As someone who necessitates an inappropriate amount of caffeine, a calming white-walled environment, and above all, complete silence to comprehend any reading, let alone complete an assignment, I have always been sceptical of a very specific group of people. The man in the peacoat reading his book in a crowded pub, the Taste-studier wrapped in scarves with an array of capped and colourful pens in front of them, and the guy who always takes the window seat on the second floor of Edgecliff (that’s my seat, it’s getting annoying, consider this a warning). These people are proof that there is only one thing this university values more than intelligence: the appearance of it.
I will admit, as a wide eyed eighteen year old, I chose to pursue an honours in philosophy with little to no knowledge on the subject. While I still don’t quite know why I did it, I’m pretty sure younger me thought I had a lot more insight into the world than I did (for context, this was around the brief period where I thought poetry was my calling). Nevertheless, it is undeniable that St Andrews is full of bright, accomplished students with a decent level of intelligence. I just can’t quite figure out why wearing tortoise shell readers and joining a club named after a George Orwell book is the outlet people choose for showcasing their intelligence over speaking in tutorials or attending lectures.
While this may not be a new phenomenon, I truly believe the pseudo-intellectual endemic has an iron grasp on this town. Between my humbling first run in with real philosophy and my recent quest to convince a company that I am employable, I have truly begun to wonder, am I smart or just really good at playing the part? It certainly isn’t imposter syndrome, I’m not worthy of that, so I’ve decided to blame the St Andrews culture as a whole for making me convince myself that I am more intelligent than I truly am. It seems like the smart and healthy thing to do.
Instead of diving into my psychologically warped perception of myself, I am going to make a case for putting this endemic to bed, projecting my problems onto others, if you will. As an undergraduate, no one is an expert in their academic focus. There is always more to learn, and regurgitating book quotes you found on TikTok is not going to change that. The pseudo-intellectual culture is at best intimidating and at worst pathetic, I don’t think there is a desirable point along that spectrum. Imagine the social liberation that would take place with the abolition of this practice: the freedom to read the new Percy Jackson book wherever I please, and no longer having to nod along as your art history friend discusses the modern day cultural impact of some sixteenth-century Dutch painter (I didn’t understand the class when I took it, and I’m not going to understand it outside a pub at midnight). I firmly believe when we start to present ourselves as we are, not as who we’d like others to see us as, we will start to learn more about ourselves and what truly matters. Our own intelligence is something that we should not feel the need to broadcast arbitrarily to others, nor is it something which is quantified through what we wear, the clubs we’re apart of, or the amount of time we sit in the library for. Intelligence, although important, should not define who we think we are and the pursuit of it is certainly not worth reading a book alone in a pub.
Illustration by Calum Mayor