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Anti-intellectualism as a neoliberal policy

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“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Isaac Asimov

Leo Strauss noted that thinkers of the first rank, going back to Plato, had raised the problem of whether good and effective politicians could be completely truthful and still achieve the necessary ends of their society. By implication, Strauss asks his readers to consider whether it is true that Noble lie   have no role at all to play in uniting and guiding the polis.

In politics, a noble lie is a myth or untruth,  knowingly told by an elite to maintain social harmony or to advance an specific, probably hostile to the interest of the most people, agenda of the state. The noble lie is a concept originated by Plato as described in the Republic.

The key question here is" "Are myths needed to give people meaning and purpose and to ensure a stable society?"

Thus, is there a limit to the political, and what can be known absolutely? In The City and Man, Strauss discusses the myths outlined in Plato's Republic that are required for all governments. These include a belief that the state's land belongs to it even though it was likely acquired illegitimately and that citizenship is rooted in something more than the accidents of birth.

Seymour Hersh also claims that Strauss endorsed noble lies: myths used by political leaders seeking to maintain a cohesive society. In The Power of Nightmares, documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis opines that "Strauss believed it was for politicians to assert powerful and inspiring myths that everyone could believe in. They might not be true, but they were necessary illusions. One of these was religion; the other was the myth of the nation."

This get to the idea about "priming the voters"  to be ready to accept any "noble lie" the elite tries to feed them.  And by extension anti-intellectualism  and conscious attempts to dump the society down. By anti-intellectualism, I mean especially an aggressive disdain for those who try adhere to science and evidence/facts and withstand the brainwashing of MSM propaganda.  In a narrow sense it is directly against direct involvement of "intelligencia" in political life.  This may be expressed in various ways, such as attacks on the merits of science, education, art, or literature

Anti-intellectualism is an one of the most prominent features of Republican right. Ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery or Republican Right makes the US really resemble a banana republic (see Mayberry Machiavellians). Two most famous recent anti-intellectuals in the US were probably George W Bush and Sarah Palin. Among past figures Ronald Reagan was  probably the most influential.  It is probably that both Ronald Reagan and Bush II just wear a "folksy" masks for the explicit purpose of easier manipulation of the lemmings. 

Republicans is the party that seems to embrace ignorance for ignorance's sake, as if "facts and figures" are inconvenient annoyances better left to eggheads who read books. Stephen Colbert's parody of modern Republican leader rings true for a reason. In a way the Republican party is the party of white Protestant chauvinism. The traits described are shared with ethonationalist parties around world. The rights' sincere and energetic embracing of Sarah Palin as their new leader is representative of all that is wrong with the party.

What the conservative movement has done in the past 30 years, is to swap out actual intellectuals (Will, Buckley, etc) for a cabal of uneducated, uninformed corporatists with concern for reality, no principles whatsoever, whose single only identifiable skill is being able to concoct rationalizations. Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly, Hannity, Jonah Goldberg (the list is endless) can "explain" anything, period, no matter how false, irrational, or flat-out insane. Shamelessness and sophistry have replaced intellectual rigor and reason. Acceptance by large, gullible audiences is the goal. Neocons belong to the same catagoy too

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast contrasts a scholar with a prize-fighter. His caricature encapsulates the popular view that sees reading and study as being in opposition to sport and athletic pursuits, although the bovine figure of the fighter is no less negative than that of the scholar.

Anti-intellectuals often perceive themselves as champions of the ordinary people and fighters for egalitarianism against elitism, especially academic elitism. These critics argue that highly educated people form an isolated social group tend to dominate political discourse and higher education (academia).

Anti-intellectualism can also be used as a term to criticize an educational system if it seems to place minimal emphasis on academic and intellectual accomplishment, or if a government has a tendency to formulate policies without consulting academic and scholarly study.

Those who mistrust intellectuals will represent them as a danger to normality, suggesting that they are outsiders with little empathy for the common people.

This has historically resulted in intellectuals being painted as arrogant members of a different social grouping. In rural communities, for example, intellectuals may be viewed as "city slickers" who know little of the country and its ways. It is also common for communities to typecast intellectuals as foreigners or members of ethnic minorities, for instance as Asians. Along with this, intellectuals will often be said to be prone to mental instability, their critics insisting there is a medically proven connection between genius and madness.

Religious fundamentalists link intellectuals with the promotion of atheism. Notably, those who disapprove of intellectuals often view them as exhibiting not one, but a combination of these character traits.

Richard Hofstadter in his 1963 book "Anti-intellectualism in American Life" assigned some of the responsibility for anti-intellectual tradition in the USA to John Dewey.


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[Sep 26, 2015] The Table Is Set For The Next Financial Crisis

Sep 26, 2015 | Zero Hedge

CloseToTheEdge

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." Isaac Asimov

dizzyfingers

Intellectualism... another philosopy.

Intellectuals may have their uses but they have their limitations as do the rest of us, and can be wrong as can the rest of us.

Clay feet aren't exclusive to non-intellectuals.

Neither intellectualism nor intellectuals can solve problems without using common sense. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=navel-gazing

[Jun 14, 2015] The Education-Deficit Does Not Explain Rising Inequality

"...Piketty guesses that the real explanation is that 1914-1980 is the anomaly. Without great political disturbances, wealth accumulates, concentrates, and dominates. The inequality trends we have seen over the past generation are simply a return to the normal pattern of income distribution in an industrialized market economy in which productivity growth is not unusually fast and political, depression, and military shocks not unusually large and prevalent. ..."
Jun 12, 2015 | economistsview.typepad.com

Brad DeLong:

Discussion of Matthew Rognlie: "Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share": The Honest Broker for the Week of June 14, 2015, b J. Bradford DeLong: ... I was weaned on the education-deficit explanation of recent trends in US inequality, perhaps best set out by the very sharp Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz (2009) in The Race Between Education and Technology. In their view, the bulk of U.S. inequality trends since the 1980s were driven by education's losing this race. In the era that had begun in 1636 the United States-to-be had made increasing the educational level of the population a priority. But that era came to an end in the 1970s, while skill-biased technological change continues. That meant that the return to education-based skills began to rise. And it was that rise that was the principal driver of rising income inequality.

But, recently, reality does not seem to agree with what had once seemed to me to be a satisfactory explanation. First, to get large swings in the income distribution out of small changes in the relative supply of educated workers requires relatively low substitutability between college-taught skills and other factors of production. As inequality has risen, the required substitutability to fit the data has dropped to what now feels to me an unreasonably low magnitude. Second, while it is true that we have seen higher experience-skill premiums and sharply higher education-skill premiums, the real action in inequality appears now to be unduly concentrated in the upper tail. The distribution of the rise in inequality does not seem to match the distribution of technology-complementary skills at all. ...

Looking simply at my own family history, my Grandfather Bill reached not just the 1% or the 0.1% but the 0.01% back in the late 1960s in the days before the rise in inequality by selling his construction company to a conglomerate back in 1968. A good many of those of us who are his grandchildren have been very successful... But even should any of us be as lucky as my Grandfather Bill was in terms of our peak income and wealth as a multiple of median earnings, we would still be a multiple of his rank further down in the percentile income distribution.

Today, you need roughly 3.5 times the wealth now in the U.S. and 8 times the wealth worldwide to achieve the same percentile rank in the distribution... I find it simply impossible to conceptualize such an extreme concentration as in any way a return to a factor of production obtained as the product of "hours spent studying" times "brainpower", even when you also multiply by a factor "luck" and a factor "winner-take-all-economy".

So what, then, is going on and driving the sharp rise in inequality, if not some interaction between our education policy on the one hand and the continued progress of technology on the other? Thomas Piketty (2014) has a guess. Piketty guesses that the real explanation is that 1914-1980 is the anomaly. Without great political disturbances, wealth accumulates, concentrates, and dominates. The inequality trends we have seen over the past generation are simply a return to the normal pattern of income distribution in an industrialized market economy in which productivity growth is not unusually fast and political, depression, and military shocks not unusually large and prevalent. ...

[He goes on to talk about Matthew Rognlie's "Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share."]


Darryl FKA Ron

Have not read the whole thing yet, but he did seem to skip right over where the gap between education and technology has been getting wider for a very long time, almost since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It was replaced by specilization. Old school you had to have all the skills yourself, now we get a few smart people working for a few rich people and there is a pronounced pecking order along which everyone downstream must do as they are told and will not be told much but what to do.

The system of industrial capitalism as it has become practiced in the west would fall apart if the majority of people were well educated enough to understand how they had been exploited and what was possible as an alternative. Capitalists need a dependent population for thier plutocracy to exist. But given some proximity of electoral democracy then it is essential for the masses of society to be dependent upon corporations over whom they can exert no control rather than dependent upon government, which would presumably serve the will of the electorate if they became capable of expressing their will.

RogerFox

In the poker game of life, equality of outcomes is certainly not the natural evolutionary end-point of play - the sharpest players and the best cheaters always end up with all the chips. John Rockefeller controlling 93% of US refining capacity, and Al Capone dominating the beer trade in Chicago - that's where unrestrained capitalism leads.

Preventing such outcomes is one of the legitimate and necessary functions of government. People in businesses like Rocky and Al ran no longer have license to act in the ways those two did - but people on The Street still do. Gotta fix that, and then minimize the hereditary passage of wealth, privilege and influence between generations, or things continue to get worse not better.

grizzled

"The Education-Deficit Does Not Explain Rising Inequality"

It never did; the timing was wrong. The rise in inequality did not correspond to technology changes. It was a convenient excuse to avoid thinking about distribution issues, which economists have always preferred to do.

Dean Baker is very good on this; his postings are the source of the above assertion. You can check him for more details.


[Jun 11, 2015] Inequality of Opportunity Useful Policy Construct or Will of the Wisp

"...The whole 'equality of opportunity' is just BS thrown from the Right to cover the looting of society by the Right's wealthy and corporate sponsors, and to paralyze their critics on the Left. "
.
".... Disentangling how effort and circumstance contribute to outcomes is difficult, and this leads to a tendency to underestimate inequality of opportunity. "
.
"...FDR also appreciated an important point. He called it 'peace' as in peace of mind. He called his opponents that 'enemies of peace.' Today I think people would understand that FDR was indentifying programs that reduced 'anxiety' amongst the general population. Health care, minimum wages, jobs. He moved Heaven and earth to relieve anxiety amongst the general population. And for the most part it worked quite well."
.
"...Any sense of a Social Democracy, with equal opportunity, means that whatever is essential to that opportunity (like education) is or should be a Public Service."
.
"...The reality is that there is not, and cannot be, real equality of opportunity when there is pre-existing massive inequality of outcomes. Those from wealthier and higher status families have far more and better opportunities than those from poor and low status families. As George and Jeb Bush illustrate, as well as Donald Trump, privilege confers success even on the totally incompetent."
.
"...One half of Americans, workers and students, are below median IQ. These are the ones to be concerned about. This is a circumstance that higher education cannot correct."
.
Jun 11, 2015 | Economist's View

The whole 'equality of opportunity' is just BS thrown from the Right to cover the looting of society by the Right's wealthy and corporate sponsors, and to paralyze their critics on the Left.

Look at Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature: $250 million cut from the state budget for the University of Wisconsin, whose activities help support *Equality of Opportunity,* going instead to subsidize 'Inequality of Outcome:'

A sports arena whose profits will be harvested by billionaires. And what else does the Right say: " Oh, now the university will be more efficient." and "Those billionaires will go elsewhere if we don't give them enough money."

The fact is, while the sports arena does provide entertainment 'value,' it is not a factory, and produces nothing of substance, nothing of lasting wealth for society. It is a tax on the resources of society. The university, however, is a social investment: It is an investment in its students, and the knowledge base of society, both of which provide society with lasting wealth and income. Scott Walker is not even an agent of capitalism. He is an agent of looters, and Wisconsin would be better off if those looters went elsewhere.

Anybody who just *listens* to what the Right says, and does not watch what they actually do, is a danger to themselves and others.

anne said in reply to anne...

http://www.voxeu.org/article/inequality-opportunity-policy-construct

June 10, 2015

Inequality of opportunity: Useful policy construct or will o' the wisp?
By Ravi Kanbur and Adam Wagstaff

Reducing inequality of opportunity, rather than inequality of outcome, is often heralded as an appropriate target for policy. This column explores the challenges of identifying inequality of opportunity. Disentangling how effort and circumstance contribute to outcomes is difficult, and this leads to a tendency to underestimate inequality of opportunity.

This lends support for generalised social protection measures in dimensions such as income, health and education, irrespective of whether the outcomes can be specifically attributed to circumstance or to effort.

pgl said...

Brad DeLong and Tom Davis discuss US macroeconomic policy on Bloomberg TV:

http://equitablegrowth.org/2015/06/09/republican-ex-members-congress-still-willing-complain-congress/

"Brad DeLong: Well, I don't think it is just Democrats who would like to see more spending. Back in the 1970s Milton Friedman looked back at the Great Depression. He talked about what his teachers had recommended as policies and what he would have advocated in the Great Depression. He called for, in situations like that, and, I think, in situations like this, for coordinated monetary and fiscal expansion. With interest rates at their extraordinarily low levels, now, as in the 1930s, is a once-in-a-century opportunity to pull all the infrastructure spending we will be doing over the next generation forward in time and do it over the next five years, when the government can finance it at such extraordinarily good terms.
Matt Miller: We have a national infrastructure crisis, right? Roads and bridges, ports and airports are at levels that are critical and certainly not worthy of a first-world country. Tom, don't you agree we need to fix that up quickly?

Tom Davis: I agree with that. Look, I think that with the stimulus package that was passed in 2009 they blew an opportunity to do more for infrastructure. We should have had something to show at the end of that. With the money, maybe we got a short-term stimulus, but we should have gotten something long-term.

Brad DeLong: They had to get it through with only Democratic votes. Why weren't there any Republicans willing to deal? We could have gotten a larger and much better-crafted program."

An excellent discussion which I hope JohnH paid attention to.

Lafayette said in reply to pgl...

{Why weren't there any Republicans willing to deal?}

They did with the first go-round (ARRA) that spent close to $850B to stimulate the economy.

The second-time around, when it became obvious that ARRA worked (to at least arrest the skyrocketing unemployment rate at 10%) and that ARRA2 was necessary to actually reduce unemployment, the Replicant spewed their nonsensical Austerity Budgeting palaver.

Why? Wickedly, for the 2012 presidential elections they strategized that high unemployment would be usefull to help elect the Replicant candidate. So, as a consequence, more Americans had to suffer in the slow crawlout from the Great Recession ...

Chris Herbert said...

Keynes counseled that the only metric one should use in determining what policy lever to use in a recession or depression is employment. If the lever raised employment, use it. If not, move on.

FDR said the nation needed to 'experiment' in order to find ways out of the Great Depression. Politically, he was allowed the freedom to do so, particularly in his first term. But into his second term, conservatives pushed back sufficiently well to stall his programs. Temporarily as it turned out, because the cutback in spending turned into another recession.

FDR also appreciated an important point. He called it 'peace' as in peace of mind. He called his opponents that 'enemies of peace.' Today I think people would understand that FDR was indentifying programs that reduced 'anxiety' amongst the general population. Health care, minimum wages, jobs. He moved Heaven and earth to relieve anxiety amongst the general population. And for the most part it worked quite well.

But it has persistent opposition from the wealthy class, which protects above all else their capital assets. Unfortunately, in the United States of Amnesia, working men and women don't appreciate that their financial improvement can come only at the expense of the wealthy. Class warfare? Absolutely. And believe you me the wealthy understand this right down to their trust funds.

Lafayette said in reply to Lafayette...

Any sense of a Social Democracy, with equal opportunity, means that whatever is essential to that opportunity (like education) is or should be a Public Service.

And if, indeed, education/training is an essential Public Service, then it should be provided in a manner that all citizens of a nation be able to accede to it uniformly.

Which means (to overburden the word) Educational Opportunity should be subsidized by Federal Funding, and be as close to free, gratis and for nothing as is humanly possible.

(Ahem - this is what Europe does.)

My point1: Education does not guaranty either a job or a level of career success, but it almost certainly is an important determinant. The other one is ONE HELLUVA LOTTA LUCK - often consisting simply of being at the right place at the right time.

My point2: Achievement in America is overly dependent upon financial success as a barometer. Which is why the listing of billionaires is often reported -or at least insinuated in the news. Picasso was never a billionaire, but was a great success in his chosen profession. Mozart as well, though he was buried in a pauper's grave ...

DrDick said...

The reality is that there is not, and cannot be, real equality of opportunity when there is pre-existing massive inequality of outcomes. Those from wealthier and higher status families have far more and better opportunities than those from poor and low status families. As George and Jeb Bush illustrate, as well as Donald Trump, privilege confers success even on the totally incompetent.

Sam said...

One half of Americans, workers and students, are below median IQ. These are the ones to be concerned about. This is a circumstance that higher education cannot correct.

[Apr 19, 2015] Can High Intelligence Be a Burden Rather Than a Boon?

Apr 18, 2015 | science.slashdot.org

timothy on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:22AM

HughPickens.com writes David Robson has an interesting article at BBC on the relationship between high intelligence and happiness. "We tend to think of geniuses as being plagued by existential angst, frustration, and loneliness," writes Robson. Think of Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, or Lisa Simpson – lone stars, isolated even as they burn their brightest." As Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

The first steps to studying the question were taken in 1926 when psychologist Lewis Terman decided to identify and study a group of gifted children. Terman selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the "Termites", and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day. "As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame – most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites' average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman's expectations – there were many who pursued more "humble" professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists.

For this reason, Terman concluded that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated". Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average."

According to Robson, one possibility is that knowledge of your talents becomes something of a ball and chain. During the 1990s, the surviving Termites were asked to look back at the events in their 80-year lifespan. Rather than basking in their successes, many reported that they had been plagued by the sense that they had somehow failed to live up to their youthful expectations (PDF).

Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:41AM (#49500291)

The third factor (Score:5, Insightful)

I surely wouldn't qualify as one of the 'termites' in the study, but there still things in my life I take to quickly. There is a third metric that I am in my coming to respect even more: motivation and inspiration.

There is a big difference between having the ability to do something, having the need to do something, and having a want and drive to do something. That last one seems to get people much further then being at the very top in intelligence. It also provides a framework of interaction and social connection between peers, if it is truly a passion.

So maybe it takes being the best and brightest to be first chair violinist in a prestigious symphony, but being brilliant alone won't get you there. Meanwhile hundreds of others have a long and successful career they make out of their perseverance.

radtea (464814) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:57AM (#49500359)

Re:The third factor (Score:5, Interesting)

You've likely encountered this quote, but it bears repeating:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. -- Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of US (1872 - 1933)

E-Rock (84950) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @01:39PM (#49500767) Homepage

Re:Persistence is not omnipotent. (Score:5, Insightful)

Persistence doesn't mean trying the same thing over and over until it works. Persistence is trying to achieve your goals over and over again until you're successful.

So you might bang your head on the wall a few times, realize that won't work and then try different things until you break it down.

NixieBunny (859050) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @12:08PM (#49500403) Homepage

Re:The third factor (Score:4, Interesting)

Happiness has a lot to do with attitude. I find that being generally happy is easy if you use your abilities to put yourself into situations that make you happy. I used to work for a place that got to be more and more like Dilbert.

Instead of drowning in it, I broke loose and made a new life, using my brains to create interesting, fun things. I found part-time work in the sciences, and have extra time to make wacky inventions and volunteer with kids, teaching them how to do similar things.

I am careful to take on projects only if they are likely to make me happier. The latest was building the red telephone for this [rollingstone.com]...

