Hidden Abilities

There are some human abilities that are equivalent to superpowers, in that they seem superhuman. The most obvious examples are certain kinds of athletes and performers. Some of these people can do things that are hard to believe a human can do. In watching acrobats and contortionists, one worries they might hurt themselves.

I have some athletic ability. I’ve played sports and I’m decent at juggling. My greatest physical skill was hacky sack or, if you prefer, footbag. I played all the time and even invented tricks that were quite impressive. But even then there were surely thousands of other people just here in the Midwestern United States that were at least as good as I and probably far better. My skills, as great as they were, were not at the level of the superhuman. I’m not a genius in physical ability, just above average.

That is fine. Most people don’t mind having limited athletic skills or whatever. We live in a society that only moderately admires and rewards such abilities. For all the wealth a professional athlete can accrue, a popular movie star or powerful CEO will still make vastly more money, and no one even cares to watch the CEO. Besides, the movie star or CEO doesn’t have to worry about potential physical injury and permanent brain damage that might lead to chronic pain and a shorter lifespan.

What gains respect in our society, more than anything, is cognitive ability. Even the entrepreneurial businessman is largely admired because his success is supposedly a sign of intelligence and innovation, whether or not that corresponds to book smarts. It’s a different kind of cognitive ability than a professor or scientist, but it’s the same basic quality that compels respect in a society such as this.

Yet, at the same time, Americans tend to only appreciate outward forms of intelligence as they manifest in worldly achievements and positions of authority. A scientist, for example, will be much more respected if he invents a new medicine or technology. It’s the rare scientist, such as Albert Einstein, who is respected for merely developing a new theory.

That is the rub. Intellectual capacity is rarely obvious. The most brilliant people, even geniuses, don’t get much respect or reward for all their talents, no matter how hard they work. It’s partly because the greatest thinkers don’t tend to have an immediate and spectacular impact on the world around them, as any society will be resistant to change. To appreciate the impact of a great thinker might take centuries, until the rest of society catches up.

Plus, many people with immense cognitive abilities have their talent wasted. They are working at jobs that don’t make use of their intelligence, creativity, etc. I suspect more geniuses are never discovered than those who get the opportunity to live up to their potential. Working class jobs, poor communities, homeless shelters, prisons, etc are filled with lost and wasted human potential.

It’s not unusual to meet people with all kinds of talents and abilities. Rarely are these people doing much with what they have, partly because life is tough and most people are simply trying to get by. Being smart most often won’t do you much good if you live in isolated, desperate poverty with few positive outlets of intellectual achievement. But it doesn’t require poverty to obscure human potential. Let me give an example.

My friend’s father is a bookdealer, although he collects books more than he sells them. This guy easily could be doing greater things than running a practically nonprofit book business. He is smart, clever, witty, and has a near perfect memory filled with vast information. He was working on his dissertation when stress and a psychological breakdown caused him to drop out. Despite his being well respected by other bookdealers, few others would suspect that this slovenly guy is anything special.

There are many people like that.

I live in a town filled with smart and well educated people. A large part of the working class around here has college degrees. Many people I know don’t do anything with their education: someone with an architecture degree who is a busdriver, someone with a psychology degree who is a postal worker, someone with a history degree who is a bartender, someone with a religious studies degree who is a baker, someone with an art degree who is a maintenance worker, etc. One of my coworkers who works as a cashier has a PhD. Even the homeless population around here is far above average.

That’s just talking about the well educated. Genius is a whole other level. If you met a mental genius, how would you know? Someone could be having genius thoughts right in front of you and you’d probably not notice anything unusual was happening. It’s harder for a physical genius to hide their talents while using their talents because, well, they are physically apparent. You might not pay close attention to the street juggler as you pass by, but you most likely will at least notice that juggling is happening within your vicinity.

