I’ve read a lot of inaccessible academic writing in my time, enough to make me cringe. I’ve also witnessed people not being taken seriously in intellectual circles as a result of their supposed “lack” of knowledge. All this has made me wonder what the use of writing something so academic, convoluted and pedantic that it’s practically esoteric is. Indeed, what is the role of the intellectual or scholar in society? And what do people get from alienating others from dialogue?
I don’t believe education or discussions about important issues should be exclusive or elitist. Anyone who desires education should be able to attain it. Unfortunately this isn’t always possible. Those of us who are fortunate enough, or motivated enough to do so should never believe we are better than everyone else. Nor should an individual’s opinion cease to matter just because they don’t have the “right” education, use the “correct” jargon, haven’t read such and such a book, and so on. Unfortunately, I have seen this sort of behaviour both online and in person. I’ve seen people being ridiculed because they weren’t aware of a specific word or term (and let’s be honest, a lot of these terms are only in vogue for a season). I’ve seen people gang up on people who dare to question something they believe. It’s all mind-boggling.
I believe in listening to people’s point of views, regardless of who they are. It’s possible to hear great ideas from the people you least expect. Imagine what we could potentially be missing out on if we go through life with the mentality that someone is not good enough to discuss an issue with due to their lack of education and so on. I have received enlightenment through the most unexpected sources and that has contributed to my being very willing to hear people out.
American historian John Hope Franklin said the role of the scholar in society is, “To provide society with the intellectual tools it needs to function properly and successfully.” He went on to say that being a public intellectual involves “addressing any subject in a way that it has an impact on the general public.”
Ta-da! So as useful as some of the jargon is I believe it can also be alienating. I’ve always believed that there’s a way to explain a concept or an idea simply, if one actually wants it to be understood. Also, as we are all learning, surely perfection isn’t expected to be attainable?
Thinking more on this topic I’m reminded of Canadian intellectual Stephane Dion, who failed to keep hold of the Liberal Party leadership despite having spent years and years writing about Canadian politics. His policies were seen as inaccessible, and Dion himself wasn’t seen as a person who could connect with the voters. Yet he had more education than most of us will ever have.
To be honest, I worry about my own writing because I read academic texts on a daily basis, and the vocabulary and terminology I encounter creeps into my vernacular without my realizing it at times. I think that’s normal but it’s clearly not my intention to confuse people or show off the new words I’ve learned in class. I have always believed that writing about social issues should be done in a way that’s empowering, understandable, open for dialogue, non-excluding and unpretentious, and that’s what I aim to do. Speaking on this issue with a friend, I was reminded that new scholars often feel pressured to adopt this new language of academese so that they can gain acceptance into the community, especially if they want to be published. My friend went on to say that in the process the academic may then find themselves losing their initial target audience and focusing on the academic world as an audience.
With a lot of the topics that are discussed among the intellectual elite, I see the same topics beaten to death and no action taken. How can we put the theory into practice? How can we expend our energy into something that actually is fruitful? Paulo Freire, a scholar I discovered last year, had the right idea about education. One of his most powerful quotes was “How can I dialogue if I always project my ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” And that is something to consider.