Russell and Learning
Posted Friday, April 1, 2005, 09:09 AM
“There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.”
I read this quote today form Bertrand Russell, and finally realized what I find so frustrating about intellectual elitists. It has been my experience that most people who are undergrads in college, or are actively pursing conceptual academic fields such as Philosophy, Theology, or Psychology, have a tendency to focus on the gathering of knowledge. In fact, they gather so much information in their daily life, that it becomes a hobby. I have also found that a majority of the people from the latter part of generation “X” do this as well. These people have an uncanny ability to drive me though the wall. These people are also the reason that Starbucks has become the big corporate giant that it is.
You may be asking yourself, “Self, what does Starbucks have to do with intellectual elitists?” Simply put, Starbucks is the enabler in very twisted and scary co-dependency that these so call “elite” people on each other. These are the kind of people that do not gain knowledge for the sake of bettering themselves. Instead they gather knowledge for the express purpose of comparing their level of knowledge to others in order to feel superior. Gathering and collecting information, to use a very male oriented analogy, becomes an intellectual pissing contest. Or more accurately put, an intellectual weighing of penises, if you will.
I can site various examples as to what these kinds of people are like. A former room mate of mine was so wrapped up in comparing of knowledge that he could not see past the fact that his personality had come to resemble that of a certain orifice that I shall not mention. This person was an incredibly smart man, and he was good at his Philosophy. However, when he felt threatened in the slightest by anything, out of no where he is siting Kant, Russell, and comparing the Nechzian Logic of the masses to that of Kirergard and other “true thinkers.”
I also have another friend who as a propensity to carry a book with her at all times. Does she do this because she likes to read? Maybe. But her material of choice is Greek plays, and Greek philosophers. And she will take any opportunity to turn the conversations some way that she can incorporate her newest findings of truth from these great works, in order to add sage and learned opinions to the conversation. When asked why she reads these plays, she says that they are timeless and can be applied to all periods and be applicable to life.
So why all of this venting of my frustration? The quote from Bertrand Russell was posted on a bulletin that is handed out to all staff at the school I work at. It listed as one of the reason that kids should be in school. And it hit me, that the idea that gathering knowledge because it give us pleasure is a really great way to entice kids to learn. However, in a world that focuses on making sure you do what ever it takes to ensure your happiness in life, the quote specifically says “useless knowledge.” Since when did we learn things in school that were “useless” as part of the mission of the school?