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On Becoming an Intellectual

March 8, 2012

There’s one heartwarming thing about being a member of the intelligentsia: when the revolution comes, you’re always one of the first ones up against the wall. I know that doesn’t sound fantastic on the surface, but it’s actually a complement of sorts, an acknowledgment that a big brain, buzzing with information and drawing its own conclusions, is a powerful thing—perhaps the most powerful thing on this little rock we call home.

What is an intellectual? In rough brushstroke, someone who digests incredible amounts of information, runs it through those three pounds of organic computer stuffed inside their skull, and outputs new thoughts and theories that (with a little bit of luck) change the world, or at least affect how others think and act. An intellectual can be a writer, scientist, artist, engineer, programmer, musician, filmmaker, or academic: in short, anyone who produces some product of his or her mind.

But Intellectuals (or those who aspire to be) sometimes fall into the trap of embracing a tired old stereotype—a caricature, if you will, that results in the world at large thinking of “intellectual” as being roughly equivalent to “elitist,” “pompous,” and “pretentious.” Yet there’s far more to being an intellectual than writing obfuscatory articles for obscure journals and calling one’s detractors inflammatory names. Other qualities and characteristics—call them “maxims,” because that sounds suitably impressive—define the intellectual. This book explores many of them.

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