All thought is saturated with egocentric and sociocentric presuppositions. That is, all thought contains highly motivating bias centered in the self or in ideologies such as political, religious, and economic theories. Some individuals are conscious of these internal forces but most people are not.
Those individuals who are conscious of these biases within their thinking can try to rid their judgments of that influence. Those who are not conscious, or little conscious of such bias, are bound to display a significant degree of irrational tendencies in their judgments.
“Can the intellectual, who is supposed to have a special and perhaps professional concern with truth, escape from or rise above the partiality and distortions of ideology?”
Our culture has tended to channel intellectuals, or perhaps more properly those who function as intellectuals, into academic professions. Gramsci makes the accurate distinction that all men and women “are intellectuals…but all do not have the function of intellectuals in society”.
An intellectual might be properly defined as those who are primarily or professionally concerned with matters of the mind and the imagination but who are socially non-attached. “The intellectual is thought of not as someone who displays great mental or imaginative ability but as someone who applies those abilities in more general areas such as religion, philosophy and social and political issues. It is the involvement in general and controversy outside of a specialization that is considered as the hallmark of an intellectual; it is a matter of choice of self definition, choice is supreme here.”
Even anti-ideological is ideological. If partisanship can be defended servility cannot; many have allowed themselves to become the tools of others.
We have moved into an age when the university is no longer an ivory tower and knowledge is king but knowledge has become a commodity and educators have become instruments of power; the university has become a privately owned think-tank.
“A profound change in the intellectual community itself is inherent in this development. The largely humanist-oriented, occasionally ideological minded intellectual dissenter , who saw his role largely in terms of proffering social critiques, is rapidly being displaced either by experts and specialist, who become involved in special government undertakings, or by generalist-integrators, who become house-ideologues for those in power, providing overall intellectual integration for disparate actions.”
The subordination to power is not just at the individual level but also at the institutional level. Government funds are made available to universities and colleges not for use as they deem fit but for specific government needs. Private industry plays even a larger role in providing funds for educational institutions to perform management and business study. Private industry is not inclined ‘to waste’ money on activities that do not contribute to the bottom line. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’
Each intellectual is spouting a different ideology, how does the individual choose what ideology? Trotsky once said “only a participant can be a profound spectator”. Is detachment then a virtue? To suggest that intellectuals rise above ideology is impractical. Explicit commitment is preferable to bogus neutrality. But truth is an indispensable touchstone.
I think that the proper role for the intellectual is commitment plus detachment. Do you think many of our present day intellectuals qualify as committed and detached?
Quotes and ideas from “Knowledge and Belief in Politics” Bhikhu Parekh