Bengie (1121981) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @05:37PM (#49501635)

Re:The third factor (Score:2)

If you have no peers, you can get lonely and no amount of attitude can completely help a human who is lonely.

lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:42AM (#49500295) Homepage

Read "Outliers" (Score:5, Informative)

this is nothing new: i believe the same study was the basis of the famous book "Outliers", which is a fascinating study of what makes people successful. if i recall correctly, it's completely the opposite of what people expect: your genes *do* matter. your attitude *does* matter. your circumstances *do* matter. working hard *does* matter. and luck matters as well. but it's all of these things - luck, genetics, circumstances *and* hard work - that make for the ultimate success story. bill gates is one of the stories described. he had luck and opportunity - by being born at just the right time when personal computing was beginning - and circumstances - by going to one of the very very few schools in the USA that actually had a computer available (for me, that opportunity was when i was 8: i went to one of the very very few secondary schools in the UK that had a computer: a Pet 3032).

so, yeah - it's not a very popular view, particularly in the USA, as it goes against the whole "anyone can make it big" concept. but, put simply, the statistics show that it's a combination of a whole *range* of factors, all of which contribute, that make up success. just "being intelligent" simply is not enough.

drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @02:27PM (#49500967) Homepage Journal

Re:Read "Outliers" (Score:4, Insightful)

bill gates is one of the stories described. he had luck and opportunity - by being born at just the right time when personal computing was beginning - and circumstances - by going to one of the very very few schools in the USA that actually had a computer available

Yes, and by having rich parents. That is the single most reliable predictor of economic success. As such, it is anything but surprising that Gates was successful.

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahl@NoSPam.yahoo.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @11:44AM (#49500299) Journal

Scientific American begs to differ (Score:3)

Some ten or fifteen years ago, Scientific American published an article about the positive correlation of "general intelligence" with virtually every measure of success in life.

Like earning enough money to be comfortable, having the emotional intelligence to have a successful marriage, etc.

They showed that "general intelligence" which is correlated with but not directly measured by things like SAT scores, was basically a ticket to (or highly correlated with) a good life, and even good health.

And the article was mighty persuasive.

--PeterM

the_skywise (189793) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @12:03PM (#49500387)

The problem isn't intelligence - per se (Score:5, Insightful)

(See? I used per se, so I'm... oh never mind...)

Intelligence and being highly observant are great skills both in society and from an evolutionary/survivalist standpoint.

But in a society I've found it brings up two downsides:

Guilt, because your intelligence allows you to avoid pain or achieve a higher level of comfort in society. You weren't "superman" you just made rational choices based upon your understanding of how the system works and now your friends and family are suffering because they didn't and you want to help them which requires more energy and effort or you can't which means your intelligence has limits and all you can do is watch them suffer.

Stress and anxiety. Once you figure out that you can problem solve and improve your quality of life it's natural, like any athlete, to grow and push your boundaries. But intellectual pursuits aren't as cut and dried as physical ones - It's easy to know that you can only bench press 200lbs and that's what you need to work on - Less so when you're trying to solve problems like familial and social discord but nobody will listen or trying to improve your company's fortunes by making proper investment choices. More to the point, I'm an engineer and there's nothing more frustrating trying to solve a problem you've encountered with your design that YOU pushed for, can't figure out why it's not working, might not work AT ALL and the boss is breathing down your neck (oh and the company is on the line). There's plenty of days I've driven by a building crew and daydreamed about just running the earth mover or driving a dump truck.

In an Agrarian society - in a pre-industrialized world these issues just didn't come about for intellectualism - Partially because it wasn't as much of a survival skill. (And that's probably why steampunk is so romanticized today)

reboot246 (623534) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @07:29PM (#49502135) Homepage

This may be why (Score:5, Interesting)

The danger when you have the intelligence to do anything you want to do in life is doing nothing. You hesitate to focus narrowly on one field of study because that means you'll have less time for all the others.

I won't say what my IQ is, but it's up there. My grades, especially in science courses, were practically perfect. People were expecting me to go into all kinds of careers, including medicine, chemistry, physics, computer science, etc.. But, I'm interested in everything! Always have been. I chose a career that didn't need much thought so I could keep up with what was happening in science and technology. It's worked. How many 62 year olds do you know who build their own computers? Or just bought two new microscopes? Or diagnose their own problems before going to the doctor?

I know a lot of successful people. Most of them have very little time for fishing, hunting, camping, going to ball games, watching television, listening to music, playing with the children & grandchildren, or working in the garden. I have all the time in the world to enjoy life. Isn't that what it's all about?

Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18, 2015 @01:12PM (#49500661)

Re:*Grabs a bowl of popcorn* (Score:5, Interesting)

I do not know if I qualify as a genius, but I would like to think I am above average in intelligence. I topped my undergraduate class in engineering, scored near perfect score in my GRE (2380/2400, back when it actually included an analytical section with puzzles), and was a graduate student in quantum computing at a top school.

I subsequently dropped out because I realized two things:

  1. Most of my classmates were really good at the subject (e.g., people who won International Math and Physics Olympiads). They started their PhDs at a really young age, and were almost bored by the coursework. Homework that I would spend a Saturday doing were completed while still in class by these bored teenagers.
  2. Most of them really loved the subject (i.e., people who loved doing physics at the expense of all else, such as dating, money, or having a social life). Or the subject was so easy that they had the time to pursue other things.

I realized I neither loved physics unconditionally nor was I good enough at it to warrant the pursuit of a PhD, not to mention the subsequent post doc and so on. All this happened at the same time that I fell in love with my now-wife, started a company, and subsequently got into management consulting to make money instead.

I do not mean to phrase this as a tautology (i.e., doing a PhD is mutually exclusive from making money or having a social life), but in my experience, the biggest sacrifice was watching classmates who were relatively mediocre (in my opinion) get "business" degrees and do exceedingly well in life in terms of money and relationships.

Most of my cohort completed their PhDs and now have very successful academic careers. I still love math, theoretical physics, and computer science. I keep myself apprised of most of the publications in the field, and occasionally, write a paper or two myself, and I certainly miss the challenge of advanced math and physics. I still envy my peers, and I am sure some of them envy me.

But now being in an unhappy relationship, being a parent, having the burdens of a pointless life (the hardest thing I do is a spreadsheet that just helps some fool company make millions of dollars), I question my past choices. So much possibility lay ahead of me, and I gave it all up for what? For a few bucks, beers, and a few lays?

I'm probably considered successful by the measure of the quintessential American dream -- by ~30, I was a rising star at a top management consulting firm, had over 7 figures to my name, owned a large home in one of the best neighborhoods in Boston, and had a beautiful wife and son. I drove expensive cars, wore bespoke suits and expensive watches, spent time mountaineering in the Alps and the Himalayas, and traveled the world. But still, I always felt that I had missed something. That I will never come ahead of time. That no matter how successful I become in life, I will probably never have a theorem named after me or spend my days basking in the beauty of math.

No amount of sex or expensive liquor or material goods can equate the joys of just proving a theorem. I will forever have this knowledge, that I could have been more, and chose less. My life now reminds me of a Pink Floyd lyrics -- "Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage?".

justthinkit (954982) <floyd@just-think-it.com> on Saturday April 18, 2015 @07:51PM (#49502227) Homepage Journal

Here is what you are missing (Score:3)

Here is what you are missing -- helping others.

Most of the activities of my life have been trivially easy for decades. Helping others remains challenging.

If you really are "so smart", you are able to see what a disaster this world is today. Well, get busy changing it. You will be up against the most powerful, greedy, selfish & moneyed people on the face of the Earth. Challenge enough for me. What about you?

Spugglefink (1041680) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @05:35PM (#49501619)

Re:The biggest problem: the "long view" (Score:5, Interesting)

I can relate to that. People who live more in the moment are happier, because the long view always involves decline, death, and dying. I'm petting and really enjoying my dog, and somewhere I'm thinking how I might have another eight years before I have a 120 pound problem who is pissing and shitting huge logs everywhere, who is going to be a royal bitch to dig a hole for one day. I'm having sex with my wife, and somewhere I'm thinking how much it's going to suck looking at her when she's 80. The big picture long view always seems to have a down side, and it's depressing.

I can relate to the expectations thing too. Everybody looks up to you, and a lot of them are jealous of you, and it makes it that much harder to choose an ordinary life. I'm a truck driver, and I like my profession fine, but I constantly feel a need to apologize for not owning the trucking company or being a professor or something; for not aiming higher in general. I've found a lot of people don't like me, because they don't think they're good enough for me for some reason, and yet I feel the same toward them. I'd love to just be normal, and not have to think so much about everything. Too much knowledge can be crippling, instead of helpful. It's hard to invest in a business idea, knowing every conceivable way it might fail, and what all the odds are.

My mother was even more intelligent than I am, and she died young, of alcoholism. She was a miserable woman.

Intelligence is overrated. One side effect for me is that I can never enjoy the opiate of a nice handy sky daddy to make me feel less infinitesimal in the scheme of things. We evolved to see sky daddies in everything, and I have the same need in my brain as any other human, but there's nothing to plug into it. I haven't found the religion yet that wasn't just totally inconsistent and goofy.

captjc (453680) on Saturday April 18, 2015 @10:06PM (#49502711)

Re:The biggest problem: the "long view" (Score:3)

That has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with outlook and perspective. Lets just say, I'm a pretty smart guy and the best piece of advice that I was ever given was to focus on the now. It is easy to foresee problems and possible scenarios and it is good to take measures to prevent the obvious. However, the sooner you realize that shit happens that you will never be able to plan for or there are simply various inevitable outcomes that will be sad and painful that you simply will not want to deal with, the sooner you will realize that there is just no point in worrying about them.

It has almost become a catchphrase for me, "Cross that bridge when you get to it." Focus on what can be dealt with now. Try to keep yourself in the best possible situation that you can and don't worry about what is around the corner until it is within sight to actually deal with it. Friends will come and go, loved ones will leave you, cars and tools will fail you when you need them the most, at some point your job will end, and eventually you will die. These are simple truths of life but if you spend even a second worrying about any of them before there is anything you can do about them, it is purely wasted energy that could be put to use tackling the problems that you do have.

I'm not saying it is easy to change the way you look at the world. It can take some work if not serious effort and it is easy to let yourself fall into ruts of depression and self-loathing. I know, I was there. That is nothing but perverse mental masturbation that does nothing but waste your energy and destroy what little happiness you can achieve. If you can learn to refocus yourself to only what you can affect, the happier and more productive you will become.

[Apr 03, 2015] Search engines like Google or Yahoo make people think they are smarter than they actually are

marknesop.wordpress.com
et Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Slashdot: Google 'Makes People Think They Are Smarter Than They Are
http://search.slashdot.org/story/15/04/02/178220/google-makes-people-think-they-are-smarter-than-they-are

Karen Knapton reports at The Telegraph that according to a study at Yale University, because they have the world's knowledge at their fingertips, search engines like Google or Yahoo make people think they are smarter than they actually are giving people a 'widely inaccurate' view of their own intelligence that can lead to over-confidence when making decisions. In a series of experiments, participants who had searched for information on the internet believed they were far more knowledgeable about a subject that those who had learned by normal routes, such as reading a book or talking to a tutor. Internet users also believed their brains were sharper….
####

This is none more obvious that in the retarded comments you read in the Pork Pie News Networks. It is one thing to look up a 'fact', but to understand it within context, its limitations and not stretch it way beyond reasonable interpretations to fit your argument takes it in to altogether different territory.

I think the good news is that as the Internet is still quite young and people are learning that a) the first answer you find may not be true; b) it helps to do more research if you could be bothered. It's not hard to differentiate between the political bs'ers and the properly curious.

The best thing I think is that we are also learning to ask the right questions in the right way. Most of us can now spot obfuscation through deliberately complicated answers (as is technique often used by people who think they are clever) and are starting to spot what isn't there, or what isn't said simply through logic and following the process or the steps that should lead to a logical conclusion. If that is not done, followed or points to some other conclusion, then the red flags (I don't mean communist ones!) should go up that something is not quite kosher and should be treated with care. Still, it's early days.

kirill, April 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm

People are brainwashed from birth to believe that knowledge of facts is the same as intelligence. I have seen this trope in numerous TV shows and movies. It is total rubbish. People spend years at university and in post-doctoral studies engaged in problem solving. No amount of Google searches is going to teach internet Einsteins that skill.

et Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm

I can't be as pessimistic as you. Yes, brainwashing does start very early, but this is just the beginning of a brave new world (if we don't become nuclear toast first) and the new industrial revolution has only just started. The field is wide open and old actors will be turfed out or overturned by the new and hungry.

If the turdification of higher education continues in certain countries, then those countries are simply hollowing out themselves from the inside. They simply will not be able to find sufficient numbers of competent people to maintain what they have.

It is one of the many reasons that I am for free education and unlimited free (or at least heavily subsidized) return to education and retraining until you pop your clogs. In fact, I think it is essential if we are going to live longer and more productive lives. If the state (us) fund it, then we all benefit from it over the long term. So far Western countries have been able to attract some of the best foreign talent from other countries and benefit from it, but the rest of the world is catching up fast.

In Defense of Difficulty By Steve Wasserman

March 18, 2015 | The American Conservative

A phony populism is denying Americans the joys of serious thought.

... ... ...

Universities, too, were at fault. They had colonized critics by holding careers hostage to academic specialization, requiring them to master the arcane tongues of ever-narrower disciplines, forcing them to forsake a larger public. Compared to the Arcadian past, the present, in this view, was a wasteland.

It didn't have to be this way. In the postwar era, a vast project of cultural uplift sought to bring the best that had been thought and said to the wider public. Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago and Mortimer J. Adler were among its more prominent avatars. This effort, which tried to deepen literacy under the sign of the "middlebrow," and thus to strengthen the idea that an informed citizenry was indispensable for a healthy democracy, was, for a time, hugely successful. The general level of cultural sophistication rose as a growing middle class shed its provincialism in exchange for a certain worldliness that was one legacy of American triumphalism and ambition after World War II. College enrollment boomed, and the percentage of Americans attending the performing arts rose dramatically. Regional stage and opera companies blossomed, new concert halls were built, and interest in the arts was widespread. TV hosts Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Dick Cavett frequently featured serious writers as guests. Paperback publishers made classic works of history, literature, and criticism available to ordinary readers whose appetite for such works seemed insatiable.

Mass circulation newspapers and magazines, too, expanded their coverage of books, movies, music, dance, and theater. Criticism was no longer confined to such small but influential journals of opinion as Partisan Review, The Nation, and The New Republic. Esquire embraced the irascible Dwight Macdonald as its movie critic, despite his well-known contempt for "middlebrow" culture. The New Yorker threw a lifeline to Pauline Kael, rescuing her from the ghetto of film quarterlies and the art houses of Berkeley. Strong critics like David Riesman, Daniel Bell, and Leslie Fiedler, among others, would write with insight and pugilistic zeal books that often found enough readers to propel their works onto bestseller lists. Intellectuals such as Susan Sontag were featured in the glossy pages of magazines like Vogue. Her controversial "Notes on Camp," first published in 1964 in Partisan Review, exploded into public view when Time championed her work. Eggheads were suddenly sexy, almost on a par with star athletes and Hollywood celebrities. Gore Vidal was a regular on Johnny Carson. William F. Buckley Jr.'s "Firing Line" hosted vigorous debates that often were models of how to think, how to argue, and, at their best, told us that ideas mattered.

As Scott Timberg, a former arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times, puts it in his recent book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, the idea, embraced by increasing numbers of Americans, was that

drama, poetry, music, and art were not just a way to pass the time, or advertise one's might, but a path to truth and enlightenment. At its best, this was what the middlebrow consensus promised. Middlebrow said that culture was accessible to a wide strat[um] of society, that people needed some but not much training to appreciate it, that there was a canon worth knowing, that art was not the same as entertainment, that the study of the liberal arts deepens you, and that those who make, assess, and disseminate the arts were somehow valuable for our society regardless of their impact on GDP.

So what if culture was increasingly just another product to be bought and sold, used and discarded, like so many tubes of toothpaste? Even Los Angeles, long derided as a cultural desert, would by the turn of the century boast a flourishing and internationally respected opera company, a thriving archipelago of museums with world-class collections, and dozens of bookstores selling in some years more books per capita than were sold in the greater New York area. The middlebrow's triumph was all but assured.

The arrival of the Internet by century's end promised to make that victory complete. As the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story in 1998, America was "increasingly wealthy, worldly, and wired." Notions of elitism and snobbery seemed to be collapsing upon the palpable catholicity of a public whose curiosities were ever more diverse and eclectic and whose ability to satisfy them had suddenly and miraculously expanded. We stood, it appeared, on the verge of a munificent new world-a world in which technology was rapidly democratizing the means of cultural production while providing an easy way for millions of ordinary citizens, previously excluded from the precincts of the higher conversation, to join the dialogue. The digital revolution was predicted to empower those authors whose writings had been marginalized, shut out of mainstream publishing, to overthrow the old monastic self-selecting order of cultural gatekeepers (meaning professional critics). Thus would critical faculties be sharpened and democratized. Digital platforms would crack open the cloistered and solipsistic world of academe, bypass the old presses and performing-arts spaces, and unleash a new era of cultural commerce. With smart machines there would be smarter people.

Harvard's Robert Darnton, a sober and learned historian of reading and the book, agreed. He argued that the implications for writing and reading, for publishing and bookselling-indeed, for cultural literacy and criticism itself-were profound. For, as he gushed in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, we now had the ability to make "all book learning available to all people, or at least those privileged enough to have access to the World Wide Web. It promises to be the ultimate stage in the democratization of knowledge set in motion by the invention of writing, the codex, movable type, and the Internet." In this view, echoed by innumerable worshippers of the New Information Age, we were living at one of history's hinge moments, a great evolutionary leap in the human mind. And, in truth, it was hard not to believe that we had arrived at the apotheosis of our culture. Never before in history had more good literature and cultural works been available at such low cost to so many. The future was radiant.

Others, such as the critics Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, were more skeptical. They worried that whatever advantages might accrue to consumers and the culture at large from the emergence of such behemoths as Amazon, not only would proven methods of cultural production and distribution be made obsolete, but we were in danger of being enrolled, whether we liked it or not, in an overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture that, as numerous studies have shown, renders serious reading and cultural criticism increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and sustained argument. Indeed, they feared that the digital tsunami now engulfing us may even signal an irrevocable trivialization of the word. Or, at the least, a sense that the enterprise of making distinctions between bad, good, and best was a mug's game that had no place in a democracy that worships at the altar of mass appeal and counts its receipts at the almighty box office.

... ... ...

...Today, America's traditional organs of popular criticism-newspapers, magazines, journals of opinion-have been all but overwhelmed by the digital onslaught: their circulations plummeting, their confidence eroded, their survival in doubt. Newspaper review sections in particular have suffered: jobs have been slashed, and cultural coverage vastly diminished. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have abandoned their stand-alone book sections, leaving the New York Times as the only major American newspaper still publishing a significant separate section devoted to reviewing books.

Such sections, of course, were always few. Only a handful of America's papers ever deemed book coverage important enough to dedicate an entire Sunday section to it. Now even that handful is threatened with extinction, and thus is a widespread cultural illiteracy abetted, for at their best the editors of those sections tried to establish the idea that serious criticism was possible in a mass culture. In the 19th century, Margaret Fuller, literary editor of the New York Tribune and the country's first full-time book reviewer, understood this well. She saw books as "a medium for viewing all humanity, a core around which all knowledge, all experience, all science, all the ideal as well as all the practical in our nature could gather." She sought, she said, to tell "the whole truth, as well as nothing but the truth."

The arrival of the Internet has proved no panacea. The vast canvas afforded by the Internet has done little to encourage thoughtful and serious criticism. Mostly it has provided a vast Democracy Wall on which any crackpot can post his or her manifesto. Bloggers bloviate and insults abound. Discourse coarsens. Information is abundant, wisdom scarce. It is a striking irony, as Leon Wieseltier has noted, that with the arrival of the Internet, "a medium of communication with no limitations of physical space, everything on it has to be in six hundred words." The Internet, he said, is the first means of communication invented by humankind that privileges one's first thoughts as one's best thoughts. And he rightly observed that if "value is a function of scarcity," then "what is most scarce in our culture is long, thoughtful, patient, deliberate analysis of questions that do not have obvious or easy answers." Time is required to think through difficult questions. Patience is a condition of genuine intellection. The thinking mind, the creating mind, said Wieseltier, should not be rushed. "And where the mind is rushed and made frenetic, neither thought nor creativity will ensue. What you will most likely get is conformity and banality. Writing is not typed talking."

The fundamental idea at stake in the criticism of culture generally is the self-image of society: how it reasons with itself, describes itself, imagines itself. Nothing in the excitements made possible by the digital revolution banishes the need for the rigor such self-reckoning requires. It is, as Wieseltier says, the obligation of cultural criticism to bear down on what matters.

