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The American Scholar: Start a Blog - William Deresiewicz

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A book came across my desk a little while ago that urges high school students to consider forgoing college. Among the things it suggests that kids might do to “create and share value” absent a formal higher education is this: “Become a Public Intellectual.” In five easy steps (“Research a social problem you care about deeply…Start a blog…”), the budding thinkers can be on their way. The debasement of the term public intellectual—and it was pretty debased to begin with—would seem to be complete.

Before you merit the label intellectual, in my view, you need to clear a very high bar. When I hear the word, I think of the great New York intellectuals of the middle of the last century: Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Alfred Kazin—writers incomparably more gifted, students immensely more learned, thinkers embarrassingly more profound than any we have to show for ourselves today. The whole culture has gotten less literate, less educated, more shallow; the entire curve has shifted over. Why should things be different at the higher end? To be an “intellectual” today is merely to be monarch of the idiocracy.

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