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Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America - Thoughts?

flbride2015flbride2015 member
Seventh Anniversary 5 Love Its Name Dropper First Comment
edited July 2015 in Politics & Current Events

From Psychology Today:

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

The tragedy in Charleston last week will no doubt lead to more discussion of several important and recurring issues in American culture—particularly racism and gun violence—but these dialogues are unlikely to bear much fruit until the nation undertakes a serious self-examination. Decrying racism and gun violence is fine, but for too long America’s social dysfunction has continued to intensify as the nation has ignored a key underlying pathology: anti-intellectualism.

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof's actions on America's culture of racism and gun violence, but it's time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation's culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America's violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn't possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public.

Some will point out, correctly, that even educated people can still be racists, but this shouldn’t remove the spotlight from anti-intellectualism. Yes, even intelligent and educated individuals, often due to cultural and institutional influences, can sometimes carry racist biases. But critically thinking individuals recognize racism as wrong and undesirable, even if they aren’t yet able to eliminate every morsel of bias from their own psyches or from social institutions. An anti-intellectual society, however, will have large swaths of people who are motivated by fear, susceptible to tribalism and simplistic explanations, incapable of emotional maturity, and prone to violent solutions. Sound familiar?

And even though it may seem counter-intuitive, anti-intellectualism has little to do with intelligence. We know little about the raw intellectual abilities of Dylann Roof, but we do know that he is an ignorant racist who willfully allowed irrational hatred of an entire demographic to dictate his actions. Whatever his IQ, to some extent he is a product of a culture driven by fear and emotion, not rational thinking, and his actions reflect the paranoid mentality of one who fails to grasp basic notions of what it means to be human.

What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational. What else could explain the hyper-patriotism (link is external) that has many accepting an outlandish notion that America is far superior to the rest of the world? Love of one’s country is fine, but many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world.

But it doesn’t. International quality of life rankings (link is external) place America far from the top, at sixteenth. America’s rates of murder (link is external) and other violent crime dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate (link is external), while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low (link is external). American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy (link is external) in the industrialized world. And those rates are notably highest where so-called “biblical values” are prominent. Go outside the Bible belt, and the rates generally trend downward (link is external).

As this suggests, the impact of fundamentalist religion in driving American anti-intellectualism has been, and continues to be, immense. Old-fashioned notions of sex education may seem like a relatively minor issue to many, but taking old-time religion too seriously can be extremely dangerous in the modern era. High-ranking individuals, even in the military (link is external), see a confrontation between good and evil as biblically predicted and therefore inevitable. They relish the thought of being a righteous part of the final days.

Fundamentalist religion is also a major force in denying human-caused climate change (link is external), a phenomenon that the scientific community has accepted for years. Interestingly, anti-intellectual fundamentalists are joined in their climate change denial with unusual bedfellows: corporate interests (link is external) that stand to gain from the rejection of sound science on climate.

Corporate influence on climate and environmental policy, meanwhile, is simply more evidence of anti-intellectualism in action, for corporate domination of American society is another result of a public that is not thinking critically. Americans have allowed their democracy to slip away, their culture overtaken by enormous corporations that effectively control both the governmental apparatus and the media, thus shaping life around materialism and consumption.

Indeed, these corporate interests encourage anti-intellectualism, conditioning Americans into conformity and passive acceptance of institutional dominance. They are the ones who stand to gain from the excessive fear and nationalism that result in militaristic foreign policy and absurdly high levels of military spending (link is external). They are the ones who stand to gain from consumers who spend money they don’t have on goods and services they don’t need. They are the ones who want a public that is largely uninformed and distracted, thus allowing government policy to be crafted by corporate lawyers and lobbyists. They are the ones who stand to gain from unregulated securities markets. And they are the ones who stand to gain from a prison-industrial complex that generates the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world.

Americans can and should denounce the racist and gun-crazed culture that shamefully resulted in nine corpses in Charleston this week, but they also need to dig deeper. At the core of all of this dysfunction is an abandonment of reason.



Re: Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America - Thoughts?

  • And his follow-up post on how to fix the problem:

    Fighting Back Against Anti-intellectualism

    My last post, Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America, spotlighted the problem of anti-reason in American society, pointing out that it is widespread and doing much harm. A few days after the piece was posted, as if on cue, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal annouced his presidential candidacy (link is external), declaring that he wants to be "president of the greatest country in the world—the United States of America." Notorious for his anti-science policies (link is external), Jindal told his audience that "Christianity is under assault in America" and claimed to speak for the "millions of Americans who believe in God and are not ashamed to say so." Indeed, for Jindal to say he is unashamed of his religion would be quite an understatement, considering he recently sponsored a public prayer rally (link is external) to simultaneously promote his faith and his political ambitions. The race to the intellectual bottom, it seems, runs in unison with the race for the White House.

