Never underestimate the power of the intellect

Reposted from April 7th, 2015 – inspired by the contrast between the most recent Republican & Democratic primary debates

“An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”
― Albert Camus

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with Albert Camus. Like many, I was forced to read “The Stranger” while is high school – a book I found to be bleak and disturbing, but admittedly, it stuck with me through the years – so it did keep me thinking. Generally regarded as an existentialist by others, he did not see himself as one – although it is hard not to read “The Stranger”, and much of his other writing, as anything but Existentialism.

Born in Algeria in 1913, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the young age of 43, died far too young in an automobile accident in 1960 – Camus was a journalist, novelist, playwright, philosopher. Always a pacifist, he’d been many things politically over the years, but always in opposition to tyranny in all forms – yet conflicted over the growing unrest in his native Algeria, where his mother still lived. Long strongly outspoken on tyranny –  when in Occupied Paris during WWII, over Stalin’s ever-expanding empire in Easter Europe – he was mostly silent on the situation in Algeria. Understandable given his concerns about his mother, but it garnered him much criticism.

Throughout history, those wanting to hold onto power, or to achieve power, have opted to denigrate the ‘intellectual’. The reason is obvious – the ability to think frequently flies in opposition to the means of control. Are intellectuals always right? Of course not. But in much the same way that rolling stones gather no moss, the seeds of oppression cannot flourish in an open mind.

Albert Camus, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson – borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

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