I moved to the city of Cape Town in 2011. Matthias and Francesco were among the first new friends I made in the city. Matthias is German and Francesco South African and they also recently moved to Cape Town after living in Paris and the Netherlands for the past 20 years. Their beautiful home in De Waterkant, is filled with Matthias' fascinating collection of contemporary art and Francesco's original maps of historic South Africa. However, when I first walked into their home I was not drawn to the art, but to their library: 5 to 6 meters of floor to ceiling books... history, philosophy, culture, art, poetry, politics... And the shocking things is, I think I may have read, maybe one of the books on their shelf? I hope! No wonder I can't hold my own in a conversation about where we are as a nation and where we are going. Where we are as human beings and where we are going. I don't even know where we've been!
More often than not, the word, 'intellectual' has a socially negative connotation. But I resonate with this definition on Wikipedia, "An intellectual is the man or woman who engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about the reality of society, and proposes solutions for the normative problems of society, and by such discourse in the public sphere gains authority from public opinion. Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics, either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice, usually by producing or by extending an ideology, and by defending one or another system of values.
What I like about this definition, is the fact that the intellectual, first and foremost, has an opinion. An opinion derived from critical study, thought, and reflection. More often than not I had opinions that were mere second hand regurgitations of other friends that are more confident in speaking up. At least now I could regurgitate the thoughts of friends that have considered the present day realities in the light of historical developments through critical study, thought and reflection.
I have finally discovered the beauty and the glory of the history of philosophy and critical thinking.
[pause for dramatic effect.]
A whole new world has opened for me. The religious teachers in my formative years have told me not to touch, and not to handle... that it will lead me off the straight and narrow. Now, some years later, I can see exactly why. Because it did indeed lead me off the path they have wanted for me. But oh.. I have discovered so much more. I have discovered the beauty of science, the beauty of doubt and the beauty of vulnerability. What else are we, if not vulnerable? A small living organism, at the mercy of the elements, at the mercy of the sun's energy, out in the corner of a small galaxy, which is just one expression of billions of other galaxies which is in, perhaps not just one universe.
Science has shown that the light from the sun takes 8 minutes to reach us. And since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, any calamity that happens on the surface of the sun, will happen 8 minutes before it can have any impact on us earthlings. With that same science astronomers have measured the distance of the farthest known galaxy, finding that its light took 13.1 billion years to reach Earth... yes, that is billions. Not six thousand.
I.e. the stars in that galaxy were born 13 billion years ago. Gosh... What could have happened in all those billions of years? For us, what happened there lies in the future, but for those stars it is now in the past.
Imagine, if you can be brave enough to ask questions, brave enough to embrace doubt, you may just discover that you are intimately connected to everything else. That the same substance that is your body, is found in a star far, far away. If you can lay bare your vulnerability as a human being, interdependent with other human beings, interdependent with other living organisms, interdependent with other galaxies, you may discover that in this moment in time and space, you are precisely where you have intended to be and that all that is benefits from the important part that you play.
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde
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