The imagination is a phenomenal thing. With it we can create fantastical realms where anything is possible; where we can solve the world’s problems and all of its injustices. It is where history’s greatest luminaries and villains have sought refuge as they gave birth to the ideas and movements that have shaped our civilizations and cultures. It is where we, as individuals, make sense of who we are.
However, if left unchecked, the imagination has the power to push us beyond the bounds of our abilities and of reality. As the La(z)y Intellectual, I do my best to straddle this fine line as I investigate the issues and answer the questions that many of us have about life in the 21st century. By harnessing the imagination I seek to improve the world; if I fail this website will be a monument to my hubris.
In the Beginning…
In the fall of 2010 I was a Graduate Student at a University on Canada’s West Coast. Full of vim and vigor I was going to take the world by storm and nothing could stop me. With a Bachelor’s degree under my belt and the recommendations of my professors in hand I believed, with the confidence of youth, that I knew everything there was to know; that Graduate school was but a formality on my eventual path to being this generation’s greatest mind. In less than a week I had been disabused of this notion and my two-fold ignorance exposed.
Despite my setback, I had gained the knowledge that I had so sorely lacked; the knowledge of what I didn’t know. Exploring this unknown territory I came across a text that has influenced how I’ve come to think over the last two years: Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality. More specifically, I discovered the concept of Discourse.
Those who have studied at the Graduate level in the social sciences are undoubtedly familiar with the late Michel Foucault, the French intellectual who popularized the concept of discourse. A superb thinker, Foucault set forth a concept of power that illustrated the complex ways in which knowledge, especially that which is considered “common,” has been shaped and produced by it.
Like the horse that has suddenly had its blinders removed, I was startled by its implications and its challenge to how I had often approached the accumulation and possession of knowledge. The more I applied Foucault’s methodology, the more excited I became. Here, I thought, is the tool that is needed to pierce the veil of ignorance; a tool that all should be in possession of; a tool that if applied can solve so many problems. It became my dream to share this understanding of Discourse with others, especially those who, lacking the opportunity to pursue Graduate work, might not have otherwise been exposed to it. From this ambitious goal the idea of the La(z)y Intellectual and the creation of a Lay intellectual community was born
The original goal of the La(z)y Intellectual was to promote two things: knowledge and community. Using Foucault as a theoretical base, I planned to address pressing social and cultural issues (e.g. politics, gender, government, nationalism, the internet, etc.) in a manner that would prove understandable, and relevant, to a wide audience while retaining the element of intellectuality that I felt was missing from much of the internet’s content. The articles I wanted to write would range from opinion pieces, to book reviews, to interviews.
To supplement my own ideas and writings, I had also planned to host an open access database that would allow anyone, regardless of education and language, to post documents that could then be read by others. It would allow undergraduates to share their research papers with members of the public interested in the same subjects but who might not have the time or resources to research them on their own. It would also allow the “average” person to write a treatise on a subject and have it read by hundreds or thousands of people.
Existing within my imagination, this version of the La(z)y Intellectual would have promoted a sharing of ideas and information in a meaningful way that would encourage free thought, contemplation, and reflection upon the ideas and values we currently hold. Although well intentioned, this fantasy was out of touch with the real world.
After my initial enthusiasm subsided I came to realize that the original plan was not well suited to building a lay intellectual community. In an ironic twist, by using Foucault to explain the effect of power and discourse in contemporary society I would have essentially imposed my own discourse (that of Foucault) onto my readers by telling them how to think, thereby negating or at least limiting the potential for free thought. Furthermore, by “educating” my readers I would have been doing them a great disservice by implying that my knowledge is superior to theirs; putting this knowledge into layman’s terms would only have heightened the condescending nature of this attitude by further implying that the reader is incapable of understanding the concepts for themselves.
Another harsh reality that I had to face was the fact that the La(z)y Intellectual requires money to run ( the cost of which would be further increased by the costs associated with hosting a database for thousands of essays and treatises and reviews). Currently, the only viable revenue for small websites is donations and ad revenue (which depends on site views). With that in mind, how was I to go about promoting something as boring as “thinking”? The obvious answer is to have something marketable, something that will prove interesting and act as a hook for new readers. At the time, I didn’t have one, and without one building and sustaining a community of any meaningful size becomes impossible.
To add to the increasing list of problems with the original plan for the website, there is the issue of copyright and what is considered free speech. To host a database with user submitted documents means that there exists the very real possibility of having a user submit a piece of work that is not their own, that is copyrighted, or promotes hate and violence towards a particular group or individual. The responsibilities associated with policing and maintaining this content is currently beyond my capabilities.
In short, I had presumed too much and exceeded my abilities. A more practical and sustainable model was required.
Although the original vision for the La(z)y Intellectual lies in tattered ruins, it has pushed me in a new, and hopefully better, direction. It may not be the Big Bang I initially envisioned, but it’s a start nonetheless.
As a result, the La(z)y Intellectual will become a place for me to think out loud about things that I find important while allowing me to do something that few have the time for in our busy lives: reflection. By not simply consuming information for the sake of information, and by attempting to integrate it into my understanding of the world, its peoples, and its cultures, I hope to promote a more meaningful approach to knowledge. These reflections will not always be correct, politically or factually, but by showcasing my thought process as I work my way through various issues and ideas I will hopefully give cause for others to examine, and re-examine what they think they know.
Another important change is that each post will, in many ways, bring more of me, as a person, into it. It is my belief that, despite the increasingly “social” aspect of the internet, facilitated by services like Twitter and Facebook, we bring very little of whom we are to our digital avatars. We are aware, more than ever before, of what others like, where they’re going, and what music they listen to. If we ignore these statistics however, we see very little of whom someone is, what they believe in, and what they stand for. By bringing more of myself to this blog, I hope that my readers will engage with me and my thoughts and ideas as a rational (and real person). In short, I hope to fulfill the potential of a social internet.
As for what you, the readers, can expect to see from me, it will likely be a mix of book reviews, opinion pieces, rants, and the occasional interview.
Is there a book, a topic, or an idea that you would love to see me talk about? Are you blogless and want a forum to express your thoughts? If so, please leave a comment or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The La(z)y Intellectual