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I am a Watchman

August 17, 2016

 "Christmas Moon" Serengeti National Park, Tanzania 2015

 

I am convinced there are only two types of capital in this world — one of currency and one of intelligence. Currency can be handed down from generation to generation and traded for all kinds of goods including the attempt to gain intelligence. However, intelligence itself can only be possessed by the individual who has decided to seek it out and propagate it. Most people in this world attempt to achieve the capital of currency and in doing so leave all kinds of destruction in their wake. They build industry big and small on the backs of others who have neither much currency or intelligence to defend themselves. And why shouldn't they? Great empires teeter on the spreadsheets of those with the most currency at their disposal. Right now, there is in our own country a fight between Wall Street and those who hold up the great money men with hard work and receive barely a pittance in return. However, what no amount of money can combat, the greatest capital and the one thing under which empires can topple, is intelligence. We’ve all heard the saying: The pen is mightier than the sword. And there is no question this remains one of the great truths of humankind.

In the late 1940's many of our world's greatest leaders were terrified because they believed the destruction World War I and II had wrought on our planet might send us into further conflict and destabilize even more countries around the globe. Luckily, they were smart enough to figure out that strength of arms would not lead us to the peace and stability we were seeking. And so they turned to what Karl Mannheim deemed “The Watchmen" — intellectuals whose capital was not their might in currency but in mind. These Watchmen were, as Mannheim stated, people “whose special task it was to provide an interpretation of the world,” to help us find our way through what had otherwise become a “pitch-black night.”

Now, to be clear we are all born with intelligence just as we are all born to some form of currency great or small. But as we grow and begin to take control of our lives and destinies we make choices to expand this capital we all inherit. It's difficult to grow the money in our pockets without much intelligence, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And vice versa, it’s completely conceivable to become a great intellect without ever filling our bank accounts.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this conundrum of currency versus intelligence, and I’ve begun questioning the capital our country has at its disposal as of late. This is due to witnessing how many people I know who are rabid followers of a man of seemingly great currency but questionable intelligence, Donald Trump. Meanwhile these same people mock Hillary Clinton who, while she has no great bank account, has an intellectual currency that qualifies her to be President of the United States more than anyone who has ever run for that office. Now, if we all agree the pen is mightier than the sword, why do so many people still flock to Trump? Are we to assume that Trump's followers are all unintelligent? Perhaps. But then, what does it mean to be truly intelligent? How can intelligence be defined when, unlike money that can be counted, it seemingly has no quantifiable mean? And if intelligence is simply a matter of gathering and utilizing information, racists could essentially be just as intelligent as those they deem inferior, and homophobes could be as intelligent as the homosexuals they despise. And how do we know when the information guiding our intelligence is wrong or right? 

Many religious folks would tell you holy books are the perfect gauge for deciding what's right and what is wrong in this world. But let’s be honest, no one has ever read a holy book(Quran, Bible, Torah, Book of Mormon, etc.) without knowing it could basically be used exactly like google.com. Look up: "Is slavery wrong?" You get one answer. Look up: "Is slavery right?" You find an opposing one. There's a reason why hundreds of different religious organizations can claim the Bible as their holy book and yet still all hold vastly differing viewpoints. 

 

As a kid growing up in a non-denominational Protestant church, I was always bothered by the conflict of scripture, and I often wondered how to deal with it. Being a gay man, I remember reading scripture verses about how homosexuality was sinful but two scriptures later reading about how eating shrimp or handling a pigskin was just as bad. And what was most odd to me was that I never saw my Christian counterparts denouncing cocktail sauce or football like they were keen to do with their homosexual brethren, aka. me. So, how to reconcile this? Well, maybe the answer does come from the Bible but perhaps not in a way that might be expected.

In the book of 1st Kings, there’s a tale about two prostitutes who come to King Solomon. King Solomon, by the way, was a king who asked for wisdom when God had offered him anything his heart desired. Well, King Solomon got his wisdom, and when he was approached by these two prostitutes who had both recently had babies he put it to good use. One mother tells him that her living baby was stolen by the other mother whose baby had died. Well, they needed the king to settle their dispute over who the living baby truly belonged to. King Solomon heard them out, then proclaimed that the living baby should be cut in two and each mother would receive half of it. Well, the mother to whom the baby actually belonged begged for the king to spare the baby’s life while the other mother was fine with halving it. Instantly through their actions, King Solomon knew who the real mother was. Hint: It was the mother who wanted to spare the baby’s life.

I always took the story of King Solomon and the two prostitutes as it was meant to be — an excellent lesson in using wisdom to suss out conflicting pieces of information in order to find the truth. Webster’s dictionary defines wisdom as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. As a writer, I aspire to these attributes in everything I do in order to be able to offer something of substance to anyone who watches a show I write or reads a post I make to my blog. But to pursue experiences often means stepping out of one’s comfort zone. To have knowledge means digging beyond the surface and spending time in research and careful thought. To use good judgement is to have common sense and to ask experts in certain fields for their opinion when you don't know the answer yourself.

As I look across our world, our country, and in particular our political landscape these days, I’m disgusted by the lack of wisdom on parade as I see people posting on Facebook from extremist blogs and websites that are no more factual than the prostitute in 1st Kings who wanted that living baby to be hers even at the expense of its life.

 

The fact is, even members of ISIS are intelligent about what they believe in. Though, they clearly lack the fundamentals in the definition of wisdom to see their intelligence as ill informed. They have no knowledge beyond their poverty stricken states. They have no experience other than the massive hardships their war torn regions have burdened them with. And their judgment is clouded by an extremist version of their religion that purports to be their only escape from the devastation that are their lives and the lives of those they love.

We Americans must not just be rich with currency or intelligence. We must choose to be wise. We have the internet — one of the greatest inventions of all time. Let’s choose to use it to suss out truth not conspiracy. When we don’t understand, we must seek to understand. When we are presented with our own inexperience, let’s seek to experience even if only through the open eyes of others. And when we need good judgement let's be careful not to fall prey to intrigue and feelings but instead use common sense and facts to make our call. Let’s be those Watchmen that Karl Mannheim wrote about. Let's use our intelligence wisely, to bring light — real light — to the pitch black night.

 

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