(Note: this entry constitutes the last part of a series of five.)
Intellectual sloth is a human character flaw. It pushes any person who is guilty of it to wallow in ignorance, finding security in absolute ideologies, philosophies of thoughts, tenets of faith or various dogmas, without seeking to understand them fully or even less to question them. A person guilty of intellectual sloth is constantly in search of the quick-and-easy and instant gratification: such a person will therefore want (consciously or not) to be serviced an opinion, either by political, journalistic, religious personalities or any notable celebrity, rather than to make the effort of actually forging an informed one for him (or her) self.
Incidentally, a person guilty of intellectual sloth is egocentric and selfish, even greedy, in his/her immature search for facility and instant gratification. Furthermore, such a person refuses to accept any fact of reality which confronts, rattles, or even invalidates, the comfort of one's “convictions”. To this effect, such a person will be arrogant, if not contemptuous, towards anything and anyone that confronts his/her ignorance generated by intellectual sloth. Hence, this is why such people will seek to bring all those around them to their level, by all means necessary. And since arrogance and contempt, through ignorance and fear, inevitably bring intolerance, hate and loathing, the people guilty of intellectual sloth sooner or later will make use of violence - verbal or physical - in order to promote or defend their “convictions”.
In short, intellectual sloth transforms any adult person who is guilty of it into an irresponsible and reactionary child or adolescent, who lives only in the “now” while remaining blind to “yesterday” and “tomorrow". Such a person thus becomes incompetent to deal with reality, or to even attempt at understanding it.
Intellectual sloth is a scourge which acts upon all levels of human activity. As examples, I discussed the pernicious effects of intellectual sloth in people of faith, in the maintenance of our democratic values and institutions, as well as in the cultures of our modern societies. However, I could just as easily have chosen to discuss the effects of intellectual sloth on the governorship of our countries, international relations , trade unionism, the fight against poverty, buisiness and corporation management, in solving social (or global) inequalities, in the protection of the environment, etc., etc., etc. In short, the scourge which is intellectual sloth strikes through the entirety of the human population, as much at democratized societies than at those which are not, regardless of the baseline culture (i.e. the Western culture, the Oriental culture, the Middle-Eastern culture, the Native American culture, etc).
Hence, intellectual sloth is seemingly everywhere, every day. Terrorism, neoconservatism (whether American, Canadian, or other), the application of “divine” laws by religious fundamentalists, the 2003 war of Iraq, extremism, racism, vandalism, and so on ... all vivid illustrations of intellectual sloth being carried out, by the ignorance it festers, to its ultimate conclusion: violence.
Considering that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, we therefore have not much choice but to conclude that incompetence - via intellectual sloth - reigns supreme indeed ... and not only nowadays, but since always at that.
Now, it must be clearly understood here that intellectual sloth does not equate with stupidity. Indeed, intellectual sloth has nothing to do with cognitive or intellectual faculties in themselves, but rather with motivation - motivation to question, to reason, to discern, to gather information, to contextualize, to criticize, to evaluate/re-evaluate, to think. One indeed finds intellectual sloth as much among educated people (professionals, politicians, “white collars", etc.) than less, little, or non, educated people (day laborers, “blue collars”, etc.). In fact, the only motivation which intellectual sloth actually stimulates, in anyone who is guilty of it, is that to defend and promote with arrogance and by argumentation, or violence, one's convictions founded upon ignorance - ignorance of facts, ignorance of consequences, ignorance of reality. And such “motivation” by intellectual sloth has but one goal: that to alleviate the fear of the unknown and the uncertain, thus remaining secure and blissful in one's arrogance, one's egotism ... and, of course, one's intellectual sloth.
So then, what to do to keep intellectual sloth in check? I offer only one word as an answer to this question: education.
Yes, it is through education that the character flaw which is intellectual sloth can be countered. Now, it goes without saying that I am not promulgating the transformation of our societies as purely scientific ones - let's be serious, after all. Free choice is a basic human right and such free choice includes, of course, the choice of work, of profession and of career. Individuality - read: diversity - cannot be circumvented, if only for the continued well-being of not only our societies, but of our species as well. However, the inculcation, beginning in childhood and throughout the educational process, of the need for questioning, for reasoning, for discerning, for gathering information, for contextualizing, for criticizing, for evaluating/re-evaluating, for thinking - in short, for the need of intellectual activity - constitutes the best vaccine against intellectual sloth.
The purpose of the educational reforms of the last 25-30 years in our modern societies will have had as the primary goal to make education less strict and authoritative, and rather more motivating, enriching and inclusive. That in itself is all well and good. Unfortunately, the reforms put in practice over these years will have brought us to the present situation whereby intellectual sloth is not only encouraged but, even more so, actually rewarded. Indeed, any effort that is slightly substantial is regarded as being incompatible with the cognitive development of a child (or of an adolescent) and, still worse, with the blooming of those who have “difficulties in learning” - in other words, our reforms will have lowered the bar to the lowest common denominator. Point in fact is that any difficulty of learning (except in specific situations like dyslexia) draws its origins from several factors: poverty, parental situation, traumatisms experienced, etc., and thus require specific teaching methods which take into account these factors. But nevertheless, we seek to motivate all children without requiring of them any truly significant effort: this amounts to seeking to motivate an employee into being willing to work with never ending promotions, while without requiring of him to perform his tasks decently. Ridiculous, no? But this is exactly how things are being done in our schools today.
In short, we are trying to teach knowledge while doing everything possible to make knowledge interesting and easily understandable, consequently lowering the bar by standardizing intellectual sloth. Moreover, we are at the point where we are actually making students practice important exams with the aim of improving their performances during these same examinations - what could be more ridiculous? And of course, each successive reform fails in its attempts to increase the motivation, to reduce the rates of failure, or to reverse the dropout rates. Why? Because at the base, all these reforms entrench in their new methods and teaching approaches the rewarding (direct or indirect) of intellectual sloth, as well as its by-products, the search for facility and for instant gratification. In other words, we perpetuate and accentuate the problem!
If this is not intellectual sloth in itself on the part of our educational leaders and decision makers ...
Should one therefore be surprised by the preponderance of the promotion and exercise of leisures and hobbies, in the house as well as outside? As with everything, too much of a good thing is bad. If intellectual sloth is silently (or by negligence) encouraged by parents and at school, how can the children, and their own children, and so on, do anything else but perpetuate this vicious circle at all levels of society?
My solution is that we must inculcate intellectual activity, as defined above, as soon as possible in children. Let us not wait until college or university to do so like we have always done so far, for by then it is visibly too late and intellectual sloth has already set in too many students - not mentioning all those who dropped out or ended their education after high school.
Inculcating intellectual activity in our schools as it should be, i.e. without encouraging intellectual sloth in any way whatsoever, is a matter that holds the very future of our modern societies at stake, including that of our cultures and our democratic values and institutions as well. It is by countering intellectual sloth that we will eventually allow the emergence of future leaders who will make better use of reason in establishing the application of true and durable solutions to the problems facing our societies and humanity as a whole.
In conclusion, it is by countering intellectual sloth that we will make way for the inevitable emergence of a majority (in the least) of competent citizens in all spheres of activities within our societies - and the latters will only be the better for this.
And we as well, incidentally.
So ... what do you think?
(Reposted as a DKos Diary)
(this entry was originally posted 04/06/06)
(Google caches of the original posts - in English and in French)