What is an “Intellectual?”

Melissa Harris Perry Tampon Earrings_0

I don’t know about y’all, but I ain’t never seen nobody put “intellectual” on their business card or resume. To the best of my severely limited knowledge they don’t give out intellectual degrees neither. I got three degrees and a high school diploma and it don’t say “intellectual” on none of them.

David Harsanyi at The Federalist:

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something exceptionally silly the other day. He referred to MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as “America’s foremost public intellectual” – an assertion without any discernible merit. Coates was then called out (justifiably) by Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers. No big deal. Writers can get a bit exuberant from time to time.

So Coates decided to defend his initial overstatement with an even lazier piece. And within the pleasant prose of his follow-up is the type of transparent and ugly race baiting that depreciates anything else he has to say on the topic. Accusing others of racism to deflect attention from your own indefensible contention is especially pathetic.

In his follow-up piece, Coates, after informing us he speaks French, lays out Harris-Perry’s impressive resume: she has Ph.D. from Duke, she’s taught at Princeton and Tulane, she was a Du Bois lecturer at Harvard, wrote two books, and is trustee at the Century Foundation. Even more, “I made this claim because of her work,” Coates goes on, “I believe Harris-Perry to be among the sharpest interlocutors of this historic era—the era of the first black president—and none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry.”

Harris-Perry’s accomplishments are impressive, and Coates may very well deem Harris-Perry the sharpest interlocutor of the Obama era — but none of that makes her the or even a foremost intellectual in America. “Foremost” is to be of “first rank or position: preeminent.” It seems that Harris-Perry has yet to offer the kinds of ideas or hold the kind of audience that puts her in the first rank of intellectuals.

I wouldn’t call her accomplishments impressive, even though she has a better than resume me or Barack Obama. If you hang around school long enough you generally pick up some various diplomas and degrees, and there are thousands of academics in this country with fancy credentials who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.


intellectual noun

1:a smart person who enjoys serious study and thought
2: an intellectual person

To me, “intellectual” is almost derogatory, kinda like “artiste”. It denotes somebody who is puttin’ on airs, a nobody who is pretending to be important. A definition that in Melissa Harris-Perry’s case, seems to fit pretty good.

There is some really smart people out there. Generally speaking we don’t call them intellectuals, we call them something more specific like “mathematician”, “astrophysicist” or “legal scholar.” They don’t sit around thinking deep thoughts, they actually work on stuff.

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler:

At MSNBC, at the Washington Post, new liberal and mainstream elites are being assembled and certified.

Often, they call themselves wonks, nerds or geeks. It’s the liberal world’s top humblebrag!

That said, who are these new wonks on the block? Quite possibly, they will define the horizons of the liberal world over the next many years.

Who are the new wonks? Struck by two year-end lists at the Post’s Wonkblog site, we felt it was time to find out.

One example: Who the heck is Dylan Matthews, we finally decided to ask. And we’ll admit it:

We were surprised by the profile the analysts brought us—a profile written by Matthews himself at some point after May of last year. The post can be found at this blog, where Matthews has archived his work from the early years:

MATTHEWS (2012): I’m a policy journalist who focuses on taxes, budgets, and other elements of US economic and fiscal policy. Currently I’m a staff reporter for Wonkblog at The Washington Post. In the past, I’ve written for The New Republic, Salon, The American Prospect and Slate. This site exists as an archive of my work, and in particular of a blog that I started writing as a middle schooler in February 2004 and have continued, in some form, ever since.

Until May 2012 I was an undergraduate at Harvard College, where I studied moral and political philosophy (though Harvard being itself, my degree is technically in “social studies“), wrote a regular column for The Crimson, served as president of Perspective Magazine, and was a DJ for the underground rock department as well as tech director for WHRB.

Say what? He started a blog as a middle schooler? That said, we were even more concerned by Matthews’ achievements at Harvard.

We demanded more information. As if they had a bone to pick, the analysts directed us to this report from July 2010, in which Katie Glueck profiled “five rising stars under age 25.”

