Thinkers tend to represent themselves, both to inner reflection and in their external presentations, as being selfless labourers in the common interest. They believe themselves to be under-appreciated and under-rewarded. I wonder if any of this is true.
Intellectual activity is essentially a private good, undertaken for the rewards it brings to the thinker, these rewards being self-satisfaction, which is an index of probable speculative success in the wider world where it is expected to manifest itself as the gratitude and adulation of the public. We can confirm this by reminding ourselves that a very great deal of this activity is produced without payment, or in the case of academics for very small rewards. Indeed, the majority of academic salaries, in the UK at any rate, are barely sufficient to cover the time required to teach, and these people think, research and write in their own time, if they so at all.
Even if speculation is publicly successful, the private returns to the thinker in terms of conceit and perhaps even a little mastery of the world, are not trivial. Indeed, we may even seclude our thought to protect these private benefits, like technologists hiding their inventions from the competition.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the man and woman in the street regard intellectuals as at best self-serving and for the most part quite irrelevant to any other party. They think this because all the evidence suggests that it is true