Dirty Tricks: Disillusionment in the Public Intellectual Sphere

Whenever an issue tickles our minds and burns our interest with a peculiar fire, we naturally seek to understand more on the issue, and then define our stance on it. The process is quite reversible though, with many of us creating stances, setting it in dogmatic concrete and waiting for it to dry, before making tentative probes into the vast ocean of facts and opinions. I will not focus on this two-way process, or on the blatant ignorance posed by the latter described approach to such issues. Rather, I would like to delve into what happens when decent, average people try to swim in the ocean of knowledge.

I call this ocean of knowledge the Public Intellectual Sphere or PIS. Within the public intellectual Sphere one can find facts, opinions, knowledgeable thinking, debates and expert positions, or in short, whatever there is we can find on a given issue. Take the example of theology, a PIS I’ve been trying to get into these last few months.

The PIS of Theology would consist of Holy books, comments on those holy books, religious laws, comments on religious laws, so called experts and theologians, the opinions of philosophers and the like, as well as the gargantuan amount of facts and events that have a connection with the issue. The sphere is immense, which probably explains why people could go through decades of education and learning and still admit to be quite ignorant.

What we average people expect from the PIS is information. More specifically, we desire clear pictures of cases and informative, well thought out thinking from respectable people. The PIS should give us weights, which we will then put on our scales of intelligent thinking to then deduce and say, “oh, so this is how it looks like, I choose . . .” And so forth.

What happens then –with my short experience on the issue on Theology- is that we are faced with a figurative slime pit that bogs down facts and drowns information that at first glance seems clear-cut. That would be fine if it bogs us down in productive thought, and elaborates on information, but what the PIS on Theology has to say is not so.

With facts, what happens in the PIS is that one single event will often, if not always, have completely different and contradictory point-of-views of factual happenings. Historical books and essays, not excluding those being backed by highly prestigious and established academic institutions differ on the histories of events, allowing us no clear starting point from which to attach an analysis and contextualization of such events.

Worse off, are writing or information being gushed out by religiously minded institution (theistic or not) that stand for ideals. Information from these sources would be significantly more loaded than those supplied by purely academic sources. Also slightly unsettling is the narrative tone of these sources, which tend to sound, biased, further lending to their incredibility. Examples of such tactics would be contentions over historical events such as the council of Nicaea, the Muslim expansion or even the birth of Krishna.

Also quite to some discomfort to further research is the tendency by people on all sides to (whether deliberate or not) quote, or misquote from various sources, often defiantly out of the context or sphere of the situation where the quote was taken from. Such as in the citing of Islamic verses on violence, where verses were deliberately taken out and waved about with an almost religious zeal by opponents of Islam. Verses taken out of context (both discounting abrogation AND the socio-historic analysis) will in that light, seem very evil indeed.

But theists are also to blame. A religiously minded TV documentary roughly translated to ‘The fall of Atheism’, by a religious institution which will remain unnamed has also resorted to such tactics. Sad, since this institution is one that is well established and is considered highly credible by most. They deliberately took out loaded quotes from various books by Charles Darwin, leaving out prior or the quote that follows. “The entire theory of evolution would crumble if a single example is given of a creature that has not undergone adaption or evolution . . .” Goes one example, and the program continues by stating that in fact, plenty of evidence even in his time has proven otherwise and that Darwin was backstabbing his own case, forgetting to include Darwin’s continuation of the quote that goes “. . . I have however, found no evidence to prove as such”.

If the goal of any of these institutions or groups is the actual pursuit of truth, which they so clearly try to advocate. Would it not be to the benefit of that ideal that they not resort to such ad-hoc and base tactics as the ones that we are currently drenched in? An institution quickly becomes degenerate once its goal has been subverted from the noble purpose of its founding, to the mere self-protection of its own skin. Sadly, this has led many aspiring individuals who start out optimistic to be disillusioned by the ugly façade that permeates the PIS.

Maybe it can be argued that those who are willing to seek knowledge brace themselves from this truth, but this defense is easily seen as a throwing away of responsibilities. Is it not the teacher’s job to be as objective as possible in giving lessons? That is, unless it is the teacher’s duty to do otherwise.

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