♦♦♦

Where is such criticism to be found today? We inhabit a remarkably arid cultural landscape, especially when compared with the ambitions of postwar America, ambitions which, to be sure, were often mocked by some of the country's more prominent intellectuals. Yes, Dwight Macdonald famously excoriated the enfeeblements of "mass cult and midcult," and Irving Howe regretted "This Age of Conformity," but from today's perspective, when we look back at the offerings of the Book-of-the-Month Club and projects such as the Great Books of the Western World, their scorn looks misplaced. The fact that their complaints circulated widely in the very midcult worlds Macdonald condemned was proof that trenchant criticism had found a place within the organs of mass culture. One is almost tempted to say that the middlebrow culture of yesteryear was a high-water mark.

The reality, of course, was never as rosy as much of it looks in retrospect. Cultural criticism in most American newspapers, even at its best, was almost always confined to a ghetto. You were lucky at most papers to get a column or a half-page devoted to arts and culture. Editors encouraged reporters, reviewers, and critics to win readers and improve circulation by pandering to the faux populism of the marketplace. Only the review that might immediately be understood by the greatest number of readers would be permitted to see the light of day. Anything else smacked of "elitism"-a sin to be avoided at almost any cost.

This was a coarse and pernicious notion, one that lay at the center of the country's longstanding anti-intellectual tradition. From the start of the republic, Americans have had a profoundly ambivalent relationship to class and culture, as Richard Hofstadter famously observed. He was neither the first nor the last to notice this self-inflicted wound. As even the vastly popular science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov understood, "Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

... ... ...

When did "difficulty" become suspect in American culture, widely derided as anti-democratic and contemptuously dismissed as evidence of so-called elitism? If a work of art isn't somehow immediately "understood" or "accessible" by and to large numbers of people, it is often ridiculed as "esoteric," "obtuse," or even somehow un-American. We should mark such an argument's cognitive consequences. A culture filled with smooth and familiar consumptions produces in people rigid mental habits and stultified conceptions. They know what they know, and they expect to find it reinforced when they turn a page or click on a screen. Difficulty annoys them, and, having become accustomed to so much pabulum served up by a pandering and invertebrate media, they experience difficulty not just as "difficult," but as insult. Struggling to understand, say, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness masterpiece The Sound and the Fury or Alain Resnais's Rubik's Cube of a movie "Last Year at Marienbad" needn't be done. The mind may skip trying to solve such cognitive puzzles, even though the truth is they strengthen it as a workout tones the muscles.

Sometimes it feels as if the world is divided into two classes: one very large class spurns difficulty, while the other very much smaller delights in it. There are readers who, when encountering an unfamiliar word, instead of reaching for a dictionary, choose to regard it as a sign of the author's contempt or pretension, a deliberate refusal to speak in a language ordinary people can understand. Others, encountering the same word, happily seize on it as a chance to learn something new, to broaden their horizons. They eagerly seek a literature that upends assumptions, challenges prejudices, turns them inside out and forces them to see the world through new eyes.

The second group is an endangered species. One reason is that the ambitions of mainstream media that, however fitfully, once sought to expose them to the life of the mind and to the contest of ideas, have themselves shrunk. We have gone from the heyday of television intellection which boasted shows hosted by, among others, David Susskind and David Frost, men that, whatever their self-absorptions, were nonetheless possessed of an admirable highmindedness, to the pygmy sound-bite rants of Sean Hannity and the inanities of clowns like Stephen Colbert. Once upon a time, the ideal of seriousness may not have been a common one, but it was acknowledged as one worth striving for. It didn't have to do what it has to today, that is, fight for respect, legitimate itself before asserting itself. The class that is allergic to difficulty now feels justified in condemning the other as "elitist" and anti-democratic. The exercise of cultural authority and artistic or literary or aesthetic discrimination is seen as evidence of snobbery, entitlement and privilege lording it over ordinary folks. A perverse populism increasingly deforms our culture, consigning some works of art to a realm somehow more rarified and less accessible to a broad public. Thus is choice constrained and the tyranny of mass appeal deepened in the name of democracy.

... ... ...

Steve Wasserman, former literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, is editor-at-large for Yale University Press.

This essay is adapted with permission from his chapter in the forthcoming The State of the American Mind: Sixteen Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, edited by Adam Bellow and Mark Bauerlein, to be published by Templeton Press in May 2015.

[Dec 29, 2014] Fox News host mocked for speculating that AsiaAir flight went missing because foreign pilots use the metric system

Published: 17:21 EST, 28 December 2014 | Updated: 11:24 EST, 29 December 2014

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A Fox News host has drawn the ire of the internet after speculating on air what could have caused the disappearance of AsiaAir Flight QZ8501.

The flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore went missing early this morning over the Java Sea, shortly after the pilot asked for a change in altitude due to severe weather.

Fox News co-host Anna Kooiman interviewed former FAA spokesperson Scott Brenner about the search for the missing flight Sunday morning, asking the airline industry insider whether foreign pilots were at a disadvantage since they were trained using the metric system.

'Even when we think about temperature, it's Fahrenheit or Celsius,' Kooiman said. 'It's kilometers or miles. You know, everything about their training could be similar, but different.'

Scott Matarrese, Lexington, United States, 11 minutes ago

How ignorant and condecending can you people be? There are several incidents where metric/english issues brought down or nearly brought down airliners, the canadian 767 glider incident is quite will known, so how is it that all of you brilliant people dont know of it? LOOK IT UP!

Epsom Voice, Epsom, United Kingdom, 4 minutes ago

Over 30 years ago when Canada was just changing to the metric system. Dumb Yank.

JohnFrum, UK, United Kingdom, 21 minutes ago

Fair and balanced stupidity.

Stead, Santa Clarita, United States, 32 minutes ago

Natalie Bee asked "do you honestly think the METRIC SYSTEM crashes airplanes?" Thousands of others have scoffed along the same lines. But, the reality is that YOU are the ignorant ones.

In 1983 a confusion between metric and imperial units led to an Air Canada flight running out of fuel over the Atlantic.

All aboard would have crashed into the ocean and died if the Captain hadn't coincidentally been a glider pilot and known how to get them safely to land. Try looking up the "Gimli Glider" for the full story. It is especially painful when the ignorant masses mock others for being "stupid." Especially when this "dumb blonde" seems to be the only one who did her homework.

[Dec 28, 2014] Republican Anti-Intellectualism

November 9, 2008 The Washington Monthly
COMING TO GRIPS WITH REPUBLICANS' ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM....

Given the Republicans' humiliating performance on Election Day, the party is receiving all kinds of advice about how to get back on track. Some suggestions are more sensible than others, and I'm not necessarily inclined to give the GOP guidance on how to improve.

But perusing the papers this weekend, there's a strain of thought Republicans would be wise to take seriously: it's time to abandon the anti-intellectualism that's come to dominate the party's ideology.

Rich Lowry briefly referenced the party's "intellectual exhaustion" in a piece this morning, but that's incomplete -- it suggests Republicans have grown tired after an aggressive battle of ideas. That's false. Republicans have come to think of reason, evidence, and scholarship as necessarily flawed, to be reviled as an enemy.

Columbia University's Mark Lilla, a former editor of the Public Interest, lamented with conspicuous sadness what has become of conservative thought (or, in this case, the opposition to thought), punctuated with Republican glee over a vice presidential candidate "whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against."

It's a sad tale that began in the '80s, when leading conservatives frustrated with the left-leaning press and university establishment began to speak of an "adversary culture of intellectuals." ... The die was cast. Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them. [...]

Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead.

Lilla's concerns obviously ring true for any observer who's watched the Republican Party in good faith. This is a party that seems to embrace ignorance for ignorance's sake, as if "facts and figures" are inconvenient annoyances better left to eggheads who read books. Stephen Colbert's parody of modern Republican leader rings true for a reason.

Nicholas Kristof noted today that Obama's election, among other things, may mark the end of "the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life." Here's hoping that's true.

In August, Paul Krugman had a fairly devastating piece identifying the GOP as "the party of stupid." As the Nobel Laureate explained, "What I mean ... is that know-nothingism -- the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise -- has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party's de facto slogan has become: 'Real men don't think things through.'"

If the party is sincerely looking for a way out of its self-dug ditch, taking facts, reason, and evidence seriously again would be a good start.

[Dec 27, 2014] Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Paperback)

Christopher Hefele (Lawrenceville, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

What's an intellectual to do in "practical" America ?, May 9, 2005

"The age of philosophy has passed...that of utility has commenced..." said an orator at Yale in 1844. Richard Hofstadter uses this telling quote and well as a wealth of other information to show how a thread of anti-intellectualism runs through the history and culture of "practical" America. He dissects anti-intellectualism, goes into its history and origins in the US, and shows its impact in education, politics, and business. This thorough analysis won him the 1964 Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction.

Hofstadter is careful to define what he means by the intellect and intellectuals. The intellect is the critical, creative, contemplative side of mind that examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, questions, imagines. It is the province of writers, critics, skeptics, professors, scientists, editors, journalists, lawyers and clergymen. Just being a "mental technician" in these fields is not enough; one also acts as an active custodian of values like reason and justice and truth.

Unfortunately, America's practical culture has never embraced intellectuals. The intellectuals' education and expertise are viewed as a form of power or privilege. Intellectuals are seen as a small arrogant elite who are pretentious, conceited, snobbish. Geniuses' are described as eccentric, and their talents dismissed as mere cleverness. Their cultured view is seen as impractical, and their sophistication as ineffectual. Their emphasis on knowledge and education is viewed as subversive, and it threatens to produce social decadence.

Instead, the anti-intellectuals believe that the plain sense of the common man is altogether adequate and superior to formal knowledge and expertise from schools. The truths of the heart, experience, and old-fashioned principles of religion, character, instinct, and morality are more reliable guides to life than education. After all, we idolize the self-made man in America.

Hofstadter goes on to cite examples of anti-intellectualism from the nations founding to today. For example, the founding fathers were sages, scientists, and men of cultivation, yet the Federalists attacked the brilliant Thomas Je ness, commercial culture tends to breed acquisitiveness rather than inquisitiveness. Business often demands group cohesion instead of independent thought. Hofstadter points this out using a number of examples. A Harvard Business School Dean said, "we don't want our students to pay any attention to anything that might raise questions about management or business policy in their minds." A famous chemical company's training film spouts, "no geniuses here; just a bunch of average Americans working together." The general point is that business is indifferent to knowledge on a broad scale; only the money-making faculty needs to be cultivated to succeed.

Turning to education, Hofstadter points out that broad public education in the US was started not for developing the mind or the pride of learning for its own sake, but for its supposed political and economic benefits. Children were viewed not minds to be developed, but as citizens to be trained for a stable democracy. He goes on to outlines the debates within the community of educators about what should be taught, especiaudy "superfluous" intellectual subjects with no practical application, there ARE practical benefits; namely, learning any subject in depth teaches one how to learn something new.

Overall, this was a good analysis; the writing is very readable but not sprightly, and while some chapters are slightly slow going, others are fascinating. Overall, though, I thought Hofstadter's analysis has stood the test of time well, and it's easy to see how this book, over 40 years old, could be applied to analyze the world today. So if you're interested in a cogent analysis of anti-intellectualism, I'd recommend this book.

Robert Moore (Chicago, IL USA)
A penetrating analysis of the American character, January 1, 2004

One reviewer below insists that this book, while excellent, is "dated." I find this an astonishing evaluation.

What stunned me about this book was how familiar the anti-intellectualism from each period in American history felt. True, we are not today facing McCarthyism--our own particular moment in history feels Orwellian more than anything--but Hofstadter's overall point about anti-intellectualism being a constituent part of the national character has not been invalidated by the past forty years. Indeed, his points have been confirmed at nearly every point.

And while the anti-intellectuals in the fifties may have railed against "eggheads," today the GOP directs much of their fury against the "liberal elite." Since most of "the elite" is comparatively poor compared to the Right-wing economic elite, clearly they are aiming their guns at the intellectual elite. Figures Hofstadter quotes from the 18th century sound like they could be one of today's right wing pundits.

Few books that I have ever read have helped me understand the American character as well as this one. Many of the chapters in American history that he chronicles are somewhat forgotten, but just as essential as the more familiar figures and events. I was familiar with much of what he discusses in the role of religion in fomenting anti-intellectualism in America (though he didn't mention one of the most important factors in the spread of anti-intellectual religion in America: the success of denominations that did not require a college education in their ministers--in fact, were suspicious of ministers who possessed much education--due to geographic remoteness from the colonial colleges, so that Methodists and Baptists throve in the South, which was far away from the colleges that existed in 18th century America; therefore, I believe geography played a greater role and the Great Awakening played a smaller role in building anti-intellectualism than Hofstadter credits). I was also aware of the role that Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy had played in building a prejudice against literacy and culture. The sections on "The Practical Culture" and "Education in a Democracy," however, covers subjects that were somewhat less familiar to me. I was especially fascinated on the chapters on educational theories of the 20th century, with the educational establishment itself espousing anti-intellectual theories by deemphasizing college preparation for students and instead focusing on vocational training.

I would put this book on the shortest of short lists of books that anyone interested in understanding the American character ought to read. I have a large number of friends from other parts of the world, and to an individual they are baffled and mystified at the almost willful ignorance they have discovered on the part of Americans. Hofstadter's book will assist anyone in understanding why so many Americans are antagonistic towards intellectuals and those who possess an advanced literacy. This is also one of Hofstadter's greatest books. Unbelievably, despite the several classic volumes he penned, Hofstadter died at the early age of 54. He was in his forties when he wrote this. One wonders what classics we are now missing because of his premature death.

Brooke276 (Denver, CO) - See all my reviews
Brilliant analysis of the American mind......., June 18, 1999

Before this book, I had never contemplated the differences between intelligence and intellectualism, but now, armed with Hofstadter's witty, sophisticated study, I can, with confidence, better survey our national landscape. Not only does the author reveal our anti-intellectual roots, he deconstructs the origins of our commitment to "practical knowledge." Whether it's religion or the business ethic, American culture has sanctioned and outwardly promoted a disdain for intellectual contemplation in favor of more "functional" learning that will (must), in the end, bring about conformity, commercialism, and commodification, NOT abstract thought. The book is a masterpiece and if there are any people left in this country who believe the mind is the last refuge of true freedom, it should serve as a revolutionary cry for all of us to follow.

J. Grattan
The fit of intellectuals and intellectualism in American society (4.5*s), April 7, 2009

As this book thoroughly shows, Americans have been and continue to be distrustful of intellectualism and intellectuals. Yet, that position lacks coherency and is not particularly healthy for a viable society in a very complicated world. Wasn't America founded on enlightenment principles, emphasizing rationality, empowerment of the common man, and wide-ranging freedoms in terms of religion, political participation, speech, thought, and the like? That may be the theory, but the author ranges across American history to show that attitudes towards intellectuals and intellectualism by various segments of society, and in general, have often been ambivalent, dismissive, and at times overtly hostile. He examines in some detail such areas as religion, politics, education, and the business world to see the consequences of those suspicions.

The author distinguishes between intelligence and intellectualism.

Intelligence involves being smart or skillful in a somewhat narrow sense - it is problem solving. An expert is in some ways a sharp problem solver, that is, being aware of most of the technical information that pertains to a topic or situation and able to utilize it. On the other hand, an intellectual's approach is broader. He endeavors to see issues in a broad context and to think of them creatively and not be overly constrained by precedents. His task may be confined to interpretation, such as a Puritan minister, but he may be inclined, more problematically, to challenge the soundness or truthfulness of conventional values, wisdom, and ways of doing things. What the author does not overly emphasize, is that intellectuals can provoke considerable reaction when they undermine long-held beliefs of average people, or, often concomitantly, the authority and power of leaders of established institutions. Experts can be resented, but as life becomes more complicated they are tolerated better than those who question fundamental social, economic, or political organization.

Contrary to most intellectuals of the modern era being found in universities, the author regards the clergy of the New England Puritans in the 17th century and the Founding Fathers of the 18th, as being the first intellectuals of America. Because of their elitism, and thereby being in positions of relative leisure, they had the time to become the best educated men of their times. But their influence waned tremendously after the Revolution. Evangelical religions, which rose with western expansion, emphasized a direct, non-interpreted, relationship with God. Educated clergy were seen as doing no more than interfering with that relationship. Likewise in politics: beginning with Andrew Jackson, the common man assumed the dominant role in the political process. Gone were the days of elites dictating the selection of successors.

The author is especially concerned with the turn that high school education took towards a curriculum of "life adjustment" in the early 20th century. In lieu of a small number of intensely taught academic subjects, school reformers took a child-centric approach to education that emphasized teaching the child to function in society using mostly commonsense and what we would call networking. The business community hardly objected to that methodology. Businessmen want reliable workers, not thinkers. Businesses do need experts to some extent, but business owners do not tolerate intellectuals who question their motives and practices, thereby undermining their authority. The launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik in late 50s did force a re-examination of the lack of rigorous academics in high school, but the attitude persists that schools should not be breeding grounds for intellectuals to be.

Intellectuals, because of their inclination to question, often become dissenters, refusing to conform. As such, they get labeled as being radicals, bohemians, troublemakers, atheists, etc. It is just a small step to paint all intellectuals with those brushes regardless of any justification. That was precisely the tactic of Sen. Joe McCarthy in the early 50s, when he used the flimsiest of excuses to label intellectuals from many areas of life as communists. The McCarthy witch-hunt was the immediate backdrop and motivation for this book.

There does seem to be some room to apply slightly different interpretations to some historical developments outlined. For example, it is not surprising, in casting aside the British aristocracy, that a new America based on democratic participation would attempt to greatly limit the influence of elites - the intellectuals of the times. The question is whether the empowerment of the common man is equivalent to the spread of ignorance and disagreeable consequences. There is also the question of in what sense elites encourage anti-intellectualism, all the while trying to limit actual empowerment of the masses, as well as suppressing intellectuals - all to maintain their social standing as society's decision makers. The author notes that it is ironic that modern intellectuals often come down on the side of the common man. Any induced anti-intellectualism in the masses is entirely likely to be a case of shooting oneself in the foot.

It's easy to see why the book received a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for non-fiction. Anti-intellectualism gives a different perspective on historical developments that can obviously be viewed from other perspectives. It's difficult to succinctly wrap up the book; it contains elements of anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-intellectuals. The author's perceptiveness in describing all of this is far greater than this review may suggest.

One has to wonder how the author would view the intellectual development of society over the fifty years since he started this book. It goes without saying, that technological advances have enhanced the need for and the status of experts. But have we become wiser? Do we respect the fresh and hopefully helpful ideas of intellectuals? As was suggested earlier, intellectualism is played out in the context of power. If we remain substantially anti-intellectual, is that due to inherent, widespread ignorance or is it engendered by those with the resources to do so, namely those with control of media, education, and places of production? That is not a question that the author takes on. He does address in his wrap up the question of intellectuals being co-opted by joining centers of power, be they businesses, universities, or political parties. Can an intellectual work from within these institutions or must he remain outside as a critic to play his role, if he can? There is a lot to think about with this book, regardless of whether one is an intellectual.

[Dec 27, 2014] Anti-intellectualism is taking over the US By Patricia Williams

May 18 2012 | theguardian.com

[Note: From 2012, but given current events, certainly worth posting now. DLH]

Anti-intellectualism is taking over the US

The rise in academic book bannings and firings is compounded by the US's growing disregard for scholarship itself

By Patricia Williams, May 18 2012

<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/18/anti-intellectualism-us-book-banning>

Recently, I found out that my work is mentioned in a book that has been banned, in effect, from the schools in Tucson, Arizona. The anti-ethnic studies law passed by the state prohibits teachings that "promote the overthrow of the United States government," "promote resentment toward a race or class of people," "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," and/or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." I invite you to read the book in question, titled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, so that you can decide for yourselves whether it qualifies.

In fact, I invite you to take on as your summer reading the astonishingly lengthy list of books that have been removed from the Tucson public school system as part of this wholesale elimination of the Mexican-American studies curriculum. The authors and editors include Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Kozol, Rudolfo Anaya, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, Rodolfo Acuña, Ronald Takaki, Jerome Skolnick and Gloria Anzaldúa. Even Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and Shakespeare's The Tempest received the hatchet.

Trying to explain what was offensive enough to warrant killing the entire curriculum and firing its director, Tucson school board member Michael Hicks stated rather proudly that he was not actually familiar with the curriculum. "I chose not to go to any of their classes," he told Al Madrigal on The Daily Show. "Why even go?" In the same interview, he referred to Rosa Parks as "Rosa Clark."

