Sun, Feb 04, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Mission of the intellectual

By Sylvie Allassonniere

Abbe Pierre, the radical priest with the black beret who became the conscience of the French nation, died on Jan. 22. Not a single Taiwanese newspaper mentioned his death. But at his funeral ceremony at Notre Dame de Paris in France, French President Jacques Chirac and members of his government, representatives from the opposition parties, intellectuals and the public formed a huge crowd.

His death was deeply moving because he dedicated his life to fighting for universal solidarity across the lines of nationality, race and religion.

Abbe Pierre was not perfect, as the Taipei Times knew well. Two years ago the paper reprinted an article from the Guardian ("Sex confessions of `saint' shock French Catholics," Oct. 29, 2005, page 6).

The article implied that his "sex confessions" were as important as his fight for human rights and democracy.

The photo that accompanied the article was also misleading, because Abbe Pierre, 93, was flanked by women belonging to his secular organization for the homeless, Emma, which recycled and sold unwanted objects.

I wonder why journalists and editors persist in denying the public non-misleading, objective reporting.

I assume that editors and journalists are part of the class of Taiwanese intellectuals and as such I think it is fair to expect better.

Local newspapers barely mentioned the seventh World Social Forum in Nairobi. Instead, they focused on the World Economic Forum, without even informing the public about the differences between the two.

The World Social Forum is an open meeting place, where movements from civil society meet to discuss concrete actions on the local and international level to solve problems such as poverty, social inequality and environmental devastation that are the by-products of globalization.

I wonder whether any Taiwanese have participated in this kind of forum to understand and support an alternative process of globalization. I don't understand why so many intellectuals and government officials are neglecting such an important issue.

Another article also caught my attention. When I read a recent Taipei Times article about plagiarism, ("Ethical Problems Concern Academics," Jan. 24, page 2), I noticed that an anatomy professor in one of the nation's most prestigious medical institutions spoke on the condition of anonymity in an interview.

He indicated that the academic world's "publish or perish" mentality may have forced researchers to risk their careers and integrity by manipulating the results of their work.

In that article, an assistant professor of public health said professors were overloaded with teaching hours.

The article reads: "Most ... time is now spent on teaching classes and preparing for classes ... which leaves very little time to perform quality research."

Why do professors accept this unreasonable situation?

The above examples prove that most Taiwanese intellectuals lack critical thinking and are reluctant to think outside the box. This is not suitable in a democratic system. It will no doubt take its toll on the public's awareness of important issues and social development in Taiwan.

What exactly is the mission of intellectuals?

"Intellect" comes from the Latin verb "intellegere," meaning to use "cognitive ability" and to "delve into ideas, books, the essence of the mind."

So an intellectual is supposed to read, understand what she or he is reading and check the genuineness of the content. The intellectual should then put knowledge to use to improve society. Being an intellectual is not something to cast aside as soon as one gets a diploma. An intellectual never stops learning and fighting for the improvement of society.

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