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In a Dying Civilization What Are the Responsibilities of Intellectuals?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Richard Clark     Permalink
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As the large majority of us at OpEdNews already understand, our way of life, culture, economy, and society are all unsustainable, and mankind must (but probably won't) rapidly evolve in a way that can and will prevent disaster. (One society to face a similar problem was China's Qing Dynasty, more about which later.)

Civilization today has an addiction to, and dependency on, overconsumption. As a result, the environment and all of Earth's life support systems are in decline. Data backing these conclusions can be found in Derrick Jensen's book, End Game, and in every peer-reviewed article published in the past 20 years on this subject. In particular, look here.

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In the Qing Dynasty in China in the 19th century, there were many voices warning the court that their way of life needed to evolve, adapt, . . or die. So how did one of history's oldest and greatest civilizations encounter such a pressing choice, why did they fail to act, and are we doomed to follow in their footsteps? If so, why?

As Noam Chomsky pointed out in a famous NY Review of Books article in 1967 (linked here), it is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak truth to power and expose their lies. But aside from speaking truth to power and exposing the lies of the Powers That Be (PTB), what other responsibilities do intellectuals have, if any?

As has been abundantly shown in recent years, we are on a collision course with disaster. It took the Chinese over a hundred years and millions dead for their society to finally be reborn from a century-long period of chaos, only to now face the same kind of challenges we all must now face together. Unless serious changes occur to our current political, economic, and cultural structure and system, all signs show we are headed for certain doom.

My argument here is that we cannot hope to change our leadership, our government and our socioeconomic arrangements generally unless we broaden our understanding of the responsibilities of intellectuals.

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So how must that understanding be broadened?

If we are to survive on this planet even for another hundred years, our approach needs to be revolutionary, not apathetic; creative, not dogmatic; scientific, not superstitious; and sustainable, not exploitative. But this will only take place when we learn from history and begin doing more than speaking truth to power and exposing their lies.

What more?

We must come up with ideas about what the "serious changes" are that must occur within our current political, economic, and cultural structure, . . and then find some way to implement those ideas and changes. Barring this, all we can really do is passively wait for the end-times of our ecologically non-viable civilization. We can speak truth to power and (among ourselves) expose the lies of the PTB, and do both until the cows come home, but as long as the PTB won't listen, and laugh at us in private, behind our backs, what good can it do? Our civilization is still headed for the dumpster.

So, in the face of these facts, there are basically four possible responses:

1. Cultivate apathy and ignorance about all such matters. (This is of course the most popular response.)

2. Work ourselves into a dither by criticizing the hell out of the current set of economic and/or political arrangements and all the lies that are told by the PTB to the public in order to preserve those arrangements (which are so beneficial, financially, to the PTB).

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3. Try to come up with plans for overcoming the obstacles that face us and that prevent any possibility of changing the current set of economic and/or political arrangements.

4. Criticize, insult, and make fun of anyone who dares think about possible plans for overcoming the obstacles that face us (and that prevent any possibility of changing the current set of economic and/or political arrangements).

Notice that Response #4 is often really just a subset of Responses #1 and #2. Also notice that unless some group of people engages in Response #3, we are most certainly doomed as a civilization. We may be doomed anyway of course, but at least there's a chance of turning things around if some people, especially the right people, engage in Response #3.

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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