I will be giving further proof this week that you should be reading InsideCatholic articles as they are posted.
Today’s selection is entitled When Is Stupidity a Sin? by Alice von Hildebrand (wife of Dietrich, before he died), where she hits on a few of the points Tom Sowell loves to make while furthering the badassness of Chesterton:
In his autobiography, G. K. Chesterton writes, “A large section of the Intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of Intelligence.” At first, this surprising indictment might be interpreted as merely humorous; after all, are not “intellectuals” those to whom we turn for enlightenment and guidance, those who are the luminaries of universities — castles of knowledge and wisdom? But upon thinking about it, one is bound to come to an inevitable conclusion: The places of “higher learning” have also been the nurseries of the most ponderous errors and the most devastating heresies that have plagued our world.
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Carpenters, shoemakers, peasants, manual workers are guided by common sense. They have no pretension to have the key to wisdom. They do not raise questions the answer of which is above their capacities (Ps 130). The blue-collar worker is very unlikely to have any illusions about the quality of his work: If a carpenter makes a set of drawers that does not close, he knows he has done a bad job. If the food prepared by a cook is unpalatable, the culprit knows that he should go back to cooking school. If a tailor makes a suit that is much too tight for the person who has ordered it, he knows that he is a bad tailor. If a car does not work after a mechanic made repairs, the customer cannot be mistaken in telling him that he is a bad mechanic. Blunt, tangible results are more eloquent than words. The punishment is on the tailcoat of the fault.
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[But] one needs only a superficial knowledge of the history of philosophy to realize that “intellectuals” have given birth to innumerable errors and stupidities. Dogmatic skepticism, subjectivism, “dictatorial relativism,” idealism, and so on are the chaff produced by intellectual leaders. Plato remarked that philosophy suffers from a bad reputation because it has fallen into the hands of thinkers unworthy to be called “lovers of wisdom” — intellectual “quacks” who “prefer themselves to truth,” those who see man (that is, themselves) as “the measure of all things.” The tragedy is that those making these catastrophic mistakes are blessed (or cursed) with a great amount of what Plato calls “cleverness.” They readily find arguments to buttress their position, however indefensible, because they are “glib,” well-trained in rhetoric, and know how to hypnotize a gullible public by brilliance and pseudo-depth.
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This leads us to our topic: Whether stupidity can ever be dubbed a sin. The usual meaning of stupidity is a lack of intelligence, a heaviness of mind preventing some people from grasping what is self evident, obvious, or easy to grasp; an opacity of mind for which, we may assume, those afflicted by it have no responsibility. Just as some people are born unhealthy, or with a physical deformity, or with a face that nobody would choose, some of us are intellectually so nearsighted that the ABCs of knowledge do not seem to be accessible to them. This calls for charity on the part of those who are “sharp.” To ridicule them, to humble them, is an un-Christian act that should be condemned.
But Chesterton’s words quoted above seem to point to a very different problem. When we hear the word “intelligentsia,” we assume that these are people who have a superior education, who are the luminaries of the day — intellectual leaders whose views we should respect. When one thinks of names such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, John Henry Cardinal Newman, one is filled with awe, gratitude, and admiration. These are the giants on whose shoulders we dwarfs are sitting, hopefully keeping in mind that if we see more than they did, our thanks should go to them, as acknowledged by John of Salisbury.
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A quote is called for: “A sort of Theosophist said to me, ‘Good and evil, truth and falsehood, folly and wisdom are only aspects of the same upward movement of the universe'”; to which Chesterton responded: “What is the difference between up and down?” The best way to refute nonsense is often humor . . . .
Here is an example of a true academic, Walker Percy giving a short speech at Notre Dame:
Pick up one of his books; you won’t be disappointed, if you are smart enough to get anything out of it (which I may not be).