In reading books, I sometimes come across a writer who has amazing knowledge, understanding, and insights. Most of the time, such people aren’t famous and well paid authors. There seems to be a negative correlation between how brilliant a writer is and how well they are rewarded in their profession. The more brilliant a writer is the far fewer readers there will be to appreciate their brilliance. It takes above average intelligence to even recognize brilliance, much less fully appreciate it.

That is the difference. Anyone can watch physical ability and be awed by it. Cognitive ability, at the extremes, tends to just go over people’s heads or else is ignored. A scientist doing cutting edge research often would have a hard time explaining the research to most people in a way that would make it both comprehensible and interesting. The fact of the matter is most scientific research is boring and, besides, it happens in laboratories few people ever see. Scientists are hidden away while doing their scientific work. That is the nature of most intellectual pursuits. They are outwardly unimpressive and not easily seen, at least until some worldly result is achieved, which comes out long after all the hard intellectual work was done.

The work and thought being done that will change the world in the future is happening all around us. Knowledge, ideas, and inventions slowly percolate through society. Meanwhile, a large part of the population is watching sports.

The Public Shame of Intellectual Dysfunction

Why is it more acceptable, generally speaking, to be intellectually dysfunctional while being socially functional than to be socially dysfunctional while being intellectually functional? And yet why would most people take greater offense at being called intellectually dysfunctional than socially dysfunctional (or equivalent terms)?

I ask this in all sincerity. It seems strange.

Our society seems to value social skills more than intellectual skills. In fact, a large part of our society attacks people for being a part of the intellectual elite in a way they wouldn’t toward the social elite. They ridicule people for being stuck in ivory towers in a way they wouldn’t ridicule a Hollywood or music star for becoming rich from mere popularity.

Being intellectually talented rarely will make you rich or famous. But at the same time no one wants to think they are less than intellectually capable. I’m sure most of the population thinks they are intellectually above average.

If we as a society value intellectuality so little (relatively speaking), then why are we so touchy about it?

* * * *

The label of hardworking is one of the door prizes the losers of society can get just for playing.

You can be a poor uneducated wife-beating alcoholic white guy. But if you are one of the lucky schmucks to have any kind of legal work at all, then you get the privilege of being called hardworking. Then your allowed to look down on everyone less fortunate than you: unemployed, underemployed, homeless, welfare recipients, minorities, etc.

On the other hand, if you are intelligent and well educated while being unemployed, homeless, and/or on public assistance, you aren’t likely to get much respect by society. It doesn’t matter how many other good traits you have, from being kindhearted to generous. This is true even if you were a visionary genius, unless you invent or make something that can be marketed and profited from in our consumerist society, but then you’d be deemed hardworking. Your value would be in terms of your social functioning in a capitalist society, not your intellectual ability.

* * * *

I had a thought last night about how this connects to other issues.

The US has a large economic inequality and a large political power inequality. That isn’t extremely uncommon in the world, but it does make us stick out from rankings of other Western countries.

I was reminded about how scientifically illiterate Americans are on average. We rank among the lowest in the world on knowledge about basic scientific facts such as evolution, despite having some of the best universities in the world. If not for all the intelligent immigrants who keep coming here, our average IQ would likely stagnate or maybe fall drastically.

I realized that this is an intellectual inequality, an educational inequality. Our public schools are not so great, but the upper classes go to expensive private schools with the best education money can buy. Maybe intellectuality is such a touchy issue because inequality in general is such a touchy issue.

Moral Righteousness: Intent vs Results

I had the issue of righteousness on my mind while writing a previous post (Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison). In that post, I made two points in relation to righteousness.

First, there is a difference between the morality of intentions and the morality of results. To use the example of that post, there is a difference between having family values and valuing family. Intentions may correspond to results or they may not. My conclusion was that results are more important. Also, I speculated that intention when righteously held may actually undermine genuinely moral results. Or it could be that stated intention (rhetoric) can hide self-perceived moral failure (such as a minister teaching family values while using the services of a prostitute or a politician advocating against gay rights while being gay himself).

