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Who is an intellectual?

My handy collection Webster's dictionary defines an 'intellectual' as an intelligent and informed person. The 1913 Webster dictionary defined it to be endowed with intellect; having the power of understanding; having the capacity for the higher forms of knowledge or thought; characterised by intelligence or mental capacity.

Who is an intellectual? What makes a person an intellectual? A debatable issue that has kept mankind busy and alleviated boredom since ancient times. In ancient China, for example, the intellectual referred to the government officials who formed the ruling class for over two thousand years. (Is that why we continue to tolerate our own politicians despite their clear lack of intelligence?) In the west however, popular opinion on what defined an intellectual changed with the times. From an intellectual being a man of letters, to an educated official of the church, to the philosophic, scientist, artist and poet.

Ranjith is always heard ranting about the local education system, the spoon feeding schools and brain washing universities, the resulting products who cannot apply and highly unemployable in the private sector. According to Ranjith, an intellectual would be a senior, educated, wise and respected man. So all persons with paper qualifications qualify? No, just those with international qualifications since they meet an international standard.

As opposed to Ranjith's pitarata stand on intellectualism, Mudith believes the very opposite. To him, an intellectual is a man not of books, but self-learning. He believes that real maestros never learn from teachers but are self taught (even little tips are disallowed), that real novelists have never read and all intellectuals must never succeed at school.

To Nishika, an intellectual is a cold, heartless person. She considers an intellectual to be a person who never involves his emotions in decision making. Does that mean that over time, an intellectual will forget that his emotions exist at all? Very possible. Does that mean that both Bush and bin Laden qualify? Silence.

My CIMA friend Varuna deems those with exceptional analytical skills as intellectuals since they have the ability to analyse any situation or circumstance and hence move towards the actual solving of the problem. His dad shakes his head in a 'kids these days are so stupid' gesture.

According to Varuna's dad, survival, instinct and primitivist values count as intellect. "Like those British SAS fellows. Even those IRA fellows are not bad." Government agents and terrorists?

Shanika, a self-called artist herself tells me that intellectuals are those who dabble in the arts, be it paint, words or fluid motion (actors). So Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt are intellectuals? Yes. Antonio Banderas? Oh yes. Did they ever finish high school? That doesn't matter.

What about those who get high on everything from marijuana to crack and prescription pills for the sake of art? It is a noble sacrifice they make for the world, she tells me. So they are not just junkies hiding behind a canvas? Oh no! Why does she not do this? Brain damage, she blurts out.

On the other hand, Shenhantha considers an intellectual to be a person who puts to ridicule those considered intellectuals, for example, the people who made possible the successful pirating and mass-production of all the video and audio cds that he buys at Pettah.

To the seven-year old son of my friend however, an intellectual is his akki who reads all those big books all the time. What about you?

 

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