Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anti-Intellectualism Part 1

I like to think of myself as an intellectual, and today I was thinking of the anti-intellectual plague in American society. Most of my good friends I definitely consider to be intellectuals, and I frequently have deep conversations with them on a variety of topics. It is in my experience very rare to find an individual who truly is an intellectual across a wide range of disciplines. I have noticed that anti-intellectualism is a plague in American society which has often been noted by many authors before me. For myself, I have noticed several major factors which contribute to anti-intellectualism which I see as personal attacks for all thinking people.
But first, I define the word intellectual as someone who tries to really understand why things work and takes a rational approach to understand things at a deeper level not just when is required but also as a game. An intellectual does not have to be given an assignment to delve into a topic.
With this out of the way, here are 5 ways I have noticed people attack intellectualism in day-to-day interactions.

  1. Disparaging theoretical knowledge as not being valid or useful. Only people with experience have the right to comment on a topic, even if you have a degree and have spent hundreds of hours examining the topic, that is not enough to really understand it. I believe this is wrong because while everyone participates in the economy, that does not mean that they have studied the details of how it works the way it does. Most people drive cars, but not everyone is a mechanic or even should mess with their engine. The same is true with every issue, merely having experience as part of something does not mean that you understand why. This is one of the most common types of attacks on intellectuals I have noticed, mostly at my university from classmates which is ironically where most of my interactions with non-intellectuals takes place.
  2. Not being open to new ideas is a very direct attack on intellectuals who are the people who come up with those new ideas. It is deeply tied into a conservative mentality (which is wanting things to stay as they are, and not necessarily political) and the largest enemy to progress.
  3. "Ivory tower" implies that universities and professors are not engaged in real world activities. This is opposite from the truth as many professors actively take their knowledge to realms outside of their work in non-profits, religious organizations, advising for politicians, and writing books. Very few phrases in the English language are as divorced from reality as the false notion of the "ivory tower."
  4. When children demonstrate their intellectual nature (as I definitely did as a child, and still do) there are other children who will bully that child and make them ashamed for being curious. This is furthered by media children are given and is very psychologically damaging to them, isolating them from their peers. If a intellectual child is isolated from other intellectuals around their age it can be particularly damaging. Different organizations outside of school which foster an intellectual mindset are crucial to providing us with the friendships we need to foster our nature without being damned for it.
  5. "Every side has a point" proposes that intellectuals have the same footing as people who have no understanding of the issues. It lowers the pursuit of knowledge to the level of lobbyists who are only working for their own short term gain. It discredits rationalism in our political debates which means we get policies which are not nearly as good as we are capable of having, or frankly deserve. There is a very big difference between science and conspiracy theories, and that idea needs to enter our media discourse. This sort of problem creates massive economic problems when policies like austerity which economic models predict and the consequence of ignoring the science has been a lost decade for Europe. At an even bigger level, the "every side has a point" which brought Andrew Wakefield's scam out to the public in a way that made people not get vaccinated is nothing short of mass murder. This notion needs to go.
  6. Simply discrediting the findings of science. Many politicians will continue to say things about the economy, global warming, etc. which are wrong and people latch onto because they sound good. It makes it much harder to do research to make the world a better place when you are always defending your work from baseless attacks.
I hope that someday we can throw off the anti-intellectual atmosphere which America has inherited from the Puritans of Massachusetts so we can be a better society. We need to build a world where people are free to search for the truth and understand why things happen. Social justice requires it, and it is our moral duty to make such a world a reality.

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