26 June, 2017

Viyath Maga: Who Are Intellectuals & Where Are They?

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

The term intellectual is often used in the Sri Lankan media particularly in the context of political reporting.  For example, Shyaman Jayasinghe questions the use of this word in a recent meeting organised by Viyath Maga this month in Boralasgamuwa, Sri Lanka (Colombo Telegraph March 11, 2017). At other times, especially before Presidential or Parliamentary elections, some university academics affiliated with major political parties appear on stage or in press conferences as ‘intellectuals’.  Does the media use this term correctly? Who are the intellectuals? What should be their defining features and role? Has this term been vulgarised in the Sri Lankan context to mislead the voting public? If so, where are the true intellectuals? These are some questions we need to discuss due to the ‘incorrect usage’ of this term in the popular media today.

Intellectual is one who uses his/her intellect for articulating contemporary issues in society from a historical, political, sociological, cultural and other perspectives for the benefit of the humankind and possibly policy and decision makers who do not have the time, training or capabilities to grasp the nature of such issues together with a vision for their solutions.  Thinkers who are able to grasp long term trends in human society and its culture or various sub systems and predict multiple possibilities/solutions for the human kind whether in a given nation, region or the world also deserve to be called intellectuals.  Intellectuals can also be innovators and/or specialists in various fields but unless they are proposing something generally applicable to the human society, he/she could be called a ‘specialist’ rather than an ‘intellectual’. 

Intellectual is someone other than the average Jo bloke on the street, a functionary in a government administration, a university academic who reproduces knowledge inherited from his/her teachers and old textbooks imported from the West, or a journalist who performs his/her normal duties of reporting.  An intellectual ought to be presenting a view, proposition, argument, theory or a perspective that is insightful, illuminating, cutting edge, or contributing to present understandings in an original way.  This is quite different from pumping out jargon, a position, ideology or an argument on behalf of a political party or an organisation of professionals.  Intellectual is also different from those holding positions such as academics, professionals, politicians, businessmen/women, clergy or others who carry various titles. He/she should be holding an intellect that is acquired after a sustained period of systematic study of a subject and able to articulate a vision and all other things mentioned above in an easily understandable way.  However, we have to recognise that all intellectuals are not good communicators. Similarly, all good communicators are not intellectuals.

Quoting other sources, Wikipedia defines intellectual as ‘a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and reflection about the reality of society, and proposes solutions for the normative problems of society, and thus he or she gains authority as a public intellectual. It also state ‘Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics, either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice, usually by producing or by extending an ideology, and by defending a system of values’ . The distinction between intellectual and public intellectual is an important one as some intellectuals can be armchair thinkers who do not convey his/her ideas that well for public consumption, do not engage in public debates at a given point in time or even does not propose a course of action associated with their new ideas or vision. A public intellectual is one who does not accumulate knowledge, insights and understandings for his/her own use but shares such things with the general public or different audiences for the common good in a non-threatening way. By doing so, he/she introduces changes in society, culture, ways of thinking and acting, starting new movements and the like.  In short, such intellectuals become leaders manifestly or latently while defining moments of history, social trends, political upheavals, common parameters for human progress, and pin point wise paths for human coexistence and development in a holistic sense.  Visionaries who provide leadership for various organisations including those which serve the interests of the least advantaged in societies can also be intellectuals.  Karl Marx is considered an intellectual because he advocated a different way of interpreting society, social struggles, etc. from a historical and class perspective.  The Buddha is considered an intellectual for developing a critique of existing religious thought at his time and proposing a new way of understanding human suffering, its causes and a way for human liberation.  There are many other notable intellectuals recorded in human history  and even today contributing their thoughts in various fields.

Merriam- Webster dictionary defines intellectual as referring to the intellect and its use, guided by the intellect rather than by emotion or experience, given to study reflection and speculation, and engaged in activity requiring the creative use of the intellect. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an intellectual is ‘a very educated person whose interests are studying and other academic activities that involve careful thinking and mental effort’. We can find other characterisations of the term in various dictionaries and publications but these few are sufficient to get us thinking and reflecting on this topic with a view to correcting media usage in Sri Lanka.

Intellectuals are ahead of time in terms of how they grasp the realities, impending issues and challenges and pathways for human liberation. Thus they are able to not only predict the nature of future trends and events before scientists who come up with various propositions based on systematic analysis of relevant data are able to do. Intellectuals almost occupy a mind characterised by intuition and ability to read the future. However, when looking at the human history and historical figures who contributed to the development of knowledge, technology, science, philosophy, religion etc. in substantial ways, we come to realise that all intellectuals were not operating on the basis of intuition. Lifetime commitments to the pursuit of knowledge, discoveries are also characteristic features of intellectuals. Reading one’s culture alone is not enough to be qualified as an intellectual.

