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Dearth and Death of Intellectualism amongst Youths
- By Emmanuel Ezeagwu

Published  August 26th, 2015

The World Youth Day was celebrated a few days ago on 12 August 2015. In view of this, I wish to address a rather appalling trend which I have observed with keen interest mid utter disgust among most youths today in the society. It is in good faith that youths, particularly the affected ones, currently reading this piece will ‘repent’ of their actions – or inaction, amend their ways, and be the vanguard of transformation the society seeks because it is written by a fellow youth, one who is in the same shoes and knows what it feels like being a youth in this age. As a writer I have written essays to this effect, but I must say, pardon me, that not much youths read hard literature. Basically, it is not in youths of today to be delightfully yielded to the pleasing, gentle cuddle and rocking of intellectual texts. And if at all they read literature of some sort, it does not usually exceed fiction novels of various genres: romance, thriller; erotica or pornographic materials; sport and lifestyle articles on soft-sell magazines and tabloids; inter alia.

We all celebrate the youth as we reflect on the youth and intellectualism in today’s world, but I shall mainly draw attention to the dearth and death of intellectualism in this society and, in extension, the African society. But before I make a dive into cliché routine by describing intellectualism and narrating how I mean it is lacking and dying, permit me to briefly add that although I, with utmost sincerity, wish to address a most disturbing and ugly trend, as I have made clear, I do not in any wise prescribe a solution to it. I have discovered the bitter truth that no one drug cures everybody alike. Not that the efficacy of the medication is in doubt here, but that the similarity of any two people is non existent. What’s sauce for the goose may not always be sauce for the gander. What I am saying, albeit in some sense, is that we are presented in life with a vast variation in living things, and so is it with mankind that, for instance, surprisingly, no couple of finger prints belonging to any two persons in the whole world no matter how closely related can be equal.

I keep wondering how this is so. Likewise, no wise counsellor offers the same counsel to all his clients even when any two of them share similar issues. Poor Emerson when he learnt the bitter lesson bared his soul: "Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh." I cannot afford to be on that list knowing fully well that I am not half as pure and wise and great as those mentioned, not even as Mr Ralph Emerson himself, and thus greater shall be the misconception of my opinion, so I shall refrain from being a preacher. Let me stick to only dusting the obvious in the hope that those concerned who read this may be stirred to arousal from their slumber by reason of the light of this truth, and guided into the right way, just like the bean seedling innately goes upward unaided when it has received a good dose of sunning.

Permit me yet once more to add, even though I admit the superfluity of this, and the unduly heightening of the readers’ anticipation, that even the intended consequences of this article may not be reached. Ruefully. And this is, ironically, caused by what it seeks to address in the first place: the dearth and death of intellectualism. It will not allow the youth to pick up this serious article to read and think this issue through, this beastly dearth and death of intellectualism, because when such a thing exists you are of course not expected to set yourself down to peruse an intellectual writeup as this despite its briefness, and even when it seems to relate to something that relates to you, or that you can easily relate to. This is the extent of the profundity of the problem at hand. This out-of-the-ordinary situation is almost analogous to presenting before a blind man some concoction that can magically restore his sight when gulped, but this visually impaired man does not appreciate this gesture of goodwill because he cannot see the potency of what is being offered. Maybe he, like Thomas, is a strong believer of the tried and proven conventional wisdom: ‘Seeing is believing.’ However, in any case, I, in the spirit of goodwill, shall not relent in expressing my thought. Be this the quota I contribute to mankind before my certain demise. I, in the spirit of kindness and brotherhood, shall not relent from offering the antidote to the blind man, even though I know he is blind. I cannot remember who, excuse my bad memory, but someone said something like this: To not try is even more cowardly.

Now, directly on the subject of discussion; intellectualism is obviously one of the infamous isms of life, we dread to talk about, some of which being Darwinism, ethnocentrism, conservatism, and even some we dread to experience, like alcoholism, racism, communism, fundamentalism, terrorism. Unlike these boring isms, intellectualism, blast people’s notion of it today, is actually a very scintillating and noble phenomenal phenomenon. And I use the word ‘phenomenon’ for want of a better word to describe it. It is not just a state, or a way, or an action, it is something fundamentally enigmatic that, developed speech aside, distinguishes man in general from other creatures (at least the ones we know on earth). And, more intrinsically, it distinguishes some men from other men.
But intellectualism is much more than the intellect or mind. It is more than intelligence which word some folks ignorantly substitute it for. Intellectualism is... well... absurdity, in the words of some intellectuals like Jami and Orwell. It is not simply illogical or insensible, this absurdity, but rather complex over-logical and over-sensible. Intelligence, familiarly, is the ability to learn and understand things. It is naturally acquired, as it is with other intelligent animals like the dolphin and dog. This is not so with intellectualism which is not an ability but an activity. It is an activity wherein an educated mind thinks seriously about things. It is not naturally acquired, it is developed. Only humans can be intellectual. In short, intelligence is ability, intellectualism an activity. In another way, all intelligent people are not intellectuals, but all intellectuals are intelligent. In addition, unlike the simply intelligent, the intellectual must be actively involved in scholarship or in a scholarly profession, and must at least have an academic background in one or all of the arts, humanities and sciences. As earlier explained, intellectualism denotes the use, development, and exercise of the intellect. It is the rigorous employment of all mental skills in all logical, critical and analytical way by the well-educated man to ponder solemnly on complicated concepts, abstract, philosophical or concrete, concerning his immediate environment or the universe in whole, and to procure amazing answers and solutions previously unimagined to even the most difficult of questions and problems.