Second, I admitted to having some tendencies toward righteousness. I don’t think, for this reason (among others), that I’d make a good parent. Of the families I’ve known, those with relatively more righteous parents have had relatively worse results (in that their families are less close and less happy). In general, a righteously judgmental sense of morality is not conducive to creating a better society. My opinion is supported by the research I’ve seen and by books I’ve read such as George Lakoff’s Moral Politics and Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. I have in the past shared some of the data correlating liberalism and real world moral results: Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism. I think liberals have more objective reason to be righteous on certain issues, but it’s just not in the nature of most liberals to be righteous or else to be loudly vocal about what they feel righteous about and to force it onto others. A notable exception are the New Atheists, but even the righteousness of the New Atheists pales in comparison to the righteousness of fundamentalists.

I too am a vocally righteous liberal. If a person lacks respect for others or for intellectuality, if someone uses sociopathic rationalizations or apologetic sophistry, I will not treat that person with an ounce more respect than they deserve (which is approximately zero). This doesn’t mean I immediately go on the attack with everyone I disagree. I can at times be aggressive because I see how rightwingers try to manipulate the liberal attitude of tolerance. It relates to how apologists pretend to be intellectual by using logical arguments as sophistry and selectively uses data.

What annoys me isn’t necessarily righteousness itself but how it’s used and what it’s used for. Of course, I’m annoyed by my own righteous tendencies and so I try to keep it in check. I don’t see righteousness as it’s own justification in the way that the fundamentalist sees righteous belief as it’s own justification. If I feel strongly about something, I check and double-check the facts. Before I let the chain out on my righteousness, I make sure I’m actually right. Righteousness is fine as long as it’s equally balanced by humility. I admit I can be wrong and I actively seek out evidence that can prove my opinions incorrect. I’m righteous about intellectuality, about clear thinking, about objective facts. To me, that is a moral application of righteousness. A belief, no matter how righteously held, doesn’t justify itself. Justification can only come from a larger context that includes other perspectives and other data. Righteousness should be used to break free of limiting beliefs and shouldn’t be used to enclose oneself within dogma.

Even more importantly, righteousness should always be turned toward oneself first: self-awareness, self-analysis, self-criticism. I think those who judge others are inviting judgment upon themselves by others. Also, from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings, righteousness should be primarily and most strongly directed at those in power. The Christian who likes to judge the poor and the homeless, the desperate and the disenfranchised is no real Christian. The Christian who defends the rich and powerful (whether Rand Paul defending BP or Catholics defending the Pope) and so forsakes the poor and powerless is no real Christian. In this sense, there seems to be a contagion of hyopcrisy among many social conservatives (certainly among the leadership anyways).

Righteousness is a useful but dangerous tool. It does no good to defend those in power who can defend themselves just fine. And it does no good to beat a man while he is down. Defending the wealthy elite while complaining about the “welfare queens” is just plain wrong and comes close to being evil of sociopathic proportions. Righteousness in the hands of dogmatic haters leads to 9/11 attacks and the shootings of abortion doctors. In the US, this righteousness is directly fueled by the rightwing pundits such as Bill O’Reilly endless calling Dr. Tiller, “Tiller the Baby Killer”. Surprise, surprise. A crazy rightwinger kills Dr. Tiller. And guess what? O’Reilly considers himself a good, righteous Christian. Why does O’Reilly have so much righteous hate? Abortion is bad? If O’Reilly were to look at the data (which righteous ideologues rarely do), he would know that countries with legal abortions have lower abortion rates. But, ya see, it isn’t about making the world a better place. The righteous ideologue simply wants to think of himself as being right… and damn the consequences.

Let me share two examples of liberal righteousness.