Thus the question arises as to whether someone educated in social sciences or humanities and holding a position in a university, profession or a research organisation can simply be called an intellectual? Being educated is a quality associated with the intellect and intellectual but this does not mean simply having obtained a degree such as a doctorate or an honorary doctorate at that.  Unless the person is a critical and innovative thinker and holds a deep understanding of a given field of study and able to link such education and knowledge with the contemporary issues and future trends, it is not proper to call such individuals intellectuals.  Likewise, we should not be calling individuals who associate themselves with political parties and therefore able to develop a public profile due to the favours received from their political masters as popular intellectuals. Popularity in the national context promoted by various media alone does not qualify one to be called an intellectual either.   Intellectuals ought to be securing deep understandings of phenomena through sustained study, reflection and critical thinking and sharing understandings and predictions based on them with the fellow humans thereby receiving universal acknowledgement for their endeavours and achievements.  The bar is very high to be an intellectual. We need to remember that not all Nobel Prize winners even are intellectuals.

Intellectuals also show self-discipline, selflessness and a high degree of altruism. Common good of the people rather than one’s own welfare is the motto of such people. They are motivated by a love of the humanity and the planet as a whole rather than petty ambitions of a given group, clan or collection of people. If someone is advancing the cause of a selected group of people such as the professionals, politicians, university teachers, trade union members, armed services personnel, they ought to be called leaders rather than intellectuals. However, this does not mean that they do not possess varying degrees of intellect.  Even among the masses without university degrees, there can be gifted intellectuals.  Among those who engage in partisan politics, there can be intellectuals if they go beyond the party political platform, ideology and imperatives and engage in course changing critical discourses by using the gift of intellect.  Among the literary figures –past and present – there are intellectuals who read beyond the lines and come up with creative work that defines certain cultures and ways of thinking on one hand and provide thematic artistic products with a deep historical, cultural and/or political message on the other.  One such figure in Sri Lanka was Ediriweera Sarachchandra. E.W Adikaram was another – though he was popular during his time as an independent thinker rather than as an intellectual.  His colleagues considered Newton Gunasinghe in the field of (Marxist) anthropology as an intellectual.  One may consider late Maduluwave Sobhita as an intellectual even though his heroic deeds including deep commitment to social justice at a time of societal crisis was the defining feature of his personality.

This discussion shows that intellectuals are a rare commodity and they don’t come cheap. Therefore, the media needs to re-consider the use of the term in their reporting so that those who truly deserve to be called intellectuals –irrespective of the country, nationality, ethnicity or gender – can be recognised so. Those who aspire to be designated as intellectuals by self-promotion should never ever be allowed to have a free ride, as self-promotion is not a characteristic of an intellectual. Likewise, those who want to take the country toward dictatorship of one kind or another by using misleading political rhetoric should never be called intellectuals. One question I did not discuss in this article is whether the title ‘intellectual’ can be bought and sold or conferred on someone?  The answer is self-evident. Finally, the words Viyath translates into Sinhala as learned – not intellectual.

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  • 11
    1

    Dr. Siri Gamage

    As a layman without much training in intellectual pursuit, I have a nagging question, which sounds silly however needs to be stated here in this forum: What is the difference between an intellectual and a wise person?

    Dayan thinks he is an intellectual giant among the stupid people of this island. He also believes whatever Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa utters at party political rallies. For example he wrote “So Wimal was probably right when he said to rapturous applause “Mahinda is not a name, Mahinda is a country!”

    Therefore I believe Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa is an intellectual giant too.

    • 10
      0

      Dr. Siri Gamage,

      You can give us Ox-bridge, you can give us Ivy-league hoopla, or use simple primordial sign-language to impart something of value. unfortunately, because of our cultural-cringe due to past colonial subjugation, Lankan intellectuals attempt to substitute complexity of the English Language for rigorous intellectual endeavor/effort.

      None will reach “world-class” in any field of intellectual pursuit until we reach a point in our social evolution where we can genuinely break our “colonial shackles.” We are condemned to be “also-rans;” poor players who strut and fret their 15 minutes upon the stage and then heard no more.

      The only world-class intellectual Sri Lanka has so far produced is Mr.Heen Banda Udurawana.

      “Are you mad or am I mad?”

      “Both, respectively.”

      In two words, with E=MC*2 like clarity, he articulated the “Lankan-condition.”

