Education, Politics, Random, Uncategorized

The Rise of Pseudo Intellectualism

What is pseudo intellectualism?

Pseudo Intellectualism, as defined by dictionary.com is:

  1. Exhibiting intellectual pretensions that have no basis in sound scholarship.
  2. Pretending an interest in intellectual matters for reasons of status.

There’s no other time in the history of the world we have a limitless amount of knowledge at our fingertips. Traditionally, we’ve depended on institution and life experience to dictate who had access to knowledge but as a result of technological advances, we’ve seen a rapid democratization of knowledge in a way which overloads how we identify who and what is intellectual.

Instead of leaning on academic credentials, intellectual pursuits, and/or age, we’ve become a society focused on stance and position. We focus on a person’s ability to create a stance and answer a question instead of the pursuit of the right question. Ultimately, the pursuit of questions or answers is what differentiates an intellectual from a pseudo intellectual. The answer can be 42 but what is the ultimate question?

What are some examples?

Example of pseudo intellectualism is all around us. My favorite example of pseudo intellectualism are some people that consider themselves “woke”. Woke, for those asking what that even means in this context, is the awareness of systems and messages that facilitate social injustice. Some people will recite to you all the reasons said systems exist and how they are impacted but then enforce the same systems on other people. This shows a puedo understanding of what the systems are and how they impact a group’s existence.

Another example is our election process in the US. You are well informed if you identify key platform positions for each candidate. We regurgitate positions, history, topics of contention, but rarely ask why. Why does this position exist? Why are they on this side of the issue? What are the long term implications of this person’s position? We are hand fed talking points by the news and use them in conversation. As a result, they eventually become a force framework for how we think about the election. It becomes this vs that. The forced dichotomy prevents us from asking bigger questions that challenge the election process.

Is it bad for society?

Yes and no. The traditional role of intellectuals was to move the “pursuit of knowledge” forward so others can partake in its fruits. We’ve gotten to a point where there’s so much information and knowledge openly available, we need people who will curate and provide us with a bite sized understanding with the hope an average of bite sized summaries and positions will get us closer to understanding topics of interest.

To counter, pseudo intellectualism lulls people into a surface understanding of life. We outsource intellectual processing to other parties so we just become consumers of knowledge without knowing what went into making it. What’s in that burger?

How can we do better?

There are three simple ways we can combat pseudo intellectualism.

  1. Call out people who exhibit pseudo intellectual habits.
  2. Always ask why
  3. Be wary of those who point to an absolute truth…. One of my favorite sayings, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” is from Assassin’s Creed. “To say ‘Nothing is True’, is to realise that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilisation. To say that ‘Everything is Permitted’, is to understand that we must live with the consequences of our actions whether good or bad.”
#MentalNote, Current Events, Education, History, Self-Revelation, Why?

Sapiens and the Oscars

I have very few newsletters that I hold in such high esteem as Farnam Street. If you enjoy thinking about things in new ways and awesome book recommendations, I suggest you sign up here. It’s so good, I’m giving a free shout out. The newsletter will change your life, but I digress.

One of the most recent book recommendations from the Farnam Street is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.   I haven’t gotten a chance to read the book yet but I was totally enthralled with the descriptions in the newsletters. It’s definitely on my to read list.

One of the most important takeaways from the book is captured in this short quote below:

What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn’t even the strong, brainy, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

Most people would agree that language was a huge game changer but not for the reason you’d think:

As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched, or smelled. Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say ‘Careful! A lion! Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say. ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language…You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. 

To Harari, the most important function of language is we can describe things we cannot see or understand. “It is our collective fiction that defines us” By doing this, human beings are better suited to work in large groups effectively and flexibly than other animals. Real world applications of this is state, religious, fraternal, or basic assumptions we take as truth.

The collective myth and our ability to believe or not, is what differentiates us from other animals. To be clear, not all of these myths are lies but some of them are. We believe them because the opposite is too difficult to handle. For example, sapiens are horrible at evaluating talent or a subjective “best”. We’ve seen it in finance, education, entertainment, and other industries. We rely on human evaluations and get burnt. We consistently overvalue and undervalue, which leads to faulty and less than ideal outcomes. If we look at this from Harari’s perspective, we’ve bought into the myth that we can make objective evaluations.

Earlier last week, the Academy released their nominees for the Oscars. There were complaints about the lack of diversity in the nominees. I agree, there should be more representation, especially from a 2015 that saw quality movies from minority leads. However, its a symptom of a larger myth; A group of industry leaders can make an objective evaluation on what are some of the best performances the year prior. I say this as a huge Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan fan. (None of them have won Oscars)

I’ve started to take human informed decisions with a grain of salt. I can’t afford to buy into the idea that a group of us can make the best decision. Now, believing that is difficult to handle because it has implications larger than the Academy Awards. I’ll just let your mind wander…

Education

Lean Education

After attending the Harvard African Business conference and participating in several conversations around the future of education in Africa, I’ve realized that a change in the education model is not exclusive to catch up economies, but a new model to survive in a more global and ever-shifting economy. Here are some reasons why the current education model is in the process of being disrupted:

  1. Technology has made the decimation of information easier and cheaper than ever. There are so many courses and learning resources available online. We’ve known for a while that a lot of learning goes on outside of the classroom but now we don’t need a classroom at all to deliver course content.
  2. Speed- Everyone probably feels like this at the point of their existence but the speed and rate of change on what we learn in the undergraduate level is changing at very fast pace. A computer science major will enter a program learning one coding language and by the time they finish, that language will be obsolete. (My education friends argue that the purpose of an undergraduate education is to teach a person how to think, thus making it easier to pick up new skills in the future. If we go by this, the main purpose of an undergraduate degree is to improve learning ability and is less about skills acquisition. I’d still argue that we need to find cheaper ways, both from a time and cost perspective, to learn how to learn.
  3. Learning at scale. Our current education system (globally) is not structured to support the amount of people we need to educate in the next 20 years. Our population is growing at a greater rate than growth of our education institutions. In order to reach more students effectively, we will need to reconsider education content delivery and think of it more as media content.

All of this points to one truth, education has to get faster. We need to educate people at a faster pace, be more effective and do it quicker. The world is moving faster and education is slowly picking up speed to adapt.