited to regular self-stupefaction through alcohol or clubbing. We’re not living in some age of the honest labourer vs. effete scholar, but an age where the overhwhelming majority of people under 30 basically just suck: hordes of consumatons, totally reliant on the leviathan state, who consider themselves free because they can have lots of sex and generally comport themselves like savages, not only unthinking but perhaps even incapable (because they have never been educated in anything beyond their “rights”) of thought. Sorry. The sort of people Paul Marks are talking about, by and large, just don’t exist any more or, if they do, they’re well on their way to the grave.

    Social liberalism + keynesian economics (inc. “monetarism”) + the welfare state = wasteland.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    However, though I don’t doubt that there are exceptions (I know one, but only one), in my generation not going to any university gnerally means that you’re thick as mince and lazy to boot.

    At a time when the government wants 50 per cent of all school-leavers to go to higher education, it means of course that standards of A-levels and other entrance-enabling exams have been eroded, to the point where I bet that a lot of perfectly smart youngsters see the farce for what it is, and prefer to pick up a trade or do something else besides jerking around in an institution for another three or four years and building up thousands of pounds in student debt.

    I know a few people who have not bothered to go to uni but taken a vocational course instead, or joined the armed forces, etc. And they are not “thick”, by any standards.

    Like I said, the devaluation of examinations is reaching the point where a series of vocational course, with on-the-job training, might be more appealing to a highly intelligent person. And there is no reason why such people cannot pick up on specific forms of academic learning later in life.

  • RRS

    So far no one has brought up the question of what is intended by the use of the term “Intellectual Class” or, more commonly “Intellectuals.”

    In common U S parlance today, the designation given by both Hayek and Robert Nozick is probably the most apt: We are usually referring to “wordsmiths” of one or more varieties. The people who “yap,” whether they are accurately informed or not, but who generally mistake being informed (regardless of how factually or realistically) with possessing knowledge.

    It seems to be true here in the U S that most of those so classified have been processed through post secondary institutions; whether they have been educated is open to examination – and not just the examination given in that processing.

    It is possible that “Intellectual,” has become a pose – or role-playing – rather than a pursuit of knowledge or understanding; or, much less a mark of intelligence.

    Perhaps the term is now pejorative, rather than emblematic.

  • “The idea that all thought is in words is a common error…”

    Knowledge beyond words is one of the keys to Confucian aphorisms.

    …”not going to university will be a badge of pride.”

    Oh do keep up at the back…

  • Brad

    I view intellectualism as mostly abstract forms of thinking while practical forms of thinking aren’t necessarily “intellectual” in the strict sense. Of course as knowledge grows what was once abstract and theoretical finds practical applications – the useful product of “thinking outside the box”. So an intellectual would think of how to improve the engine, the mechanic learns to fix what exists. The former is expanding the knowledge base while the other applies a known set of knowledge to specific issues.

    Unfortunately we have pushed the practical envelope so very far that today we have university education caught in the doldrums as much of what passes as education is abstract thinking that his little or no practical use – there aren’t a whole lot of territories left to conquer and a State subsidized educational sub-leviathan needing to justify its existence. It is simply the machine which makes new professors to teach future professors how to teach the next generation a bunch of provincial buzz words and formulea. Physics went from the mechanical wonderment of the parabola of a cannon ball, to debates over the wave or particulate nature of light, to fully twenty three dimensions. The first and second had practical applications. The third exists in some mathematical, theoretical universe if little use to anybody other than to give someone tenure within the educational industry – publish or perish.

    As for snobery, I don’t delineate simply between intellectual versus non-intellectual thinking, abstract versus practical forms of thinking, I think in terms of respecting anyone who uses their values to guide their behaviors which leads them to be a self sufficient, productive, peaceful individual. Whether they are pumping out the roadside lavatories or mapping out the next major advancement in a particular technology I have respect for them. The last time I checked we all had life thrust upon us and we all know we are doomed to die no matter what we do. Anyone who navigates this absurdity from beginning to end peacefully and productively is an honorable person.

  • Gabriel

    Like I said, the devaluation of examinations is reaching the point where a series of vocational course, with on-the-job training, might be more appealing to a highly intelligent person. And there is no reason why such people cannot pick up on specific forms of academic learning later in life.

    Well, let’s hope.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    …whether they have been educated is open to examination…

    To my eternal discredit I can never remember who said it, or exactly how it went, but I believe it was Arthur Gladstone who said, approximately, “I cannot tell you precisely what a liberal education is, but after four years of it you will be able to tell when a man is talking rubbish….” (Can any of you Blokes come up with the author and exact quote? I’d appreciate it.)

