All Intellectuals Are Wannabes

I’m a wannabe intellectual. I always have been. I love the life of the mind, admire those who’ve done the work and come up with original insights–but I haven’t put in the hard work, and have no Revelation From The Deep Well of Reality to share.

But it occurs to me: maybe all intellectuals are wannabes. Not one knows everything there is to know, even in his particular field. And despite the occasional originality, most intellectual advancement comes from remixing the thoughts of others. Remixes happen under the influence of a particular person’s experience and cultural context; even if they aren’t “original”, they may bring new insight. And ideas don’t flow instantaneously and freely throughout humanity. So, if the group of which I’m a part would otherwise never encounter the ideas of a “great intellectual”, to translate and bridge her ideas into my context is not arrogance, is not redundant effort, but is service to those around me and to the world.

All true intellectuals “wanna be” better, and want the world to be better, and invest mental and (probably?) communicative energy in that. “Better” is a moving target, individually and corporately, and we won’t ever declare complete success–but perhaps even one who isn’t a “real”, qualified, worthy intellectual of the highest caliber can add value in this effort.

I am anything but an accomplished intellectual. But maybe it’s OK to be a wannabe.

Related:

  • The Loving Intellect”, a worth-reading article (focused on a “Christian intellectual”) in First Things, a publication I often regard with some skepticism. I found to be helpful the idea of deconstruction as a tool for use in a larger effort.

A few of the many sources I love for “remixing”:

  • Farnam Street: impressively wide and deep consideration of how to live, learn, and think well; introductions to many other thinkers.
  • Brain Pickings: wide-ranging reflection; introductions to many others. 
  • New Scientist: somewhat “popular” science magazine 
  • Aeon Magazine: just check it out. 
  • Oh. And the book Worldchanging, by Alex Steffen, was lovely when I read its first edition. It’s probably somewhat dated by now, but inspiring.
  • Related to that: check out the Ashoka Foundation, with its focus on social entrepreneurship around the world.

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