For me intelligence is one of the most beautiful things there is. To see that spark in someone’s eyes that shows they’re alive to the world, that they are dedicating themselves and whatever capacities they have to living life to the full. The delights of one of those conversations where two minds dance together in a world of ideas – serious or plain silly, it doesn’t matter – what matters is that living intelligence. The essence of humanity.
That light seems to shine brightest in young children, with their endless curiosity. I think it’s sad that, for some people, that light gets turned off as they grow up. They learn to feel stupid, or are told that certain interests are not for them. They are told not to ask certain questions, or give up asking questions because they never get answers.
Some types of elitism do have the effect of stifling that interest. But actually I think anti-elitism has a far more serious effect. In a society where knowledge and learning is valued but kept for the few, it is still there to be aspired to, and the excluded can fight for their just deserts. In a society where knowledge and learning is not valued, people learn to hide their intelligence in order to fit in. (I remember crying my eyes out on receiving the results of a school chemistry test – because I felt that everyone would hate me for getting full marks!). And this limits everyone. It strikes me as very patronising to dumb down for someone because it says implicitly or explicitly that their intelligence is insufficient to go any further.
Yes, some artforms or fields of study do require quite a bit of time and effort before you can really appreciate what is going on. But I do believe that often the difference between people who enjoy “elite” artforms and those who don’t is twofold – a feeling that it’s “not for people like them” and a lack of the experience needed to get into it. That’s not to say that they “ought to” enjoy these things… but I think it’s sad when people are cut off from things that they might enjoy for such limiting reasons.
I would like to live in a society filled with adults with the curious and unselfconscious fascination with the world that children have. A world where intellectual enquiry and pursuit of excellence is valued – not just because of the results, but because of the journey. Where everyone, regardless of their basic intellectual capacity, is inspired to become more, to bring their own special qualities to fruition.
For me this is expressed beautifully in the very famous Nelson Mandela quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure….
“It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…
“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I encourage you to follow up the links above – I think Dana’s still looking for more contributions now and in the future. In the meantime I thought this quote from Dana rather neatly explains what the carnival’s about:
“…Elitist Bastards, who have no trouble simultaneously being common as muck and smart as all get-out. We’re not a pretentious elite, but a more populist one. We think intelligence is something to be celebrated, but I doubt any of us think it’s something reserved to a select few, and we certainly don’t think it has to make you a stuffy, proper, boring git. Calling ourselves bastards is a joyful way of announcing we’re out to have fun with our elitist tendencies.”
The beautiful photo was taken by Jose Maria Tan and uploaded to flickr.