Men of Letters
by colbert | December 28, 2009
In the beginning there was religion, philosophy, science, and the craft of law. The study by a few to understand the reality and necessary rules of the whole. The capture of that commentary and observation was augmented by the rise of the Fourth Estate — a recognized profession of wordsmiths, ponderers, and reporters who carried a responsibility to provide the masses with a generally unbiased view of the current day, its news, its stories, and the topics that define(d) a civilized society. Alongside these professional journalists were “men of letters,” independent sorts, typically well educated and committed to the intellectual task of delving into the truth of life and whether it really needed to be nasty, brutish, and short. At the end of the “public intellectual” spectrum was an educated man, one who was valued for his (or her) capacity with words and his informed position on matters of intellectual import.
As noted in my favorite public intellectual — and not so intellectual — dumping ground (Wikipedia), the following:
Regardless of the field of expertise, the role of the public intellectual is addressing and responding to the problems of his or her society, as the voice of the people with neither the ability, nor the opportunity, to address said problems in the public fora; hence, they must ‘rise above the partial preoccupation of one’s own profession . . . and engage with the global issues of truth, judgment, and taste of the time.’ The purpose of the public intellectual remains debated, especially his or her place in public discourse, thus acceptance or non-acceptance in contemporary society; to wit, Edward Saïd noted that as almost impossible:
[The] . . . real or ‘true’ intellectual is, therefore, always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society.’
So let us compare all this to the reality of today. The Fourth Estate has been served with liens of implied irrelevance. Men of letters and the well studied and articulated role of the intellectual man who lives by choice on the outside looking in have been supplanted by random observations of the biased and uninformed that reside by choice at the center. The defining voices of today are supported with limited lexicons and shallow calculations, and are often motivated not by truth but by celebrity and fame. Their all too frequent distribution of “weakly thought” thoughts garner attention simply for being bold in their declaration and bank on the limited attention span and capacity of their “markets” to absorb, let alone challenge, the integrity of their claims. I am one of these voices. And I apologize.
Is this all to suggest I don’t believe in blogging? I truly do, but I also believe that we must balance our reliance on the informal guidance of the amateur intellectual (like me) with the elevation and support of the professional commentator, the public intellectual. The demise of the Fourth Estate would in fact be a terrible consequence of blogospheric pressure. I believe that the complex questions of today demand more rigorous study and contemplation than our sphere alone provides. They demand a certified form of intellectual engagement that can explore and communicate about the biggest topics of life without bias or self-serving intent. They demand a Fourth Estate, men of letters and individuals committed to understanding the external and eternal truths, willing to intellectually invest, to check their “facts” and be able to explain the derived understanding in ways that make a difference for those that apply their insights and guidance.
So for those of us who blog about things that matter, a challenge is herein posed. Let us take a step back and re-think our motivations, let us balance our desire and readiness to share with a willingness to check our supporting logic and data. And let us proffer words that carry truth about the truth, words that matter and nothing less.
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