Robert Heinlein was one of the most famous artists in the genre we call science fiction, fading at times into the realm of fantasy, but also a somewhat avant guard social philosopher with a taboo busting Freudian perspective. His principle characters tended to be cantankerous and overly affectionate but perpetually bickering libertarians. One of his novels, “Stranger in a Strange Land” spawned a religion, albeit an extremely liberal religion.
I enjoyed him a great deal before I started to write myself and then, well I came to find his dialogue (my weak point I’ll admit), stifling and petty and suffocatingly cloying, like drowning in molasses. Still, conceptually on a number of levels he was brilliant and from time to time, spewed out real gems. Actually, not just from time to time but frequently. He is gone but, as one expects of masters in their fields, if not always in their crafts, his legacy lives on.
In “The Cat Who Walks through Walls”, one of his final novels, he gathers together most of the more famous characters in his adult novels (as well as those of some of his most famous predecessors) and, on page 359 of its first (1985) edition, he defines an “intellectual” as “a highly educated man [I think today he would also stipulate woman, or transgender person, or non-gender person or optional gender person] who can’t do arithmetic with his shoes on, and is proud of his lack”. Obviously not a flattering caricature but one that seems all too accurate in today’s world.
“Purported” intellectuals are not in high regard nowadays given the current irrelevancy of truth or facts, the inflation in academic titles and the disdain with which “purported” intellectuals treat others. While many “purported” intellectuals are certainly superficially adept in their fields (and may well handle arithmetic adequately), the spirit of Heinlein’s description certainly seems apt. Indeed, it applies not only to “purported” intellectuals but to the new purportedly savant class of internet educated “experts”, purported experts without any real experience in living, in real work or in struggling to raise a family on limited resources and with limited time. Too often, people meeting that description stare back at us from our own mirrors as we, the easily manipulated and totally polarized modern men, women (and transitionally-gendered), ride the current whirlpool of social suicide into seas of apparent perdition. Authors of dystopian novels certainly seem prescient and while Heinlein’s work are much too optimistic to fall into that literary genus, he seems prescient and depressingly wise as well.
The author of “Grumbles from the Grave” clearly saw where we were heading but was perhaps exaggeratedly positive concerning the ability of some among us to save our bacon. Of course, that may have been the fantasy side of his vision speaking. None of his heroes though would seem to derive from our current self-anointed “intelligentsia”. And we are desperately in need of real heroes, real role models rather than the pretentious crop of cartoonish would be leaders with which we are cursed.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.