Being an intellectual at the end of the twentieth century means you won’t get rich, and your ideas, if you have ideas of your own, will be generally ignored. But you will get lots of chances to travel. On one hand, it’s hard to find a government anywhere that, when it makes its big policy decisions, will give intellectuals more than the time of day; on the other hand, governments everywhere are willing to subsidize international conferences, symposia, festivals, exhibitions, and all forms of intellectual exchange. Today’s ruling classes understand not only that the promotion of culture can be good for business, but that it can provide a government with an aura of legitimacy. And in an age when tourism has become the number one worldwide industry, cultural promotions are wonderfully easy to arrange. Good business, good politics: nice work if you can get it!
Our ruling classes also know that enlisting intellectuals in the process of cultural exchange is a good way to keep us content. Carnivals are supposed to be dead, but intellectuals have found a moral equivalent in international cultural events. For those who are going to be in one of the big parades, it’s tempting to spend the whole year working on our raps and our masks and our floats. And why not? For a little while we’ll have a chance to think and feel more intensely, to be smarter and sexier, more like the selves we want to be. We’ll find people like ourselves in unlikely places, we’ll open up dialogues that transcend frontiers, we’ll feel we belong to what Kant called the “world society of citizens.”