    That seems to me to be a useful description of “educated.” By that standard the modern graduate, trained to accept all ideas as ‘valid’ and to avoid ‘judgementalism’, is going to be profoundly uneducated. I believe that’s what we’re actually seeing.

    Incidentally, George Will, many years ago, neatly categorised “intellectual” as a social class label, not an indicator of mental competence. It’s perfectly reasonable that the mores of that class have evolved over time and now include being as unthinking and arrogant as the aristocracy supposedly is.

  • Nuke Gray

    My best Uni joke, courtesy of Dilbert-
    Q. Is it true you went to Yale?
    A. (With a Swedish accent) Yes, they yust released me last week!
    If anyone asks if I’ve been to Uni, I say yes. Modesty forbids me from mentioning that it was open day.

  • veryretired

    The concept of the “intellectual” is a leftover from the period, not so long ago, when the great majority of people didn’t know how to read or write, and had little contact with any non-practical knowledge beyond the bible, and the various superstitions that pervaded their village culture.

    The writers and philosophers who speculated about the nature of reality or ethics or politics were often writing for a small group of fellows scattered across Europe, cloistered in the few universities that existed, supported, like artists of the time, by wealthy benefactors who sent their children to be schooled in the classics in Greek and Latin.

    The common peasant, barefoot and struggling to survive the vagaries of weather, warfare, illness, and misfortune, had little use for the speculations of a Copernicus or the complex arguments of Descartes.

    They knew they existed because of the painful realities of their everyday lives, which rotated around the weather and their crops.

    As the rebirth of learning led to the scientific advances of the slowly forming modern age, the most significant discoveries were sometimes made by curious amateurs, dabbling in optics or plant heredity or the uses of steam. For every Newton esconced in his academic cloister, there were a hundred tinkerers fiddling with this idea or that, trying to understand magnetism or combustion or a thousand other topics.

    But, like a slowly accelerating locomotive, once the shackles of church and guild had been thrown off, the industrial movement began to generate more and more wealth, more and more families had sons, and even daughters, who could afford to pursue education, join the new professions, and live lives removed from the physical drudgery that encapsulated the existence of 99% of the population.

    In a cosmic irony, it was the very growing capitalist, industrial, technological culture which destroyed the class distinctions and provided the wealth required for more recent and current generations to live in a society divorced from almost all of the labor of their ancestors, a society that their utopian gurus stated could only be made perfect if they destroyed capitalism, industrialism, and technology.

    Modern intellectualism, much like the modern artistic subculture, is a bankrupt con game, populated by far too many self-appointed philosophers of this or that marginal field of alleged knowledge, whose only claim to fame is that they can gather in a meeting with others of their kind once in a while and award each other prizes for the most impenetrable essay or unintelligible treatise.

    The recent story of the computer program which wrote a doctoral thesis that literally had no meaning whatsoever, but was much praised until the truth was revealed, pulled aside the curtain and exposed the mentally flatulent collection of wizards who desperately spin their dials and blow smoke past mirrors, hoping to obscure the emptiness of what they do.

    The true intellectuals, who are designing craft to explore the solar system, or the galaxy, discovering biological, chemical, and mechanical solutions to deadly diseases, or adding to the world wide system which has finally lifted the last barriers to knowledge for billions across the globe, are derided as mechanics or artisans by the wizards.

    Those who actually use their minds to promote the progress and well-being of humanity, are criticized by those who have never accomplished even one tangible positive result, as being dangerous because of their use of technology, while the mindless shackles of ever-increasing statism and collectivism are endlessly lauded, and the pre-industrial agony of an entire world living at the subsistence level is held up as a model of “sustainability”.

    Just as one charletan cuts up a horse and calls it art, or another sculpts dung and calls it beautiful, so do the modern oracles, as in the movie “300”, live in incestuous isolation from the reality of the world, disdaining any practical work in favor of the endless, airy castle-building of the detached, self-referential mind.

    The sooner this major form of the last few guilds is broken and dissolved, the better it would be for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

  • Laird

    My only objection to quotations of this sort is that it implicitly defines the term “intellectual” into utter meaninglessness. It’s sort of like talking about various types of “intelligences” (as if things such as physical dexterity are somehow “intelligence”). The comments by such posters as veryretired and PersonFromPorlock seem basically correct: that the term “intellectual” has become a “social class label”, or the banner of a “bankrupt con game”. Still, whatever the word means, it must be something more than merely applying native cleverness and practical experience to diagnose the mechanical problems of an engine. Why else would we have coined the derogative term “pseudo-intellectual”?

    If “[e]veryone is an intellectual” then the word serves no purpose. This is not helpful to any discussion, whether it concerns the pretentious snobbery of the self-selected elite or the general decline in academic standards.

  • The way things are going, not going to university will be a badge of pride.

    A badge I wear… proudly.