Wednesday 26 October 2011

Intellectuals and the parable of the talents


First - read: 

Matthew 25: 14-30


Intellectuals who read this parable are highly prone to believe that they correspond to the servant given five talents.

And, being so talented, they must do something special to justify their enormous talents - must make at least another five talents worth of achievement.

Because they believe themselves possessed of so many talents, they are filled with pride; and because they must do something special with their abundance of talents they feel they need to make an impression, get attention, gain recognition for their achievements commensurate with their talents.


Yet most of the ways to make an impression, get attention and gain recognition in the world are wicked - so most intellectuals who suppose they have achieved five talents worth of achievement have actually achieved five talents worth of wickedness - or, indeed, a lot more.

Instead of creativity they pursue novelty, instead of truths they offer diversions, instead of virtue they adhere to consensus, instead of beauty they provide subversion.

The net effect of intellectual activity is negative.  

30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Really, honestly, almost all intellectuals have ONE talent's worth of talent - and therefore no more is expected of them than they use this slender talent for one talent's worth more of Good.

After all, that doyen of intellectuals, Thomas Aquinas, after writing some eight million words and then experiencing divine revelation, pronounced his oeuvre to be 'straw' in contrast to what he had perceived.


Intellectual ability counts for much, much, much less than intellectuals imagine; therefore they need to achieve less than they imagine - one talent's worth, not five; and are entitled to much less earthly reward than they imagine - one talent's worth, not five.


Other talents are much greater - especially Love and Courage. Yet, how many intellectuals excel in Love and Courage?

Indeed, how many more intellectuals, in contrast, actually denigrate Love and Courage?

How many intellectuals denigrate Love to elevate Pleasure and Comfort; how many intellectuals denigrate Courage to elevate Sloth and Cowardice?

(Do all intellectuals do this, or merely 99 percent of them?)


A minimally-qualified infant school teacher with merely average intelligence who diligently instructs children how to read and calculate, and sets them a good example, is worth... how much?... infinitely more than (say) the typical high status careerist college professor who energetically (not slothful in this at least) debunks The Good and spreads lies, ugliness, vice, spite, cowardice - and both indulges and propagandizes hedonism.

It is the difference between the making of one talent, and the deliberate destruction of five thousand talents.

(Making being infinitely more valued than deliberate destruction - quantities being irrelevant.) 

The talents of nearly-all intellectuals - whether clerks, teachers, scholars or scientists - are modest indeed; but could be enough if modestly deployed for Good.



Anonymous said...

I am a vain intellectual, but I have an excuse. I was raised by high-pressure parents who wanted an over-achieving child. They told me night and day that I had lots of talents, and that I had better produce lots of grades and scholarships if I knew what was good for me.

So my massive over-achiever complex isn't the product of my own faults so much as the hothouse environment that produced me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@pg - Try telling that to St Peter, see if he buys it... ;=)