The first example is Derrick Jensen who is a righteous environmentalists. I think it’s obvious that he has plenty of justification for his righteousness. No rational and compassionate person (meaning everyone besides righteous ideologues) could deny the data he shares in his books. Jensen analyzes in detail the sociopathic tendencies of our society. However, he sometimes, out of frustration, pushes his rhetoric a bit far. It’s hard to know if he pushes too far or not considering the potential dire consequences of the present trajectory of our civilization. It’s not like Jensen is a fundamentalist warning about the end of the world because of his interpretation of biblical prophecy. Jensen is talking about the real world. He seems like a genuine intellectual and I sense he’d be open-minded about new info that challenged his own views. As far as I can tell, Jensen’s righteousness is based in the actual facts. So, it’s not a blind righteousness. Furthermore, it’s a righteousness directed toward those in power… meaning those who have the power to change the world for the better if they so chose.

The second example is Barbara Ehrenreich who is a righteous journalist. Like Jensen, she seems to base her righteousness on objective data and not mere ideological belief. I’ve seen videos of her speaking, but I’ve only just started reading her book Bright-Sided. In that book, she is criticizing a type of optimism popular in America which is superficial and which is too often used to rationalize egregiously immoral or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. I’m not sure she talks about righteousness, but I get the sense that righteousness would relate to her portrayal of positive thinking. She does go in some detail about Christianity and so makes the direct connection to belief as an unquestioning, uncritical mindset. It reminds me of research I’ve seen on positive thinking which shows optimists have a tendency to take credit when results are seen as beneficial or desirable (whether or not the optimist actually earned this credit) and optimists have a tendency to blame externalities (unforeseen factors, other people, etc) when reults are seen as having turned out bad. When an entire society embraces positive thinking, major catastrophes happen. Blinded by optimism, those responsible can honestly claim to not having seen it coming (despite all the evidence that should’ve been heeded as a warning).

The righteous are always right even when they turn out to be wrong. It’s like how social conservatives blame the failure of abstinence only sex education not on the programs themselves but on society. Society is seen as having failed the values preached by the righteous person, but the righteous person will never see themselves as having failed society. So, to go back to the original example, “family values” are believed to never fail even when the results would seem to point towards failure. Families fail and societies fail according to this view, but family values can never fail because the fundamentalist perceives them as having originated from thousands of years of righteous tradition or even from the righteous Word of God. This is righteousness as defensive self-rationalization.

The main moral purpose that righteousness should be applied to is righteousness misused. That is my ideal, anyways. I don’t know how often I live up to my ideal, but I try. Hopefully, my results correspond with my intentions.

Reality and Rationality: a discussion

Discussion thread post from INFJs Forums:

RANT: Reality has a Liberal bias…

Satya: I’m just worn out. I debate with social conservatives and traditionalists, and provide the strongest peer reviewed evidence I can to back up my assertions and I provide reasoned arguments supported by age old philosophical propositions but it is not enough. I’m told it is all “biased”. It doesn’t matter how perfectly objective and analytical the study is or how well it follows the scientific method, it is biased unless it supports their viewpoint. If is it particularly damning to their worldview, then it is “PC” the sweet and short way to dismiss everything as politically correct, and thus somehow not true. I have yet to find anyone who can explain to me the reasoning behind this, but it seems sufficient to them.

Has thinking become a value? When I was a child, I never would have thought that there would exist a group of people who are proud that they don’t think. In fact, not only are they proud that they don’t think, but they are proud that others can’t make them think. Now I’m not trying to stereotype here, but it seems whenever I push anyone from these particular right wing groups on the facts that they take a position that reasoning and logic are inferior to their religious faith and internal moral compass. How on earth can they reduce thinking to a value?

I’m notorious for being a smartass, and occasionally just an ass, but nothing I can ever say or do could ever demean a person as much as them tossing their own ability to think and reason for themselves.

The more I study human beings, the more I realize humans like to follow a script. Religious beliefs and political ideologies simply serve as a way for human beings to mindlessly serve as actors in this world, fulfilling roles that were written for them by directors who may have lost touch with reality themselves.

Everyday, I find myself challenging every label that I have felt ascribed to myself. INFJ, gay, liberal, social worker, etc. it all seems like the labels have become more important than the being. I am who I am, too complex to be narrowed down and pidgeon holed into some convenient category for others to stereotype in some misguided attempt to control or pass judgment. It’s not like I don’t do the same. But I’m tired of it. Maybe I just need to view the world holistically. That seems to be the only thing that people on opposite sides of the religious and political spectrum agree on. Love your neighbor.

