Becoming People’s Intellectuals

Humankind as a whole depends for many of its advances on the accumulation and systematization of knowledge, on the sharing of this information widely, and on its transmittal to succeeding generations. We have every reason as intellectuals to be proud of playing a key role in these processes. The professor, the professional, the intellectual, the artist, the writer or the musician deserves greater satisfaction and self-esteem than has ever been allowed him or her by a society which has instead parceled out recognition in competitive, controlling, manipulative ways. Just in the nature of what we’re doing, we deserve to have enormous pride and satisfaction in ourselves. We perform a key role for all humankind!

The present isolation and segregation of intellectuals from working people, however, is ridiculous. We can find ways to end this isolation. The Chinese, during the Cultural Revolution, challenged this with their occasional “sabbaticals” of six months in a rice paddy or at a factory bench to break up the isolation of intellectual activity. We can find other ways, even under present conditions.

Within the RC Communities presently, as the oppressed groups reach for their self-esteem, as the working class begins to dare to stand up, some individuals, falling into the other role in their invalidation distresses, find a temporary focus for their resentment in the intellectuals who they feel have dominated RC up to the present. We hear “middle-class intellectual” occasionally used as a pejorative phrase. Well, we should listen to criticism of our patterned behavior, but even then we can ask people to remember that this behavior was put upon us from the outside. None of us invented our patterns; they were installed upon us more or less systematically. It is all right to listen to criticism. It helps if we can remember not to get too defensive. It is possible that we can learn to say in three words what we’ve been using fifty words to say, but for us to apologize or be defensive about our essential role is a mistake. We should have great pride and self-esteem in what we’ve been attempting to do and what we will do better and better in the future.


A correct policy for faculty RC will emerge from faculty caucuses and in mutual interactions. It is important, however, to make a tentative guess at a beginning policy, make a conjecture. It seems to me that faculty people suffer certain grievous insults both from the general accumulation of distress in humankind as a whole and also by particular, systematic impositions by the oppressive society.

One of the latter is the notion of elitism. Elitism not only separates us from our allies, the other sections of society who do the work and produce the value upon which we live, but it has a damaging effect upon ourselves. The other side of the coin of elitism is loneliness and isolation. Elitism spoils every day of our lives to the extent that it gets into our practice and our feelings.

Another imposition is timidity, subservience, acceptance of limited roles, the notion that thinking about and being effective in the affairs of society is not our concern. There have been some organized moves against this. The Federation of American Scientists and other organizations have countered this ineffectiveness of intellectuals somewhat. The atomic missile flights may have been postponed because of these efforts. We in RC can sharpen and add to these efforts, can involve much greater numbers of people in much more effective activity if we apply our theory and our processes to the evolving of policy and organization.


We have had imposed upon us some limiting notions of what being intellectuals means. Many faculty people have been sold a trivial concept of intellectual activity. Science, even to people functioning as scientists, is often accepted as a blind, fact-collecting-and-classifying structure, to be lived with but not thought about. People with advanced degrees are often functioning in a limited, inhuman way, hiding from overall reality within their specialties. We can see this not only in the obvious example of intellectuals refusing to question the uses to which their knowledge, research, and skills are put (“I just make the bombs; I don’t say where they are dropped”), but also in terms of doubts of what the whole process of intellectual activity is all about. Many people, educated to be intellectuals, are leading defeated lives because of the internalized invalidation that puts strict limits on their thinking, or because of oppressive philosophies they have accepted without question, failing to see that the philosophy is a weapon for oppression and subservience, not an accurate description of the functioning of the Universe. Their lives are limited by their timidity and their cooperation with the oppressive structures of society.


A hundred years ago raising these questions might be pertinent, but not urgent. Today, if we take any kind of a sharp look at the social structure in which we’re embedded, it will be obvious that this oppressive society is in the last stages of its collapse. Questions which could have been considered academic a while ago now are crucial to our own individual survival. Will our children have a normal life span? Will our grandchildren be normal genetically? Will technology be used to preserve and enhance our beautiful earth or to ruin it? The answers to such questions are immediately and practically involved in our decisions whether to continue “heads-down” in the roles that have been assigned us of being “intellectual” but not really thinking, or to really take command of our role and the Universe. We must come to grips with these decisions.

A real urgency is pushing us. If this urgency leads to panic, it’s self-defeating. There are many attempts to deal with crucial issues by painful emotion. “Get out and demonstrate or the bombs will wipe out your children!” You might walk in one parade if appealed to on that basis, but, if repeated, you would soon be home hiding under the bed or, understandably, “too busy.” This painful emotion approach to crucial issues is not useful. Our approach must be from confidence, from unity, from mutual support, from reliance on our ability to put up for discharge and re-evaluation any question that doesn’t resolve with thinking and group discussion.


We have at last gotten our first glimpses of the ubiquitous powerlessness patterns that surround us all. Once we get that first glimpse, once we put a name to it, we begin to be armed against it.

What could possibly account for the existence of this universal heavy chronic pattern? What happens to everybody? The answer is almost immediate. Everybody goes through several years of being a small child. Even if you are John D.Rockefeller, Jr., or Queen Elizabeth II, those years are filled with innumerable incidents, several every day, in which you’re totally denied the conduct of your life, shut out from your inherent role of being in charge of everything.

If we can name the pattern (and we have named it “powerlessness”), we can do something about it. We may be slow. The entire International Community finally committed itself to work on white racism everywhere, a year and a half ago at Buck Creek. It took ten months after that before we finally evolved the workable Three-Step technique for getting rid of white racism (and, it turns out, for getting rid of any distress set in an oppressor role). But we solved it. We’ll solve this one.