Dylan Matthews had made the cut with five years to spare:

GLUECK (7/10): Dylan Matthews, 20, The Washington Post

Read the blog of Washington Post celebrity Ezra Klein and you can’t miss the work of his assistant, Dylan Matthews. Matthews is a rising Harvard junior, and like his boss, he has had a meteoric rise through the political blogosphere. At 14, Matthews started his own blog, at 16 he was freelancing for Slate, at 18 he worked at The American Prospect, and at 19 he signed on with Klein. Matthews guest-blogs and researches for Klein and also helps him produce Wonkbook, which is a left-leaning, more economically-focused version of Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook. At the age of 20, Matthews has access to a national audience with whom he shares his views on complex, high-level policy matters.

“It’s a tricky border to walk, but you have to have an appropriate humility about what you can do and yet have the confidence that if you have a smart point to make, to make it regardless of experience,” he said.

Matthews said that a host of other bloggers, including Klein, have set a precedent for youthful representation in political discourse.

“People have acknowledged that young people, like Ezra or [blogger at Center for American Progress] Matt Yglesias, can do useful writing, or in Ezra’s case, reporting, even if they haven’t cut their teeth at the metro desk for 10 years, although that’s incredibly useful as well,” Matthews said.

There’s a bit more; we’ll suggest that you hungrily fall on each word. But we were struck by the youth—and the admitted humility—of this new wonk on the block.

We’ll admit it. We were also struck by the keister-kissing in that last quoted remark.

Needless to say, people should be judged by the strength of their work. We have no particular view about the strength of Matthews’ work to date.

If you do the math you’ll see that this wonky genius is all of 23 years old. But even he didn’t call himself an intellectual.

When I was 23 I knew it all too, but all I had to show for it was a high school diploma, an honorable discharge, a wife and two kids. I didn’t get serious about school until I was in my thirties.

One of the (many) things I hate about Vile Progs is conceitedness that they are always the smartest people in the room. It would be one thing if they were, but they’re not. They aren’t even brilliant in a narrowly focused way like Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

In my experience, really smart people understand the limits of intelligence. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It makes you humble, not arrogant. Maturity helps with that too.

Vile Progs on the other hand, may make obeisance to humility but they think they are The Shit. They are all, each and every one, God’s Special Snowflakes (except they don’t believe in God because there can’t be any being that is superior to themselves.)

That is the secret of their devotion to Obama. Following him makes them feel smart and important. By following Obama, everything they say and do is smart and important. Conversely, anyone who doesn’t follow Obama is unsmart and unimportant.

BTW – If you want to save yourself the trouble of reading the stupendously brilliant essays of Dylan Matthews, just take a gander at his picture instead:

Dylan Matthews

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

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83 Responses to What is an “Intellectual?”

  1. The Klown says:

    One of the common traits of the pseudo-intellectual is jargon speak. Rather than trying to make complicated things simple they make simple things complicated. They LOVE to emit impenetrable word-fogs, especially when challenged.

  2. The Klown says:
  3. helenk3 says:

    if I call my self a personal dispersing specialist instead of crew dispatcher would that make me an intellectual?
    Over the years I have learned to disperse BS with the best of them

  4. driguana says:

    Actually, she should be referred to as an “intellectuelle”….way moe appropriate and germane.

  5. The Klown says:
  6. driguana says:

    I am “unsmart and unimportant because I don’t follow Obama” but what makes matters even worse with my prog intellectual friends is that I also like Sarah Palin. As one of my friends put it….”Ohm my!!!”
    I’m holding back for a bit on letting them know that I also support a smaller, more efficient federal government, less taxes and adherence to the Constitution….that would certainly send them to the orgasmitron!

    • The Klown says:

      What they really hate about Sarah is that she is smarter than they are.

      • Constance says:

        But in their Prog world you have to be Ivy indoctrinated to be smart. They never look at what the recent Ivy indoctrinated have inflicted on our country. Between the government, the media and the financial system they have pretty much screwed up everything they arrogantly touch. Either the east coast Ivys aren’t all that or this recent batch of The Indoctrinated were legacies.

        • The Klown says:

          Let’s just say that the Ivy League could use a little chlorine in the gene pool.

        • Isn’t ironic? Their values are such that they consider themselves revolutionaries in the style of radicalized hippies and 1960s intellectuals, but they allow themselves to be trained and tutored by their elders in ways they preach against. They are actually afraid to rebel, lest they miss their point of access into the upper classes and have to join those affluvient lower classes.

        • Yeah, that’s the beauty of that word. It sounds gorgeous and pleasant, but it actually means “smells like shit.”

