Friendship and intellectual elitism

Abby asked:

Is there such a thing as intellectual elitism? To what extent should we allow our intellectual pursuits to run our lives and is it better to have friends with the same intellectual interests as you?

I have a close friend of mine who I feel I’m drawing away from because for months I’ve been feeling that we are too different mainly because I can’t be myself with her. I can’t talk to her about anything serious and when I try she shows absolutely No interest. The problem is I spend a lot of time with her and when I do I feel like I’m losing a part of myself I can’t afford to. I’m afraid of being elitist. At the same time being an introvert I value the friends I have but this one is suffocating me.

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

There is such a thing as intellectual elitism, but your question isn’t really about that. What is intellectual elitism? At a first pass, I would define it as the over-valuation of intellectual ability, at the expense of under-valuing other abilities.

Plato is famously quoted as saying that philosophers should be kings — in other words, we should appoint philosophers as our leaders/ rulers — but few persons, least of all professional philosophers would give any credence to such an absurd proposition. The first and most important qualification for a leader is a capacity for leadership, which is only accidentally related (if at all) to the ability to think about the mind-body problem or the ontological status of numbers.

Yes, we want our leaders to be smart. We want our doctors and lawyers and CEOs to be smart. However, overall, intellectual elitism is harmful rather than beneficial. That would be the default, common sense view. Give credit where it is due, but remember that the well being of society requires the contribution of those with other attributes besides attributes of the intellect.

As I said, your question is about something quite different. Your story is of a person who wants to better themself and a (formerly) close friend who is holding them back. It could be the plot of a movie. Imagine that you had taken a strong interest in sport but your friend refused to go on runs with you (she’s too fat and lazy). Well, you can still watch TV with her, go to movies, or go out for a drink.

You should be careful about dropping old friends, you never know when you need them.


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