    If I weren't such a rationalist I might interpret these events as the universe speaking to me, telling me to supplement my post about rampant anti-intellectualism with another that discusses solutions to the problem. I reject such cosmic speculation, of course, but I'm thinking that a discussion of solutions might be a good idea anyway. If the Jindal candidacy validates my claims about American anti-intellectualism, it also calls out the need for a dialogue about how to address the problem.

    Oftentimes when this issue is raised, a one-word solution is offered: education. Such a reply is understandable, but it’s also far too simplistic. If we are to truly conquer the formidable problem of anti-intellectualism, we need to take it much more seriously. We need to make an earnest effort to understand its underlying causes and what drives it. These and related issues are discussed in my latest book Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason (link is external), but I’ll briefly cover some key points here.

    First, let's rebut a common misperception about anti-intellectualism: that the only real opponents to anti-intellectualism are intellectuals. In fact, contrary to this elitist view, ordinary working men and working women are quite capable of recognizing the political idiocy, fear-based messaging, emotional manipulation, religious pandering, and other irrational tactics and actions that are commonplace in our anti-intellectual culture. In fact, especially in a democracy, the fight against anti-reason can ultimately be won only at the grassroots, via a general population that recognizes it, rejects it, and demands more rational public policy that reflects real human interests.

    With this in mind, the primary role for intellectuals and activists in the fight against anti-intellectualism is simply to raise awareness among ordinary people of the existence of the problem and its cultural and political consequences. If it seems to average citizens that the system is rigged, serving large institutional interests rather than real humans, they need to realize that anti-intellectualism is a major reason why.

    With awareness raised as such, the public will more often be on guard against anti-intellectualism and thus less vulnerable to it. Moreover, steps can then be taken to significantly curtail anti-intellectualism by confronting its main sources, four of which I'll discuss briefly below: (1.) the government; (2.) the corporate sector; (3) fundamentalist religion; and, very importantly, (4) ourselves.

    The government promotes anti-intellectualism in numerous ways, but most notably through the utilization of fear and the glorification of patriotism and militarism. These phenomena have been used to instill obedience, secure power, and launch aggression throughout history, and certainly are not unique to America. What is uniquely American, compared to most other developed societies, is the degree to which our population seems to accept nationalistic notions of superiority. There are reasons for this, including the leadership role that the country has played politically, economically, and militarily for many years—a history that allows the government to easily stroke the collective ego and fuel the idea of American exceptionalism.

    A more rational society would take pride in the positives that can be drawn from America’s history without becoming intoxicated with an irrational sense of superiority and righteousness, while also accepting the sobering negatives with some sense of objectivity and maturity. Unfortunately, by even making such a suggestion, I would immediately be labeled un-American by many self-described patriots.

    The corporate sector promotes anti-intellectualism in even more ways than the government, for corporations are more multi-faceted and pervasive in everyday American life. The entire corporate sector, from large media companies to manufacturers and retailers, profits immensely from excessive consumption being a key characteristic of the American lifestyle, so this trait is propagated in the media and throughout the culture. Large military contractors, meanwhile, take great interest in promoting overzealous nationalism and patriotism, as well as fear of foreign enemies, because such sentiments facilitate large military budgets. The corporate sector also realizes that an entertained and poorly informed population is much less likely to engage in political activity that might oppose corporate-friendly public policy. Distracted citizens will passively allow large corporate interests to dominate government. As such, anti-intellectualism is the magic weapon that the corporate sector has used to maintain control.

    A more rational society would understand corporations for what they are (and what they were once recognized as): self-interested institutions that are extremely wealthy, powerful, and amoral at best and immoral at worst—institutions that by their very nature must be controlled by real humans if there is to be any hope for rational, human-centered public policy. Instead, largely due to anti-intellectualism promoted via corporate influence, too many Americans actually believe, incorrectly, that restraining corporate power is un-American.

    Fundamentalist religion is so obviously anti-intellectual that I won’t use much space discussing it here. Suffice it to say that a more rational society would have a smaller segment of the population believing that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, that evolution is a hoax, that climate change can be ignored because the Bible promises men dominion over the earth, and other anti-science notions.