      Now, all you wanna be intellectuals, try and beat that!

    • 1
      0

      Dr. Siri Gamage

      RE: Viyath Maga: Who Are Intellectuals & Where Are They?

      “The term intellectual is often used in the Sri Lankan media particularly in the context of political reporting. For example, Shyaman Jayasinghe questions the use of this word in a recent meeting organised by Viyath Maga this month in Boralasgamuwa, Sri Lanka (Colombo Telegraph March 11, 2017). “

      In Sri Lanka, the “intellectuals: are those who have an average IQ of 79, and above, especially when applied to Viyath Maga , “Intellectuals”. It was clear from their inability to comprehend events, and most are Mahinda Rahapaksa cronies, either with Mahinda Rajapaksa because of theit low intelligence , or being bribed by MaRa.

      Under the above definition, definition are 10 million intellectuals in Sti Lanka, and Mahinda Rajapaksa has plenty to choose from, as he has done.

      National IQ Scores – Country Rankings

      The intelligence scores came from work carried out earlier this decade by Richard Lynn, a British psychologist, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish political scientist, who analysed IQ studies from 113 countries, and from subsequent work by Jelte Wicherts, a Dutch psychologist.

      The results dd not come Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Dayan, Wimal or G.L Peiris,,

      Sri Lanka, IQ 79.

      http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

    • 0
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      Native Vedda

      ‘Dayan thinks he is an intellectual giant among the stupid people of this island’

      The ‘stupid’ people listened out of respect to Dayan at Nugegoda. They saw through his oration of self promotion. The stupid people of this island are NOT stupid after all.

      Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think that this is Mervyn’s son.

      • 1
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        Spring Koha

        “Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think that this is Mervyn’s son.”

        Are you implying he was adopted?

        • 1
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          Native Vedda

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘adopted’, however he may been dropped on his head when he was a baby, and that together with an early constricting catholic education could account for egregious, sometimes warped thinking.

          I pray for the man, but my god is not paying attention.

  • 0
    10

    why you are the only intellactual mr siri

    • 3
      0

      Baba, you don’t have even the basic intellect to read between the lines of what Dr.Siri is trying to imply here.

      He has never said he is an intellect. You guys are are a shame to the word intelligence, just like Dayan the D……, and the gang.

      Or may be you are an UKKU BABA, as the name suggests, grow up pal.

      • 0
        1

        For you to become an intellectual, you must convert to Buddhism, from the mythical bullshit you believe in. By the way, change your name too.

  • 8
    0

    “Intellectual” is only one of the English words that have completely different meanings in this pearl of the Indian Ocean.A few others:
    1.”War hero” usually means someone who has sacrificed his life / limbs performing some extraordinary wartime duty. In SL, any cook or checkpoint attendant or journalist murderer gets the title.
    2.”Terrorist”. This depends on who you are. There are no Sinhala JVP terrorists, only Tamil Tiger terrorists.
    3. “Humanitarian Operation” . This is not about free bypass surgery, of course.
    4. “Patriot” . This is anybody who agrees with Mahinda Rajapaksa.
    5. “The world’s best Army Commander” who nevertheless ended up in jail
    6. “Free Education”. Which produces all these amazing intellectuals.

    • 0
      0

      old codger

      Feeling comfortable with Labels today, are we ? What happened ? Did the UN pass another sanction on some third-world country ? Or are you just happy with the situation in Yemen ?

      • 1
        0

        maalumiris

        “Or are you just happy with the situation in Yemen ?”

        Alright, are you happy with the situation in Yemen?

        If you are not what are you doing abut it?

        Will you ask the Sri Lankan state to apply sanctions against the bully Saudi Arabia, by stopping your women folks being sent there as slaves?

      • 1
        0

        Dear Maalumiris,
        For the record, in principle, I am against Israel, Isis, Saudi policy in Yemen ,Prabhakaran, Iran-bashing, Winston Churchill worship, and many other things. It is possible to be all this and still be against “intellectuals” like MR . Nalin de Silva / Gunadasa Amarasekara/ Elle Gunawansa

        • 1
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          old codger

          I completely agree with you on all that you have mentioned in your above comment.

          However as far as the right wing ghetto builders are concerned you are a traitor.

          Gota, LTTE and JVP believed in secular punishment, all traitors did not deserve to live, should be bumped off and they did bumped off quite a lot of innocent people.

          Do you agree with me?

          The most unhappy person ever to be born on this island is Gunadasa Amarasekara followed by jim softy.

  • 6
    0

    baba

    “why you are the only intellactual mr siri”

    Did mr siri claim to be an intellectual?

