Saturday, October 22, 2005

Intellectuals or Idiots

The results are in. The poll to select the world's top 100 living intellectuals by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines began with this list. On the Prospect web site here you could vote for your top five. Following are my selections and their finishing places (see Men are Smarter, 9/23/05):

1. Benedict XVI (pope) ----------------------------17
2. Freeman Dyson (physicist) ------------------- 25
3. Francis Fukuyama (political scientist) ------21
4. Christopher Hitchens (essayist) ------------- 5
5. Bjorn Lonborg (environmental scientist) --- 14

The credentials of my top five were discussed in Educating Rori, 9/25/05. I stand by my choices.

Now here are the “winners” according to the Intellectual watchers who took the poll. My ratings are at the right.

1. Noam Chomsky (linguist) ------- 10000000000….
2. Umberto Eco
(writer) --------------------------- 8
3. Richard Dawkins (biologist, Darwinist) ------1000…
4. Vaclav Havel (playwrite, politician) ---------- 6
5. Christopher Hitchens (essayist) -------------- 4

Ok, I cheated on Chomsky and Dawkins. Playing by the rules they would be 100 and 99 respectively. Hitchens I love and Eco and Havel nearly made my list.

Václav Havel came to prominence in the 1970s for writing plays that ridiculed the absurdities of life in a dictatorship. His involvement in dissident activism led to imprisonment and the banning of his work. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Havel emerged as the leader of the “velvet revolution” and he was elected president of Czechoslovakia. After the country split in 1992 he served as the president of the Czech Republic from 1993–2003. He remains active in Europe, chastising the European Union for its passive approach to human rights in countries such as Burma and Cuba.

Umberto Eco might be known as a medievalist or a renaissance man. The 73-year-old Italian is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. He has written about the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the relevance of aesthetics throughout time, and the cultural influence of comic strips. Eco became known around the world for his novels The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, and the former was turned into a major Hollywood film.

Then there are the dregs (in my view). In his book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Richard Posner noted that "a successful academic may be able to use his success to reach the general public on matters about which he is an idiot."

Richard Dawkins burst on to the scene with his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, which presented the gene as the central unit of natural selection. Now professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, the 64-year-old Dawkins is a formidable critic of organized religion and is perhaps the world’s most vocal atheist. Dawkins makes the case for science, and against religion, to the general public in a way few can match. He is now reportedly working on a documentary about religion, tentatively titled “The Root of All Evil.” How can a guy with such a high IQ be so remarkably stupid?

And then there was “Chumpsky.”

Noam Chomsky earned his academic stripes as a young linguistics professor at MIT in the 1950s. His theory of transformational grammar posits that the capability to form structured language is innate to the human mind. But soon Chomsky became infamous for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War summarized in his book American Power and the New Mandarins (1969).

But Chomsky went beyond the leftist critique of US imperialism to the belief that "what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification." This diagnosis is central to Chomsky's political output. In his newly published Imperial Ambitions, he maintains that "the pretences for the invasion [of Iraq] are no more convincing than Hitler's."

After 9/11, Chomsky drew an equivalence between the destruction of the twin towers and the Clinton administration's bombing of Sudan—in which an asperin factory, wrongly identified as a bomb factory, was destroyed and a night watchman killed.

Unfortunately, Chomsky has a dedicated following among those of university education, and especially of university age, for opinions that have the veneer of scholarship and reason yet verge on the pathological. This is a bad man!

[Excerpts taken from Oliver Kamm, The Most Destructive Intellectual, Prospect 10/20/05; Peter Schweizer, The Branding of the World's Top Intellectual: Noam Chomsky, TechCentralStation 10/19/05; David Herman, Prospect/FP Top 100 Public Intellectuals Results, Prospect Online 10/05.]

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI there Bill:

You forgot to mention your enhanted enlightenment about Camille Paglia....looking forward to that.

Rori

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