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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

       Wednesday, October 27 2004 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

The fountainhead

Most academic people (schoolteachers, professors, students) are not theoretical thinkers, at least in most of their lives. I suspect that many rise to that level to produce a graduate thesis or a book expounding their greatest thoughts, but when the enthusiasm turns back into prosaic reality they turn back into receptors rather than transmitters of stimuli. Most newspaper editorial writers don't achieve that level; those few who do, get offered syndication or chairs at think tanks (and not all columnists and think tank fellows are at that level either). Thinking theoretically is hard work and few people want it, especially when even fewer people in everyday life appreciate it or blatantly reject it. Being able to sit through a college course and pass a test or write an acceptable term paper, or even a thesis, doesn't guarantee top-level thinking. In more cases it's more imitation than innovation. And "just" innovation isn't a guarantee either. Somewhere between "mere innovation" and scientific Nobel prize-level research this elusive kind of thinking begins to emerge.

Reading and enjoying Ayn Rand's novels (especially Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead) won't make you a theoretical thinker, but if you get the real point she's making in these, you'll get a glimmer of what the terms mean. It's been over half my thus-far lifetime since I was "Ayn Randed," but if memory serves, both of those thick novels are about the necessity of theoretical thinking and the power of theoretical thinkers. In Atlas Shrugged, if I recall correctly, the "geniuses" go on strike, leaving the bureaurats bereft of any power to make anything work or keep working. And the "fountainhead" that her title speaks of is that same ingenious source of all creativity that keeps the world running. A tangent that comes to mind here but won't be explored beyond a mention is: "where would the geniuses, and the movers and shakers who make things happen, come from if the current crop were all wiped out?"

But I'm still democratic enough to believe that theoretical thinking is not just for the elite. In fact, the more theoretically we everyday people learn to be in our thinking, the less power the elite will be able to exercise against us, which is what keeps me voting republican (that is, for protecting the minority views from the majority will). It's ironic that all three of the most recent major-party candidates for President of the United States are graduates of the most elite American universities (Gore, Harvard; Bush and Kerry, Yale), but the campaigns also demonstrate that in political arenas being able to think (or at least "speak") theoretically may be as much a liability as an asset. Both Bush and Kerry have tried to avoid appearing elitist in this campaign, though 2000 campaign Democrat standard bearer Gore has emerged this year as a theoretician of American liberalism, pushing "the envelope" far beyond he dared do when a candidate or where Kerry has deigned to do in his own campaign rhetoric.

Maybe the difference between everyday passing academic work and work attaining the level of theoretical thought is that often misunderstood term: scholarship.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 


When I'm feeling down, I like to whistle. It makes the neighbour's dog run to the end of his chain and gag himself.

Sent by Trudy Myers  

Thought for today

I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.

Blaise Pascal  

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