  • 3
    0

    old codger

    Now you have redefined (to the announce of many smart ass patriots) the meaning of popular perception don’t you think you should be judged by the same popular perception as a traitor*?

    *Traitor to Sinhala/Buddhists, Sinhala/Buddhism, Sinhala/Buddhist country, Sinhala/Buddhist leaders, One Nation, One leader, One people, ….. One language, …..

    • 0
      0

      Native Veddo:

      *Traitor to Sinhala/Buddhists, Sinhala/Buddhism, Sinhala/Buddhist country, Sinhala/Buddhist leaders, One Nation, One leader, One people, ….. One language, …..

      Apply your same philosophy to Britain, Norway and even Australia where Siri Gamage is living.

      Britain is headed by the head of the Anglican church, the language is English of which the variations of it are revered all over the world in many fomer colonies of the Britian. Can you be a traitor to subjects in her own country. YOu will be shot dead and paid comphensation later.

      See, how Siri gamage’s naturalized country is doing to Native Aborginies. Siri Gamage is not upset about those.

      See Norway, Only christians of their kind can be the dominents in their Parliament. See Sinhale, Sinhala people do not have their flag, their language. It is Sinhala and muslims and christians are pushing for domination from behind. Now, christians want even their culture to be christian. so they bash SinahL – BUDDHIST CULTURE. It is not Sinhala they bash, because, in sinhale no one talked Sinhala.

      siri Gamage is happy is happy in australia because he talks his mother tongue, he worships Queen. ONly problem is he became an intellectual with a…………………………..

      • 0
        0

        “Now, christians want even their culture to be christian. so they bash SinahL – BUDDHIST CULTURe”

        I vote for Mr. Jim as Sinhala Buddhist Intellectual of the Year

    • 0
      0

      NV,
      Oh, I forgot to add “smart patriot” to the list. This is somebody who wears Fidel fatigues only for meetings in Nugegoda

      • 1
        0

        old codger

        “This is somebody who wears Fidel fatigues only for meetings in Nugegoda”

        Did he copy/borrow revolutionary fashion accessories from Pathmanaba (EPRLF Leaders) who used to wear Castro cap even while sleeping (day or night) – according to my friend the Old Codger?

  • 1
    0

    Dr. Siri Gamage “Has this term been vulgarised in the Sri Lankan context to mislead the voting public? “

    are you not contradicting yourself when you go on to say

    “Intellectual is someone other than the average Jo bloke on the street”

    jo blog on the street is the voting public?

    you mean the voting public are not intellectual enough?

  • 6
    0

    Burghers were educated and Sinhalese managed to kick them out of the country. After burgers emigrated, Tamils were relatively educated in the country and Sinhalese managed to kick them out too. Now the government is crying and asking for the expats to return. Now the BBS terrorists are trying to kick the Muslims out of the country too.

  • 0
    0

    I work with Intel and my name is not Average Jo

    Am I an Intel-lectual ?

    I think so

  • 0
    0

    Native Vedda: When I read that word “Buddhist” in your comment, my mind ventured into find how could this “Intellectual” be defined in terms of Buddha’s Teaching. This is what I found. An “Intellectual” is a person who possesses (1)”Sila” = Morality (2) “Samadhi”= Concentration (3) “Panna”= Wisdom. How could one acquire these qualities to become an “Intellectual” was my next quest. Then the best I found was to follow the Eight Fold Path, a Buddha has proclaimed viz. For “Sila” or Morality the steps are: Right Speech; Action; Livelihood;and Effort. For “Samadhi” or Concentration the steps are: Right Mindfulness and Concentration. For “Panna” or Wisdom the steps are” Right View an Thought. Buddha also has given emphasis on this word “RIGHT”. and in his words it is “SAMMA”. This word “SAMMA” is the most critical in the interpretation of all those eight steps and the very selection of that direction leads one to be an Intellectual. That “Direction” on takes to be considered an “Intellectual” has been very well explained in the above presentation by Dr. Siri Gamage. In my view, this is the best measurement we can adopt to choose between the REAL or GENUINE INTELLECTUAL and the FAKE or PSEUDO INTELLECTUAL. mingling in the society. That CHOICE will make our future better and comfortable provided we learn HOW TO CHOOSE.

    • 0
      0

      Uh-oh

      Now the Native will accuse you of being a virulent, racist Sinhala Buddhist, Anti-Tamil who ignores the rights of the Vedda’s and Muslims

      • 1
        0

        maalumiris

        Here we (Douglas and I) are discussing philosophical ideas of wisdom, genuine intellectualism, knowledge, etc. I would say it is too much for you to grasp.