The situation in Arizona is not an isolated phenomenon. There has been an unfortunate uptick in academic book bannings and firings, made worse by a nationwide disparagement of teachers, teachers' unions and scholarship itself. Brooke Harris, a teacher at Michigan's Pontiac Academy for Excellence, was summarily fired after asking permission to let her students conduct a fundraiser for Trayvon Martin's family. Working at a charter school, Harris was an at-will employee, and so the superintendent needed little justification for sacking her. According to Harris, "I was told… that I'm being paid to teach, not to be an activist." (It is perhaps not accidental that Harris worked in the schools of Pontiac, a city in which nearly every public institution has been taken over by cost-cutting executives working under "emergency manager" contracts. There the value of education is measured in purely econometric terms, reduced to a "product," calculated in "opportunity costs.")

The law has taken some startling turns as well. In 2010 the sixth circuit upheld the firing of high school teacher Shelley Evans-Marshall when parents complained about an assignment in which she had asked her students in an upper-level language arts class to look at the American Library Association's list of "100 most frequently challenged Books" and write an essay about censorship. The complaint against her centered on three specific texts: Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. (She was also alleged, years earlier, to have shown students a PG-13 version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.)

The court found that the content of Evans-Marshall's teachings concerned matters "of political, social or other concern to the community" and that her interest in free expression outweighed certain other interests belonging to the school "as an employer." But, fatally, the court concluded that "government employees… are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes." While the sixth circuit allowed that Evans-Marshall may have been treated "shabbily", it still maintained (quoting from another opinion) that "when a teacher teaches, 'the school system does not "regulate" [that] speech as much as it hires that speech. Expression is a teacher's stock in trade, the commodity she sells to her employer in exchange for a salary.'" Thus, the court concluded, it is the "educational institution that has a right to academic freedom, not the individual teacher."

[snip]

Who's stupid now Neural Gourmet

"...while Bush isn't any rocket scientist, he certainly thinks the American people are morons to the degree that they will buy anything if sold with folksy charm."
2006-04-17

Over at ConsortiumNews.com, author Robert Parry asks, "Is Bush Stupid -- Or Is America?" The article is a comprehensive, though possibly depressive, look at the hubris of the Bush Whitehouse. Parry, whose latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, intuits that even while Bush isn't any rocket scientist, he certainly thinks the American people are morons to the degree that they will buy anything if sold with folksy charm.

Of course it's well known that Americans hate anyone who shows signs of being an intellectual. One only need look to the smears lobbed by the Republicans against Senator Kerry in the last Presidential election. So it's no surprise that Americans are charmed by Bush folkisms, though there are encouraging signs that not even homey bon mots can distract the American people from the mess that the Bush administration has made of just about everything it has turned its' hand to. But how did we get this way? When did it start?

When did politics become the race to the bottom of the apple barrel of intellectual discourse and thought? Well, it seems that it was our own Founding Fathers who started us on the road to not only installing our mental inferiors in office but actively hating those who pursue the study of ideas. It's been a couple of weeks since I've quoted Richard Hofstadter at you so let me correct that now:

... Why, while most of the Founding Fathers were still alive, did a reputation for intellect become a political disadvantage?

In time, of course, the rule of the patrician elite was supplanted by a popular democracy, but one cannot blame the democratic movement alone for the decline in regard for intellect in politics. Soon after a party division became acute, the members of the elite fell out among themselves, and lost their respect for political standards. The men who with notable character and courage led the way through the Revolution and with remarkable prescience and skill organized a new national government in 1787-88 had by 1796 become hopeless divided in their interests and sadly affected by the snarling and hysterical differences which were aroused by the French Revolution. The generation who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution also wrote the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Its emminent leaders lost their solidarity, and their standards declined. A common membership in the patrician class, common experiences in revolution and state-making, a common core of ideas and learning did not prevent them from playing politics with little regard for decency or common sense. Political controversy, muddied by exaggerated charges of conspiracies with French agents or plots to subvert Christianity or schemes to restore monarchy and put the country under the heel of Great Britain, degenerated into demagogy. Having no understanding of the uses of political parties or of the function of a loyal opposition, the Founding Fathers surrendered to their political passions and entered upon a struggle in which any rhetorical weapon would do.

Richard Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism In American Life (1963), p. 146

Hofstadter goes on from there to excruciatingly detail the anti-intellectual attack on Thomas Jefferson which one might easily have substituted for the Republican attack on Senator Kerry merely by simplifying and modernizing the language. Hofstadter quotes Federalist writer Joseph Dennie:

The man has talents but they are of a dangerous and delusive kind. He has read much and can write plausibly. He is a man of letters, and should be a retired one. His closet, and not the cabinet, is his place. In the first, he might harmlessly examine the teeth of a non-descript monster, the secretions of an African, or the almanac of Banneker. ... At the seat of government his abstract, inapplicable, metaphysico-politics are either nugatory or noxious. Besides, his principles relish so strongly of Paris and are seasoned with such a profusion of French garlic, that he offends the whole nation. Better for Americans that on their extended plains "thistles should grow, instead of wheat, and cockle, instead of barley," than that a philosopher should influence the councils of the country, and that his admiration of the works of Voltaire and Helvetius should induce him to wish a closer connexion with Frenchmen.

Joseph Dennie quoted in Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism In American Life (1963), p. 149

If even the Founding Fathers, who were generally men of learning, could not resist the temptation to cater to the anti-intellectualism prevalent in American popular culture, then what hope do we have 210+ years on of preventing our politicians and social leaders from doing the same? At one time I thought that the 1950s for all their stifling morality marked a new era of intellectualism, when the common man was not only encouraged but celebrated for engaging the world of ideas. A new found leisure time, strong economy and cheap transportation along with the not-so-subtle Cold War threat of Soviet conquest of science and mathematics through space exploration all provided, I believed, an atmosphere that valued learning and the academic.

I'm not so sure that was so anymore. As I've been reading these past few weeks, all that we detest in 2006 was there in seed form in 1956 and anti-intellectualism was the soil in which it took root and grew. And our parents in the 1960s and 1970s, ourselves in the 1980s and 1990s ignored the weeds that have all but displaced everything we value. Still, I've got to believe that if we ever hope for a return to the politics of Enlightenment philosophy guided by Lockeian pragmatism, then we must cultivate precisely that regard for the intellectual pursuit which seems so foreign to the American cultural soil. I simply see no other way.

And you know, in some odd way, it is conservative intellectuals in academia, despite the wolf cries of David Horowitz, that give me some measure of hope. For it is conservative academicians and scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, Norm Ornstein, or Bruce Fein who are uniquely qualified to criticize the ham-handed failures of the Republicans and, with the ear of moderate Republicans, lead the way for a renewed valuation of intellectuals in the public sphere.

Additional reading -- Tod Gitlin: The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 2000).

[Aug 3, 2009] Ariel Gonzalez Sarah Palin and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

Palin also shares a dangerous sense of unearned entitlement with the former president.

In his article on the Quitta from Wasilla, Todd Purdum asks, "What does it say about the nature of modern American politics that a public official who often seems proud of what she does not know is not only accepted but applauded?" Is the intrepid Vanity Fair reporter shocked, shocked, to find that book larnin' is an electoral liability in God's country? He must be familiar with Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which was published in 1964, the year of Sarah Palin's birth. Hofstadter, an esteemed history professor at Columbia University, began work on this groundbreaking study after the defeat of Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee whose willingness to speak in complex, allusive sentences made him a darling of academia and the literati. Stevenson's reluctance to dumb down was interpreted by many as evidence of a vacillating, elitist character. This was nothing new. Hofstadter shows the divide between intelligence and intellect that has existed on these shores since the time of the Puritans. Intelligence is deemed essential to practical problem-solving; it "seeks to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust...[it] will seize the immediate meaning in a situation and evaluate it." Whereas intellect "is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind...[it] evaluates evaluations, and looks for the meaning of situations as a whole."

Like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin fears self-evaluation and contemplation. They both prefer to be ruled by their gut instincts. Of course, they're too arrogant and insecure to acknowledge when these instincts lead them astray. Palin also shares a dangerous sense of unearned entitlement with the former president. She believes she's destined for greatness. So did every other White House aspirant last year. But as we saw yesterday, she won't crack the books and do her homework. Rather than tutor herself on foreign and domestic issues, she has decided to rely henceforward on personality and platitudes. If you haven't already, read her resignation statement, a jaw-dropping aria that should be entitled "Palin Agonistes" or "The Passion of Sarah." She must have composed it herself. (Ye shall know them by their poor writing skills!) Others have critiqued her rambling incoherency, grating informality, and overuse of capitals and exclamation marks.

But what stood out for me was the seemingly boundless capacity for deception and delusion. She's not taking "a quitter's way out." Nah, she'll do more for her state by abandoning it in the middle of a recession to raise money in the lower 48 to pay off her legal bills. And who inspired such selflessness? Why, our troops -- or "Troops," as she puts it. "They're bold, they don't give up, they take a stand and know that LIFE is short so they choose NOT to waste time." Honey, if our "Troops" borrowed a page from you, they'd be going AWOL en masse. The low point, however, was the poll she took of her five kids. This is what she claims to have asked them: "Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from OUTSIDE the Governor's office?" For the moment, let's accept the unlikelihood that she posed such a fatuously constructed, egregiously slanted question to her brood. How did they answer? "It was four 'yes's' and one 'hell yeah!' The 'hell yeah' sealed it -- and someday I'll talk about the details of that." No, she won't. We'll never hear of it again. Because she's lying or twisting the truth. How could a 15-month-old Down's baby comprehend that question? And what about Piper? She's eight. What's she supposed to say? "I don't want you making a positive difference and fighting for kids?" Okay, boys and girls, repeat after me: Mommy is a passive-aggressive monster.

But what else should we expect? For the past year, Andrew Sullivan has kept a running tally of Palin's numerous prevarications. Clearly the woman has a problem. But a reader of Sullivan's blog suggested that many Christian fundamentalists are untroubled by her cognitive dissonance because they live in a state of constant denial themselves, about evolution, homosexuality, torture, etc. And as Purdum observed, Palin's lack of intellect wins her praise from right-wing Republicans, who listen daily to the wisdom and profundity of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

In fact, all this talk by Limbaugh and Co. of principles is one reason why Palin may have a shot at the nomination in 2012. Anybody can espouse principles; policies require brains. So when you hear them go on ad nauseum (I mean you, Sean, you've really got to see somebody about that ideological Turette's) about principles, it's because they have no substantive ideas to propose. But liberals and independents must not let down their guard.

Palin's resignation does not mean she's out of the picture. John McCain's unforgivably reckless act of choosing her for a running mate gave her one-hundred-percent name recognition, an invaluable commodity in politics. We must remind the public why that name should never be preceded by any title other than governor.

Speculation hots up as Alaska goes cold on Sarah Palin

K Jordan wrote:

I really do not like this woman. To me she comes across as ignorant, ill bred, insincere, hypocritcal and quite dangerous in her views. I don't know if it's because she is religious or far right but her following of the religious right seem to mirror my view of her.

David Brooks Sarah Palin Represents A Fatal Cancer To The Republican Party

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

Brooks praised Palin's natural political talent, but said she is "absolutely not" ready to be president or vice president. He explain decisions."

The New York Times columnist also said that the "great virtue" of Palin's counterpart, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, is that he is anything but a "yes man."

"[Biden] can't not say what he thinks," Brooks remarked. "There's no internal monitor, and for Barack Obama, that's tremendously important to have a vice president who will be that way. Our current president doesn't have anybody like that."

Lexington: Richard Milhous McCain

Sep 18th 2008

Americans cannot escape from the shadow of Tricky Dick

MODERN Republicans admire no one more than Ronald Reagan, the man who, in their view, destroyed communism, rolled back welfare-state liberalism and reintroduced God into American politics. But when it comes to practising politics, particularly at election time, the Republicans have a rather different hero, a man of frowns rather than smiles: Richard Nixon.

Nixon's great contribution to Republican politics was to master the politics of cultural resentment. Before him, populism belonged as much to the left as the right. William Jennings Bryan railed against the eastern elites who wanted to crucify common folk on a "cross of gold". Franklin Roosevelt dismissed Republicans as "economic royalists". Nixon's genius was to discover that the politics of culture could trump the politics of economics-and that populism could become a tool of the right.

Nixon understood in his marrow how middle-class Americans felt about the country's self-satisfied elites. The "silent majority" had been disoriented, throughout the 1960s, by the collapse of traditional moral values. And they had boiled with righteous anger at the liberal elites who extended infinite indulgence to bomb-throwing radicals while dismissing conservative views as evidence of racism and sexism. Nixon recognised that the Republicans stood to gain from "positive polarisation": dividing the electorate over values. He also recognised that the media, which had always made a great pretence of objectivity while embracing a liberal social agenda, could be turned into a Republican weapon. He encouraged Spiro Agnew, his vice-president, to declare war on the "effete corps of impudent snobs" in the media, with their Ivy League educations and Georgetown social values.

Many people predicted that 2008 would finally mark the end of the Nixon era. The issues were too grave to be swamped by a squabble about culture, the argument went. And the candidates, in the form of John McCain and Barack Obama, were too noble to be distracted by the siren voices of the culture war. George Packer dismissed the remains of the culture wars as "the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that's brain-dead". Andrew Sullivan hoped that Mr Obama might finally take America "past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the baby-boom generation that has long engulfed all of us". This paper saw the two candidates as "America at its best."

Not quite. Two weeks after the Republican convention, America seems to be hellbent on repeating the 1972 election. Forget about the "sunny uplands" of post-partisan politics. The American electorate is still trapped in Nixonland: a land where Democrats and Republicans exchange endless gibes about who despises whom, where simmering class and regional resentments trump all other political considerations and where the airwaves crackle with accusations about lies and counter-lies.

The Republicans now have all the material that they need to do what they do best. Mr Obama is an Ivy-League-educated intellectual whose associates include unrepentant terrorists and swivel-eyed preachers. Mr McCain's running-mate, Sarah Palin, is a Nixonian fantasy come true, perfectly designed to create a cycle of accusation and counteraccusation. The "liberal media" cannot do its job without questioning Mrs Palin's qualifications, which are astonishingly thin; but they cannot question her qualifications without confirming the Republican suspicion that they are looking down on ordinary Americans. "Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators," Mrs Palin told the Republican convention, doing her best to channel Agnew. "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion-I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

Nixon's original insight remains as true now as it was in the late 1960s: lots of liberals do, indeed, look down on flyover Americans as stump-toothed imbeciles and, for some strange reason, lots of flyover Americans resent them for it. What is more, the culture wars have intensified since Nixon's last election, supersized by the Roe v Wade decision on abortion in 1973.
Not victims but victors

Yet the Republican Party's decision to rely so heavily on Nixon's 1972 template is nevertheless depressing. Aren't Republicans supposed to deplore the politics of victimhood? Conservatives make a good case that treating minority groups as victims diminishes America and institutionalises dependency. But when it comes to election-time they not only play the politics of victimhood, but play it with extraordinary relish, presenting ordinary Americans as the victims of diabolical conspiracies.

Haven't Republicans done quite well when it comes to power? They have controlled the White House for 28 of the past 40 years, and have a solid majority on the Supreme Court. And aren't Republicans rather good at getting their message across? Nixon was justified in feeling that the press liked to kick him around. But the past 30 years have seen the emergence of a conservative media establishment that excels at kicking liberals around, not least Fox News and talk radio. Nixon at least had the excuse that he spent his life as an outsider, despite his intellectual gifts and relentless hard work. Mr McCain is the ultimate insider: the offspring of a naval dynasty, a bad boy turned war hero, the media's favourite Republican.

The bigger question is whether the politics of resentment will be enough on its own to win an election. Rick Perlstein, the author of "Nixonland", points out that, from Nixon's time onwards, "culture" has always been just one part of the Republican trifecta, which also includes economic management and foreign policy. Richard Nixon and George Bush senior offered mastery of foreign policy. Ronald Reagan offered a revolutionary mixture of free-markets at home and assertiveness abroad. But this year the Republicans are left with nothing but a culture war to sell to the voters-Richard Nixon with the redeeming features left out.

[Nov 18, 2008] Anti-Intellectualism

It may well be that the Republican Party became the home of a specific brand of Lysenkoism... Like CPSU in the past: extremes meet. "While many factors contributed to America's destabilizing actions, a powerful one is anti-intellectualism..."
Sept 22, 2008 | Economist's View

Jeffrey Sachs says anti-intellectualism "could end up getting us all killed":

The American anti-intellectual threat, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: In recent years, the United States has been more a source of global instability than a source of global problem-solving.

Examples include the war in Iraq, launched by the US on false premises, obstructionism on efforts to curb climate change, meager development assistance and the violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. While many factors contributed to America's destabilizing actions, a powerful one is anti-intellectualism...

By anti-intellectualism, I mean especially an aggressively anti-scientific perspective, backed by disdain for those who adhere to science and evidence. The challenges faced by a major power like the US require rigorous analysis of information according to the best scientific principles.

Climate change, for example, poses dire threats... that must be assessed according to prevailing scientific norms... We need scientifically literate politicians adept at evidence-based critical thinking to translate these findings and recommendations into policy and international agreements.

In the US, however, the attitudes of President Bush, [and] leading Republicans ... have been the opposite of scientific. The White House did all it could for eight years to hide the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change. It tried to prevent government scientists from speaking honestly to the public. The Wall Street Journal has similarly peddled anti-science and pseudo-science to oppose policies to fight human-induced climate change.

These anti-scientific approaches affected not only climate policy, but also foreign policy. The US went to war in Iraq on the basis of Bush's gut instincts and religious convictions, not rigorous evidence. ...

These are ... powerful individuals out of touch with reality. They reflect the fact that a significant portion of American society, which currently votes mainly Republican, rejects or is simply unaware of basic scientific evidence regarding climate change, biological evolution, human health and other fields. ...

Recent survey data by the Pew Foundation found that while 58 percent of Democrats believe that human beings are causing global warming, only 28 percent of Republicans do. Similarly, a 2005 survey found that 59 percent of self-professed conservative Republicans rejected any theory of evolution, while 67 percent of liberal Democrats accepted some version of evolutionary theory.

To be sure, some of these deniers are simply scientifically ignorant, having been failed by the poor quality of science education in America. But others are biblical fundamentalists... They reject geological evidence of climate change because they reject the science of geology itself.

The issue here is not religion versus science. All of the great religions have traditions of fruitful interchange with -- and, indeed, support for -- scientific inquiry. ...

The problem is an aggressive fundamentalism that denies modern science, and an aggressive anti-intellectualism that views experts and scientists as the enemy. It is those views that could end up getting us all killed. ...

It is difficult to know for sure what is giving rise to fundamentalism in so many parts of the world. ... Fundamentalism seems to emerge in times of far-reaching change, when traditional social arrangements come under threat. The surge of modern American fundamentalism in politics dates to the civil rights era of the 1960s, and at least partly reflects a backlash among whites against the growing political and economic strength of non-white and immigrant minority groups in US society.

Humanity's only hope is that the vicious circle of extremism can be replaced by a shared global understanding of the massive challenges of climate change, food supplies, sustainable energy, water scarcity and poverty. ...

The US must return to the global consensus based on shared science rather than anti-intellectualism. That is the urgent challenge at the heart of American society today.

Comments:

Bruce Wilder says...

Jeffrey Sachs paints with a Manichean brush too broad even for me. I find myself genuinely puzzled, sometimes, by the determination of human beings, apparently, to "believe" what they will, but mostly it leaves me curious about what exactly people mean, by "believe".

It does not justify, in my opinion, in lumping together unrepentent racists, Republicans of various hues and stripes, religious fundamentalists of a dozen distinct types, neocon advocates of invading Iraq, global warming deniers in the pay of Exxon, hyper-partisan Know-Nothing bloggers and the likes of Richard Cheney or George W Bush.

I seriously doubt that the political coalition, which is the Republican Party, when they agree to swallow a sheet of semi-absurd talking points for the Sunday public affairs programs, also subscribe to some elaborate, and common epistemic rejection of consensus reality. They just want a tactical advantage in a contest of zingers.

The political discourse, is something, which I believe bears more detailed examination. And, in the political discourse, I don't see sincere denial of reality as being much of a problem -- the key word being, "sincere". In the political discourse, tactical use of lies has proven powerful.

