Daily Archives: March 24, 2012

The Nexus Between Theory and Practice: The Role of The Intellegentsia

I felt that somehow being a revolutionary intellectual might be a goal to which one might aspire, for surely there was no real reason why one should remain in the academic world – that is, remain an intellectual – and at the same time not be revolutionary.

- Dr. Walter Rodney, “Walter Rodney Speaks” (Rodney, 1990)

Holistic community can exist among the subjugated beyond rhetoric and ideals. I find the possibility quite refreshing, even accounting for the paradoxical means in which it may be attained. The oppressed, the people with soul, forced to function within the confines of a troubled and artificial framework set on affirming itself as authentic find themselves in an ironically opportune position.

Everyday life amongst the trivialized serves to perpetuate the hindering of progress, further suppresses cultivation, and fetters whatever humanity is left. Yet still we find our predicament morally advantageous for the simple fact that despite numerous efforts, these artificial perceptions and ideals will never fit. We the subjugated find success in our failed attempts to apply fabricated and linear definitions to our very multidimensional realities. When the “self-other” dichotomy is brought about, we are the other, and in striving to be someone else’s definition of self we have always had ourselves, their other, to fall back on. Such is the nature of development by contradiction.

At the expense of the oppressed, the oppressor seeks comfort, coziness, profit, and riches. However, fragmentation, passivity, and denial disguised as the former are the only rewards of these efforts. It only helps this misperception of reality that the world created for you agrees with your rightful place at the top, which makes fragmentation, passivity, and denial look to be much more than empty goals, and rather attractive ones. Success is gauged by one’s transcendence into this holy trinity of ineffectiveness.

The chief motivating factor of this discourse is the daily interaction with my peers who have identified themselves as being in solidarity with the subjugated, but seek comfort through the same vacuous means as the colonizer, the oppressor. The academic elite, our Kennesaw State, Clark Atlanta, Temple, Georgia State and Emory Universities, our Morehouse, Spelman, and Smith Colleges. The group tasked with the cultivation and understanding of sound theoretical ideals finding comfort in denial and ineffectiveness is problematic. This group, within the framework of this discussion, I liken to a group highlighted by Frantz Fanon as the “Colonized Intellectuals” (Fanon, 1965)

Within the halls of the institution this group, of which I am a member, functions with “bourgeois swinishness” (Cesaire, 1972) as the fundamental rule, having mistaken upward mobility as the end all of progress, casting aside a more comprehensive means of pressing forward: cultivating the ability to apply sound theoretical frameworks in a practical/equitable way, in cooperation with the working class.

The colonized intellectual finds comfort in an education that is fundamentally hypocritical. Hypocritical in the sense that the general claim, or I would like to think so, is one of a focus on community yet everything in practice works to conserve an impractical system of relations among the two subgroups of oppressed. An education that takes refuge in hypocrisy is doomed to be ineffective, or rather effective in the sense that it perpetuates the status quo and hinders any sort of substantive and sustainable development within the individual and society.

On objectivity: At times, the safety that the heart seeks is in indifference. Choosing to function (whether poorly or not) from an objective standpoint is to choose indifference, and to choose indifference is to choose irresponsibility. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a network of inescapable mutuality he was alluding to the interrelated network between you and I, whether one identifies as an intellectual, laymen, politician, factory worker, farmer, teacher, artist, etc.

The fact of the matter is that when our collective heart seeks comfort in indifference and yearns for a veil of deceit we have chosen to remove ourselves from the equation. We have chosen to remain ineffective; in essence we have taken a step away from the environment where “grounding”, the foundation of humanity and civilization, is possible. We, the individuals who function within the institution, must maintain a more inclusive and holistic model of development, because “it is not the head of a civilization that begins to rot, it is the heart.” (Cesaire, 1972) As we continue to advance in the abstract, our hearts go malnourished. This too, is development by contradiction. If we are to aspire to bring forth the questions we seek to be answered, we must be thorough and tempered with humility because being anything else will misguide the practice and in effect, hamper development.

When Dr. Walter Rodney was grounding in Jamaica he was devoting himself to theory derived from and tempered with practice, while providing useful insights from what he had learned and formulated having been immersed in the institution. Unfortunately, the practices of Dr. Rodney are the exception generally not the usual procedure.

In conclusion I re-pose the original question with an addition: What is the role of the intelligentsia in revolution? The definition of “Revolution” free of the confines of exoticism and empty eloquence, begins primarily with the individual.  I am simply a man, and no man is in the place to judge his brother, for that designation belongs to a higher power. I posit such an idea not as a condemnation of my brethren, but rather in the hopes that this idea evokes the insight necessary to begin revolution in the place that it must in order to be sustainable, the individual. When there is a claim of humanity within the foundation, a claim beyond flowery language, a claim that can be seen in both theory and practice, only then do we begin to move in a manner that can be described as progress.

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Khalfani Lawson
Kennesaw State University
Political Science | African and African Diaspora Studies

9th Annual Walter Rodney Symposium