Intellectual Noblesse Oblige

On ethical matters, the term Noblesse Oblige refers to the concept that those who are privileged ought to help those who are less privileged. Now, as may be guessed from such terminology, this tends to refer primarily to that of an economic and social privilege. What then if we chose to extend this concept to the realm of intellect.

We must, I suppose, consider what constitutes privilege. Privilege is perhaps the wrong term. Are two millionaires — one by birth, one by hard work or ingenuity — equal? No, but does this disqualify either party from such responsibility? Then again, is this obligatory or supererogatory? That is, is it to be demanded of those with much or is it the choice of the individual, neutral if unchosen but good if chosen?

Certainly, from my own standpoint of Christian ethics, this is quite simple to say that it is indeed the responsibility for those who have been given much to share with those who do not have much. But for those who do not adhere to the Christian faith, can anyone demand such a thing? Really, aside from the demands of a deity, can any human demand another do anything? I don’t believe that that is remotely feasible in ethical terms. Noblesse Oblige is a lovely ideal but cannot be forced upon an individual lest it become a form of Communism. No, precisely for that reason, it must remain unchained by necessity.

All of that is perhaps an extensive divagation from the original idea I wanted to consider, which is the concept of Noblesse Oblige including the realm of intellect. Do those who have been gifted with extraordinary intelligence have an obligation, if indeed we are to accept the original concept, to help raise the collective intelligence of humanity?

Then again, does this have to be such a wide-arching concept? Is it to be found in raising the base intelligence by sharing the insights founds or is Noblesse Oblige satisfied by the genius who works towards individual excellence that pushes the boundaries and is then shared with the Intelligentsia alone to disseminate to the rest of mankind? Perhaps both can be true, but the latter relies upon the former’s willingness to be leaned upon to do the “leg work” as it were.

In the end, I guess motivation is perhaps the determining factor. As with most “complete” ethical considerations, it is not merely the outcome of the actions but also the reasoning behind the actions that determines whether it is “good” or “bad”. Is a person seeking power, pride, self-glory or do they act for the sake of helping others? Perhaps they act on simple curiosity, which at the least would most likely fall into a neutral category, though perhaps the lack of thought for others and focus solely upon self-centered desires is less than neutral. That is the problem with ethics though, the waters are murky at best, and if one chooses, they can justify most anything if they possess the ability to pull it through the wringer of logic.

Everything aside, from my own standpoint, the idea of the intellectual elites helping others to gain some greater base of knowledge is a lovely concept. It has many flaws, though. While in general I believe people are far more capable to learn than they choose to dare, capable of truly great feats if they tried a bit harder, it cannot be denied that there are some individuals with a lower capacity of thought, which is not to mention that there are those who are content to remain ignorant. Ignorance truly is bliss.

I have maintained, and will continue to do so, that teaching is amongst the most noble of professions. Teachers are underappreciated, expected to take less money than other professions for performing such a noble service, and treated as disposable. Until we treat those who impart so much into our children and young men and women as valuable, our collective intelligence will never be raised, and the intelligence gap will continue to widen, furthering conflicts between the intelligentsia and the working class. To be realistic, Noblesse Oblige is a beautiful thought, but that is all. We have seen that many of our best and brightest are not interested in sacrificing the allure of money and fame to do what is “noble”. As a society, let us make it worth their while, at least closer to a decent standard of living, to teach and change the world through our youth.

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