Comments:

Sithious: Calling you biased ain’t exactly a valid argument, but you have to remember when most people are cornered they will resort to personal attacks and logical fallacies rather than logic and reasoning. People don’t like it that you’re attacking their ego, which you are by questioning their beliefs and ideas.

Most people don’t have the knowledge nor mental capacity to refute well constructed arguments. […]

Satya: Level of education and field of study is the only difference I have perceived within individuals that would lead them to challenge this aspect of human nature. Based on what I have seen, I estimate that maybe 10% of the general public has critical thinking ability, and of that 10% I estimate that only 1% of those make a concerted effort to shape their own metacognition by challenging their cognitive and emotional biases. The number of individuals who seem to have any degree of awareness of their own patterns of thinking is incredibly small. Even I have trouble considering myself a member of that group because I often give into my passion despite knowing it is a fruitless endeavor and usually the equivalant of ego masturbation.

Duty:

Originally Posted by Raccoon Love View Post
You have your own views and opinions and if others are not willing to compromise that does not give you the right to change their ways of thinking

So we don’t have the right to try to educate a racist? We should just accept their way of thinking?

Originally Posted by Raccoon Love View Post
Just because someone does not agree with you does not mean their wrong, we all have our different opinions and beliefs, and in reality truth is relative so there’s nothing absolute.

What makes people wrong is when they hold a belief that a) does not conform to reality. What makes people “unjustified” (or “thoughtless”) in their belief is when they don’t have enough evidence or knowledge to warrant believing it.

And as we’ve discussed in many many threads, there are things that are absolute: objectively true. If you say “there is nothing that is absolutely or objectively true” then you contradict yourself, because if that statement was true, it would be absolutely/universally/objectively true, and so contradict itself.

Because there is an objective truth, we try to find what facts fit into that truth. When someone holds a belief opposite of that, or in opposition to the most reliable and effective methods to determine objective truth, we say they are just plain wrong or thoughtless, respectively.

Knowing this, and combining it with a true desire to enlighten, educate, and help the minds of others develop, and it becomes a much more complicated issue then just, “You have no right to try to change others.” It almost becomes a duty to try.

I know where Satya is, I was just there not long ago. I still have much of that desire in me. The best solution I’ve found is to just abandon the thoughtless to their self-chosen fate, but be there for when they are ready. Surround yourself with those that are ready/have already traversed. That’s all you can really do.

Satya:

Originally Posted by myst View Post
How do you prove that truth is objective? With facts? How do you prove they’re true? More facts? And so on to infinity. Is it possible to prove truth is objective? If not, how do you know it is?

This is what pisses me off. People have no idea what the scientific method does. They think the purpose of science is to prove things, but the reality is that science exists as a constant quest to disprove whatever the evidence indicates is likely to be true.

You don’t prove anything! Anyone who says they can prove anything is a liar. You present evidence that indicates that something is more likely true than it isn’t. Science is about probability, about disproving, not proving. In science, the law of gravity can be disproved, but it can never be conclusively proven. The probability that the law of gravity is true is astronomically high due to the huge amount of evidence that supports it, but it could easily be disproved with the addition of new evidence against it. Physicists don’t strive to prove the theory of relativity, they strive to disprove it. Biologists don’t strive to prove the theory of evolution, they strive to disprove it. That is why such theories have such high certainty. People have been gathering evidence in the pursuit to dispove them for so long, and have failed to do so, so the probability that they are true remains very high. It doesn’t mean that the theory of relativity or the theory of evolution have been proven, only that they have yet to be disproved and so they remain viable theories.