  7. DeniseVB says:

    Isn’t “intellectual” one of those words that if you have to tell people that’s what you are, they weren’t convinced in the first place? I’ve only seen a couple of clips of MHP and she always comes across (to me) as a Judge Jeanine wannabe.

  8. Lulu says:

    I’m tired of intellectuals. Bored to death with the lot of them. It is a self identifying tag they use to justify their existence. Give me common sense and wisdom and I will listen. Otherwise go toot your own horn somewhere out of my hearing and I don’t want to give them any money either. And Tulane is a dying university because of Katrina. Getting a job there is not exactly a feather in your cap when everyone that could get a job anywhere else (or were not very near retirement) left. My cardiologist high tailed it out of there because all of the good students left and those are his words not mine.

  9. helenk3 says:

    stolen from a commenter at Amy’s place

  10. helenk3 says:


    California moonbats want warning on gas pumps just like warning on cigarettes. when you fill your car you are hurting the enviroment.
    since most Californians are not big fans of public transportation and trying to get them out of their cars is a struggle, think this will work?

  11. fif says:

    In my experience, really smart people understand the limits of intelligence. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It makes you humble, not arrogant. Maturity helps with that too.

    This is so true. Buddha said: “The highest form of knowing is not knowing.”

    It’s the vanity, the imperiousness, the angry superiority in their attitude this is not only repellent but scary because they somehow have such a big megaphone these days and other sheep actually follow them. Hence, our current president.

    • Lulu says:

      This is why I think it has more to do with personality (or personality disorder) than with many other factors. They are so invested in their identity as smart or intellectuals or elite educated that it serves to compensate for some other insecurity. It is also why they lose their shit if challenged. I think it is a growing problem which hopefully will lessen when they are rejected. Having to announce how smart, educated, superior, etc that you are is an instant tip-off that you are not and are only insecure. Harris-Perry having her buds and fellow “intellectuals” announce how “intellectual” she is really illustrates this rather sad state they are in. Self aggrandizement is never attractive or believable.

    • foxyladi14 says:

      I thought Rumsfeld said that!! )

      “The highest form of knowing is not knowing.”

      • The Klown says:

        If you really think about it Rumsfeld was correct, even though the way he said it sounds like gibberish. He was talking about things you know you don’t know and things you don’t know you don’t know.

        IOW – areas of ignorance you are aware of (like “I don’t know Greek”) versus areas of ignorance you don’t even know exist.

  12. votermom says:

    When I scan modern history, surrounding every iron-fisted regime is group of self-proclaimed intellectuals, technocrats, wonks, etc, whose function is to provide twisted-pretzel logic about why the regime is just, sublime, necessary, and inevitable.

  13. angienc says:

    “What is an intellectual?”

    Nowadays, it seems to be someone who loves the smell of his/her own farts.

    That poor Dyan kid (I bet he’s named after the 90210 character, not Bob or Thomas) looks like he ate too much paste in pre-school.

  14. DeniseVB says:

    Thanks to votermom, I just proved that “intellectuals” aren’t reading the NYT. I commented on a Christie smackdown op-Ed with vm’s “tweet of the week”, paraphrased(?)…..”once again proving the media holds GOP governors to a higher standard than a Democratic President”.

    I got one reply: ” Proves nothing…only in your head.”

    Huh? Maybe I’m wrong and that was an intellectual ? Heh.

  15. “BTW – If you want to save yourself the trouble of reading the stupendously brilliant essays of Dylan Matthews, just take a gander at his picture instead.”
    Thanks. Saved me from upchucking.

    • The Klown says:

      Seriously, that dude makes PajamaBoy look like Cary Grant.

      • The Klown says:

        He should have tape on his glasses and a pocket protector.

        • Lulu says:

          So his sole qualification for opinion writing is that he wrote a blog when he was 14 and he went to Harvard? And he looks like a doofus? That is it? He studied social studies (studied moral and political philosophy bullshit) as an undergrad which makes him qualified to write about economics and national politics. How? Are all the economists working for the banks? And the morons at the WaPo pay him? I normally do not like to make fun of young people in their “awkward” stage (we all have one usually about age 9-13) but he isn’t going to grow out of it.

        • The Klown says:

          On the bright side, he’s unlikely to reproduce.