    And that leaves us with the last major source of anti-intellectualism: ourselves. Though humans are capable of reasoning, it is important to remember that rational thought is not our default setting. Instead, we are by our nature emotional and impulsive, frequently lazy, and interested in many activities other than critical thinking. To overlook this human reality when considering issues of anti-intellectualism—what it really is, how it affects society, and what can be done about it—would be a grave error.

    Though space is limited here, the above groundwork points to where the analysis goes. First, note that three of the sources mentioned above—government, corporations, and religious fundamentalism—involve institutional power, whereas the last factor points inward at human vulnerabilities. What this tells us is that these various institutions, in pursuing their self-interest, will almost inevitably promote anti-reason, and that human audiences on the receiving end will be susceptible to it. Knowing this, it's little wonder that the political arena resembles a clown car, education policy gets lip service but little more, mindless consumption defines the culture, and the nation is in a state of fear that translates to a state of permanent war.

    This is not a promising situation, but there is hope. It lies in the fact that, under the right circumstances, humans are indeed capable of reason. That doesn't mean we must exalt reason to some quasi-religious status, but we should recognize its importance in modern life, especially in the crafting of public policy. But for reason to flourish, it is absolutely essential that the institutional interests that naturally promote anti-reason be properly controlled.

    Also, but very importantly, we should realize that reason alone will not be humanity’s salvation. Rational thinking can be applied to any situation—moral or immoral—and this is why values are also critical in combating anti-intellectualism and promoting progressive, human-centered public policy. And as anyone opposed to anti-intellectualism knows, the best modern values are rooted not in ancient texts, but in human experience, accumulated knowledge, and natural human altruistic inclinations.

  • The article says, "What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational"

    This is a direct quote from your article above. I totally agree with this quote. I see it listing three problems...

    1. A rejection of critical thinking.

    2. A glorification of the emotional/emotions.

    3. A glorification of irrational thought.

    So, my question for you is...from where did these problems (1-3) originate?

    My answer would be a fundamental dysfunction in the quality of public education. The minute we educated based on standardized tests scores and not to cultivate a love of life-long learning and an appreciation for knowledge and a pursuit of truth, we brought on an uncritical, emotions-obsessed, irrational base of citizens who overall make decisions based on fear, paranoia, poor science, unsubstantiated research, and media glitz.

    This is not a problem related more to one side of the political aisle than another, nor is it relegated to one demographic over another. Across the board, American citizens have lost their ability to critically analyze and examine. We are entertaining ourselves to death instead.

    The debate has been had on this board before about liberal versus conservative news and publication sources for information. We (previous posters here on this Board) have agreed that some sources are definitely liberal and some are definitely conservative. Regardless of a liberal or conservative SOURCE, though, many times the facts they publish are that - facts. And, if facts are facts, then that means they are truth. Truth does not pander to liberal or conservative; it just is.

    While a conservative person may find a truth/fact a liberal person provides is inconvenient to the conservative's position on a political or social matter, that conservative person cannot throw away the liberal's fact OR the source from which it came (provided it is a legitimate, verifiable source) just because it came from what we could call a "hostile source." The same applies if the scenario were reversed and the conservative person provided a fact from a source that the liberal person found inconvenient.

    As a point of information, I read my news from a variety of sources both "liberal" and "conservative." What I find is that both sides of an argument are needed to truly find a truth and to do a thinking, critical analysis. I appreciate opinions - but let's just recognize them as that. Opinions. Not truth. Not fact. The problem we also have in the USA is that Americans no longer know how to tell the difference between fact and opinion and truth and hype. 

    Please, please, please do not throw out here all the stuff about anti-intellectualism in this nation and then do no looking for really smart, thinking conservatives, who may or may not also have a worldview of faith. To do so, shows some arrogance on your part as well as some haughtiness and superiority, when in fact, that may not be appropriate.

    Also, what's your motivation? If you tout this anti-intellectualism bent, then what are you doing to heal the country other than posting potentially inflammatory things on TN?

    Subsequently, as a point of information before you say that people of faith are anti-intellectual why not check out...Ravi Zacharias (Oxford/Cambridge)? And, also let's not forget the faiths (or basically a belief in a divine being) of Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Galilei, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Kelvin, Plank and Einstein. The father's of all science were Christians or Jews, and in the least, they believed in a divine being. The bedrock of all biology, chemistry, physics, and natural sciences is found in people of faith.

