Student activism has always been a tumultuous arena. In its long history, it has toppled dictatorships, demanded more democratic regimes, and had even gone to change the population’s social structure. While activism is associated with actions, no activism is without guiding principles. As Marx once noted, “What distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this; that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality”. The term “imagination” here refers to the realm of ideas. Ideas and the force of intellectualism guide activists in analyzing the structural problems while brainstorming for the solution. One could not advocate a cause without in-depth understanding within a field.
Intellectualism, thus, helps perfect the craft of activism in three parts: comprehensiveness, multi-dimensional view, and originality. Intellectualism gives a sense of a whole on how societal problems are perceived, comprehend them in their totalities, and illuminates us on the integrative manner of the solutions. Through multi-faceted views and thorough thoughts, though they might be limited due to how tough it is to adjust our perceptions, we could understand problems on different planes and disciplines. Reasons are, then, utilized as the primary instruments for a problem-solving framework – indigenized to fit specific issues on certain causes of activisms. There it is, how intellectualism is an operational aspect of activism.
Activism has many sects – in accordance to what one champions. One will encounter, at least once, in one’s life where one will meet some people who share ideas, philosophy, and knowledge through public discourses, book discussions, or any other mechanisms as their form of activism. While these have been a common practice primarily within the perimeter of universities, some part of this remains unexamined. This unexamined and rarely observed part is the driving force for such kind of activism – intellectual activism.
A crucial question now comes into existence; How can intellectualism, as an instrument to assist in perfecting the craft of activism, be advocated and act as a craft in itself? Intellectualism here is not being preached only for its utilitarian values – perfecting activism in general – but for its own sake. We are facing the problem of seeing intellectualism as an end rather than a means.
The actions taken within what we categorized as intellectual activism must see beyond its practice. Public discussions on ideas, to name one approach, must be seen beyond what is being discussed. It must be seen as advocacy of ideas or an effort to normalize intellectualism in everyday life rather than a mere exchange of views.
I recall an episode of dialogue in Plato’s Republic. The discussion is centred on the virtue, or excellence (arete), of human occupation. Whether it is doctors or shepherds or any professions that come to mind, each has its excellence. Of course, the specifics of each excellence have to be commensurate with the skills in each discipline. A doctor can be excellent only when her medicinal skills are top-notch. Her hunting skill, if she has any and be her the best in hunting, is irrelevant when discussing her excellence as a doctor – but becomes appropriate when we talk about her as a hunter. But what is not disputed is that excellence exists – per skills needed for a particular task.
Specific excellence differs from each other, but in general, and in its totality, excellence is the same everywhere. Everyone strives for excellence. So, what helps perfect excellence or virtue (arete)? Plato said it was Justice – replicated from the level of mere occupation to administering a state.
Where am I going with the philosophical instance taken from Plato’s dialogue? I want to make an analogical derivation where intellectualism is the same as excellence. The intellectual discussion or ideas in every field of activism differs. Still, intellectualism – in general, and totality – is the same everywhere. Everyone strives for intellectualism as a whetstone to sharpen the knife of activism.
But knives won’t stay sharp forever. It needs to be sharpened again and again. Hence, intellectualism needs to be brought into play frequently. This is intellectual activism.
Our initial question, how can intellectualism, as an instrument to assist in perfecting the craft of activism, be advocated and act as a craft in itself, has been answered. It is through an understanding that intellectualism now is seen as a resolution in preference to the mere instrument and to see intellectualism being championed in every sphere of activism.
We are perfecting the craft of perfecting crafts through replication on a higher level with higher purposes. By then, through the normalization of ideas in every action, we can attain a multi-dimensional, integrative, and holistic solution for a problem in any respective field of activism.
Aliff Naif ialah seorang pelajar Sains Politik yang fokus kepada isu siswa dan kritikan sosial.