I’m often faced with phrases such as:
It is easy for you to say, you’re so talented.
I’m not intelligent enough company for you, you have to find someone to argue against you.
Well, you are a good person but most people are not.
I don’t understand you and that makes me feel stupid.
There are a couple of aspects to pay attention to here:
- Separation of You and Me
- Dichotomy of talent – no talent, intelligence – no intelligence, good – not good, easy – hard
I’m currently reading a book titled Introduction to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit (in Finnish). The back cover states:
According to Hegel, the source and objective of philosophical thinking is humane, historical experience and no abstract world of ideas. That is why philosophy includes all aspects of reality: life and death, knowledge and error, science and art, religion and politics. To reach absolute knowledge one must follow the path of doubt and despair and experience all the different forms of human knowledge. The Phenomenology of Spirit is a description of this path, a rich presentation of the different elements of human experience.
In the Hegelian framework, what kind of awareness do the above phrases reflect?
First off, they reflect the feeling of separation. When a less conscious I faces a more conscious You, it creates an explanation: I’m less conscious because I’m less intelligent. It is my own fault that I don’t understand, now I feel angry and frustrated.
Separation causes the mind to create external explanations. Philosophy, rather than springing from experience that is common to all human existence, is a sign of brilliance that can only be reached by those with “talent”. Also understanding such things is reserved for the talented few. Thus the Spirit states: “You should find more intelligent company to argue with.”
This brings us to the Great Man theory, “according to which history can be largely explained by the impact of “great men”, or heroes: highly influential individuals who, due to either their personal charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or Machiavellianism utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact.”
Herbert Spencer‘s criticism is enough to refute the theory:
“[Y]ou must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown…. Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”
However, history is still implicitly approached through this theory – that is, national heroes are celebrated every year. This has to do with the narrative needs of the society: history is written and read so that it supports and creates legitimacy for the existing social structure and institutions.
In practical life this can be seen in national holidays, celebrations and events. For example in Finland being proud of being Finnish (no value statement here) has been in the last couple of years slowly linked to the True Finns party that is critical towards immigration and political establishment. This has caused somewhat negative connotations in celebrating the Day of Finnishness (which actually is today, May 12th) and Independence Day (December 6th). The political establishment has actually become increasingly more “pro-European Union” which creates an interesting tension in the Finnish political climate. (At the same time we have started to celebrate the Europe day on May 9th.) Depending on the current events, also such celebrations can start to feel “weird” – celebrating the EU in the midst of a European Union economic crisis creates lots of cognitive dissonance.
So to sum up this rather meandering path of thought: consciousness likes to claim that it is separate from others and that intelligence and wisdom is something to be reserved for the few in order to protect itself; in the social context this is linked to the theory of Great Men; this theory is actually the basis of the nation state, which uses great men to create narratives of a common ancestry and shared experiences and values.
Perhaps we should ask: If intelligence and wisdom is part of the human experience and in the reach of everyone, what happens to the narratives of nations and their heroes?