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Tuesday, 13 July 2010
It Pays to Be Unobvious Bookmark and Share

Thomas Sowell, whose book Intellectuals and Society was reviewed by Theodore Dalrymple, noted the intellectual's drive to appear "unobvious":

Intellectuals, like everyone else, live and work in a marketplace. In order to get noticed they must say things which have not been said before, or at least say them in a different manner. No one is likely to obtain many plaudits for the rather obvious, indeed self-evident, thought that a street robber cannot commit street robberies while he is in prison. But an intellectual who first demonstrates that the cause of an increase in street robbery is the increase in the amount of property that law-abiding pedestrians have on them as they walk in the streets is likely to be hailed, at least until the next idea comes along. Thus, while there are no penalties for being foolish, there are severe penalties (at least in career terms) for being obvious.

David Thompson provides a few choice examples:

Thus, Dr Sandra Harding, a “feminist philosopher of science,” can claim that it’s both “illuminating and honest” to refer to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” while insisting that rape and torture metaphors can usefully describe its contents. Likewise, Professor Judith Butler – a high priestess of the ponderous and opaque – can dismiss clarity and common sense as inhibiting radicalism. (Sentiments shared by, among others, Ralph Hexter, Daniel Selden and Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, who disdains “clarity of presentation” and “unproblematic prose” as “the conceptual tools of conservatism.”)

Occasionally, Judith Butler’s politics are aired relatively free of question-begging jargon, thus revealing her radicalism to the lower, uninitiated castes. As, for instance, at a 2006 UC Berkeley “Teach-In Against America’s Wars,” during which the professor claimed that it’s “extremely important” to “understand” Hamas and Hizballah as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left” and so, by implication, deserving of support. Readers may find it odd that students are being encouraged to express solidarity with totalitarian terrorist movements that set booby traps in schools and boast of using children as human shields, and whose stated goals include the Islamic “conquest” of the free world, the “obliteration” of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people. However, such statements achieve a facsimile of sense if one understands that the object is to be both politically radical and morally unobvious.

Just one thing - isn't the idea that it pays to be unobvious rather obvious? (That'll be 50p, please.)

Posted on 07/13/2010 7:33 AM by Mary Jackson
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