    I think it is decidedly ironic that the very science you throw up in the face of religion, you have at your disposal due to the faiths of these people and the work they did wanting to learn more about the universe and the world in which they lived.

    Next, the article said this, "Rational thinking can be applied to any situation—moral or immoral—and this is why values are also critical in combating anti-intellectualism and promoting progressive, human-centered public policy."

    I agree with the values part. Here's my question: Whose values? And, why does one set of values get to be espoused above another? Who decides this? On what grounds? And, if we live in a fair society, a democratic society, then WHO gets to decide these values?

    The thing is, the people you call "anti-intellectual" have values!!! You just do not like them or their values and basically your goal is to shut them up. You post articles like this one to define people as "other than" yourself and "outside of" yourself. By doing this, you make it easier for you and others to discard living, breathing people based on the issues of beliefs and thought positions. You know who else did this with these types of articles spewing hate cloaked in word elegance - Hitler did this. Through words and propaganda like this one you have posted, he made it so a nation of people hated another race/religion.

    Your not liking something, is preference and emotion. Basing values and "human-center public policy" on emotional, uncritical, glorified irrational thought is erroneous. So, you have contradicted your above statement that emotion, passions, uncritical thought ought to not rule decision-making. This is not a rational argument in this article. What it is - is inflammatory, mean spirited, and judgmental and oh let's go for it (everybody loves this word) - intolerant.

    LOL on the phrase "human centered public policy." Excuse me? But, is there any other kind? Every law, rule, and regulation we have legislated focuses on some aspect of human life directly or indirectly via the influence, humans have on their surrounding communities and/or environment.

    And, also when the article says, "progressive, human-centered public policy," do you mean the raging success we have in our educational system, or economic system, or healthcare system, or welfare system, or military system, or environmental system, or voting system. I think liberals and conservatives alike have to agree that basically it all stinks!!!!

    Oh and, furthermore, the "ancient texts" to which the article refers at the end, are proved to be viable, reliable, historical, documents that have stood up to extreme scrutiny under hostile examination by people who oppose Jesus and Christianity. And, the Christian worldview or any "higher being" worldview, for that matter, exists due to "human experience, accumulated knowledge, and natural human altruistic inclinations." Case in point, with Christianity it exists because the "ancient texts" stand up to rigorous scrutiny, people after Jesus' death had human experiences, there was accumulated knowledge passed on from Jewish and into early Christian teachings and writings that is verifiable by outside sources, and obviously, Christians do a lot of helping other, those "natural human altruistic inclinations..." ---Goodwill, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Gospel for Asia, Heifer Project International, countless others.

    So, in summary. Shame on you for propagating this hate speech. And, haha - it's full of irrational arguments that logically do not hold water, and also it's full of erroneous statements. Oh, by the way, I did not even read the entire thing. THAT's literally how bad this article is.

  • smerkasmerka member
    Ancient Membership 250 Love Its 500 Comments Name Dropper
    I didn't read all of this, but I can say it is rare that a week goes by that I don't think Geez the movie Idiocracy is coming true
  • Helpful books on this subject of the inability of people to think and critically analyze:

    1. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen.

    2. The Core by Leigh Bortins.

    3. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postmans.

    I am reading the first two right now. DH has read the 3rd and is going to read the first one when I am through it.

    What's frustrating is that people on both sides of aisle cannot think, and critically analyze speeches, essays, reports, and publications whether printed or spoken for logical fallacies. Then, they take what they heard on CNN or Fox News or the History Channel, for example, and pass it on to others as facts. Or, this article posted above.

    It is so difficult to uncover the truth for a person who A. Believes that if it was on the news it does not have an agenda or an opinion slant. B. Blindly trusts the powers that be in government, politics, media, higher education, and Hollywood. C. Is so drunk on banal Tweets, Face Books, photos, and Dancing With the Stars that that's all they know and have no fertile soil in their head for hard thinking to grow and flourish. D. Won't do any hard searching on their own for truth and accurate answers. E. Thinks "If this makes me feel bad then it must be wrong." Which isn't the case. Many times the truth and facts are hard to hear and accept as it challenges our preconceptions, but truth is truth. It is not open to emotions-based acceptance or denial.

  • Ahh finally, I realize what bugs me about the title of this article "Anti-Intellectualism." If you know Latin, then you know "Anti" means "against or opposed to something," in this the title means that people are against being intellectual.

    Are people really opposed to or are they against being intellectual? Um, I don't think so.