When I provide evidence to disprove something you say, and you can’t provide an alternative explaination, then you have failed to uphold your theory. It has been invalidated. I’m not trying to prove that anything is objectively true, I’m simply disproving whatever subjective belief you hold to be true. I could never prove that God does not exist, but I can disprove your version of God by coming up with evidence or reasoning which invalidates your explaination.

What is Intellectuality?

I’ve been thinking about the Fox pundits lately, but today I was thinking about the relationship (or lack thereof) between mainstream news and intellectuality.

I’m surprised when people try to defend Glenn Beck as an intellectual.  Even though he isn’t utterly stupid, he is far from being an intellectual.  His tendencies towards emotional melodrama and conspiracy theorizing show a lack of critical thinking skills.  And, as far as I can tell, his education is limited mostly to the research he does on the web… which is fine as far as it goes (I’m not dissing the web).

Bill O’Reilly is more of a genuine intellectual.  He has higher education in political analysis.  O’Reilly may not be the most profoundly insightful commentator and he may lack intellectual humility, but still he is an intellectual of sorts.  He is at least sometimes capable of calm reasoned analysis… when he isn’t shouting down opponents and righteously declaring his opinions.

Ultimately, O’Reilly is an ideologue just like Beck.  Whether one uses reason or paranoia to support one’s presupposed ideology, it’s not that big of a difference.  Intellectually respectable or not, O’Reilly and Beck seem to agree on a similar worldview which isn’t essentially intellectual in nature.

Anyways, that is just preamble.  The real reason for this post is my consideration of what defines intellectuality.

Real intellectuality isn’t just intelligence and it’s not even just critical thinking skills.  Both of those are part of it, but they mean little if they are simply motivated by non-rational impulses and used to rationalize non-rational beliefs.  A real intellectual looks at the facts before coming to a conclusion.  A real intellectual is reserved in their opinions and wary of biases.  A real intellectual is humble in their opinion, is willing to admit they’re wrong, and is willing to change their view to fit the facts.  A real intellectual not only looks at the facts but specifically looks for facts that might disprove their assumptions, seeks out reasons for why the may be wrong, considers all criticisms and all alternative viewpoints.

At this point, Beck has been left in the dust.  Pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theorizing does require a certain amount of intelligence and creates a facade of rationality, but it’s so far from being intellectually respectable that it deserves mockery.  O’Reilly, on the other hand, comes closer and yet still falls short.  He may sometimes play the role of an intellectual and may make some intelligent comments, but first and foremost he is an opinionator.

A real intellectual may be a hard thing to find.  Aren’t we all motivated by unconscious assumptions and impulses that bias our thinking?  Yes.  However, there are those who seek to look beyond their biases and there are those who embrace their biases.  A real intellectual may not be a genius and may not have any grand insights, but what is important is that they’re humble in accepting their limitations.  They know what they know and they know what they don’t know, and they don’t pretend to know more than they do.

More important than anything, a real intellectual has to either be fairly self-aware or else committed to a methodology that forces objectivity.  In science, peer review forces an approximation of objectivity in that personal biases tend to get filtered out over time.  In news reporting, fact-checking teams working behind the scenes to keep the reporting honest.  However, news reporting will never be as objective as science.  The fact-checkers are only as unbiased as the company that hires them.  Thusly, a news network such as Fox with a clear agenda will, even when using fact-checkers, promote biased reporting.  Furthermore, fact-checking has become less of a priority as news agencies have lost money and pundits have become more popular.

It’s hard to find real intellectuals on tv these days.  Even when they manage to sneak on for a few minutes, all that tv news allows for are soundbites.  To the average viewer, a real intellectual is boring.  People want to be entertained.  If people wanted to think, they’d read a book rather than watch the news.

An example of a real intellectual would be someone like Noam Chomsky.  He has some useful insight about why real intellectuals don’t make good tv talking heads.  I’ve never come across any other intellectual than sounds as calmly reasonable as Chomsky.  I actually get the sense that he has some genuine insight, that he actually knows what he is talking about.  He isn’t loud and bombastic.  Even in his strong opinions, he states everything with cited facts and clear logic.  He doesn’t slander those he disagrees with but simply analyzes why they are wrong.

