Our saints spent a lot of time thinking, reading, writing, debating, lecturing and living with strong self-discipline. Theirs was a life of the mind where knowledge was replenished and nourished through meditation and reflection. Society benefited significantly through their detachment from worldly duties and responsibilities like working, borrowing, saving, investing.
Last week Professor Devendra Jain from Flame University and I created an unconventional innovation to go on a road trip through the spine of Britain where we spoke at the annual British Accounting and Finance Association (BAFA) conference at Sheffield University.
We then drove to Birmingham, Leicester and Cambridge where we visited the universities. We also met community leaders and debated our personal experiences of living an intellectual life in a much more materialistic and hedonistic world where neither of us hold much respect – as teachers we must have failed in life somehow is the common assumption. Businessmen do not seek our advice or consultancy as we are impractical and uncommercial.
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Without respect it is much more difficult to engage and enable our thinking to influence and transform. Duties like administration, accredited customer-focused teaching and marking take a lot of time as sabbaticals are very rare yet desperately needed. Academics have become trampled by modernity and its productive machinery. Society has abandoned its role to support genuine intellectuals.
In truth we need intellectuals to challenge conventional assumptions, institutions, laws, customs and behaviours. It is also society’s ‘duty’ to nourish and feed them. The symbiosis between thinkers and doers can easily be drowned by neo-liberal materialistic lifestyles and concerns. Even monks and nuns have become organisers and performers rather than critics and cajolers of society, forcing it not to accept the status quo. Their media machinery has turned saints into celebrities and fundraisers with little time for study, research and reflection.
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Intellectuals have become a dying breed. Can we ‘afford’ this state of affairs? Is it sustainable?