The tactical use of lies is a serious problem. But, I wouldn't draw any particular connection to religious fundamentalism, other than to simply note that personalities in the authoritarian attitude cluster are always somewhat more gullible than others.

Richard B Cheney appears pretty contemptuous of democratic political discourse. He's willing to say anything, in public, to the Media, to get his way. I don't think that's religious fundamentalism in action, though. It might reflect an unwise and unattractive and dangerous political philosophy. But, lots of people are contemptuous of the political discourse and of public opinion. Including Jeffrey Sachs, I'd wager, at times; the above essay is an attack on a large swath of public opinion.

Sachs complains about "aggressive" fundamentalism and an "aggressive" anti-intellectualism.

The "aggressive" use of lies to manipulate the political discourse troubles me. I wouldn't dignify those lies, let alone the aggression, by conceding any sort of sincere belief in the lies. The aggression may be its own reward, or the success of the aggression in achieving power or recognition may provide the incentive. It doesn't matter. It is the fact, that in our Media environment, lies work pretty well.

If you want to be on television discussing global warming, being a global warming denier improves your odds of Media attention by orders of magnitude, as no one in the Media wants to slog thru science, when they can televise world-wide wrestling entertainment. A slugfest, where one guy opines mindlessly, but conveniently and cordially, while the other is forced to choose between his planned, earnest condescension and more videogenic, albeit undignified shouting and eyerolling, is more of a ratings winner -- also easier to manage if you are a typical talking-head moron, who is not particularly smart, but is rich, and doesn't care.

If you want to be elected President (or Vice-President), lies may also be the ticket, the more aggressive the lies, the better.

(Me, I am pro-Moose in this campaign. A Moose will never lie. Polar Bears are also big truth-tellers. I am on the side of the Moose and the Polar Bear.)

napablogger says...

This article strikes me as blind if not arrogant on the part of the author. I am a Republican, not a Christian by any means (don't like Christians) but it is not hard for me to see that there could be a lot of room for doubt in both the global warming and evolution theories.

Frankly I don't believe in either creationism or evolution. Creationism is absurd, and evolution is one of the weakest theories in science. That is why it is continually open to doubt, not that many people believe in creationism. If they really had solid proof the debate would go away.

Is there no room for saying we are not really sure what is going on? Has man gained knowledge to the point that science knows all? Sure, we have learned a lot more, even than we did ten years ago. But we still know very little, and people like Sachs really come off as arrogant to me.

Perhaps if he engaged those like myself who have doubts on these theories with serious arguments instead of crass judgementalism against us he would get further. But that would be intellectual of him, wouldn't it, and I forgot anti intellectualism rules, at least according to him.

Cyrille says...

"it is not hard for me to see that there could be a lot of room for doubt in both the global warming and evolution theories. "

Oh, in theory there could be. But actually there is hardly any.

"evolution is one of the weakest theories in science"

This is hilarious. Black is white. War is peace. Freedom is slavery.
You truly seem to be validating his case there.

BJ Feng says...

There are a great many who have strange broad based conspiracy theories that they refuse to reconsider. They cherry pick isolated facts, or use associations between participants to "prove" their theories. The most recent example is that since Paulson was CEO at Goldman, and has recruited past Goldman employees to help, the bailouts are designed primarily to enrich Goldman partners. Another is the theory that 9-11 was manufactured by Bush with Bin Laden as an accomplice. The association between Bush, The Caryle Group, The Saudi Royal Family, Bin Laden's family, and Bin Laden himself are used as "evidence". They know each other so therefore it's all arranged. Look there's even a photo of Bin Laden and Rumsfeld. Or the theory that we went to war for Iraq's oil, or to enrich Bush and his supposed oil company buddies.

As with all conspiracy theories, there is some truth. Goldman will benefit as will all financial institutions, and Bush can be linked to Bin Laden through a web of associates and acquaintances, but if looked at in totality, the theories deliberately ignore contrary evidence which is far more abundant. We all know the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon. Well, it's very likely YOU could be linked to Bin Laden through seven acquaintances also. And the bailouts were offered to prevent a financial meltdown, not just to save Goldman or to enrich Goldman. As for the War as a method to enrich Bush's oil industry friends, there are many ways for those in power to give handouts to friends without causing a war that brings an unparalleled level of scrutiny and attention. Much easier to give tax credits and incentives for some sort of research or project with vague goals and uncertain outcomes. A buried earmark within a bill would be yet another method.

No, wackos aren't confined to the Right by any means. And I dare say that wacko lefties are even more numerous than religious zealots who believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago. Just go to any protest, mention Bush and Iraq in passing, and sit back for theories that are too unrealistic for even a bad science fiction novel. The World Trade Center was demolished by the Bush administration using explosives to justify war. But why bother? You'd think crashing two planes into the WTC would provide enough justification. Not to mention that the conspiracy requires a level of competence in its execution that Bush simply does not have. If Bush had planned 9-11, the planes would have missed the WTC, crashed into each other, and the explosives would have failed to detonate leaving tons of evidence behind. Don't be embarrassed, we all know one of these wackos, and they simply cannot be convinced by logic.

JeffF says...

I find people like napablogger fascinating.

To reject evolution because of religious belief makes some kind of sense. Such a person has decided that their religious leaders have more credibility than scientific leaders on the issue (well, actually it is more like they have decided their religious leaders have more credibility on all issues than anyone else). Obviously they are wrong, but at least they have a reason of sorts, and a huge institution that is very important to them demanding they believe up is down.

To me rejecting it without that is a far more profound anti-intellectualism, and indicates a lot more doublethink. I have discussed it with various such people, and they all seem to think themselves very independent thinkers as they parrot talking points from the various science denial industries.

It comes around to something I was thinking about a couple months ago. Expertise. I think many people go through life never having a close and lasting contact with real world class expertise, and most of us won't ever be world class experts at anything. This leaves them unprepared to separate real expertise from fake expertise and vulnerable to charlatans.

Ninja Zombie says...

Roger: "Larry Summers job was to be President of Harvard. It wasn't to present "hypotheses" about women's intelligence. That he thought he'd press that hypothesis showed his disqualification for the job."

He was asked to give a speech at a conference devoted to the particular topic of women in science, which he did. What should he have done, discussed the Harvard budget or asked for donations?

Last I checked, college presidents are still permitted to be scholars.

Roger: "But this also shows how anti-intellectualism works. "

Indeed. When you don't like the science, attack the scientist. So much easier than gathering evidence and carefully refuting their hypothesis. Also no risk of having the data come out the wrong way.

"I hypothesize that women (Jews blacks etc.) are inferior, and I am playing scientist, not bigot, so if you attack me you are being unscientific."

Turn "inferior" into some measurable quality (e.g., "the distribution of jewish long distance running ability is P(x) dx, Q(x)dx for other ethnic group"). Once you do this, asking the question, coming up with ways to falsify it, and suggesting further study is science.

It would be bigoted to assume it true without evidence, but Larry Summers certainly did not do that. As he clarified in the Q&A after his speech, "I think I said it wasn't clear...I hope we could argue on the basis of as much evidence as we can marshal..."

William Smith says...

Prof Thoma,

I think that rather than the erosion of the traditionalist social arrangements, that modern fundamentalist extremism is driven by the increasing insulation of its leaders from risk.

Time was, in Europe, that these people lead Crusades, didn't engage in New World trade (the earth being flat), etc. They were buried, either figuratively or literally, because of their beliefs, or were rousted from office by revolt or popular vote.

Nowdays, civility, public/political influence, astroturfing, etc have allowed fundamental extremists to insulate themselves against the sort of risk that once got them killed.

This is not to say that they should be killed but that the situation may be counter-evolutionary because of new societial arrangements.

[Feb 17, 2008] The Dumbing Of America By Susan Jacoby

February 17, 2008 | Washington Post

Call Me a Snob, but Really, We're a Nation of Dunces

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book -- fiction or nonfiction -- over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time -- as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web -- seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate -- featuring the candidate's own voice -- dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

info@susanjacoby.com

Susan Jacoby's latest book is "The Age of American Unreason."

Who's stupid now

2006-04-17 | Neural Gourmet

Over at ConsortiumNews.com, author Robert Parry asks, "Is Bush Stupid -- Or Is America?" The article is a comprehensive, though possibly depressive, look at the hubris of the Bush Whitehouse. Parry, whose latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, intuits that even while Bush isn't any rocket scientist, he certainly thinks the American people are morons to the degree that they will buy anything if sold with folksy charm.

Of course it's well known that Americans hate anyone who shows signs of being an intellectual. One only need look to the smears lobbed by the Republicans against Senator Kerry in the last Presidential election. So it's no surprise that Americans are charmed by Bush folkisms, though there are encouraging signs that not even homey bon mots can distract the American people from the mess that the Bush administration has made of just about everything it has turned its' hand to. But how did we get this way? When did it start?

When did politics become the race to the bottom of the apple barrel of intellectual discourse and thought? Well, it seems that it was our own Founding Fathers who started us on the road to not only installing our mental inferiors in office but actively hating those who pursue the study of ideas. It's been a couple of weeks since I've quoted Richard Hofstadter at you so let me correct that now:

... Why, while most of the Founding Fathers were still alive, did a reputation for intellect become a political disadvantage?

In time, of course, the rule of the patrician elite was supplanted by a popular democracy, but one cannot blame the democratic movement alone for the decline in regard for intellect in politics. Soon after a party division became acute, the members of the elite fell out among themselves, and lost their respect for political standards. The men who with notable character and courage led the way through the Revolution and with remarkable prescience and skill organized a new national government in 1787-88 had by 1796 become hopeless divided in their interests and sadly affected by the snarling and hysterical differences which were aroused by the French Revolution. The generation who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution also wrote the Alien and Sedition Acts. Its emminent leaders lost their solidarity, and their standards declined. A common membership in the patrician class, common experiences in revolution and state-making, a common core of ideas and learning did not prevent them from playing politics with little regard for decency or common sense. Political controversy, muddied by exaggerated charges of conspiracies with French agents or plots to subvert Christianity or schemes to restore monarchy and put the country under the heel of Great Britain, degenerated into demagogy. Having no understanding of the uses of political parties or of the function of a loyal opposition, the Founding Fathers surrendered to their political passions and entered upon a struggle in which any rhetorical weapon would do.

Richard Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism In American Life (1963), p. 146

Hofstadter goes on from there to excruciatingly detail the anti-intellectual attack on Thomas Jefferson which one might easily have substituted for the Republican attack on Senator Kerry merely by simplifying and modernizing the language. Hofstadter quotes Federalist writer Joseph Dennie:

The man has talents but they are of a dangerous and delusive kind. He has read much and can write plausibly. He is a man of letters, and should be a retired one. His closet, and not the cabinet, is his place. In the first, he might harmlessly examine the teeth of a non-descript monster, the secretions of an African, or the almanac of Banneker. ... At the seat of government his abstract, inapplicable, metaphysico-politics are either nugatory or noxious. Besides, his principles relish so strongly of Paris and are seasoned with such a profusion of French garlic, that he offends the whole nation. Better for Americans that on their extended plains "thistles should grow, instead of wheat, and cockle, instead of barley," than that a philosopher should influence the councils of the country, and that his admiration of the works of Voltaire and Helvetius should induce him to wish a closer connexion with Frenchmen.

Joseph Dennie quoted in Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism In American Life (1963), p. 149

If even the Founding Fathers, who were generally men of learning, could not resist the temptation to cater to the anti-intellectualism prevalent in American popular culture, then what hope do we have 210+ years on of preventing our politicians and social leaders from doing the same? At one time I thought that the 1950s for all their stifling morality marked a new era of intellectualism, when the common man was not only encouraged but celebrated for engaging the world of ideas. A new found leisure time, strong economy and cheap transportation along with the not-so-subtle Cold War threat of Soviet conquest of science and mathematics through space exploration all provided, I believed, an atmosphere that valued learning and the academic.

I'm not so sure that was so anymore. As I've been reading these past few weeks, all that we detest in 2006 was there in seed form in 1956 and anti-intellectualism was the soil in which it took root and grew. And our parents in the 1960s and 1970s, ourselves in the 1980s and 1990s ignored the weeds that have all but displaced everything we value. Still, I've got to believe that if we ever hope for a return to the politics of Enlightenment philosophy guided by Lockeian pragmatism, then we must cultivate precisely that regard for the intellectual pursuit which seems so foreign to the American cultural soil. I simply see no other way.

And you know, in some odd way, it is conservative intellectuals in academia, despite the wolf cries of David Horowitz, that give me some measure of hope. For it is conservative academicians and scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, Norm Ornstein, or Bruce Fein who are uniquely qualified to criticize the ham-handed failures of the Republicans and, with the ear of moderate Republicans, lead the way for a renewed valuation of intellectuals in the public sphere.

Additional reading -- Tod Gitlin: The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism (Chronicle of Higher Education, December 8, 2000).

[Feb 16, 2008] The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism By TODD GITLIN

Dec 08, 2000 | The Chronicle

The presidential campaign ended, effectively, in a tie, but it did speak clearly about the value accorded intellectuals and intellectuality in American culture. What it declared is, to say the least, inauspicious.

However the next four years play out in the White House, George W. Bush deserves a certain credit for resurrecting -- though probably not intentionally -- the subject of anti-intellectualism. Like Dan Quayle before him, but even more conspicuously (Bush's gaffes provided horror-comic relief during a campaign marked by its narrowed themes and horse-race obsessions), the governor of Texas proved an inadvertent shill for the comedy routines that have become an increasingly visible showcase for the spectacle of national politics.

Gov. Malaprop accomplished that dubious objective by various means: semantic spatter, most memorably "subliminable" for "subliminal," but also "subscribe" for "ascribe," "retort" for "resort," "hostile" for "hostage," and so on; inversions and juxtapositions of singular verbs and plural nouns, as in "Our priorities is our faith" and "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream"; and an ineptitude so guileless ("Social Security is not a federal program") as to embarrass the literal-minded who affect intellectual seriousness, for after a certain point it seems rude to call attention to the obvious, or "elitist" to notice something that viewers haven't noticed.

Early in the campaign, Bush had famously dubbed the inhabitants of Greece "Grecians" and flubbed a talk-show host's quiz about names of foreign leaders. There was so much ignorance on display as to raise the suspicion, on one hand, that Bush was dyslexic or, on the other, that this lazy-minded graduate of Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business School was a chip off his father's pork rinds, appealing self-consciously to his audience's resentment of brains. Thanks to videotape and a media maw hungry for simple charges and sound bites, Duh-bya seemed to have stridden right out of central casting, a veritable personification of the politician as clown.

Yet none of the easy charges against Bush touched upon his more substantial incapacities: his lack of curiosity about the world (he has scarcely traveled outside the United States and Mexico City) and the ample evidence that he does not reason. During the debates, he was unresponsive to questions the answers to which he had not memorized. In public appearances, he spoke in sloganistic lists, not arcs. It would seem that, precisely because his thinking was disordered, the governor lost track of his points, so that items came out nonsensical, as in: "Drug therapies are replacing a lot of medicines as we used to know it."

There has been much talk since the election to the effect that "two nations" were evenly matched in the contest: roughly speaking, the rural, inland, heavily male, and white Bushland versus the urban, coastal, heavily female, black, and immigrant Goreland. To be sure, suspicion of intellectuals and intellectuality was visible in both camps, but most plainly so in Bush's. So it came to pass that half of the voting population was appalled that the other half judged this man of little discernible achievement, little knowledge of the world or curiosity about it, to be an acceptable president of the United States. His defenders were in the position of claiming that it didn't matter whether the governor was smart or not, he could hire a smart staff, thereby certifying that intelligence was something for underlings.

In the minds of many of Bush's supporters, the absence of thoughtfulness, the narrowness of scope, the presence of diminished capacity were all reduced to a question of "management style." Gore, meanwhile, suffered bad reviews for his dismissive and overbearing style of intellectual combat. In the eyes of half the population, the vice president fell prey to a suspicion that he was not only preachy but also a sharpie. In the media's campaign story line, the standard charge against Gore, shared by the Bush campaign and the comedians, was that, like the traditional confidence man, Gore -- too smart for his own good -- lied, while Bush was the amiable common man.

Thirty-seven years have passed since the appearance of the last substantial book to take seriously, in the words of its title, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Richard Hofstadter's tour de force, appearing in 1963, is actually a product of the 1950's. Like many intellectuals, Hofstadter was disturbed by the general disdain for "eggheads," haunted by Joseph McCarthy's thuggish assault on Dean Acheson and his Anglophilic ways, and dismayed by Eisenhower's taste for Western novels and his tangled syntax (which was not yet understood to be, at least sometimes, not simply incompetent but deliberately evasive). Had not Eisenhower himself in 1954 (no doubt in words written for him by another hand) cited a definition of an intellectual as "a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows"? (How much more congenial was Stevenson, who once cracked: "Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks!")

Probing for historical roots of a mood that was sweeping (if somewhat exaggerated by intellectuals), Hofstadter found that "our anti-intellectualism is, in fact, older than our national identity." He cited, among others, the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote in 1642, "The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee"; and Baynard R. Hall, who wrote in 1843 of frontier Indiana: "We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness."

Yet, according to the historian Lawrence W. Levine, the illiterate Rocky Mountain scout Jim Bridger could recite long passages from Shakespeare, which he learned by hiring someone to read the plays to him. "There is hardly a pioneer's hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare," Alexis de Tocqueville found on his trip through America in 1831-32. Here lay a supremely American paradox: The same Americans who valued the literacy of commoners were suspicious of experts and tricksters.

In his unsurpassed survey, Hofstadter described three pillars of anti-intellectualism -- evangelical religion, practical-minded business, and the populist political style. Religion was suspicious of modern relativism, business of regulatory expertise, populism of claims that specialized knowledge had its privileges. Those pillars stand. But, as Hofstadter recognized, something was changing in American life, and that was the uneasy apotheosis of technical intellect.

The rise of big science during World War II, and its normalization during the cold war, along with the Sputnik panic of 1957, made "brains" more reputable among respectable citizens who had their own ideas about the force of common sense but had to acknowledge that expertise delivered material goods. Then as now, the "brains" that became admirable were brains kept in their place. To the extent that brains were admirable, it was because they were instrumental -- they prevented polio, invented computers, launched satellites.

By the 1990's, the geek was an acceptable good guy, the nerd an entrepreneurial hero. That sense of the supreme position of useful intellect is preserved in the current phrase, "It's not rocket science" -- implying that real rocket science is the grandest field of intellectual dreams.

Hofstadter did most of his research before Kennedy came to the White House, and he understood that Kennedy's brief ascendancy did not change the fundamentals. Kennedy was not especially serious about the life of the mind, but he was elegant, witty, and, by all accounts, enjoyed the occasional presence of intellectuals. John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. were adornments. Never mind that Kennedy's reading tilted heavily toward Ian Fleming, who in the James Bond books supplied the president with a man of action's idea of the debonair, the sort of fellow whose European accent can be mistaken for mental accomplishment.

Even into the Johnson administration, the White House ceremonially invited intellectuals and high artists to visit, culminating in the public-relations disaster of a White House festival of the arts, in 1965, that was boycotted by some writers and artists while others circulated an antiwar petition at the event.

The force of Hofstadter's insight into persistent anti-intellectualism despite the rising legitimacy of technical experts would be clear five years after he published his book. George Wallace ran well in several Democratic Party primaries, and eventually, too, as a third-party candidate, while campaigning against "pointy-headed bureaucrats" -- precisely the classic identification of intellect with arbitrary power that Hofstadter had identified as the populist hallmark.

There was a left-wing version of this presupposition, too. A populist strain in the 60's student movement, identifying with the oppressed sharecroppers of the Mississippi Delta and the dispossessed miners of Appalachia, bent the principle "Let the people decide" into a suspicion of all those who were ostensibly knowledgeable. Under pressure of the Vietnam War, the steel-rimmed technocrat Robert S. McNamara came to personify the steel-trap mind untethered by insight, and countercultural currents came to disdain reason as a mask for imperial arrogance.

In his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Ronald Reagan deployed a classic anti-intellectual theme -- portraying students as riotous decadents. Real education was essentially a matter of training, and breaches of discipline resulted in nihilism and softness on communism. The Nixon-Agnew team proceeded to mobilize resentment against "nattering na-bobs of negativism," successfully mobilizing a "silent majority" against a verbose minority. That was to flower into a major neoconservative theme thereafter.