        Please you go away today and come back when we discuss other mundane issues such as Sinhala/Buddhism, Sinhala/Buddhists, Dayan’s cock-a-doodle-doos, ……

        In the mean time have a chat with Taraki,sach, jim softy, ……somass, …. max,

  • 0
    0

    Reading through the comments I get the impression that Dr. Siri Gamage would not have been prepared for the intelligence of CT patrons.

    Intelligent and Intellect are in no way interchangeable.

    Intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills. On the other hand, an intellect is a person who demonstrates the ability to understand things and situations objectively.

    Let me add my two cents worth. An intellect is someone who is ahead of his times! I must confess that right now there is no intellect among us.

  • 0
    0

    See the so called intellectual commentators at CT/in this post (such as Vedda)………………

    Anyone who disagree with them would be an average Jo Blog……

    The average Jo on the street possess more intellectual capacity………

    • 1
      0

      Hela

      “The average Jo on the street possess more intellectual capacity………”

      I have said this many times in this forum and elsewhere in the past. Perhaps you have discovered this recently which is a good thing for your family, friends and neighbours.

      Every Tom, Dick, Harry and Dayan believes he/she is an intellectual and deserves Nobel Prize in every field, every year since the day he/she was born on this island.

      You are no exception.

  • 0
    0

    Siri Gamage,

    you write….

    Those who aspire to be designated as intellectuals by self-promotion should never ever be allowed to have a free ride, as self-promotion is not a characteristic of an intellectual. Likewise, those who want to take the country toward dictatorship of one kind or another by using misleading political rhetoric should never be called intellectuals.

    I have in mind someone (Moshe Jayakaththa) who meets the above criteria. He presents himself as a learned intellectual. Is he? …… or is he a wolf in sheeps clothing?

    ps: I am definitely NOT an intellectual.

    • 1
      0

      Spring Koha

      “ps: I am definitely NOT an intellectual.”

      But you attend Fairway Galle Literary Festival (FGLF) every year without fail don’t you.

      Mere attendance at this annual meeting place should rank anyone an Intellectual. It is one reason I missed this festival since its inception.

      • 1
        0

        N.V,
        “Mere attendance at this annual meeting place should rank anyone an Intellectual. It is one reason I missed this festival since its inception.”
        I have more than a strong suspicion that many of the well-heeled personages who attend do so for that very reason.

        • 1
          0

          old codger

          Thanks.

      • 0
        0

        Native vedda

        Spot on! True I do visit the Lit Fest but it has nothing to do do with ‘intellectual’ pursuits and more to do with observing the metropolitan ‘psuedo’s’ who come down south for a variety of reason. Observing them is an anthropological education. Also, those sultry southern breezes do do something to the fairer ones too.

        AND, Galle does bring back happy memories. They still haven’t found the ball I hit into the judges garden down on Lower Dickson Road. Talking about the judges house, they still haven’t found the burglars who broke in and ransacked the house in the 90’s whilst the two guards at the front gate were scratching their ‘intellectuals’ and moaning about the government.

        • 1
          0

          Spring Koha

          Thanks.

          If I don’t attend Fairway Galle Literary Festival (FGLF) I have no chance of pretending to be an intellectual.

          If I attend Viyath Maga meeting I am not an intellectual.

          It is sad that I have no chance of being considered an intellectual.

  • 1
    0

    “Can you be a traitor to subjects in her own country. YOu will be shot dead and paid comphensation later.”

    At least in England they will be paid compensation. Sinhala government will say: we didn’t shoot anybody. If you show the video of the shooting, Sinhalese will say its a fake video. if the victim asks to be investigated, Sinhalese will ask what is the proof he was shot. HAHA

    • 1
      0

      Never mind shooting, what about the time that we had at least one government minister running up and down the street with an electoral register in his dirty hands pointing out to his goons the houses of selected people that need torching. HE was never even admonished by his boss. Others just shook their heads and said “what to do? these things happen”

      What about that nice little village near Bandarawela where 26 young men were undeservedly slaughtered one dark night in October 2000. The judge declared the whole case null and void and sent all including the scapegoat home, to live happily ever after. People in the area still marvel at how the culprits got away with their evil deed. What did our leaders say? “what to do? these things happen”

      AND many more; 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1989, 2009……Rathupaswela, Katunayake, Chilaw. Aluthgame….the list goes on, and on, on. After every one our leaders said? “what to do? these things happen”.

      In our island paradise the cost of living is high, the cost of a life taken is zero. This is the result of accepting karma as the be all and end all of our existence.

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