Currently reading Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals. I’m just now getting around to reading about how Rousseau was a turd because I used to just read Rousseau. I used to assiduously read Marx and contort my brain trying to make sense of Capital. Now I read about how Marx was a filthy, layabout Jew who mooched, philandered, and wrote mountains of delusional, destructively influential drivel.
What I read now is much more fun than what I used to read. Also, I don’t read nearly as much. Looking back I can see that much of what I read was pure gristle. Compulsive reading out of insecurity and desire for distinction.
Maybe at heart I’m a redneck jock asshole, but straining to understand obscure philosophers made my head hurt and my soul weary. At this point in my life I’m not sure if I’ll ever get all the way through a huge philosophical tome again. My attention span is now nonexistent, so I’ll probably just continue reading facebook posts and suppressing my rage.
When I thought I was smart I used to scoff at people who read biographies. I thought that taking an interest in the life of a person was lowbrow and tawdry. Furthermore, I thought that judging a man’s work in the light of his life and character was cretinous moralizing. Brilliance was all that mattered. As long as it was left leaning, of course.
Try hard halfwits like to obliquely congratulate themselves by saying things like great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. First of all, is that a statement about people? If so, only a small minded person would say such a thing. Secondly, people are fucking interesting, inspiring and revolting. Who doesn’t take an interest in people? Who doesn’t want to discuss what other people do?
Only stunted doofuses and callow youths pretend to care solely about ideas. There might be a few rare geniuses so absorbed in their theories and abstractions that they don’t notice the world and other people, but for the most part it’s a contrived, contemptuous attitude.
There’s nothing wrong with having an average intelligence. There’s nothing wrong with reading and thinking about other people. And it’s normal and natural that people talk about other people when they get together and talk.
Sure, sitting around and reading nothing but people magazine isn’t conducive to a flourishing inner life. But we can stop pretending that a man’s work has no connection to his life. We can admit that what a person says and thinks might stand or fall in relation to how he lives. And finally, sometimes it’s just a fucking good ass time to talk some old fashioned trash about people for no goddamn reason at all.
Intellectuals fill the vacuum of authority left by the withdrawal of religion in public life. People need direction and guidance. To put it as bluntly as possible, they need to be told what to do. Even if the message is do whatever you want, think for yourself, no one pretends to live that way until a charismatic and forceful intellect says it’s okay.
So it’s only natural to wonder how a person lives when they make their living telling other people how to live. If they derive their authority from their own life and mind and nothing higher, what other standard do we have?
And if it turns out that people who think they can identify and fix the problems of the world are corrupt egomaniacs who wreck their own lives and mistreat or abandon their loved ones, shouldn’t we reconsider the purity and goodness of their thoughts? Shouldn’t we be wary of their intentions to enlighten and assist people they don’t even know?