Winning game without the queen
IN chess, it's generally a good idea to sacrifice a 'knight' in order to capture an opposing 'rook', or to sacrifice a 'rook' in order to capture the opponent's 'queen.' The pieces' standard valuations are useful for guiding basic strategic decisions -- but there are exceptions. Sometimes, sacrificing your queen for a lesser piece is actually your best option, and will save you from defeat or even lead you to victory. In such a case, it wouldn't make any sense for a player to insist on adhering to the principle that the queen shouldn't be exchanged for lesser pieces, as if that were an end in itself. The relative valuation of the pieces is just a heuristic - a “rule of thumb” - providing a useful simplification that often leads to good results. But in the end, all that matters is winning the game. A smart player knows to disregard a heuristic in situations where it would not actually further the ultimate goal. And here I am referring to “intellectual integrity and honesty,” as lesser pieces, which ultimately wins the game, even if we lose the queen.
Intellectual ideas and scholarly mindset depend on our academics, judges, civil society, journalists and all inquisitive minds. In The Treason of the Intellectuals translated from the original La trahison des clercs by French philosopher and novelist, Julien Benda describes eloquently what happens when the intelligentsias compromise their intellectual honesty for political reasons. Benda argues: “It is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally.”
In short, Benda asserted that once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its simulators.” But systematic suffocation and erosion of their moral and ethical values that shield scholarly aptitude derail creativity and promote mediocrity. And that is bound to thrust us into a cataclysmic future, a dark age from which there will be no light in the horizon. We have irreversibly contaminated our academic institutions, and by doing so, have handicapped not only progressive minds but also the immune next generation. And that alone qualifies “treason” with our future generations, who are rightfully entitled for a better future.
Winston Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter, and I often wonder if this will ever cease to be the case. Hence, the importance and logical expectation from the learned, knowledgeable, educated and scholars/experts. In Freedom and the Colleges Bertrand Russell claims to have no doubt that democracy is the best form of government, and yet, he said: “Against the danger of democratic abuse of power, the chief protection is a sound education designed to combat the tendency to irrational eruptions of collective hate.” We need our intellectuals and civil society to contribute in a manner that encourages population that is rational enough and critical enough and well enough informed, so that politicians will leave a five-minute conversation with the average voter feeling neither smug nor depressed, but challenged.
Our academicians, the trustee of morality, under the blanket of political protections, have abused and misused academic freedom. But academic freedom is tied with “responsibility” that sprouts out of loyalty to moral and ethical standards. As a responsible faculty of the civil society, academicians are compelled to go by evidences and facts alone, based on scientifically gathered
statistically significant data and substance, not rhetoric, speculative opinion or vociferous oratory. It's essential to evaluate all ideas critically. The smartest people we know could be wrong; we should never accept something just because someone said so, or because it's tradition, or because it feels right intuitively. Our level of confidence in a proposition ought to scale with the level of available evidence in its support. Being skeptical of extraordinary claims is a good default position and we must be wary of turning faux-scholarly opinions and their useful heuristics into infallible dogmas to be followed blindly regardless of the actual consequences on mass population. Nevertheless the quest for building and maintaining a functional civil society must not be halted.
So the question remains, what is a civil society? Civil society is not the one that answers questions; civil society is the one that ponders “reason.” And by doing so, it is curious, intellectually vigorous, although heavy on the wonder side and light on skepticism. Rational thinking allows progressive minds to combat centuries-long erosion of family, tribe, tradition and religion by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason and science as well as less ignorance and superstition. We should exhibit enormous enthusiasm so that provocative
questions bubble out of us. Nation building does not mean Wi-Fi on public buses; nation building is creating curious minds in our young next generation.
In my view, the silver lining despite gloomy future and perhaps the most profound pacifying force is an “escalator of reason” within our future generation. As literacy, education, and the intensity of public discourse increase, people are encouraged to think more abstractly and more universally, and that will
inevitably push in the direction of a reduction of political rhetoric. People will be tempted to rise above their parochial vantage point, making it harder to privilege their own interests over others. Reason leads to the replacement of authoritative rules with fair and universal rules. And it encourages people to recognise the futility of political agendas, and to see politicians as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.
The 'true' intellectuals with traditional panoply of enlightened scholarly ideals of
collective magnanimity should stand up in crisis moment to tell the truth no matter how unpopular it is (like Noam Chomsky, late Edward Said and late Howard Zinn did/does). Otherwise, only the most vociferous self-proclaimed intellectuals or the judges/journalists with price tags or the imprudent community, those have abandoned their attachment to fairness, will fill the vacancy with deliberate fabrications and deceptions that will remain permanently imprinted
on our social drapery! And 'Truth” will always remain forever hidden if we let these 'faux' intellectuals and their symbiotic cronies any importance. We need to mute them all and challenge them with argument based on facts. If we don't trust an Imam to have a say in stem cell research or cloning, why should we let these fake intellectuals to have any say that is not based on scientific evidence. It is an insult to our god given intelligence and aptitude. Regretfully, our future generations will not hold the “Politicians and Co. Inc.” responsible but the “intellectuals” who hold the “custody” of social justice, moral and virtuous values.
While democracy depends on an informed citizenry, political indoctrination depends on ignorance. Therefore, we must encourage our next generation to have opinions on logical thinking, honest evaluation and the best evidence in reasonable and rationale way; “emotion” should play almost no role. But I don't insist that everything in life ought to be approached in a reasonable manner, as it's impossible to be 'too reasonable.' What kind of country would we live in, if everyone were constantly expected to provide good reasons for their beliefs and reasonable justification for their actions? If everything were open for discussion and reevaluation based on evidence and argument? Our future generation ought to be 'respectable reasonablists' and need to understand that some people are deeply attached to so-called “non-reasonable” doctrines. But future generation ought to proclaim the value of logical consistency and intellectual honesty,
although others are free to define “reasonable” however they want: following ancestral tradition, religious belief, as long as such “practice” does not promote hatred, bigot, prejudice and injustice -- who are we to judge? As insistence on being undogmatic is just another dogma; and rejection of blind faith is itself a form of blind faith. We should agree to disagree and respect all opinions,
with equal merit as our own, without being judgmental. As famous French author Aime Cesaire implied that no single opinion possesses the monopoly and is, therefore, absolute; there is a place for all opinions at the rendezvous of victory!
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Oral Biology, University of Nebraska Medical Center.