As candidate and president, the smooth-spoken if intellectually challenged Reagan succeeded in availing himself of an indulgent press and an adoring constituency that, at the least, did not mind his incapacity. He did not suffer from his evident contempt for professorial types, his half-educated ignorance of history and reliance on crackpot sources, his embrace of the notion that trees cause pollution. That he was opposed by sophisticated types only inflated his aura.

By the 1990's, "elitism" had become an all-purpose epithet, used by neoconservatives against the "new class" (consisting of all political intellectuals with the exception of themselves), but also by hard multiculturalists against "the neo-Enlightenment project," by relativists in general against objectivists in general. Populist resentment flourished even as (and, perhaps in part, because) populist egalitarianism of an economic stripe was dwindling.

The counterculture had introduced suspicion of professionalized rationality -- swelling the reputation of "alternative" medicine and elevating herbs and homeo-pathic, chiropractic, and osteopathic treatments to alternatives to plodding old Western therapies. Hofstadter had made much of the distinction between critical intellectuals (suspected, sometimes justifiably, of being ideologues) and expert intellectuals ("on tap, not on top," in the terms of the early atomic scientists), but thanks to the postmodern mood of the intervening decades, many experts had come to be tarred with the same brush as ideologues. College students were heard to complain that certain professors were excessive in their vocabularies. Even in the classroom, "boring" became an epithet of choice.

A central force boosting anti-intellectualism since Hofstadter published his book has been the bulking up of popular culture and, in particular, the rise of a new form of faux cerebration: punditry. Everyday life, supersaturated with images and jingles, makes intellectual life look hopelessly sluggish, burdensome, difficult. In a video-game world, the play of intellect -- the search for validity, the willingness to entertain many hypotheses, the respect for difficulty, the resistance to hasty conclusions -- has the look of retardation.

Again, there is a continuity to the earlier nation. Long before Hollywood or MTV, Tocqueville observed that Americans were drawn to novelty, turnover, and sensation. How much more so in a world of cascading, all-pervasive images, where two-thirds of children grow up with 24/7 access to television in their bedrooms, where video and computer games flourish, where mobile phones guarantee access when and where one chooses, where the right to be instantly entertained and in-touch seems to preoccupy more of the citizenry than the right to vote and to have their votes properly counted.

There is a seeming paradox that Hofstadter did not anticipate, but would have appreciated. In the torrent of popular culture, there emerges more talk about public affairs than ever before -- virtually nonstop talk about political concerns, debate on burning questions available at all hours of the day and night. But the talk that fills the channels amounts mainly to signals, gestures, and stances -- not reasoning.

Television reporting and punditry are the tributes that entertainment pays to the democratic ideal of discourse. The political talk does not, in the main, evaluate or research: It "covers." When CNN's Washington bureau chief can say casually, "The Texas governor hammered home some of his major themes, including Social Security," this is shorthand, but not only shorthand -- it is a surrogate for reasoning. Positions are signaled -- candidates "position themselves" -- rather than defended; no defending is demanded of them. A topic is a "theme" is a "position" is an "issue" is news.

All the more so does punditry diffuse a debased version of intellectual life, cornering intellect in the name of chat, operating by a sort of Gresham's law of discourse. Punditry is concerned with reviewing performances, rating "presidentiality," itemizing themes, relaying and interpreting spin, not thoughtfully assessing politicians' claims, evaluating their evidence, judging their reasoning. To assess the quality of what politicians say would require intellectual work for which the pundits do not demonstrate competency. Pundits are hired, rather, for the facility and pungency of their presentations and the ferocity and acceptability of their opinions.

The most bookish of pundits, George Will, was hired for the Anglophilic elegance of his sneers, not for logical mastery or historical depth. The punditocracy, as Eric Alterman calls it, does not assess either reason or reasons. Its job is simply to declare which issues are discussable, which positions presentable. It makes up for its intellectual deficits by supplying precooked opinion. The point is not to clarify: It is never to be at a loss for words. Surely the English infusion into American journalism -- the premium on corrosive wit, the fusion of intellectual name-dropping with tabloid meanness -- belongs to this trend: the show of intellect without the demanding work.

When Hofstadter wrote, the dominant intellectuals were either experts or ideologues. The most influential pundit was Walter Lippmann. But the crucial public development since Hofstadter's time is the rise of the pseudo-intellectual, thanks to the premium on smirking and glibness, which, in much of the popular mind, passes for intellect. The pundit is a smart person in both senses -- intelligent and a smarty-pants -- and his knowingness about how the game is played is a substitute for knowledge about what would improve society. Punditry is to intellectual life as fast food is to fine cuisine.

After Gore, self-cast as wonk-expert and therefore prey to precisely the anti-intellectualism that Hofstadter identified, challenged Bush to state his position on the Dingell-Norwood patients-rights' bill during the third debate, and Bush avoided the question, the pseudo-brains of ABC's This Week, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, made much mirth by mocking the names. They did not think it their obligation to clarify what Gore was talking about. Deadly, that would have been. Chock full of attitude, deploying the cheap gags and knowingness that mark them as qualified for their jobs, those maestros of the Beltway paraded their superiority to knowledge while (as Michael Kinsley pointed out) refraining from showing that they knew more than the public.

Surely television is a boon to anti-intellectualism, with its encouragement of emotional chords and comfort, but the degradations of public life that afflict us are not primarily visual achievements. It is language and sound, most of all, that warp the public discourse. That is true not only in the presentation of politics but of science, education, and many another subject. The sound-bite discourse cultivated by television pumps up the imperative "Cut to the chase," reinforcing the fetish of "the bottom line."

It is not that the sound-bite culture was imposed upon what was previously unrelievedly brilliant politics. From "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" to "I like Ike," American history is soaked in sound-bite prefigurations. Warren G. Harding may not have been much better than George W. Bush. But the more striking transformation in American commentary takes us in 50 years from Walter Lippmann, a man of tremendous historical and philosophical sophistication, to Tim Russert, an intelligent man who specializes in "Gotcha!" questions and gives Rush Limbaugh respectful interviews, defending that choice on the ground that, after all, Limbaugh "speaks to 20-million people." Thus does knowingness make its peace with populism.

In the Bushes, p�re et fils, we see another turn in the history of the American aversion to intellect. Hofstadter rightly noted the 19th-century aristocratic disdain for practical intellectuals, the business types and experts whose rising power displaced their own. The Roosevelt cousins, different in many respects, both honored the life of the mind: Theodore as writer, Franklin as a collector of advisers. Old money respected brains.

But the Bushes are men of social credentials who went to the right schools and passed through them without any detectable mark. They represent aristocracy with a populist gloss, borrowing what they can from the evangelical revival, siding with business and its distaste for time-wasting mind work, holding intellectual talent in contempt from both above and below. Pleasant enough for the pundits, they have been able to count on a surplus of populist ressentiment. That Bush fils, country-club Republican, could gain stature (and keep a straight face) in his presidential campaign for proposing an "education presidency" and denouncing an "education recession" tells us something about the closing of the American mind that Allan Bloom did not dream of.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New York University, and the author of The Sixties and The Twilight of Common Dreams. He is completing his next book, Infinite Glimmer: On a World Saturated With Images.

Matthew Yglesias (December 17, 2007) - Anti-Intellectualism Goes Mainstream (Politics)

David Frum looks at the rise of the Republican Fringe and says the conservative movement needs to engage in some self-criticism -- the anti-intellectualism and suspicion of expertise they've encouraged have allowed Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul to break through despite having quack economic policy ideas. In response Ross points out that Rudy Giuliani has a quack economic policy idea at the center of his campaign, too "I know that reducing taxes produces more revenue. The Democrats don't know that. They don't believe that." And yet Frum somehow can't find the strength to criticize him.

And in some ways, I'd note that it's even worse than yet. Mitt Romney, presumably under Greg Mankiw's influence, has always carefully refrained from saying he thinks cutting taxes increases revenue. But he still swears allegiance to the Gospel of Neverending Tax Cuts. And more to the point, he won't criticize his rivals for their adherence to a crackpot notion because he thinks that would be a losing issue for him. The rot goes all the way up and down the structure.

Vonbek777 wrote on Thu, 6/20/2013

albrt wrote:

most 21st century Americans would rather slag a striking union member or a whistle-blower or an occupier than a banker, and we not only voted for all the folks currently in office, we also voted in the primaries to select the supposedly unacceptable candidates for the general election.

And most 21st century Americans can't name the branches of government. Nor have they heard of the Fed. They're pawns kept in a state of fear and ecstasy 24/7 and you want them to engage in rational, critical thought. Good luck with that. They have been programmed to accept that Corporations are like people, special people who employ lots of little people and have America's best interest at heart. We're dealing with a religious issue at this point, not a political or financial, or even monetary. Corporate fear and ecstasy...and the meek bow their heads and pray the angel of unemployment passes them by.

Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism (Hardcover)

The Necessary Theory for Explanation Already Exists, June 25, 2010 L. Kurt Engelhart "Social critic" (Yountville, CA) -

A few authors have had an effect on the public mind that far outweighs their formal recognition. One of these is Karl Marx; another relevant here is Thorstein Veblen. Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class is an almost perfect explanation for the very valid observations that Furedi describes about the demise of intellectuality. Whether or not you approve of Veblen's conclusions, you can see his theory at work in Furedi's description of the condescension the privileged currently show for the "common people." While Furedi may be accurate in his characterization of the privileged as simply trying to maintain their status, Veblen shows that this is their only recourse. The privileged did not make this world, nor can the current holders of that status be held completely responsible for existing conditions. Veblen shows how it all came about, whether we like it or not. To a certain extent, Furedi's critics are correct in accusing him of wannabe elitism.

Both of these authors offer us an alternative: either we can keep it like it is, or we can change it. Unfortunately, changing it may be as long a project as that of getting us where we are.

The Republican party must abandon its anti-intellectualism by Carlo Strenger

guardian.co.uk

Republicans in the US keep wondering what they have to do in order to regain power at some point. They are looking for a suitable candidate and a political message that will do the trick. But I think they're looking in the wrong place.

Conservatism used to be a coherent worldview. I happen to disagree with it on many counts, but that I do respect it. Since Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France there has been a conservative intellectual tradition founded on two powerful ideas.

The first is that human nature is imperfect, and any political view that assumes that it can be perfected is deluded. Therefore political, social and cultural arrangements that have been working reasonably well should be maintained, because radical change is more likely to lead to chaos than to human flourishing.

One reason Republicanism has started to become incoherent, is that it dropped the idea of the imperfectability of human nature in one central domain. If indeed human nature is not likely to evolve in favourable directions without guidance and rules, it is very unclear why this principle should apply to every domain of life except business.

Of course Republicans had a set answer to this question: business, as opposed to sexuality and belief, doesn't need to be regulated, because the market does this job on its own. This dogma has ended up being nothing but a rationalisation of greed, as the stories that now emerge daily show (I particularly recommend Michael Lewis's riveting The End of Wall Street's Boom published in Porfolio). It has sent the whole world into the worst economic crisis since 1929 and can now safely be thrown into the dustbin of history along with discarded notions like central planning by politicians and the superiority of the white race.

The second important idea of the conservative tradition was that a society's viability hinges not only on its moral strength, but on maintaining high cultural and intellectual standards. This has been argued by thinkers ranging from Ortega y Gasset in Spain through Michael Oakeshott in Britain to TS Eliot and Leo Strauss. They all argued that cultural continuity is essential to maintaining a functioning public sphere and to educate minds truly capable of responsible citizenship.

Alas, none of this emphasis on the need for cultural nobility has been felt in Republicanism for a long time. Republican rule has been based on the skilled manipulation of the basest instincts of the human race in what is generally called the "conservative base": the phobia of outsiders and the hatred for those who are different, whether they are liberals, gays or, God forbid, atheists.

Karl Rove has done an excellent job mobilising these instincts and managed to get George Bush elected and re-elected, even though Bush notoriously is incapable of extemporising for two minutes without committing endless linguistic and logical blunders. From insistence on exalted cultural standards, Republicanism has deteriorated to a visceral hatred of sophistication and an instinctive dislike of science as a basis for rational discussion of facts.

For fair disclosure: I'm very happy that the Republicans lost the White House after they lost Congress, and I hope it's going to stay that way for quite some time. But I think that it is very unhealthy for any democracy not to have a lively dialogue between competing worldviews.

Because I believe in the value of trenchant discussion, I beg the Republican party to stop asking the wrong question. Don't ask who needs to replace Rove or Bush. Stop relying on the ferocious anti-intellectualism that has led you astray, and ask what serious contribution you have to the grave questions that are facing the US and the world. Ask what in the conservative tradition needs to be revived, if Republicanism is to contribute to the trove of ideas that make a polity thrive. And take into account that this will take a while, because the cultural destruction of the last decades has left you with the Herculean task of cleaning your Augean stables first.

The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism By TOD GITLIN

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The presidential campaign ended, effectively, in a tie, but it did speak clearly about the value accorded intellectuals and intellectuality in American culture. What it declared is, to say the least, inauspicious.

However the next four years play out in the White House, George W. Bush deserves a certain credit for resurrecting -- though probably not intentionally -- the subject of anti-intellectualism. Like Dan Quayle before him, but even more.

Republican Anti-Intellectualism

November 26, 2004 http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/

In the immediate aftermath of the election, I noted that the current state of electoral affairs privileges "style" over substance. The reticence of Americans to truly engage the issues and think critically about world affairs makes appeals to the basest of instincts--prejudice, bigotry, fear--an extremely effective electoral strategy, one at least partially responsible for recent GOP victories. Now, a paper by George Mason Government and Politics Professor Colleen J. Shogan gives some background and further analysis on this phenomona. She argues that Republican anti-intellectualism allows them to appeal to the "common man" and thus gain votes.

I got the link from Oxblog, whose David Adnesik gave a strong critique of the paper. I don't think it defeats the overall point, but I don't think that was the objective of the criticism.

Adnesik essentially argues that Shogan's article is biased because it presents academia and intellectuals as flawless. Isn't it possible that Republicans dislike the academy because of the certain (liberal) biases contained within it?

This is true, to an extent, and I think it represents a key weakness in Shogan's argument. I do not, however, think it is ultimately overriding. Even if Republicans have good reasons to ignore academics, this section struck me as almost definitely true:

"First, presidential power in the plebiscitary era relies upon the strategy of "going public." Television is a medium that encourages images of activity and exalted rhetoric. The political era of the sound-byte frustrates an extended intellectual discussion of complex policy issues. Americans now identify directly with the presidency through fleeting visual images, and this connection is more easily forged when the presidency is depicted as "personal" rather than disconnected, antiseptic, and intellectual.

Furthermore, the plebiscitary presidency is dependent upon the creation of "spectacles" that encourage awestruck citizens to become passive spectators rather than active participants in politics.15 Spectacles lend themselves to the portrayal of presidents as energetic, dynamic, hyper-masculine individuals who defeat evil in the name of American democracy, exemplified most recently by George W. Bush's landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The intellectual process of deliberation cannot constitute a spectacle. As images replace political debate, the plebiscitary presidency becomes more anti-intellectual
...
The glaring dilemma is that domestic and foreign policy have become progressively complex. An inverse relationship has developed between the demands of presidential leadership and its current institutional incentives and capacities. In this sense, anti-intellectualism is an indicator of the larger structural tensions that inhibit presidential leadership. The political benefit of anti-intellectualism is the pseudo-egalitarian connection it forges between presidents and the public. The danger is that the political importance of this connection has supplanted the more intricate demands of executive governance and democratic leadership."


I think this claim is true, as is Adnesik's. Republicans can reject the academy for perfectly solid, principled reasons. However, at the moment it is also in their political interests, because a) their base is motivated by issues that recieve the LEAST argumentative (as opposed to rhetorical) discussion in America (abortion, gay marriage, etc) and b) it allows them to maintain their advantage on national security even as they oppose the very programs (Homeland Security, Nuclear Plant Security, Nunn/Lugar, etc) that protect us. Furthermore, the rational reasons for rejecting intellectualism doesn't mitigate the negative impacts of anti-intellectualism: The impoverishment of political discourse and government via soundbites. Ultimately, the rejection of analysis and debate in favor of rhetoric and assertion will cause the death of American political institutions.

The Relationship between Educational Ideologies and Technology ...

Sarah Palin, anti-intellectualism, and the plight of the liberal arts by Michael J. Petrilli

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

"She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why."

--Peggy Noonan, "Farewell to Harms," Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2009

It's well known that feelings about Sarah Palin tend to run from red hot to ice cold, and for her supporters, statements like the one above are to be dismissed as ugly, unfair caricatures, developed at the hands of the liberal media and their acolytes of Beltway and Manhattan insiders.

And those supporters might be right. I've never met Sarah Palin; I don't know for sure how her mind works, or what she's read, or how thoughtful she might be. Like most Americans, all I know is what I've seen on television, in her speeches, debates, and interviews. Based on all of that, Noonan's characterization seems plausible.

But here's why it matters: There are lots of people in America who never learn "how the other sides think, or why." And that's a big problem for our country, and one that's likely to only grow worse as our education policies focus obsessively on making young people "college and career ready," the mantra repeated constantly by government officials, major foundations, and policy pundits across the political spectrum.

Sarah Palin was ready for college (five of them in fact). She was ready for a career (in the demanding commercial fisheries industry). But is that enough? Is it enough for any of our young people, even if they don't plan to run for higher office? Don't they need to be ready for citizenship, too? Doesn't preparation for citizenship entail learning the lessons of generations before us, by understanding the history of our country and the rest of the world; gaining insights from great works of literature; appreciating the potential of human creativity through exposure to majestic masterpieces of art and music; and engaging in the issues of the day so that we might all understand "how the other sides think"? Don't we want "thoughtful" people, not just ones "ready" for college and career?

There was a time when conservatives, Republicans even, valued candidates who could demonstrate mastery of subjects like history, geography, and political philosophy. As David Brooks wrote last fall, "Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals… conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind." These conservatives also stood up for the idea of a liberally educated populace.

Yet, explains Brooks, over the past fifteen years, Republican politicians, pundits, and talk show hosts have split the country between "wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland" and "the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts." In doing so, they repudiated some of the best aspects of modern conservatism, and paved the way for populist candidates like Palin.

And not surprisingly, says Brooks, this strategy has driven well-educated voters away from the GOP in droves. It also makes it nearly impossible for the Republican Party to be the standard-bearer for a rigorous education, as it seems uninterested in demanding such an education even for its candidates.

This ought to create opportunities for the left and the Democratic Party--to argue for a broad, rich, full curriculum, and to ensure that the next version of No Child Left Behind makes such a reality more likely in our nation's schools. Yet to my knowledge the group "Liberals for the Liberal Arts" has yet to be founded. Democratic reformers seem just as enamored with the utilitarian and narrow drive toward "college and work readiness" as their Republican counterparts, if not more so.

Consider the Obama Administration. One might think that a government led by a professorial, and yes, thoughtful President, who is so talented at demonstrating that he knows "how the other sides think" and who himself was fortunate to receive an excellent education, might be a natural advocate for the liberal arts. Yet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team are mute on the topic.

Take a look at Duncan's speeches. Over the past six months, he's made nine major policy addresses that have been posted on his Department's web site. And in those speeches, he's mentioned "history," "literature," and "geography" exactly zero times. Meanwhile, there were seven instances of "accountability," and "charter schools" left his lips an astounding twenty-nine times.

Duncan and his team are pushing for structural changes in the system; they, like most reformers these days, are ignoring the "stuff" of education--what students actually need to learn in order to become good Americans.

This is because the left remains uncomfortable saying that there is a body of knowledge that all young people need to master in order to be prepared for life in our democracy. They fear getting pulled into debates about which books students should read, which countries' histories are worth putting it the curriculum. Look what's happened to E.D. Hirsch. Here's a bona fide liberal arguing that poor kids need to gain "cultural literacy" through exposure to the liberal arts, and he lives with charges of racism as a result.

But these Democratic reformers had better be careful. An obsessive focus on nothing but basic skills in reading and math, which can be chopped into little bits of data with which we can make all manner of decisions, will result in a generation of students who will make Palin sound like Socrates.

So that's where we find ourselves today. We have a Republican Party that continues to celebrate anti-intellectualism in its candidates and in American life. And we have a Democratic Party, increasingly led and dominated by well-educated individuals, that is unwilling to stand up for a broad, liberal education for all.

