We live in a culture which, to some extent, has always honored the Babbitts over the visionaries and the scholars, the pursuit of practical matters over the exploration of ideas which are simply interesting to explore. Education is valued only in terms of monetary results: The goal is seen, not to become a more educated person with broader perspective and greater understanding and ability to think critically, but to become "marketable," someone who will contribute to the development of products and the pursuit of profit.
Even the pursuit of pure ideas has been reduced to the model of product and profit. Writers are expected to write, not to express themselves or explore thought-provoking ideas or create original works with literary merit, but to create a marketable product based on what editors and publishers think will sell. Scientists are expected to be less interested in knowledge for its own sake and more driven to develop something that can be patented for profit.
As for people whose heart's desire is the pursuit of interesting ideas for its own sake? They are scorned for being "useless" and "impractical" and wanting something they really shouldn't want, something of no value to the pursuit of product and profit and, hence, of no value to society.
Naturally the practical matters of life do need to be dealt with. Whatever our interests in life, we all have to eat, be clothed, be sheltered, and clean and maintain our homes often enough to keep them livable.
Yet, in the famous words from the Sermon on the Mount, there is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. We have inner lives as well as outer lives. We need to tend to our imaginations, our intellects, our values, our visions, our ideals, our fascination with continually exploring and understanding the world around us and within us.
Some of us seek--indeed, need--to make that pure pursuit of ideas the focal point of our lives.
Ideas are important. Even when the ideas have nothing to do with products and profits, ideas are important. The ideas we hold to be true shape the ways in which we live our lives, the values which guide the way we treat other people, the principles which guide the decisions we make, the knowledge which informs our understanding of ourselves, our communities, our world.
We need people who are not only willing to continually explore, question, challenge, reconsider, re-frame the societal scripts--those ideas we are given from birth and expected, without question, to follow as we live our lives--but who are passionate about doing this work, people for whom the ongoing exploration of ideas is as essential to living as breathing air, drinking water, and eating food.
We need these people. We need to value these people. And we need to readjust our educational and economic models to acknowledge the inherent value of these people and the insight, intelligence, and perspective they bring to the world with their exploration of ideas.