Machiavelli, the 1500-era Blogger, Reveals a Cause for Intellectualism

by phil on Sunday Mar 28, 2004 7:42 PM

People pursue intellectual interests partly as a proxy for socialization.

This is apparent in an excerpt from this letter from Niccolo Machiavelli written in 1513.

When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace. Fitted out appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where, solicitously received by them, I nourish myself on that food that alone is mine and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the motives for their actions, and they, out of their human kindness, answer me. (View Source)

Brad DeLong describes with more flourish the nature of this intellectualism-as-socialization concept. I particularly like his use of imagery: "Moreover, people's rough edges are filed off in their books. Adam Smith found Jean-Jacques Rousseau impossible in person, but that chunk of Rousseau's mind that is instantiated in the hardware-and-software combination of Gutenberg Information Technology is very pleasant company."

I became curious about this issue when I thought for a moment, "what if I lost my intellectual interest?" In the past three weeks I have been avoiding deep, complicated texts in exchange for humor, movies, and visually-rich websites. I also have been under a process of strongly forced self-transformation. One of the side-effects of this lunge may be that I lose a lot of the angst that drove me to complicated theory.

I've been refreshing my favorite intellectual websites and blogs, hundreds of times, only to close them uninterested. Are my interests shifting? Where will my interests go? I picked up my old hand-written notepad journals and started diarying by pen again, something I haven't done in two years. While I haven't given up blogging, I'm becoming less like an alarmist Nietzsche with a lantern, and more of a calm, declaratory pseudo-intellectual cum entertainer.

I pondered the question, "what are the negative motivations for intellectualism" possibly because I wanted to feel like I was progressing away from intellectualism, and not regressing. This is healthy as I change, though, so that I don't lament my former traits as I lose them.

Also of interest:
Why is there Anti-Intellectualism (includes some interesting diagrams and texts that I didn't read)
Wikipedia entry on Anti-Intellectualism

(Thanks, Dolatshahi!)

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