The Intelligentsia–Why Wait?

Anyone who spends significant time researching, studying, learning, or creating has run into flak about why they are wasting time on matters that don’t affect most people.

My answer to that question is: what intellectuals do makes a great deal of difference out on the street. Case in point: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Unfortunately, the notion of a black intelligentisia may still seem strange to some readers. But it was the black intelligentsia who saved the United States during the Civil Rights crisis, and none of its leaders was more articulate than MLK–a point I was reminded of when I recently reread King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail.

King makes many points in his lengthy reply to a group of religious leaders urging him to suspend his strategy of non-violent resistance. But one of King’s themes–perhaps his chief one–is that the world is always ready for justice. Delaying justice will only let the cancer of injustice grow, harming and destroying the lives of innocent people.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.

And in his letter, King cites not only the Bible, but Plato, Gandhi, and Martin Buber as well; he read widely and deeply, and on topics that might be considered abstruse. Until, that is, you see the consequences of not studying them.

Daddy, why do white people treat black people so mean?

MLK’s five-year-old son

And here are some of the things that people who are concerned with larger issues are aware of:

1) One person in three in the United States has no health insurance coverage.

2) Most Congressional districts in this country are drawn by the party in power in such a way as to ensure that its candidate wins. In other words, jerrymandering, one of the abuses that sparked the American Revolution, is alive and well today in America.

3) That many medications are extremely expensive, or “backordered” (i.e., unavailable from the manufacturer), or available only through “charitable” programs that are unwieldy and offer no recourse for their decisions.

4) That colleges in this country have become outrageously expensive, and the degrees they confer useless in a job search.

5) That, with the exception of issue 1, neither of our political parties is doing anything to correct these injustices.

What obligations does the intelligentsia’s knowledge impose on it? Here are some of the things you can do:

a) Write a letter to your congressperson complaining about the problems that bother you most. Carbon Copy your state representative and senator.

b) Take part in protest demonstrations.

c) Run for political office.

d) Talk to your friends and during worship service about these issues.

e) Join organizations working to correct an injustice.

f) Start such an organization.

Intellectuals are revered not only because they envision solutions to desperate problems, but because they also act to implement their solutions. The next time you keep a doctor’s appointment or walk into a restaurant for a good lunch, think about this.


Photo: Martin Luther King Leaning on a Podium, 1964. WikiCmns. Library of Congress, Public Domain.

  1. April 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Reblogged this on live4life201.

  2. April 5, 2012 at 12:39 am

    L4L: thx for the reblog! RT

  1. February 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm

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