All intellectuals take the strengths of their societies for granted, or do not even notice them: problems, by contrast, loom large in their imagination--that is why intellectuals are often destructive forces.
--Anthony Daniels, in The New Criterion
An advantage--though that's perhaps not the right word--of having a melancholy and pessimistic cast of mind is that one never says things like "Well, it can't get any worse." It can always get worse. For most of us most of the time it could get a lot worse: we have many things that many or most people have not had through all of human history, and which many still do not have, and there is nothing in the nature of things guaranteeing that we will always have them.
For instance, it's unlikely that anyone reading this is in danger of starvation or even malnutrition, unless, in the latter case, it's from eating too much of the wrong things. It's unlikely that you don't have access to clean drinking water, except perhaps because of some temporary disruption, such as a natural disaster. But there are many millions of people alive today for whom neither of those is true. And we have them because we live in a material infrastructure that's the product of an enormous amount of knowledge and skill accumulated over centuries, and continues to function because those are in constant application for maintaining and expanding it. War could destroy it overnight; neglect and forgetting could do it less quickly but just as thoroughly.
I've remembered for over fifty years a passing remark by my college roommate, who was more radical than I was: that we needed a revolution because "anything would be better than what we have." If my memory is correct I didn't respond, partly because I was too shocked. How could he possibly say such a thing seriously? It required no imagination to see many possible societies that would be much worse than ours; I say it required no imagination, because they existed and could be observed, if one was willing to believe reports from various unhappy places all over the world. And if one did exercise a bit of imagination, which I did, it was not hard to envision not only worse but much, much worse. I guess that was an early sign that I was not going to stick with the radical leftist program.
We were not intellectuals, of course, but as college students--fairly serious ones, not just there for job training--we were, to use the current formulation, intellectual-adjacent. And we certainly exhibited the tendency Daniels notes. In fact it's reasonable to say that all the rebellious college students of the time did. In material things we were the most privileged people who had ever walked the earth. And yet many of us more or less sincerely claimed that the system which supported us was rotten to the core and should be destroyed and replaced with a (usually very nebulous) dream of our own. There was a spiritual source and aspect to that alienation, but that's another matter; I'm speaking here only of the liberty and plenitude we had.
We weren't necessarily wrong in our criticisms and complaints, of course. There was certainly a great deal wrong with American society at the time. But we took its fundamental strengths for granted.
Such attitudes, such blind spots, come fairly naturally to the young; the middle-aged and older should become more judicious. But the syndrome did not fade away with the '60s, and has advanced steadily since then, becoming institutionalized as the conventional view of intellectuals and the intellectually-adjacent of all ages. Consider this story (sorry if the link is subscriber-only) about a professor of marketing (!) who required her students to contribute to something called The Rebellion Community: “The Rebellion community is a safe place to coordinate our efforts to burn everything to the f***ing ground.”
What does she think her life would be like if her "community" actually succeeded in that endeavor? Chances are fair to good that she would end up desperately trying to avoid starvation or some other very unpleasant end. Or perhaps she would manage to come out on top of that revolution, and be in a position to starve or otherwise put down its enemies, an activity which her statement suggests she might enjoy. In any case, there certainly would be no need for professors of marketing in that wasteland.
It's just rhetoric, of course. But why do those words even present themselves to her as an expression of her wish? "...that is why intellectuals are often destructive forces." Yes, and also why the word "intellectual" often takes on the connotation "not very smart."
Actually, The Rebellion Community has a hint of grift about it, or perhaps of multi-level marketing: there's a $2400 entry fee (only $2000 if you pay it all at once). And: "find two community organizers to join you and your registration fee is paid for!"
The remark from Anthony Daniels comes at the end of a discussion of a play by John Galsworthy which suggests an attitude toward criminality which, detached from good sense by "incontinent extension," would lead to a general denial of the criminal's responsibility. It's in the May issue of The New Criterion, but I'm not including a link because it's subscriber-only.
The title of the post alludes to an incident in Wise Blood: the crooked preacher Hoover Shoats aka Onnie Jay Holy, rebuffed by Haze Motes in his proposal for commercializing Haze's "Church Without Christ, the church peaceful and satisfied," complains "That's the trouble with you innerleckchuls...you don't never have nothing to show for what you're saying." The phrase, in O'Connor's spelling, is also the title of a short book by Marion Montgomery, which I read many years ago and now don't remember very well. I should read it again.