Now let's explain intellectual poverty

Gayatri Jayaraman
Gayatri JayaramanMay 10, 2016 | 09:48

Now let's explain intellectual poverty

In a world where words, never mind human beings, are reduced to their economic exactitude, it is important we be absolutely clear about using terms such as "intellectual poverty", which can clearly hitherto only mean the per capita consumption and purchasing power of intelligence.

If only intelligence could be bought with money, it would preclude the questioning of those who occupy the upper strata of political and media fiefdoms in which, according to the evidence, there is severe lack of access to 2,400 calories of brain food.


For all practical purposes, the parameters of poverty do not apply. These are people with housing, clothes, food, education, conveyance and though their sanitation may be doubtful, they also provide entertainment from time to time. They have immense good health, measured in the ability to type invective at those less fortunate than them for days at a stretch with seemingly no sleep, or pee breaks.

And then there are social parameters such as self-confidence and self-esteem, which allow them to stamp in heavy boots over a man who admits he is struggling and paying for his mistakes, and needs help, and is asking for it, while proclaiming how much better than him they are. These are evidently not an oppressed people. Quite the contrary.

The common narrative tells us that people with such purchasing power, these, the forward-thinkers, the progressives, the liberals, those with education, a quality of learning, thinking, speaking, would not only be those best equipped to look back down on the swathe of society and identify and uplift, but that these will be whom the seething mass of struggling humanity will aspire to be.


The rise of man implies there is someone to rise up to. So while icons of business, like Mukesh Ambani, are good icons of practical intellectualism, icons of humanity, like Azeem Premji, are better at emotive intellectualism, and icons like Ram Guha, of pure intellectualism, are the best. The thinker is the supreme holder of intellectual power. This is what we have been told.

Mukesh Ambani. (PTI)

Despite this, it is clear that not all thinkers have purchasing power despite ticking off all their parameters.

A scientist friend, a man who pretty much single-handedly got rid India of polio, attributes this to the disease of dogmatism. The dogma, he said, is that which is handed down, from one generation to another, in a seat of power.

In these strata of influence, dogmas are handed down to chosen ones, ie those who will confirm and propagate the dogma are suited to be its inheritors. This is known as a clique. The function of the clique is to protect an idea. It is to deflect attack, opposition, and most importantly, any change of thinking that prevents that idea from being propagated in its absolute form.


In order to preserve dogmas, it is essential that its adherents sacrifice external intellectual consumption that generates from outside the idea, or the permitted confines of the clique. Like anti-nutrients that prevent the absorption of calcium or the breakdown of carbohydrates in the human body, inherited dogmas prevent the absorption of any intellectual food that is not self perpetuating. The disease-ridden thought process devoid of consumption falls below the intellectual poverty line.

This is intellectual poverty.

If the guy with all the answers is not necessarily devoid of intellectual poverty, who is without it, then? The one with the questions. Yet, the man with questions and no purchasing power is forever trapped in a system in which he cannot be heard. The man with the purchasing power and no questions will never reach his optimal per capita consumption of thought.

And if all the money and heightened social parameters in the world cannot buy an individual intellectual heft, compassion, clarity of thought, and an insight into the plight of fellow men, the economic unit of intellectual poverty remains forever devalued.

And so much the poorer are we.

Last updated: May 10, 2016 | 19:42
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