In Western, East Asian and many other societies, we tell our children they need an education, because that’s the way to get ahead life, however arbitrary “getting head” (of what?) may be. This cultural instruction has led to an over-appreciation of academic intellect, i.e. the kind of intellect arrived at through rote learning. We’ve mistakenly equated knowledge with intelligence, cleverness with competence and intellect with informedness.
Imagine two men parachuted from a plane over northern Scandinavia’s foggy winter wilderness, miles apart from each other. Both are tasked with finding their way home. One man is an academic, an intellectual, embedded in a network of hundreds of Ivy League friends and colleagues, the top of his field, two Ph.D.’s, six-figure income and well on his way to winning a Nobel prize. The other guy has none of these assets, but has a map and compass and knows how to use them. Which man will find a home first?
The informed man, the one with map and compass, beats the intellectual man all of the time. The practical man easily defeats the theorist in real-world competition. The competent men find cleverer ways out of trouble than clever men without competence.
Informedness means to have insider knowledge. Informedness means to know one’s enemy’s threat doctrine, while the theorists who refuse to see the world in terms of ‘us and them’ will fail to see that ‘they’ still hate ‘us’. The informed man has no such naive preconceptions, for his knowledge about the enemy does not come from assumptions, models, and theories, but directly from the enemy.
The over-educated nations of the West suffer from a sort of institutional blindness. Because we’ve had no real enemies to fight for so long, we’ve ended up fighting each other, but only hypothetically. We’ve devised computer programs to compete against each other. We’ve built fighter jets like the Joint Strike Fighter for which no practical enemy exists. We’ve built laser weapons for a space age that has not yet begun. But most dangerously, we’ve developed educational programmes that serve no real use.
It is now time, more than ever, to question what we think we know about ourselves.