Sometime soon, a few of us are going to be outside the pattern enough that we’re going to act as if the power was ours, which, of course, it has been all the time.


Then things are going to happen. The slow, demoralizing drift toward nuclear war, the collapse of society, trying to solve economic crises at the expense of the unemployed, the pollution, the waste of resources and the rest, all are going to be interrupted. Sometime soon, not only are they going to give a war that nobody comes to, but some of us are going to the people who are desperately moving toward war because they can’t think in that area, and we’re going to pick them up by their collars and say, “There, there, General. There, there, Senator. Go ahead and discharge your tensions, but leave the missile button alone.”

I dwell on power because, as you are aware, one of the prices exacted by this society from intellectuals in exchange for access to knowledge and the relative freedom to think, is timidity. You are allowed to explore theories, but never to insist that they should be applied. If you don’t habitually vacillate, saying, “Well, on the one hand, but of course on the other hand,” you are made to feel you don’t fit the faculty scene. This is piled on. I’m not saying all of you submitted to it. I’m sure there are a few rebels here. There are an increasing number of them everywhere. But the pressure is there. So the concept of power is important to you.

As we try to use our power, we must avoid the ditch of blind revolt, the diversion of the counter-culture, of rebellion based on painful emotion. I’m sure RCers won’t get taken over by this, but this tendency toward painful emotion resistance will pull at you. The road of correct policy is always flanked by two ditches, one, adventurism, and the other, opportunism. Opportunism patterns say, “It’s not so bad. I’ve got it made individually. I’ll adjust to things.” If you use distress (rage, hate, and so on) to try to resist opportunism, you fall into the adventurism ditch. The workable policy is not “between” them, it’s different from them.

The reclaiming of power is a crucial question for this group. As we reclaim it, will we save the world from our lofty positions of isolation? You know that won’t work. You’re smarter than that. Isolation is absolutely unnecessary and unworkable.

Maury Stein, on his return to Brandeis, showed what one intellectual can do in even a brief period by following a determined, clear policy. When he went back to Brandeis, he simply went to his students and said, “This is important. If you come into my class, I want you to think seriously about spending the rest of your life promoting human re-emergence.” They heard him. Scores of students acquired new meaning for their lives. They worked. They Co-Counseled. They confronted wide world issues.

Faculty RCers are surrounded by a sea of people who want desperately to have meaning in their lives, to find somebody they can believe in, to find someone in a position of influence who will care about them.


We have tremendous opportunities in our jobs. Our fears may say that if we do anything meaningful, we will “get the sack.” There are faculty “traditions” of blind revolt and getting fired, and I don’t say that one of us won’t accidentally get persecuted once in a long while. But in general, no. The deliberate application of intelligence, and the use of a session when you run up against your limitations, will, in general, enable you to find ways to safely become very meaningful to your students. Your lives need never be meaningless again. The loneliness you have endured can be replaced by eager support. (That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work to discharge your patterns. Discharge isn’t automatic, but at least the resource organizes itself.) There are people ready to love you, be with you, support you. Your lives can become great influences for good.

All the feelings of helplessness and isolation that have been put upon you by society are not reality. This conditioning was done to fit you for a reactive role as guardians of an oppressive and limited intellectual tradition. The reality is that you are surrounded by people who are eager to love you, appreciate you, support you, follow your direction. They will “organize the peasants in the villages” for you if you are too busy.

In any institution, this is so. It doesn’t matter which institution we’re in if we spend a few sessions specifically seeing the particular reality of that particular institution. We’ll find that everywhere there are good people, powerful people, people ready to follow our lead. They will accept us as leaders as soon as we show enough indications of good sense and caring.


I would like to emphasize the community colleges. They are an important phenomenon. We’re trying to solve this separation from our allies, the denial of rights to the workers, and the isolation and uselessness of the intellectuals, in many ways. The community colleges can be one of them. The development of the community colleges may be an important step toward the emergence of the all-around human being. I think those of you who teach or “moonlight” in the community colleges know what I mean, know of the desperate desire to get in contact with more meaning, to get more knowledge into their lives, that leads working-class and Third World people to jam these colleges. The community colleges are very important.

Only the working class has strength enough, has enough leverage in the economy to force basic social change. To keep society from destroying us as it collapses, we must reach the working class, we must reach the Third World. The community colleges are made-to-order in this respect. I would urge everyone who teaches or “moonlights” in them to begin to think of them on that basis. If you are people’s organizers, the community colleges should command your attention. You have a rich harvest to garner there. You can play as important a role in the world as you ever dreamed of doing.

Large numbers of students from the developing countries are attending the colleges and universities at which you teach. These students are often lonely, isolated, frustrated, and discouraged by the difficulties of their positions. They often feel great conflict between the reactionary political philosophies of the regimes which sponsor them, and to which they must return, and their own progressive attitudes. An intelligent, warm ally on the faculty can make a great deal of difference in such a student’s life and studies. Acquaintance with, and successful use of, the theory and tools of RC, is a warmly appreciated gift for such a student, and often leads to a dedicated decision to introduce RC in the home country upon his or her return.

Harvey Jackins

Excerpts from a talk at the Faculty I Workshop (at La Scherpa). Reprinted from Colleague No. 2, June, 1977.

Last modified: 2015-07-21 18:00:28+00