Performing Intellectualism

Thick coral beads with swirls of cream strung together and resting securely hung on his neck. The news had come on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) channel, and there he was, ready to share and defend his take. This man had succeeded in amusing and annoying the whole country in equal measure, but it appeared he did not know.

That evening, “News Time,” as my mother called it, had come. It started at six and ended at eleven o’clock every day. My parents, steadfast timekeepers of News Time, ensured no one missed this portion of our schedule and half-expected our chorus of helpless objection. Come dry, dusty harmattans or refreshing rainy seasons; we were faithful. Nigeria was celebrating its Democracy Day and he, a former member of the House of Representatives, lawyer, and holder of two master’s degrees said:

“A celebration of democracy or a depreciable apotheosis of a haemorrhaging plutocracy, cascading into a mobocracy with all the ossifying proclivities of a kakistocracy? With our democracy enveloped in a paraplegic crinkum-crankum, we must all rise up to bring to focal triceps and biceps, Nigeria’s pluto-mobo-kakistocracy… certainly not democracy!”

Laughter erupted in the living room.

This was the only suitable response to what we had just heard. Question after question, he employed what I could only describe as gigantic grammar in response. Despite being impressed by his ability to weave together convoluted tongue-twisters, in our hearts, we did not respect him.

Having been immersed in an academic environment for the last five years, and suspecting that I will inhabit this space for longer, I have grown tired of witnessing performative intellectualism. It is an act that has grown stale. I am fatigued by sentences easily deflated with the simple prick of a pin, and consider performing intellectualism an affront to the gift of speech and self-expression. Before I become guilty of that which I accuse others, let me explain. Performing intellectualism is exercising one’s intelligence or speech solely for the purpose of impressing or pleasing listeners.

I am exhausted by those who cook up fancy, fluffy, and washed-out sentences to fill the silence.

Silence is fine. Speak that which is truthful and meaningful and say nothing when you cannot.

When we do not know, we should admit it instead of chasing down and laying hold of an answer by all means possible. Maybe the point of education is that we ask more questions; which is a function of thinking deeply, thoroughly, and honestly. Relying on deep-sounding concoctions to impress robs us all of the chance to engage with the subject matter and one another meaningfully.

My hope is that educators arrest these performances using four words:

“What do you mean?”

I think the ultimate test of knowledge is the ability to speak simply and coherently of what we claim to understand. What do we gain by trying to sound important when we already are? We are important simply because He made us. That is enough.

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2 Comments

  1. From your last paragraph, that’s exactly true. Einstein says if you can’t explain it simply, you do not know it well enough

    Like

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