        • I doubt it, Lulu. What’s not mentioned in the op-ed are all the connections and personal advocacy that landed him where he is. We don’t know who his mama and daddy are, his uncles, aunts, etc. We don’t know whose tired dick he sucked at Harvard either, but you can bet there was at least one.

  16. The Klown says:

    Why is it that even when the Obama administration does the right thing they do it for the wrong reasons?

    I’m talking about SSM.

  17. trixta says:

    Klown: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”
    …i.e. to paraphrase Socrates. So true, and that’s because knowledge leads you to more questions.

    “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

    “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we
    understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/socrates.html#AmReoe3OFfxXehtv.99

  18. trixta says:

    Heh…heh…heh!!! That scene captured the nightmares I had before my qualifying exams–that and being late! Actually, everyone I knew who went through their exams came out feeling utterly dumb and insecure.

  19. gxm17 says:

    True story. A couple of weeks ago, I was smiling at my 10-year old grandson (cuz he’s adorable) and he asked what was so funny and I said, nothing, I just think you’re really cute. His reply: “I prefer to think of myself as an intellectual.” Made my day. 😀

  20. DeniseVB says:

    Yikes, these are the latest cable news numbers, from Weds, Jan 8 …..


    Now if I were a programmer for MSNBC and CNN, I’d probably be fired by now 😀

    • 49erDweet says:

      If only those just scanning MSNSC for the latest prog trends would drop out they’d be in a heap of hurt, but the numbers there are much higher than I expected. Stupidity still pays,

  21. trixta says:

    Precocious grand kid, gxm17!!

    Melissa Harris-Perry has a lisp….I can’t get past it…kinda gets in the way of any message –“intellectual” or otherwise, she’s spewing.

    • Constance says:

      I think that is supposed to be adorable like her head wagging. It just comes off as submissive. I can’t watch her. Does she do the question talking?

  22. 49erDweet says:

    I choose door number one, Monty.

  23. trixta says:

    Oh dear, recreating a “controlled” nuclear reactor meltdown sounds dangerous to me. What could go wrong here?


    “An interesting story popped up from Agence France-Presse today, suggesting that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency was planning to conduct an experiment sometime in the next twelve months whereby they would create a “controlled [nuclear] reactor meltdown” in an effort to learn how to deal with similar situations in the future.

    The Japan Atomic Energy Agency does not spend a lot of time updating their website, it would seem, as the latest press release listed is for July of 2013. However, The Yomiuri Shimbun — a Japanese newspaper — has provided further information to corroborate the story.

    “We’d like to find out what phenomena occurred in the accident and use the data to work out responses in the event of another nuclear power plant accident,” an official from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has been quoted as saying.

    “We want to study exactly how meltdowns happen and apply what we will learn to help improve ways to deal with severe accidents in the future,” the AFP quote a spokesman for the agency as saying.”



  24. DeniseVB says:

    Not “intellectual” ….


    I unsubscribed to HBO years ago, why do I have to keep running across Lena Dunham angst?

    • The Klown says:

      There are a lot of shows on television these days that I really don’t understand why anyone watches them. We live in the Era of Bad Taste and Unfunny Comedy

    • 49erDweet says:

      Axiom #21. It is somehow brilliantly different when “they” do something, and rude, rude, rude to question whatever it was they did. Besides, if you don’t recognize and support it’s brilliance it only proves how limited is your mind.

      “Everybody” knows that.

  25. The Klown says:

    Well today ain’t working out so hot.

    It was a nice day so I decided to go out front and trim my bush. Then after I got started the chainsaw blade jumped the sprocket. So the widow next door comes home (the young hot one, not the old crone) and I’m standing there next to her driveway with a half-trimmed bush and a broken chainsaw.

  26. helenk3 says:


    NASA captures image of ” the Hand of God”

  27. Oh, good gawd, those bios are obnoxious. But notice that increasingly you are seeing the media sing the praises of the so-called Millenial Generation and how awesome they are. Last night there was an entire evening show on NPR dedicated to how they were the next Greatest Generation that, I kid you not, cited Kony 2012 as an example of why. Then today I saw this. They sure are a marketing savvy bunch of narcissists.

    • The Klown says:

      Left-wing articles about Millenials tends to emphasize how awesome and important they are. I thought Boomers were supposed to be the narcissists.

      Millenials should be called the Special Snowflake Generation.

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