But, it is worth adding that the intellectual not only does this, he craves it and enjoys it. To him, it is more than pleasure of any other sort. He lives it, acts it, sleeps it until he dies in it. Little wonder why Aldous Huxley said, ‘An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.’ Let me explain that sex is a synecdoche because according to Freud it represents man’s basic drives and desires, the primary motivation for all things in life. Newton was an intellectual that sometimes he forgot his earthly meal. And it was more or less so with Pythagoras, Socrates, Luther, Galileo, and many other intellectuals, that Emerson, previously quoted, described them as ‘pure...spirits that...took flesh’. Such was the level of moral purity, moderation and self-discipline of these intellectuals that they meddled not with trifling everyday affairs to which almost every young person today is a slave.

I have discovered much to my dismay that these days these things which constitute the inconsequential for the intellectuals of old are the things that are not only endemic (this itself is pardonable), but also promoted. Now, to set things clear, I do not advocate asceticism (far be it) that some of the ancient intellectuals and thinkers more or less practised, like Jesus in Emerson’s quotation or Tolstroy or any other mortal who dared to tread that line. I cannot myself be found even near its border for all the treasures of the world, which is indeed ironic. What I say is let there be moderation. A good old-fashioned temperance would do. I demand why so much importance has been put on the unimportant.

Now, I very well understand that these are basic drives or desires like my friend Freud said, but I must ask, permit me: These are just carnal needs, what of the moral needs? These are sensual, what of the sensuous? There is no way and no reason why sexuality should predominate over morality. The pursuit of the basic needs and desires of man which we agree is the primary motivation of living things should not for any reason be the chief and foremost motivation in man. To be primary does not imply to be prime. Other animals are not endowed with morality, rationality and other qualities of the mind which man possess. It is quite understandable that animals are driven by these needs, but in humans reason supersedes. And this is regardless of whether the needs can be postponed, like sexual gratification or not postponed, like hunger. And so Mr Freud, all those motivations of living things which nature has blessed or cursed us with, depending on what angle it is looked at from, should remain foremost and primary for other animals and infant humans, but foundational and not primary for adults and juveniles old enough to reason and discern social norms. What we see these days (some with bright eyes, some of us with wet eyes) is the unwholesome proliferation of non-intellectual engagements. The ethos of the society has changed. In the kind of society we live in today non-stop merry-making synonymous to non-academic practices rule supreme in the air. No longer do young people read books, or involve in intellectually stimulating activities, instead they are in a rush for seeking pleasure and fulfilment through sex, pornography, films, music, reveries, drugs, intoxicating drinks, cultism, just to name a few. And this is why students go through unseemly means to pass examinations, and to make quick money at all costs to continue in their vices. As a result of these, the society is deluged with people who cannot make meaningful contributions to nation building and development - people who, otherwise, should be the young minds and brains fuelling the nation's drive for development as our forefathers and current elders envisaged.

Looking at the youth of the modern generation you can scarcely find an intellectual or an intellectual in the making. It is hard to point to one of our youths, even in our schools and say, ‘There, I see another Socrates’, or any other philosopher; or to look at another and remark, ‘Oh, he’ll make another Achebe!’, or Okigbo, or Soyinka, or any other person who has masterfully and artistically worded in the English language; or to eye another Ken Saro-Wiwa or any other political activist of his calibre. It is impossible to notice fine educationists like Alvan Ikoku, or a scientists like Philip Emeagwali. In the words of a friend: ‘The world is getting stupider’ and the youth, as it were, are at the very forefront. And I wonder, dear friends, what will become of the world, nay our Nigeria when in the near future everybody walks the streets with nothing on save his or her Apple earphone, and every young male drives his play tool into any willing hole at the slightest impulse. I wonder what development will be when the brains are dulled out as a result of underuse as the society keeps endorsing and promoting irrationality and idiocy. As today’s youths become more materialistic, fashionable, rich, lacking in sound reasoning and proper education, and sex crazed, while the brilliant ones are derided as old-fashioned and boring, we might be on the verge of breeding out intellectualism from the human race. We consider and celebrate the youth and intellectualism today. But I think we should rather brood over this: What we are celebrating today is it not indeed ailing and, by this time tomorrow, might be dead?

Emmanuel Ezeagwu




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