Nonetheless, even Chomsky has an agenda.  His focus is politics and he wants to influence the world.  So, he isn’t simply stating facts.  He has biases, but he is open about his biases and he carefully explains the reasons for his beliefs.  He is what I would consider a real intellectual.  That is what he is and it isn’t just a role he is playing.  It’s just his way of viewing the world.  Chomsky’s intellectuality serves the purposes of intellectuality.  He doesn’t simply pay lip-service to it but rather genuinely believes in the value of the intellect.

Okay, that is my definition of intellectuality.  An intellectual can be an atheist or a theist, a scientist or a philosopher.  But, whatever he is, he combines rigorous critical thinking with humble open-mindedness.  As I already said, real intellectuality serves the purpose of intellectuality.

That said, I want to push this one step further.  Intellectuality itself is a bias.  It’s a way of viewing the world, a way of filtering out what one deems unuseful in order to focus on what one deems useful.

I consider myself an intellectual in that I often involve myself in intellectual activities and I try to be intellectually humble.  However, my intellectuality serves a profound sense of truth that includes but isn’t limited to intellectuality.  Intellectuality is just one of many perspectives which doesn’t mean I don’t respect intellectuality.  It may have its limitations, but it’s irreplaceable in the fight against pseudo-intellectuality.  If one isn’t capable of real intellectuality, then there is little hope for one having the clarity of mind to grasp even deeper truths.

It is intellect that helps one to clear away the mud, but it won’t necessarily help one to see the gold and tell it apart from fool’s gold.  Intellectuality is just a tool, but as it’s a way of viewing the world it’s easy to get lost in this one perspective.  To probe the foundations of mind and thought, to question intellectuality itself demands a wider set of tools.  As such, I’m a truth-seeker and I use whatever helps me to ascertain the truth.  This necessitates the intellect because even non-intellectual truths require some intellectual ability to give them form and to communicate them to others.

The relationship between intellect and truth is hard to clarify.  An intellectual may or may not be a truth-seeker, and a truth-seeker may or may not be an intellectual… but more often than not the two go hand in hand.

Let me use an example to differentiate an intellectual from a truth-seeker.  In some recent articles, Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins each wrote an essay about religion and science.  Karen Armstrong argued for non-literal religious truth as separate from the scientific endeavor.  Richard Dawkins argued for a dismissal of religion by interpreting it literally and showing that it fails scientific literalism.  Dawkins is an intellectual, but not a truth-seeker.  Armstrong is an intellectual and a truth-seeker.  As for the literalist religious type, they are definitely not intellectuals even when they use intellectual-sounding arguments to rationalize their apologetics and for this reason they’re not likely to be truth-seekers either.  The materialistic atheist and the anti-intellectual theist both believe they have found truth and so have little motivation to seek it.

To be both a real intellectual and a truth-seeker is a difficult but worthy aspiration.  The two jostle against each other and create an unresolvable tension.  And this tension is what motivates all great thinkers.

Love of Truth: Discussing vs Arguing

It’s kind odd that I don’t like direct conflict but I enjoy debate.

I blame my parents.  Both my mom and dad taught me to idealize truth and honesty.  My dad gave me the debating skills to pick apart any argument and he taught me the love of wisdom.  My mom gave me an irritable disposition that leads me to being very upfront with my opinions.  Also, my mom gave me a non-intellectual interest in human nature.  Combined together, I have an equal ability to analyze both the argument and the person making the argument.  Furthermore, my mom gave me a stubborn streak that goes directly with an ability to obsessively think about something for endless hours.  To mix metaphors, when something gets caught in my craw I don’t let go until every stone is turned.

But I can’t entirely blame my parents.  The MBTI personality type that I am is INFP which is fairly different from my parents’ personalities.  INFPs are idealists to the extreme.  In a sense, I took too seriously the lessons my parents taught me.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I see every side to every argument, I could almost make a good zealot.  Sometimes when an INFP gets hold of an issue or idea that they consider of great value, they hold on like pitbulls.  We INFPs may look like fluffy teddy bears, but we often have sharp teeth.