In this case, there's little need to understand how the "other side" thinks, because both parties are on the same side: The wrong side.

By

Michael J. Petrilli Comments)

John Jensen

Mr. Petrilli: As a former thinking Alaskan, I couldn't believe Palin could be elected, nor that she could govern, nor that she could remotely fill the office of vice president -- all for the very reason you nail. She so plainly thinks on the surface and even to the point of proudly "representing" that very constituency. And because there are many in it, she'll probably draw large crowds when she comes south to speak. You and I ought to stand outside with a couple placards reading "There's More To It!"

This all matters hugely because it's an "in-your-face" example of what our present educational policies produce, as if George Bush's anti-intellectualism weren't enough of a lesson. What's happened is that in the last century, Progressive Education gradually convinced educators that they should aim for behavior instead of learning, and in fact that learning quantities of knowledge wasn't even the point of education. Since this is definitely taking the easier route, teachers have welcomed it decade by decade until the notion of truly assimilating and understanding a body of knowledge is not even suggested as a goal of education. The structure of courses, credits, "finals," throwaway notes, and returned texts all tell both students and teachers that "This will be over soon and you can forget this stuff."

We're getting exactly the results our system is designed for: people who can speak well when called on and not much more. You note E.D.Hirsch's book, which was for me a right angle turn in thinking about education. His central assertion--that knowing a body of common knowledge is what enables a society to prosper--still has not been grasped by the educational establishment. What's next, then? A good start would be to send all teachers on a retreat during which they assimilate your article line by line. Cheers!

[Feb 16, 2008] The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism By TODD GITLIN

"three pillars of anti-intellectualism -- evangelical religion, practical-minded business, and the populist political style."
Dec 08, 2000 | The Chronicle

The presidential campaign ended, effectively, in a tie, but it did speak clearly about the value accorded intellectuals and intellectuality in American culture. What it declared is, to say the least, inauspicious.

However the next four years play out in the White House, George W. Bush deserves a certain credit for resurrecting -- though probably not intentionally -- the subject of anti-intellectualism. Like Dan Quayle before him, but even more conspicuously (Bush's gaffes provided horror-comic relief during a campaign marked by its narrowed themes and horse-race obsessions), the governor of Texas proved an inadvertent shill for the comedy routines that have become an increasingly visible showcase for the spectacle of national politics.

Gov. Malaprop accomplished that dubious objective by various means: semantic spatter, most memorably "subliminable" for "subliminal," but also "subscribe" for "ascribe," "retort" for "resort," "hostile" for "hostage," and so on; inversions and juxtapositions of singular verbs and plural nouns, as in "Our priorities is our faith" and "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream"; and an ineptitude so guileless ("Social Security is not a federal program") as to embarrass the literal-minded who affect intellectual seriousness, for after a certain point it seems rude to call attention to the obvious, or "elitist" to notice something that viewers haven't noticed.

Early in the campaign, Bush had famously dubbed the inhabitants of Greece "Grecians" and flubbed a talk-show host's quiz about names of foreign leaders. There was so much ignorance on display as to raise the suspicion, on one hand, that Bush was dyslexic or, on the other, that this lazy-minded graduate of Andover, Yale, and Harvard Business School was a chip off his father's pork rinds, appealing self-consciously to his audience's resentment of brains. Thanks to videotape and a media maw hungry for simple charges and sound bites, Duh-bya seemed to have stridden right out of central casting, a veritable personification of the politician as clown.

Yet none of the easy charges against Bush touched upon his more substantial incapacities: his lack of curiosity about the world (he has scarcely traveled outside the United States and Mexico City) and the ample evidence that he does not reason. During the debates, he was unresponsive to questions the answers to which he had not memorized. In public appearances, he spoke in sloganistic lists, not arcs. It would seem that, precisely because his thinking was disordered, the governor lost track of his points, so that items came out nonsensical, as in: "Drug therapies are replacing a lot of medicines as we used to know it."

There has been much talk since the election to the effect that "two nations" were evenly matched in the contest: roughly speaking, the rural, inland, heavily male, and white Bushland versus the urban, coastal, heavily female, black, and immigrant Goreland. To be sure, suspicion of intellectuals and intellectuality was visible in both camps, but most plainly so in Bush's. So it came to pass that half of the voting population was appalled that the other half judged this man of little discernible achievement, little knowledge of the world or curiosity about it, to be an acceptable president of the United States. His defenders were in the position of claiming that it didn't matter whether the governor was smart or not, he could hire a smart staff, thereby certifying that intelligence was something for underlings.

In the minds of many of Bush's supporters, the absence of thoughtfulness, the narrowness of scope, the presence of diminished capacity were all reduced to a question of "management style." Gore, meanwhile, suffered bad reviews for his dismissive and overbearing style of intellectual combat. In the eyes of half the population, the vice president fell prey to a suspicion that he was not only preachy but also a sharpie. In the media's campaign story line, the standard charge against Gore, shared by the Bush campaign and the comedians, was that, like the traditional confidence man, Gore -- too smart for his own good -- lied, while Bush was the amiable common man.

Thirty-seven years have passed since the appearance of the last substantial book to take seriously, in the words of its title, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Richard Hofstadter's tour de force, appearing in 1963, is actually a product of the 1950's. Like many intellectuals, Hofstadter was disturbed by the general disdain for "eggheads," haunted by Joseph McCarthy's thuggish assault on Dean Acheson and his Anglophilic ways, and dismayed by Eisenhower's taste for Western novels and his tangled syntax (which was not yet understood to be, at least sometimes, not simply incompetent but deliberately evasive). Had not Eisenhower himself in 1954 (no doubt in words written for him by another hand) cited a definition of an intellectual as "a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows"? (How much more congenial was Stevenson, who once cracked: "Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks!")

Probing for historical roots of a mood that was sweeping (if somewhat exaggerated by intellectuals), Hofstadter found that "our anti-intellectualism is, in fact, older than our national identity." He cited, among others, the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote in 1642, "The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee"; and Baynard R. Hall, who wrote in 1843 of frontier Indiana: "We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness."

Yet, according to the historian Lawrence W. Levine, the illiterate Rocky Mountain scout Jim Bridger could recite long passages from Shakespeare, which he learned by hiring someone to read the plays to him. "There is hardly a pioneer's hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare," Alexis de Tocqueville found on his trip through America in 1831-32. Here lay a supremely American paradox: The same Americans who valued the literacy of commoners were suspicious of experts and tricksters.

In his unsurpassed survey, Hofstadter described three pillars of anti-intellectualism -- evangelical religion, practical-minded business, and the populist political style. Religion was suspicious of modern relativism, business of regulatory expertise, populism of claims that specialized knowledge had its privileges. Those pillars stand. But, as Hofstadter recognized, something was changing in American life, and that was the uneasy apotheosis of technical intellect.

The rise of big science during World War II, and its normalization during the cold war, along with the Sputnik panic of 1957, made "brains" more reputable among respectable citizens who had their own ideas about the force of common sense but had to acknowledge that expertise delivered material goods. Then as now, the "brains" that became admirable were brains kept in their place. To the extent that brains were admirable, it was because they were instrumental -- they prevented polio, invented computers, launched satellites.

By the 1990's, the geek was an acceptable good guy, the nerd an entrepreneurial hero. That sense of the supreme position of useful intellect is preserved in the current phrase, "It's not rocket science" -- implying that real rocket science is the grandest field of intellectual dreams.

Hofstadter did most of his research before Kennedy came to the White House, and he understood that Kennedy's brief ascendancy did not change the fundamentals. Kennedy was not especially serious about the life of the mind, but he was elegant, witty, and, by all accounts, enjoyed the occasional presence of intellectuals. John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. were adornments. Never mind that Kennedy's reading tilted heavily toward Ian Fleming, who in the James Bond books supplied the president with a man of action's idea of the debonair, the sort of fellow whose European accent can be mistaken for mental accomplishment.

Even into the Johnson administration, the White House ceremonially invited intellectuals and high artists to visit, culminating in the public-relations disaster of a White House festival of the arts, in 1965, that was boycotted by some writers and artists while others circulated an antiwar petition at the event.

The force of Hofstadter's insight into persistent anti-intellectualism despite the rising legitimacy of technical experts would be clear five years after he published his book. George Wallace ran well in several Democratic Party primaries, and eventually, too, as a third-party candidate, while campaigning against "pointy-headed bureaucrats" -- precisely the classic identification of intellect with arbitrary power that Hofstadter had identified as the populist hallmark.

There was a left-wing version of this presupposition, too. A populist strain in the 60's student movement, identifying with the oppressed sharecroppers of the Mississippi Delta and the dispossessed miners of Appalachia, bent the principle "Let the people decide" into a suspicion of all those who were ostensibly knowledgeable. Under pressure of the Vietnam War, the steel-rimmed technocrat Robert S. McNamara came to personify the steel-trap mind untethered by insight, and countercultural currents came to disdain reason as a mask for imperial arrogance.

In his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Ronald Reagan deployed a classic anti-intellectual theme -- portraying students as riotous decadents. Real education was essentially a matter of training, and breaches of discipline resulted in nihilism and softness on communism. The Nixon-Agnew team proceeded to mobilize resentment against "nattering na-bobs of negativism," successfully mobilizing a "silent majority" against a verbose minority. That was to flower into a major neoconservative theme thereafter.

As candidate and president, the smooth-spoken if intellectually challenged Reagan succeeded in availing himself of an indulgent press and an adoring constituency that, at the least, did not mind his incapacity. He did not suffer from his evident contempt for professorial types, his half-educated ignorance of history and reliance on crackpot sources, his embrace of the notion that trees cause pollution. That he was opposed by sophisticated types only inflated his aura.

By the 1990's, "elitism" had become an all-purpose epithet, used by neoconservatives against the "new class" (consisting of all political intellectuals with the exception of themselves), but also by hard multiculturalists against "the neo-Enlightenment project," by relativists in general against objectivists in general. Populist resentment flourished even as (and, perhaps in part, because) populist egalitarianism of an economic stripe was dwindling.

The counterculture had introduced suspicion of professionalized rationality -- swelling the reputation of "alternative" medicine and elevating herbs and homeo-pathic, chiropractic, and osteopathic treatments to alternatives to plodding old Western therapies. Hofstadter had made much of the distinction between critical intellectuals (suspected, sometimes justifiably, of being ideologues) and expert intellectuals ("on tap, not on top," in the terms of the early atomic scientists), but thanks to the postmodern mood of the intervening decades, many experts had come to be tarred with the same brush as ideologues. College students were heard to complain that certain professors were excessive in their vocabularies. Even in the classroom, "boring" became an epithet of choice.

A central force boosting anti-intellectualism since Hofstadter published his book has been the bulking up of popular culture and, in particular, the rise of a new form of faux cerebration: punditry. Everyday life, supersaturated with images and jingles, makes intellectual life look hopelessly sluggish, burdensome, difficult. In a video-game world, the play of intellect -- the search for validity, the willingness to entertain many hypotheses, the respect for difficulty, the resistance to hasty conclusions -- has the look of retardation.

Again, there is a continuity to the earlier nation. Long before Hollywood or MTV, Tocqueville observed that Americans were drawn to novelty, turnover, and sensation. How much more so in a world of cascading, all-pervasive images, where two-thirds of children grow up with 24/7 access to television in their bedrooms, where video and computer games flourish, where mobile phones guarantee access when and where one chooses, where the right to be instantly entertained and in-touch seems to preoccupy more of the citizenry than the right to vote and to have their votes properly counted.

There is a seeming paradox that Hofstadter did not anticipate, but would have appreciated. In the torrent of popular culture, there emerges more talk about public affairs than ever before -- virtually nonstop talk about political concerns, debate on burning questions available at all hours of the day and night. But the talk that fills the channels amounts mainly to signals, gestures, and stances -- not reasoning.

Television reporting and punditry are the tributes that entertainment pays to the democratic ideal of discourse. The political talk does not, in the main, evaluate or research: It "covers." When CNN's Washington bureau chief can say casually, "The Texas governor hammered home some of his major themes, including Social Security," this is shorthand, but not only shorthand -- it is a surrogate for reasoning. Positions are signaled -- candidates "position themselves" -- rather than defended; no defending is demanded of them. A topic is a "theme" is a "position" is an "issue" is news.

All the more so does punditry diffuse a debased version of intellectual life, cornering intellect in the name of chat, operating by a sort of Gresham's law of discourse. Punditry is concerned with reviewing performances, rating "presidentiality," itemizing themes, relaying and interpreting spin, not thoughtfully assessing politicians' claims, evaluating their evidence, judging their reasoning. To assess the quality of what politicians say would require intellectual work for which the pundits do not demonstrate competency. Pundits are hired, rather, for the facility and pungency of their presentations and the ferocity and acceptability of their opinions.

The most bookish of pundits, George Will, was hired for the Anglophilic elegance of his sneers, not for logical mastery or historical depth. The punditocracy, as Eric Alterman calls it, does not assess either reason or reasons. Its job is simply to declare which issues are discussable, which positions presentable. It makes up for its intellectual deficits by supplying precooked opinion. The point is not to clarify: It is never to be at a loss for words. Surely the English infusion into American journalism -- the premium on corrosive wit, the fusion of intellectual name-dropping with tabloid meanness -- belongs to this trend: the show of intellect without the demanding work.

When Hofstadter wrote, the dominant intellectuals were either experts or ideologues. The most influential pundit was Walter Lippmann. But the crucial public development since Hofstadter's time is the rise of the pseudo-intellectual, thanks to the premium on smirking and glibness, which, in much of the popular mind, passes for intellect. The pundit is a smart person in both senses -- intelligent and a smarty-pants -- and his knowingness about how the game is played is a substitute for knowledge about what would improve society. Punditry is to intellectual life as fast food is to fine cuisine.

After Gore, self-cast as wonk-expert and therefore prey to precisely the anti-intellectualism that Hofstadter identified, challenged Bush to state his position on the Dingell-Norwood patients-rights' bill during the third debate, and Bush avoided the question, the pseudo-brains of ABC's This Week, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, made much mirth by mocking the names. They did not think it their obligation to clarify what Gore was talking about. Deadly, that would have been. Chock full of attitude, deploying the cheap gags and knowingness that mark them as qualified for their jobs, those maestros of the Beltway paraded their superiority to knowledge while (as Michael Kinsley pointed out) refraining from showing that they knew more than the public.

Surely television is a boon to anti-intellectualism, with its encouragement of emotional chords and comfort, but the degradations of public life that afflict us are not primarily visual achievements. It is language and sound, most of all, that warp the public discourse. That is true not only in the presentation of politics but of science, education, and many another subject. The sound-bite discourse cultivated by television pumps up the imperative "Cut to the chase," reinforcing the fetish of "the bottom line."

It is not that the sound-bite culture was imposed upon what was previously unrelievedly brilliant politics. From "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" to "I like Ike," American history is soaked in sound-bite prefigurations. Warren G. Harding may not have been much better than George W. Bush. But the more striking transformation in American commentary takes us in 50 years from Walter Lippmann, a man of tremendous historical and philosophical sophistication, to Tim Russert, an intelligent man who specializes in "Gotcha!" questions and gives Rush Limbaugh respectful interviews, defending that choice on the ground that, after all, Limbaugh "speaks to 20-million people." Thus does knowingness make its peace with populism.

In the Bushes, p�re et fils, we see another turn in the history of the American aversion to intellect. Hofstadter rightly noted the 19th-century aristocratic disdain for practical intellectuals, the business types and experts whose rising power displaced their own. The Roosevelt cousins, different in many respects, both honored the life of the mind: Theodore as writer, Franklin as a collector of advisers. Old money respected brains.

But the Bushes are men of social credentials who went to the right schools and passed through them without any detectable mark. They represent aristocracy with a populist gloss, borrowing what they can from the evangelical revival, siding with business and its distaste for time-wasting mind work, holding intellectual talent in contempt from both above and below. Pleasant enough for the pundits, they have been able to count on a surplus of populist ressentiment. That Bush fils, country-club Republican, could gain stature (and keep a straight face) in his presidential campaign for proposing an "education presidency" and denouncing an "education recession" tells us something about the closing of the American mind that Allan Bloom did not dream of.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New York University, and the author of The Sixties and The Twilight of Common Dreams. He is completing his next book, Infinite Glimmer: On a World Saturated With Images.

Matthew Yglesias (December 17, 2007) - Anti-Intellectualism Goes Mainstream (Politics)

David Frum looks at the rise of the Republican Fringe and says the conservative movement needs to engage in some self-criticism -- the anti-intellectualism and suspicion of expertise they've encouraged have allowed Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul to break through despite having quack economic policy ideas. In response Ross points out that Rudy Giuliani has a quack economic policy idea at the center of his campaign, too "I know that reducing taxes produces more revenue. The Democrats don't know that. They don't believe that." And yet Frum somehow can't find the strength to criticize him.

And in some ways, I'd note that it's even worse than yet. Mitt Romney, presumably under Greg Mankiw's influence, has always carefully refrained from saying he thinks cutting taxes increases revenue. But he still swears allegiance to the Gospel of Neverending Tax Cuts. And more to the point, he won't criticize his rivals for their adherence to a crackpot notion because he thinks that would be a losing issue for him. The rot goes all the way up and down the structure.

Is Bush Stupid -- Or Is America?

Many Americans believe George W. Bush is uninformed, simpleminded and, in a single word, stupid. But there is a different way to look at the evidence and conclude that while Bush may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, it is he who thinks the American people are the real dullards.

After all, Bush is the one who explains the "facts" about current events as if he's speaking to people with the mental capacity of a five-year-old. He also assumes – with some justification – that his listeners don't mind being misled and lied to, as long as he gives them some bromides that make them feel good.

Regarding the Iraq War and the War on Terror, Bush has mastered a few talking points that sound pleasing but are essentially nonsense – and he then repeats them endlessly to appreciative audiences as he did on Jan. 11 in Louisville, Kentucky.

For instance, Bush served up the old canard about how before Sept. 11, 2001, Americans felt they were protected by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but afterwards they realized they faced a unique danger that required sacrifice of civil liberties at home and "preemptive" wars against potential enemies abroad.

"You know, when I was growing up, or other Baby Boomers here were growing up, we felt safe because we had these vast oceans that could protect us from harm's way," Bush told the "town hall" participants in Louisville.

"September the 11th changed all that. And so I vowed that we would take threats seriously. If we saw a threat, we would take threats seriously before they fully materialized. And I saw a threat in Saddam Hussein."

The premise to this argument, however, is completely false. No Baby Boomer, who grew up with drills for hiding under desks in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, felt safe because of the two oceans. Americans of all ages knew that intercontinental ballistic missiles could snuff out their lives in minutes.

Bush must know this reality, too, but his lie about the two oceans lets him suggest that the Sept. 11 attacks represented a completely new kind of danger, which, in turn, justified setting aside centuries of American traditions and giving Bush vast powers as the nation's "unitary executive."

Democracy & Peace

Then, there's Bush's argument equating democracy and peace, a claim that is the rhetorical underpinning of his entire Middle East strategy, which holds that democracy in Iraq will spread across the region and spell doom for Islamic extremism.

"It's hard for some in our country to connect the rise of democracy with peace," Bush said in Louisville. "History has proven that democracies yield the peace."

But again – while it may be nice to think of democracies as inherently peaceful – the historical reality is often quite different.

Even in ancient times, democracies often were the instigators of war. Democratic Athens broke the Peace of Nicias in 418 B.C. by attacking undemocratic Sparta. The Roman Republic waged war on its neighbors for centuries before it became an empire.

Even in American history, the democratic government of the United States has waged war against Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans and even against other Americans in the Civil War. In modern times, the United States also has gone to war without direct provocation, most notably in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq now.

European democracies have a similarly spotty record. Great Britain fought to maintain its empire even after the monarchy had given way to democratic institutions. The same was true for France, which fought colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria in the years after World War II.

In Germany, Adolf Hitler exploited opportunities created by democracy in his rise to power, as his nationalist socialism resonated with voters suffering economic deprivation and harboring anti-Semitic prejudices. After winning the largest number of seats in parliament, Hitler engineered his fateful appointment as chancellor in 1933.

Conversely, history offers examples of relative peace under undemocratic governments, such as the Chinese Empire and Pax Romanum, although the peace was often enforced through internal repression.

