Intellectual Apathy: The Cause of Social Ills

Let me begin by telling you a little story. Once a learned man, a professor and renowned intellectual was crossing the river in a boat. The Professor started chatting with the boatman.

“Tell me do you have knowledge of philosophy?”
“No, Sir I don’t?”
“Then, my man, one fourth of your life has been wasted,” declared the Professor very grandly.
The poor boatman just looked down and kept rowing the boat.
“Okay now tell me do you have any knowledge of the sciences?”
“Alas Sir, I don’t”
“Then fifty per cent of your life is wasted,” announced the Professor his eyes full of pity for the ignorant boatman.
“Okay, now tell me do you at least have any knowledge of literature”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Poor man, three fourth of your life has been wasted,” the Professor said.
Just then the boat got caught in a whirlpool.
The boatman looked at the Professor, “Learned Sir, do you have any knowledge of swimming.”
“No, I don’t,” the Professor replied a puzzled expression on his face.
“Then Sir, your entire life is wasted,” the boatmen said, and jumping into the river swam away to safety.

Whenever there is a discussion on intellect and intellectuals this little story comes to my mind. It illustrates beautifully that unless intellectual wisdom is tempered with pragmatism it is of no use to the individual or the society.

Moving now to the theme of this article. I wonder whether the topic actually makes sense or not! Now before you protest let me explain. Where is the question of intellectual apathy when there are no intellectuals left. The intellectual is an extinct species, he has gone the way of the dinosaur, the idealist and the dodo. He doesn’t exist anywhere. What we have today is the pseudo- intellectual - a poor caricature, a pathetic carbon copy of the true intellectual.

To prove my point let me take the example of psychological paradigm. Abraham Maslow, the renowned psychologist has presented a model in the shape of a triangle which he called ‘Hierarchy of needs’. He has divided a man’s needs into several layers. Once one layer of needs is met the next layer comes into play. At the bottom are basic needs such as hunger, thirst and sex. According to Maslow once these needs are satisfied, than a man strives to satisfy the next layer which is the safety and security needs. These are followed by the need for belongingness and love and then the need for self esteem and recognition and finally the need for self actualization.

Intellectuals of the olden days Vashista, Dronacharya, Socrates, Aristotle and Pluto had reached the stage of self actualization after satisfying or conquering their basic needs. That is why they could give to the world path breaking philosophies, visionary leadership and a knowledge that has transcended all the boundaries of time and space.

The pseudo intellectual of today is still stuck in satisfying the basic needs. He is caught in the trap of material gains and cheap popularity so where is the question of him giving the world anything new or different.

Take the case of writers. A writer has become a brand name. He is not known by the quality of his writing. Rather he is known by the number of zeroes in the advance he or she gets for his book. The writer is so busy pandering to the market, so intent in trying to please the publisher that he has little scope or inclination to write for his conscience. Would you call such writers intellectuals or would you call them performing monkeys dancing to the tunes of the market? Why blame the writers alone? The artists, the sculptors even the so called activists have their own, personal selfish agendas to fulfill.

Some time back I had gone to meet a well known publisher in Delhi. I showed him my books. I told him that I write mainly for children. My stories are set in the here and now, not once upon a time. They deal with the unique problems faced by the child of today. They talk about Indian values, they give a glimpse of Indian culture. So would he like to have a look at the manuscript. He suppressed a yawn, took the manuscript from my hand and leafed through it with as much disinterest as he could muster and then said, “Mr. Kumar all this won’t sell. We don't have a market for such stuff. Why don’t you rewrite the Ramayana or the Panchatantra.”

“But sir, these have been retold a million times,” I protested.
“You know there is a huge market for them in Java, Bali and Sumatra where there is a sizeable Indian population.”
“But sir, to retell Ramayana and Panchatantra you don’t need a writer. Any one with a knowledge of English will be able to do it. I am giving you something original, something fresh and something contemporary...”

He waved his hands in a gesture of dismissal. “Mr. Kumar, you have to write what I want, or you can look somewhere else.”

So I looked elsewhere, found a publisher who was new, who did not pay much, who did not have a great marketing network but one who was willing to treat a writer not like a money making machine but as an artist with a conscience.

I am not saying I have done anything revolutionary, but in my own small way I have prevented myself from becoming a commodity in the open market. How many of the modern writers and artists are willing to do this? I’ll leave the question answered.

So now coming back to the pseudo intellectual what are his traits:

As long as the social ills do not directly effect him he simply shrugs and says: What is my father’s going?

The pseudo-intellectual is a great believer in double standards. He has two sets of rules - one for himself and one for the rest of the world. He will speak from roof tops about the importance of nurturing Indian languages, the value of education in one’s own mother tongue and then promptly go and get his child admitted in an English medium school. She will wax eloquence about Odissi and Kuchipudi and then send her daughter to take lessons in break dance.

The pseudo intellectual is gutless since he does not have the courage of his convictions because in the first place he does not have any convictions.

He cannot cannot think beyond I, Me and Myself.

Coming back to the topic - the problem is not of intellectual aloofness, but of intellectual extinction. Rephrasing Ayn Rand’s words : A country without intellectuals is like a body without a head. And that is precisely the position of India today. Our present state of cultural disintegration is not maintained and prolonged by intellectuals as such, but by the fact that we haven’t any. The majority of those who pose as intellectuals are frightened zombies, posturing in vacuum of their own making So then what is the solution?

There is only one. The real intellectual has to rise from his ashes like the proverbial sphinx of Greek mythology. But where will this new intellectual come from. Do we wait for Lord Krishna to come down - yada, yada, he dharamsya glanirbhavati bharata - he doesn’t have to come from anywhere. He is lying extinct within us. Smothered by the four headed monster of apathy, hypocrisy, cowardice and selfishness. We have to vanquish this monster and revive him. Only in the birth of the New Intellectual is there hope for us and our children.

According to Nitin Limaye, International Teacher, Art of Living, there are three kinds of shaktis - the Gyan shakti, the Ichha shakti and the Kriya shakti.

In India we have Gyan skakti, there is an abundance of spiritual knowledge, the Ichha shakti or the desire to do things is there. What we lack is Kriya shakti the ability to convert knowledge and desire into effective action.

The new intellectual should be the catalyst who can convert gyan and ichha into kriya - this alone can rid the society of its ills.

Can we then take a pledge on this occasion? A pledge not to change the world, but to change ourselves first, a pledge not to move mountains but to shift pebbles, a pledge not to ride the waves but to create ripples, since it is only by changing ourselves that we can change the world, it is only by shifting pebbles that we can conquer mountains and it is only by creating ripples that we can ride the waves. Then and only then will we create a world in which this little prayer will not remain a prayer but will become a reality :

Tamsoma jyotirgamaya
Asotama sadagamaya
Mrutyoma amrutamgamaya
Om shanti, shanti, shanti.....  


More by :  Ramendra Kumar

Top | Perspective

Views: 3776      Comments: 1

Comment Lovely article, thank you for this. Just a small comment, fifth from last paragraph, is it not the Greek Phoenix that rises from its ashes? I believe the Sphinx is Egyptian. Again, thank you.

Kalyn Simpson
25-Jan-2022 06:51 AM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.