Why do Intelligent People often Think,
Speak, and Behave Unintelligently?
Intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and non-conformist people, follow certain regular patterns of behaviour. Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value. That is what makes them, en masse, so dangerous, for it enables them to create climates of opinion and prevailing orthodoxies, which themselves often generate irrational and destructive courses of action.
I do not think it will ever be possible to eliminate fashions in intellectual nonsense. They have existed for as long as human beings have existed because they meet so many strong human desires, including the desire for extravagant emotional self-indulgence. They give us all the answers—and this in turn gives us a sense of mastery of the problems that we see as confronting us, as well as a sense of superiority to the uninitiated. Real thinking is hard—not only labourious but more often than not unsuccessful, leaving us with a frustrating sense of our own inadequacy and our ignorance, not to mention exposing these to the raised eyebrows of others. It will always be easier to flee in the direction of what is safe, and safe because approved already. Our lack of self-confidence will always incline us to believe that if what we think is at odds with what a lot of intelligent people are saying then they are more likely to be right than we are. In practice it is not usually the case that the chief recommendation of abstract beliefs is their truth.
Today computers hold out the promise of a means of instant translation of any code or language into any other code or language. The computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity. The next logical step would seem to be, not to translate, but to bypass languages in favour of a general cosmic consciousness which might be very like the collective unconscious dreamt of by Bergson. The condition of “weightlessness,” that biologists say promises a physical immortality, may be paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could confer a perpetuity of collective harmony and peace.
One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that—no ordinary man could be such a fool.
Marxism was a characteristic nineteenth-century philosophy in that it claimed to be scientific. ‘Scientific’ was Marx’s strongest expression of approval, which he habitually used to distinguish himself from his many enemies. He and his work were ‘scientific’; they were not. He felt he had found a scientific explanation of human behaviour in history akin to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The notion that Marxism is a science, in a way that no other philosophy ever has been or could be, is implanted in the public doctrine of the states his followers founded, so that it colours the teaching of all subjects in their schools and universities. This has spilled over into the non-Marxist world, for intellectuals, especially academics, are fascinated by power, and the identification of Marxism with massive physical authority has tempted many teachers to admit Marxist ‘science’ to their own disciplines, especially such inexact or quasi-exact subjects as economics, sociology, history and geography. No doubt if Hitler, rather than Stalin, had won the struggle for Central and Eastern Europe in 1941-45, and so imposed his will on a great part of the world, Nazi doctrines which also claimed to be scientific, such as its race-theory, would have been given an academic gloss and penetrated universities throughout the world. But military victory ensured that Marxist, rather than Nazi, science would prevail.
It is true, in a sense, to say that the mob has always been led by more educated men. It is much more true, in every sense, to say that it has always been misled by educated men. It is easy enough to say the cultured man should be the crowd’s guide, philosopher and friend. Unfortunately, he has nearly always been a misguiding guide, a false friend and a very shallow philosopher. And the actual catastrophes we have suffered, including those we are now suffering, have not in historical fact been due to the prosaic practical people who are supposed to know nothing, but almost invariably to the highly theoretical people who knew that they knew everything. The world may learn by its mistakes; but they are mostly the mistakes of the learned.
G. K. Chesterton
There is a real difference between highbrows and lowbrows, but intelligence has nothing to do with it. There are stupid highbrows, intelligent lowbrows—intelligence is pretty evenly distributed over the brows. Anything you can teach a highbrow you can teach a lowbrow, provided you can learn to say it in words the lowbrow understands.
Intelligence is contagious.
Thoughts about Intelligence & Intellectuals
A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.
Don’t part with your illusions; when they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
A man is not necessarily intelligent because he has plenty of ideas, any more than he is a good general because he has plenty of soldiers.
Intelligence is derived from two words—inter and legere—inter meaning ‘between’ and legere meaning ‘to choose.’ An intelligent person, therefore, is one who has learned ‘to choose between.’
Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.
Alfred North Whitehead
It is a fact, and in some ways a melancholy fact, that massive works of the intellect do not spring from the abstract workings of the brain and the imagination; they are deeply rooted in the personality. Marx is an outstanding example of this principle... [his philosophy’s] actual content can be related to four aspects of his character: his taste for violence, his appetite for power, his inability to handle money and, above all, his tendency to exploit those around him.
If there is one class of men whom history has proved especially and supremely capable of going quite wrong in all directions, it is the class of highly intellectual men.
G. K. Chesterton
Putty is exactly like human nature...you can twist it and pat it and model it into any shape you like; and when you have shaped it, it will set so hard that you would suppose that it could never take any other shape on earth...the Soviet Government has shaped the Russian putty very carefully...and it has set hard and produced quite a different sort of animal.
George Bernard Shaw
It is one thing to suffer fools gladly; it is another to suffer clever people gladly.
If women are to effect a significant amelioration in their condition it seems obvious that they must refuse to marry. No worker can be required to sign on for life: if he did, his employer could disregard all his attempts to gain better pay and conditions.
Intellectuals are the most intolerant of all people.
In Paris, Marx’s editorial meetings in the Rue des Moulins had to be held behind closed windows so that people outside could not hear the endless shouting; and according to fellow revolutionary Karl Heinzen, Marx had a habit of saying: ‘I will annihilate you.’
Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers.
Edward de Bono
Those who are most susceptible to propaganda and advertising are the intellectuals, while the hardest to reach and to budge are those who are rooted in traditions, whose ideas are fixed, and who live in a relatively stable environment.
Men hold moral virtues of little account, and worship physical and intellectual gifts.
Jean de La Bruyere
Enthusiasm for computers is not based on the usefulness and efficiency of computers, but on the illusion they give of being intelligent. But real intelligence consists of efficient preoccupation with essentials.
Perceiving truth doesn’t have that much to do with intelligence.
[George Bernard] Shaw got everything wrong—Shakespeare, Caesar, the Soviet Union, Mussolini, St. Paul. He had a sparkling intelligence but a low understanding; this enabled him to be very funny, but whenever he was serious he was absurd. In any event, he was too encased in his own narcissism, too remote from real life ever to do more than grimace at it through a long-distance telescope.
The gulf between the mind and the heart is usually wider in intellectuals than in simple, uneducated people.
In my second marriage I tried to preserve the respect for my wife’s [sexual] liberty which I thought my creed enjoined. I found however that my capacity for forgiveness and what may be called Christian love was not equal to the demands I was making on it. Anyone else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory.
To be very stupid you have to be pretty bright. Normal stupidity only requires normal intelligence.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel
There is a kind of silliness—lets call it brilliant silliness—to which highly intelligent people are very susceptible.
What we call the intellectual world is divided into two types of people—those who worship the intellect and those who use it.
G. K. Chesterton
There is nobody so irritating as somebody with less intelligence and more sense than we have.
Without humility, intellect is the most destructive force in the world.
Most of the great crimes of our century were perpetrated by people who regarded themselves as thoroughly emancipated from the superstitions of the past. They sacrificed human beings by the millions in the service of pseudo-scientific superstitions devised by aggressive and over-confident intellectuals.
Conor Cruise O’Brien
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