Nuance and Scruple

Today we learned what it means to be a public intellectual, according to our guest lecturer, professor, author, blogger, and most importantly, public intellectual, Steve Kuusisto.

What makes a public intellectual?

Scruple: doubting and challenging ideas; and nuance: examining those ideas from all perspective to come up with a well-thought-out opinion.

Steve showed us a video of a well-known public intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, evaluating and then debunking the Bible’s Ten Commandments. He ends his commentary with this:

Christopher Hitchens "Ten Commandments" cartoon sketch
Christopher Hitchens “Ten Commandments” cartoon sketch

“Did God make man, or did men make many gods?” he asks. He answers, “There are enough discrepancies just in the well-known version for us to be certain that we’re looking at a god who improvises, who’s jealous, who’s short of temper, who’s inconsistent, or if by any chance, God didn’t make Moses and the Hebrews, that the people who made God were jealous, short-tempered, inconsistent, and capricious in their turn. I don’t know about you, but as between the consideration that man was made by God, or that many gods were made by men, I’ve never thought there was much doubt as to which was the correct version.”

He then decides to update the Ten Commandments to apply to present day, operating on the thought that a set of rules written centuries ago by the same people who approve of slavery and the total control of the female body, cannot and should not possibly be applied to today’s society.

“Number five: do not condemn people for their inborn nature. Why would God create so many homosexuals only to torture and destroy them?”

His last commandment is in the true nature of a public intellectual: “Number ten: be willing to denounce any God, or any faith if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short, don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.”

So where are public intellectuals?

Agora: a place where people meet and debate ideas. In that case, everywhere. The classroom, the media, THE INTERNET. The agora is anywhere a public intellect goes to be heard.

Steve turned his lecture into an agora, using YouTube videos about Donald Trump, excerpts from his blog posts about Candide, and his own disability as our conversation prompts.“Now our public square is just one big stoner fest. The public square is all boo hoo and snarling,” Steve wrote in his post. “Candide? He dead.”

I realized that our classroom, Facebook page, and our own blogs would be our agora for the semester.

I left Steve’s lecture with this: Anybody can be a public intellectual. You just need nuance and scruple, and know how to use them. You have to insert yourself into public discourse and voice your well-thought-out opinion. It takes a public intellectual to challenge universal belief and popular opinion. Keep pushing until the truth is revealed. “Be the sand in someone’s shoe,” Steve said. Okay, Steve. I’ll try.


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