    The article does not properly use the prefix (ironic in since it's raising up the intellectual). A better choice may have been "un," which means "lacking or denoting the absence of." "Un-Intellectualism" is a better (correct) word choice.

    Also, this article presupposes that a person, to be "intellectual" must possess some kind of measured intelligence. Yet, studies report a significant finding in something called Emotional Intelligence. And, what if a person does not have a formal, higher education - are they still intelligent? What about book versus street smarts and common sense?

    I have to ask, then, do un-intellectual persons have a right to participate in society's important political and social discussions and decisions?

    From the article, "But for reason to flourish, it is absolutely essential that the institutional interests that naturally promote anti-reason be properly controlled."

    This is very Orwellian. You wish for institutions like the church (because the article claims the church is full of anti-reason) and other groups with whom you disagree to be properly controlled? Like put in camps? Or killed? Or drugged? Or prevented from reproducing? Or not be allowed to vote? Or, sent to live elsewhere? What do you mean by "properly controlled?"

    This article is frightful. That you would promote it is frightful too.

  • What truly annoys me about this post is the basic assumption that those who don't agree with left-leaning policies are un-educated or un-intelligent.  I'm an atheist, libertarian, so I like to think that I don't truly align with the right or the left, but I'm accepting, and critical thinking enough to see that there are intelligent thinkers who believe both sides of the coin.  I am also logical enough to see that there is rarely a single best solution to a problem, but the vast majority of people wish to solve the same problem, just in different ways.

    I can't stand accusations that generalize and I believe this article specifically generalizes the religious right.

    I hope that we can all accept that when it comes to political and social issues, there are rarely black and white answers.
  • snp605snp605 member
    Tenth Anniversary 100 Comments Name Dropper 5 Love Its
    to save time I'll just ditto most of what has already been posted LOL

    as far as denouncing anything, I'm really kind of anti-denouncing all of the denouncing going on. We as a culture, whether it be media driven, a natural mob mentality or whatever, have become a culture of extremes and absolutes. We keep drawing all of these random lines in the sand and sensationalizing random incidents and factoid while ignoring HUGE issues elsewhere in our culture. I honestly blame media and media culture to the events in Charleston as much as anything else for what happened. Articles like the above vilify and dehumanize people of the Christian faith. So this kid who obviously has mental issues (I cannot believe that someone who would shoot multiple people they don't know does not have major underlying mental issues) that have symptomized as racism shot some people in a church. This article and media reports in the past on various issues would lead us to believe that what they are doing in that church was"ruining America" or  that they are "anti-intellectual" so as an aside I find it odd that all of a sudden the fact that they were in a church makes their plight extra sympathy worthy. Anyway, how are those articles and media reports and memes any less inciting someone to violence against those people than some sort of cultural sore like racism?

    Taking faith out of the equation does not raise intellectualism, curb violence or promote efficiency or good. If you think it does then I invite you to spend some time in places like Ukraine, China or North Korea. Leave your wallet laying around or try to promote any change in social policy in those places where you won't have "religion" mucking up the works.

    I think instead of criticizing everything we should be working relationally to change attitudes on issues and policies. I don't think I've ever seen some sort of random generic article on an issue and had some sort of lightbulb moment that changed how I felt about anything. I've certainly never seen some sort of arrogant, in your face or sarcastic meme or mean spirited social media post that has ever brought me around to someone else's way of thinking. I'd say we have a much larger problem with being relational than intellectual. If you care about people in general and don't get so caught up in pointing your finger at someone doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, the rest will eventually fall into line.
  • BlueBirdMBBlueBirdMB member
    500 Love Its 1000 Comments Second Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited July 2015
    snp605 said:

    I think instead of criticizing everything we should be working relationally to change attitudes on issues and policies. I don't think I've ever seen some sort of random generic article on an issue and had some sort of lightbulb moment that changed how I felt about anything. I've certainly never seen some sort of arrogant, in your face or sarcastic meme or mean spirited social media post that has ever brought me around to someone else's way of thinking. I'd say we have a much larger problem with being relational than intellectual. If you care about people in general and don't get so caught up in pointing your finger at someone doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, the rest will eventually fall into line.

    I completely agree with the above.  Posting articles like this is meant only to insight negative and mean spirited comments and does nothing productive.  
  • smerkasmerka member
    Ancient Membership 250 Love Its 500 Comments Name Dropper
    ^^^ Because that never happens on a board about politics. #sarcasmfont
  • ^^^ It obviously just did.  Doesn't mean it should.  Productive discussions aren't about knocking the other person down.
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