History also teaches that democracy is no guarantee of justice. Consider the oppression of African-Americans in the United States, first through slavery and then segregation.

Nor is moderation an inevitable byproduct. Democratic elections in some Muslim countries have boosted Islamic fundamentalists, not secular moderates, as happened in Algeria where fundamentalist electoral gains were so strong that the army intervened to prevent an Islamist victory.

In Iraq, too, U.S.-imposed "democratic institutions" have not been a cure-all. Indeed, they have strengthened Shiite fundamentalists and further divided the country along sectarian lines, rather than elect moderate leaders and unite the rival religious factions.

The Iraqi constitution, shepherded by the Bush administration, creates sectarian-dominated regions that leave the minority Sunnis in central Iraq largely without access to the nation's chief resource, oil, a practical issue that is fueling the Sunni-led insurgency.

Since the last round of elections, leaders of the majority Shiites have made clear that they have no intention of revising the constitution substantially to give the rival Sunnis a bigger share of Iraq's oil, which rests mostly in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north.

"The first principle is not to change the essence of the constitution," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful Shiite party in the ruling coalition. "It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces." [Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2006]

Though the spread of democracy may be desirable for many reasons, Bush's thesis that elections necessarily solve difficult political problems is simply not supported by history. In the Middle East, resolution of the Palestine-Israeli conflict and fairer distribution of the region's oil wealth could be equally or more important in achieving peace and reconciliation.

Rule of the majority can become tyranny of the majority, a concern of America's Founding Fathers who created a complex system of constitutional checks and balances for protecting liberty.

Florida Election

Bush's critics also question his sincerity about democracy, given the fact that he seized power in 2001 after losing the popular vote and then getting his partisan allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a state recount in Florida. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com "So Bush Did Steal the White House."]

Many Americans are worried, too, about Bush's consolidation of government power through what his supporters -- including Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito -- call the "unitary executive," a radical concept that gives Bush many of the powers traditionally held by the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Bush now asserts the right to interpret laws as he sees fits, as he did in announcing that he is not bound by the McCain anti-torture amendment, and can ignore other statutes and even constitutional protections when he so wishes, as he did in ordering warrantless wiretaps of American citizens.

"The President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently," former Vice President Al Gore commented in a Jan. 16 speech in Washington. "A President who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."

Yet, Bush's comforting language about the blessings of democracy tends to soothe his listeners, like children hearing a bedtime story.

Wiretapping

Bush also dished up to the Louisville audience a pleasant confection about his wiretapping operation, calling it a "limited" program that targets only people who are talking to al-Qaeda operatives.

"It seems like to me that if somebody is talking to al-Qaeda, we want to know why," Bush said in his folksy style that had heads nodding. Bush said the program consisted of "taking known al-Qaeda numbers – numbers from known al-Qaeda people – and just trying to find out why the phone calls are being made."

The reality, however, appears to be quite different. First, the program that Bush describes could easily have been accomplished under the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which even lets the government start wiretapping before going to a secret court to get a warrant.

What the domestic spying actually seems to entail is the National Security Agency scooping up conversations and e-mails of a large number of Americans and using the data to generate thousands of tips each month, passed on to the FBI for further investigation, the New York Times reported based on interviews with federal officials.

"But virtually all of [the tips], current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans," the Times reported. "FBI officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. … Some FBI officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy." [NYT, Jan. 17, 2006]

Bush also assured the Louisville "town hall" that "in order to safeguard the civil liberties of the people, we have this program fully scrutinized on a regular basis. It's been authorized, reauthorized many times. We got lawyers looking at it from different branches of government.

"We have briefed the leadership of the United States Congress, both Republican and Democrat, as well as the leaders of the intelligence committees, both Republican and Democrats, about the nature of this program. We gave them a chance to express their disapproval or approval."

What Bush left out, however, was the fact that he was the one authorizing and reauthorizing the program, with the only significant legal advice coming from his appointed lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department. When nonpartisan lawyers were brought in, they raised objections.

In March 2004, for instance, when a professional Justice Department lawyer, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, was asked to sign off on one recertification of the program – because Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital – Comey refused, the New York Times reported.

Comey's objection caused White House chief of staff Andrew Card and Bush's counsel Alberto Gonzales to carry the recertification order over to the hospital where Ashcroft was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. [NYT, Jan. 1, 2006]

As for Bush's claims about congressional knowledge and consent, some of the few in Congress who were briefed have complained that they were given only sketchy information and were not allowed to discuss the program even with their own staff experts.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, ended up sending a hand-written letter about his concerns to Vice President Dick Cheney, but got no reply.

Hussein's War

Bush's Louisville listeners also heard one of Bush's golden oldies, his bogus account of how he reluctantly went to war in Iraq only after Saddam Hussein had refused to let United Nations weapons inspectors in to search for weapons of mass destruction.

"I went to the United Nations," Bush told his Louisville audience. "Some of you were probably concerned here in Kentucky that it seemed like the President was spending a little too much time in the United Nations.

"But I felt it was important to say to the world that this international body, that we want to be effective, spoke loud and clear not once, but 15 odd times to Saddam Hussein – said, 'disarm, get rid of your weapons, don't be the threat that you are, or face serious consequences.'

"That's what the international body said. And my view is, is that in order for the world to be effective, when it says something, it must mean it. We gave the opportunity to Saddam Hussein to open his country up. It was his choice. He chose war, and he got war."

Bush's listeners applauded this fictional account of the run-up to war in Iraq, which is dishonest both in its assertion that Hussein's defiance on weapons inspection forced Bush to go to war and in its suggestion that the invasion was done at the behest of the U.N.

But Bush has been presenting this bogus pre-war history since July 2003 when the absence of WMD was becoming obvious and an Iraqi insurgency was beginning to kill scores of American soldiers.

In his first version of this revisionist history two-and-a-half years ago, Bush said about Hussein, "we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

In reality, Hussein opened up his country to U.N. inspections in November 2002 and allowed them to search wherever they wanted for the WMD that even Bush's own inspectors later concluded wasn't there. Bush forced the U.N. inspectors to leave in March 2003 so the invasion could proceed.

When the mainstream U.S. news media failed to object to Bush's rewritten history, he continued to spin out this lie in various forms, including at the Republican National Convention and during the presidential debates. [For more on this longstanding falsehood, see Consortiumnews.com's "President Bush, With the Candlestick…"]

Debate Limits

Bush finished off his presentation to the Louisville "town hall" by saying he doesn't mind that some Americans disagree with his policies, so long as they don't question his motivations and his honesty.

"What I don't like is when somebody said, he lied," Bush complained. "Or, they're in there for oil. Or they're doing it because of Israel. That's the kind of debate that basically says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise."

So, the question for the American people remains – is Bush so ill-informed that his war policy is guided by a false historical analysis and so forgetful that he can't remember important events in which he played a leading role?

Or does Bush think that the American people are so gullible that they will buy whatever he sells them – as long as he does it with a folksy charm?


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

CONTEXT Mark Crispin Miller

What is your Department? It has to be Prevarication going back to Age of Pericles!!!!! You didn't go to Yale with your hero Clinton did you or maybe Harvard with Gore????
--from ERKTHE@aol.com, 6/13/01

I didn't go to Yale with Clinton--who is not my hero--OR with Bush, and I didn't go to Harvard with Gore OR Bush. I went to Northwestern.

Do you have a point to make, or a serious question to ask? Or would you rather just hurl insults? Is that your idea of rational debate?
--from mcm7@pop.nyu.edu, 6/13/01

Any academic who wants to learn about American anti-intellectualism has two ways to go. On the one hand, you can take the pastoral route, and delve into the problem as an intellectual--reading, in the quiet of your armchair, Hofstadter's classic dissertation, say, and/or Dan T. Carter's fine biography of George Wallace, and/or any other such enlightening work. Or you can drop the books, put on your goggles and your rubber boots, and venture forth into the endless shitstorm that is now our civic culture, and in that deluge try to make a reasonable argument. You do that, and you will quickly learn a lot--more, in fact, than you might pick up just by reading, and, perhaps, a lot more than you bargained for.

Although it got much riskier on 9/11, the latter course of study was already pretty harrowing; I'd taken it (and without knowing it) when, in June, I started to promote The Bush Dyslexicon--a dark assessment of George W. Bush, and an indictment of the U.S. major media, based on meticulous analysis both of Bush's off-the-cuff remarks and of their treatment by the stalwarts of the media. Because the book got few reviews (no big surprise), I tried to do as Richard Nixon did in 1952: I "took my case directly to the people"--not, of course, through truculent prime-time asides about my dog, but by doing as much talk radio as possible, to tell the audience what, by studying his utterances, I had discovered deep in the heart of W, and at the top of our defunct democracy.

What I had discovered was not flattering to Bush. Close study of his jabberings not only reconfirms the fact of his supreme unfitness for the presidential job (a fact that even certain of his own supporters grudgingly conceded, prior to 9/11), but also throws into relief that bone-deep nastiness which all the spin about his "likeability" could never quite obscure. His thin skin, his short fuse, his elephantine memory for slights (and quickness to imagine them), and--above all--his perfect lack of empathy shine through in countless of his gaffes, and in most of his jokes. It is (or so I argue in the book) all there in the man's own utterances, which, in cold print, are every bit as edifying as the propaganda drive on his behalf was mystifying.

Once I started to promote the book, I learned that Bush's psychopathic traits exert a strong appeal to his most zealous fans, many of whom took full advantage of the first-strike capabilities of cyber-space to let me know their thoughts. For example, I received this e-mail in mid-August--just after W's big speech on stem cell research--with "THE BUSH DYSLEXICON" written in the subject line:

To call that message "anti-intellectual" would be a comic understatement. Since it's unlikely that he read the book, or knows anybody who would have a copy, Fred could not be said so much to hate it as to have despised the very thought of it. Any act of critical intelligence, any reasoned effort to see through the mask of power, enrages types like Fred. Such high-strung troops demand a God-like father-figure who will always reassure them that they needn't think, and so they snap into attack mode any time they sense a threat to such authority; and in this case, their fury is especially intense, because their idol is so small a man that even they can see that something's missing. Thus Fred cast that feeble speech of W's, which thrilled no-one, as if it had been one of Hitler's finest--a rafter-rattling diatribe that really put it to, or up, the assholes of the left.

Anyone who flips out at the thought of personal analysis is really asking for it himself. This, of course, is true not only of such big-time analyphobes as Nixon, Bush the Elder ("Please don't put me on the couch!") and George II ( sworn enemy of "psychobabble"), but also of those brownshirt wannabes who pipe up from the cheapest seats, cursing out the critics in mad sympathy with their offended leader. Desublimated as they are, such venters tend to tell us more about themselves than any self-respecting person wants to know. With his fantasy about our Chief Executive's revenge upon the left-wing anus, for example, Fred reveals himself as much less interested in understanding Bush's programs than in bunking with him in a prison cell, where he could dance around and wave a pom-pom every time the president turns out some underweight progressive first offender.

But let us turn away from Fred, despite the interest of his case, and just take note of certain basic features of the anti-intellectual (and anti-social) trend that he personifies. For example, there's the crucial fact that, by and large, such random jeers were not spontaneous eruptions of mass sentiment, but outbursts systematically provoked by a vast media-political complex that profited enormously, and profits still, by playing to the Fred in all of us. Take the above-quoted bit from "ERKTHE." That cyber-shot was fired at me within mere minutes of my brief slam-dance with Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel, the two of us wrangling inconclusively (and, on his side, noisily) about his flagrant pro-Bush bias:

O'Reilly: With us now is the author of the book, Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University. And in the New York Times, Prof. Miller is quoted as saying, "One of the reasons I reproduce such long exchanges with journalists such as Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly is to show their unthinking complicity in putting President Bush across."

MCM: You find that to be an outrageous claim?

O'Reilly: Well, not outrageous. I just think you're misguided, as many, many academics are these days.

That last shot was, of course, the intended subtext of my whole exchange with Bill, who kept on pointedly addressing me, with faint mock-deference, as "Professor"--an epithet synonymous with "jackass" in minds of many in his audience. Indeed, the Fox News Channel has itself long been an enterprise that runs primarily on the bile of its half-educated viewers, as Roger Ailes, the outfit's crusty overseer, concedes: "There's a whole country that elitists will never acknowledge. What people deeply resent out there are those in the 'blue' states thinking they're smarter. There's a touch of that in our news." The same seething "touch" pervades every offering from the GOP's immense semi-official agitprop machine, from multi-millionaire Big Liars like Rush Limbaugh down to all the local yokels fulminating on the air from sea to shining sea.

Those hooked on such propaganda have been well-trained by its authors to scream into the nearest telephone, or pound out a threatening e-mail, at the slightest hint of what they might perceive as "liberal bias" by the corporate media. Thus had my image barely vanished from the screen when ERKTHE grabbed his laptop (these patriots are generally male) to accuse me of "Prevarication." However, while it owes much to top-down exhortation, that grass-roots ever-readiness to fling abuse has also been enabled hugely by e-mail--the postmodern version of old-fashioned hate mail, or rocks with scribbled warnings wrapped around them. Not long ago, such smart technologies were warmly hailed--by Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Ben Wattenberg, George Gilder, Mobil, Texas Instruments, et al.--for their democratizing influence in, say, Manila under Marcos, Moscow under Gorbachev, Beijing under Deng Xiao-Ping, the faxes/e-mails/Internet sites eluding the dead hand of tyranny and helping keep the flame of Liberty alive, etc. While there's some truth to that heroic formulation, it tends to blind us to the anti-democratic uses of such speedy gadgets here on the domestic front. The likes of Fred and ERKTHE hit the keyboards not to broaden the debate but to abort it, taking their wild cyber-shots either to intimidate the heretics or to discourage others from paying attention. Thus, for example, do the goon squads frequently bombard the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites with hostile fake reviews of books they obviously haven't read, to drive off as many folks as possible. "I have never read another book so full of bullshit." "More blather from the communist left." "Bigotry, Christophobia and left-wing swill. Save your money!" "Save your money and pass on this poorky written political drabble [sic]." "Anyone with an understanding of and respect for the free market system will see that this book is garbage." Those on-line (and, often, one-line) attacks on Alan Dershowitz's Supreme Injustice, Vincent Bugliosi's The Betrayal of America and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed exemplify the rightist tendency to use the most advanced communications hardware to shut down all discussion.

Such repressive tactics, we should note, are anti-intellectual in the deepest and most frightening sense--i.e., opposed to any rational attempt to jolt the public out of acquiescence. It is that livid quietism on the right, that militant and gleeful anti-rational animus, which marks this latest surge of anti-intellectualism--an attitude not necessarily the same as mere old-fashioned anti-academic feeling. Of course, the anti-intellectual attacks do often come in anti-academic garb--as in one Amazon "review" complaining of Bugliosi's putative embrace by both "the media and leftist academics," or in another that assails The Bush Dyslexicon for dissing "someone with a Harvard Business School degree who has solid common sense values and is not the least bit interested in the liberal academic establishment's opinions." Although they often coincide, however, it is the animus against the active mind itself that really drives such vigilantes, and not a simple class-based beef against the snooty professoriate (the types that, as our president has put it, snack on "Brie and cheese").

This much is clear from the incurable selective blindness of the anti-intellectuals, who can perceive the hated caste of academic privilege only insofar as it includes "the left." Like ERKTHE, they simply cannot see that Bush too went to Yale and Harvard, any more than they can see how his agenda would not only poison but impoverish them (and, latterly, get them blown up in their own neighborhoods). At times the need to reinterpret Bush the drunken Eli as a dedicated populist has led to some absurd inventions. On Amazon, one troubled critic of my book asserted that "Bush was an excellent student at Yale, but many of his tests were graded down at his request to keep him as 'one of the people.'" ("This is never acknowledged by Miller," he observed correctly.) For the most part, however, the attackers don't resort to fabrication, but are content fanatically to tune out any aspect of reality that contradicts their vision of "the liberal academic establishment." In their eyes, Condoleezza Rice is not an arrogant and fuzzy-minded prof, nor is Paul Wolfowitz, despite their full commitment to the crackpot scheme of "national missile defense." Likewise, for all the bloodshed and destruction caused by his simplistic notions, the anti-intellectuals would never think to damn the pompous Henry Kissinger as a "misguided" academic, any more than they would damn, in retrospect, the cohort of distinguished Ivy Leaguers who propelled us into Vietnam.

For reasons too complex for us to hazard here, the anti-intellectuals are finally on the side of power at its most unforgiving and voracious. And so they give a pass to those professors who are at the service of such power, while jeering anyone--inside or outside the Academy--who thinks to raise a fuss about how wrong it is. For them, this isn't something to discuss, because discussion is itself suspicious, even dangerous--the sport of jerk-offs and Prevaricators. Thus there is no point in arguing with them--and yet no wisdom in attempting to ignore them. And such is true not only of the Bush regime's most unrestrained supporters, but of the Bush regime itself--a fact that now requires a lot of careful thought, and something more.

And yet it's just such thinking that has all but disappeared since 9/11--as it always disappears in time of war. In bringing down the World Trade Center (a mile from where I sit right now) and ravaging the Pentagon, the terrorists not only murdered thousands, and left tens of thousands more bereft, and devastated lower Manhattan, and sparked the wreckage of the local and the national economy. Through that spectacular atrocity, the killers also managed, at one blow, to knock the brains clean out of countless good Americans. Although those citizens had started out that day with all their wits intact, by dinnertime they sounded way much like Fred--a terroristic consequence a lot less hideous, surely, than what happened in the air and on the ground, and yet even more destructive in the long run. For while we can and will no doubt rebuild beyond the shattered lives and property, the prospects aren't as upbeat for our frail democracy, which cannot function if too many people think like Bill O'Reilly and his fans.

The swift migration of (let's call it) Fred's position from the cyber-fringes into the great neo-liberal mainstream is apparent in all sorts of weird new attitudes among the educated. Where Bush's lifelong callowness and dimness had been obvious, and his incoherence a cause for endless easy ridicule, he is now reverently applauded for his eloquence ("Churchillian"), the rare "nimbleness" of his communications to the public, and, according to The New York Times, his "gravitas"--although his off-the-cuff remarks are just as adolescent, repetitious, empty and illogical as ever. (Go and read them if you don't believe me.) Where Bush/Cheney's rule was widely recognized, except among Republicans, as having been arranged not democratically but through grand theft and fraud, his presidency is now deemed a blessing to us all--and not just by his fellow partisans, but by the Democrats, who all but thank God for the placement of his foot on their collective neck. And where our prior wars had met with just and patriotic skepticism, the hard-won civic legacy of Vietnam, this latest, and in fact most perilous, of our Third World adventures meets with mere assent--edgy resignation if not frank applause--and, all too often, with a nasty allergy to all the rational and necessary questions: e.g., How will all this bombing keep us safe from further terrorist attacks? Won't it only make them even likelier? Why should merely cracking down on terrorism help to stop it, when that method hasn't worked in any other country? Why are we so hated in the Muslim world? What did our government do there to bring this horror home to all those innocent Americans? And why don't we learn anything, from our free press, about the gross ineptitude of our state agencies? about what's really happening in Afghanistan? about the pertinence of Central Asia's huge reserves of oil and natural gas? about the links between the Bush and the bin Laden families?

Ask such questions now, and, while you probably won't get the answers that you're looking for, you're likely to learn something quite important from the current climate--that terror serves to sabotage democracy, by making thought itself seem like a crime against the state. Ask those questions, and you will surely be accused of siding with the enemy--just the sort of answer that Al Qaeda's goons would also give you, if you asked them certain tactless questions. Outside of your armchair, then, there really is no place for intellectuals to hide, in this new world of terrorists both foreign and domestic, and fearful yahoos high and low.

Other CONTEXT essays by Mark Crispin Miller

Class Dismissed
Hard Sell

Dumbing down wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumbing_down

Dumbing down is a deliberate diminution of the intellectual level of education, literature, cinema, news, and culture. The term "dumbing down" originated in 1933 as movie-business slang, used by motion picture screenplay writers, meaning: "[to] revise so as to appeal to those of little ...
The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America

Student Anti-Intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

American Anti-Intellectualism " Philosophy On The Mesa

Why is there Anti-Intellectualism-

Goodbye, Anti-intellectualism. Brains are Back! Newsweek Voices - Michael Hirsh Newsweek.com

Deep thinkers missing in action | csmonitor.com

The Perils of 'Populist Chic' - WSJ.com



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