Today, I got excited for making sense of Gombrich’s limited concept of art and illusion. In my intellectual delight and exaltation, I explained to my boyfriend how Gombrich actually renders impossible any poststructuralist discussion of signification and representation. I got the most human and natural reaction that I so often have when thinking about my intellectual achievements for having studied anthropology and flirting with different systems of thought like structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism and so on, for the past 4 years: how the **** does that help humanity?
I am no stranger to the feeling that, while theory made my life beautiful by showering me with the joy of intellectual fulfilment, it really means nothing compared to real life struggles and disasters like the recent tragic news of the refugee boat sinking in the Mediterranean. I cannot deny the reality that the very possibility of my engagement with theoretical and intellectual debates is, essentially, a privilege, one that over half of people my age (to give an optimistic estimation) cannot afford. The fact that I owe the UK government a small fortune for this privilege makes it no less of a privilege. I often feel guilty thinking I could’ve chosen to do something more meaningful (more so with the financial consequence).
However, I tend to reject this qualitative thinking, for so many other people’s activity just is, and moreover, is necessary for the functioning of society. Intellectuals and the academic world have their function in their struggle of understanding human nature, human enterprise and humanity. They perpetuate intellectual and philosophical debates about our human nature. It is nonetheless more difficult to value the work of social sciences since they invented no remedy for cancer or found no ways of diminishing pollution through the use of solar energy. This is the same qualitative thinking that unfairly shadows the legacy of social science. Yes, I struggled so many times and yes, I hated the pretentious terminology. But I am thrilled at the thought of struggling even more, because, in order to understand the complexity of humanity, I need to take the necessary detour through theory. I also need to acknowledge and value the intellectual effort that has been done before me, and that allows me to understand and live the world the way I do. The human capacity to create categories of thinking and come up with theories and definitions, no matter how influenced it was by hierarchies of power, is infinitely fascinating. What is even more beautiful is how theories and definitions are always engaged with and contested. Were there no intellectual drive for contestation, what would the state of humanity be today?
Nonetheless, I just cannot repress my feeling of helplessness in the face of real struggle, which, unfortunately, in the 21st century, is still so pervasive. I live in my happy bubble of intellectual fulfilment, in a modern, wealthy Europe that’s becoming ever more fortified against the ills and destruction it is causing elsewhere. With all the necessary nuances, I am the definition of privilege. I have access to such joys and information that gets articulated in policy and affects the state of affairs worldwide. I have, therefore, a duty and an aspiration of becoming an organic intellectual, of taking my activity further and outside the privileged world of academia. However, you don’t need to be an organic intellectual to break the helplessness. Small is beautiful, we should be reminded. But since I can act upon this privilege, and get involved with policy and politics, and make a difference, as cliché as it sounds, I will dare to make it an aspiration, because I feel it is already a duty (definitely not the duty of the white saviour, in Europe I am not even considered white).
At the end of the day, I have also studied politics. I will end this by sharing the most insightful short conversation about politics I ever had.
Politics is a dirty game, why did you study politics?
Well, I am not sure I want to have a political career, but I wanted to know how the world functions.
And did you find out?