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anti-intellectualism

I suppose it is fair to say that I come from a family of intellectuals. I have aa Master's; my brothers both have PhDs; our parents are both graduates etc. Thus I know the value of reading and research, and was taught to trust those in positions of authority. I am, however, becoming increasingly alarmed at the growing tide of anti-intellectualism which currently seems to be sweeping the western world. People seem to be turning against those in authority, rejecting academia in favour of pundits, either online or through other media, who dictate to people what they should think. These pundits depict academia and the mainstream as a type of elite, whose values are to be shunned. In effect they are trying to get people to reject intellectualism and research, telling that it is some kind of big, bad, oppressive other, and to be independent they should reject it.

This strikes me as very, very dangerous indeed. For one, it is utterly false: academia does not force people to only think in certain ways, as such pundits often claim it does. Instead, it encourages as varied a discourse as possible. I could write anything I wanted back at university, the only proviso was that I had to have the evidence to back it up. The claim that academia is somehow repressive and only values certain types of thought is thus simply untrue.

The problem for the people who claim otherwise is, academia often rejects the worldviews they promote. Academia is often pluralist and quite liberal, whereas they often prefer more conservative, dogmatic stances. These speakers want people to reject academia because it means people are more likely to accept what they tell them: by discouraging research and devaluing academic rigour, they turn the people who listen to them into mindless zombies who just accept whatever they are told. Back at uni, I was taught never to take any particular source at face value; we had to question everything, and see what evidence there was to back a claim up.

It is this rigour that those currently decrying intellectualism want to escape. They don't want people to question what they say. In depicting academia as somehow oppressive and getting them to reject experts, then, they make people much more controllable and passive. People just accept what they are told.

The irony of all this, of course, is that such pundits often present theirselves as free thinkers. They often claim to represent an anti-authoritarian counterculture, rebelling against a monolithic, oppressive mainstream. Thus you see these speakers lambast mainstream institutions, lashing out at experts, railing against academics as forces of oppression and intolerance, when in fact they are the ones trying to oppress and manipulate us, and a second's worth of academic scrutiny would expose them as the con-men they are.

I really think, then, that we should all be very concerned about the growing tide of anti-intellectualism. Turning against academia and experts is folly. It makes us all easier to manipulate. There is nothing countercultural or independent about it; it is not being subversive or rebellious. On the contrary, it is falling into a trap laid by those who would ensnare us and turn us all into passive zombies who just accept what we are told. After all, that's how the church worked for centuries. By turning us against academia, we lose the capacity to scrutinise and question. Certain people are now trying to tell us to value stupidity and ignorance, and that those who know how to research and scrutinise are to be shunned. I find that very troubling indeed.

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