My intellectual side is partly a genuine aspect of my identity and is partly learned behavior.  I have an inner sense of self that is sensitive and non-rational to an extreme.  I live more by imagination than by thought, but it’s thought that I often use to relate to the world.  Right or wrong, I tend to use my intellect to justify my existence.  I just want the world to make sense.  And because of this I’m hard on myself (and everyone else) for failing to make perfect sense.  It’s kinda sad, but it’s my life and that is just the way it is.

So, when I’m in an irritable mood or when a value of mine is challenged, I can be a tireless debating opponent.  However, I’m usually only aggressive to people who deserve it.  I call them like I see them.  If someone is being mean-spirited or if someone is flaunting their ignorance, then I’ve been known to clearly point it out to them.  As I see it, either discuss intelligently and politely or don’t say anything at all.  If you have nothing relevant to add but still feel you must throw in your baseless opinion, then I will tear your view apart until you either shut up or start crying like a little sissy girl.  But as long as your comments are minimally relevant and rational, I’m perfectly fine with disagreement.  In fact, I love disagreement of the intelligent variety because it means I can learn something new.  And when learning something new I’m in a very good mood.

I realize I should be nicer than I am sometimes.  But the fact of the matter is that I’ve always valued honesty above almost everything else.  I worship at the altar of truth.  And if you get in the way of my ideal of truth, I can’t be held responsible for my behavior.  Let me just say sorry in advance.  If you ever catch me in an irritable and defensive mood, just let me vent and afterwards I’ll quite likely be one of the most warm and understanding people you’ve ever met.  As long as you’re willing to be honest and considerate with me, I’ll do the same for you.  So, be open and upfront in how you express yourself and I’ll do my best to understand your view.  Talk straight with me and don’t play psychological games.  There is no point to it.  You’re wasting my time and your own.

If all you want to do is argue, I’ll sometimes concede to that way of relating… until I become too emotioanlly drained (which can take a long time as my obsessive persistence usually lasts longer than that of most people).  If you want conflict, I can be a worthy debate opponent.  Sadly, though, it seems to me that those who seek conflict the most are the very people who aren’t talented debaters.  Be argumentative if you must but at least be interesting rather than simply annoying.  In particular, I’d rather not deal with the condescending snarkiness of know-it-all intellectual wannabes.

I should add that what I love most in life is seeking and sharing knowledge.  When I get obsessed with some idea or topic, I can spend enormous amounts of time doing nothing but research. I dig deep to find every interesting connection and every significant detail.

If I don’t know something, I admit it.  But I’m not content to simply admit my ignorance.  If it’s important enough to voice an opinion about, then it’s important enough to inform myself about.  If you ever find yourself debating me, don’t pretend to know what you don’t actually know.  I will check every fact you claim and I will look up precise definitions.  I don’t care if you have a college degree and are an expert in your field, don’t try to bullshit me.

Most importantly, don’t present opinions as facts (and the same goes for beliefs).  That is just plain wrong in my book.  Opinions are fine.  I have plenty of my own.  Just be humble enough to admit that it’s just an opinion.  If you lie to me about a fact or simply talk ignorantly, I will throw it back in your face and will publicly humiliate you with glee.  Or if you try to hide your true intentions behind facts and logic, I’ll pick at them like scabs until your motives start to show.  Don’t mess with the truth and I won’t mess with you.

All that said, I’m a pretty easygoing guy.  You have to be trying hard to get me rattled.  Basically, I really really do enjoy a good discussion and I’d rather have a friendly exchange than a heated argument.  I get excited about exploring new possibilities and I’m happy as can be when I meet someone who knows something I don’t.  As I see it, the quest for truth is an endless quest because truth is a mystery best understood in terms of questions rather than conclusions.  If like me you are a lover of truth, then we shall get along like best pals.