Soldiers and Scholars

Soldiers and Scholars

“And so is the type of great men that shaped European history a very particular figure: half warrior, half statesman...” –Richard Wilhelm, 1922.

MOST scholars believe themselves to be a benign force, one that is able to aim but cannot harm. Strictly speaking, there is no physical causation between their creativity and somebody else’s losses. That’s why in America we formally have strict arms control, but no such thing as thought control, with the foreseeable consequence that every kind of intellectual rubbish, extremity, or idiocy is produced and/or committed in our society.

The great achievements of any high culture should rest, of course, on the broad shoulders of academia. The so-called scholarly classes or “the PhDs,” literally doctors for the love of wisdom, are believed to be the gatekeepers of knowledge. Well, let me dwell a bit on what scholars are doing these days, and for whom, and what for.

The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship. –Robert A. Heinlein

Scholars just like mercenaries or soldiers are constantly at war with competing groups, corporations, and guilds, opposition forces, cultural terrorists, and, yes, even foreign countries. There are personal agendas, of course, but mostly group interests, ideologies, and allegiances.

The idea of the unbiased neutral scholar is a fiction. In fact, the very opposite is the case; the most biased, partial, and corrupt scholars often make it to their nation’s top. Think of the works -all avidly studied in academia- of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Ayatollah Khomeini, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Max Weber, and so on, because such thinkers produce precisely those ideologies and manifestos which every nation needs to justify nationalism, fascism, expansionism, imperialism, and colonialism –in that order.

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Sadly, unlike in the realms of economics, sciences, politics, and the military, there are no checks and balances, letting alone [creative] boundaries, in scholarship –everything goes. Since there are no binding rules (the peer-review system is often but a roped scheme that confirms allegiances), nor any international body to prevent harm systematically done to others, the men-of-letters can do as they please.

Let me be precise. If an economist or a politicians engage in fraud or corruption, if they get caught they will be punished. If a scientist or an engineer commits forgery there are often no legal consequences. That’s because rigged scientific experiments fail the reproduction test and machines that are inoperative fall under the table anyway, so why bother. Scholars, however, are different; they can create and support whatever you hired them to do and write whatever is demanded from them, and it may last forever.

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Did you know that almost every religious cult, corporation, or guild boasts their own ‘research institutes’? Any band of clerics, director, or economists want a study, or two, published about them. Millions of developers each year hire scholars to back a new product, a new start-up, a new project. Guess what they are researching: whatever floats their sponsor’s boat. How about political parties, what are they researching? That’s right, whatever backs their political cause. Did you know that most people working in public relation departments all over the world are trained humanists? Now they prostitute themselves to the movement of whoever pays them.

Some commentators have argued with me that my accusations, although polemic, are still unfair because the humanities are a much bigger realm than the sciences. Scientists are blessed because they have physical laws, mathematical axioms, experiments and what not, but those tools are of little use in the humanities. In the humanities, they say, we don’t have those luxuries.

In the humanities there are too many unscientific factors at play, such as personal relations, hierarchies, entitlement, emotions, feelings, faith, beliefs, motives, ideologies, histories, experiences, philosophies, traditions, creativity, and culture. Yes, one could try to eliminate some of those factors in controlled experiments, but then you get pseudo-sciences like economics and psychology: On paper their theories pose as natural sciences backed by funny statistics, but in reality their theorems wobble and wreck just like all other philosophical systems and religious propositions.

READ MORE Vocabulary Wars – How Nations Compete For Their Terminologies

Throughout history the humanities were higher valued than the sciences, for good reasons. Think about all the great archetypes –philosophers, warriors, poets, sages, saints, emperors, heroes! The scientists and engineers are but laboratory gnomes and forging dwarves providing formulas, weapons and machinery for the great project called humanity. To be sure, scientist and engineers will often find themselves as members of the modern workforce. It's because the jiggle with tools, not just thoughts. No more than workforce, but also no less.

“They're so cold, these scholars! May lightning strike their food so that their mouths learn how to eat fire!” –Friedrich Nietzsche

The creative forces and the originality of scholarship are undoubtedly among its greatest strengths, but also its subtle weaknesses; scholars are easily seduced as nations and all kinds of interest groups want to use scholarship to their advantages and against their foes.

I have met businessmen, shareholders, deans, senior editors, and professors who openly admit that they will fire or freeze out any scholar, and any of their submissions, if they don’t fall in line with the firm’s ideology, just like they would fire any other minion, worker, secretary, or dissident. One German multi-millionaire in China who regularly funds research chairs explained to me how universities are like factories. You tell them what to produce, they will do it.

Seeing scholars as workforce, or, worse, as a form of soldiery for a nation’s ultimate cause, is indeed soul-crushing for young adepts. They thought that education makes” free.” They thought education was about VERITAS, “Truth,” only to find out later that their training was designed to transform them –metaphorically speaking- into modern versions of foot-soldiers, missionaries, conquistadors, or looting marauders.

End of Part I.

Image credit: Lazlo/

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