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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[1]

Anti-intellectualism is an attitude that minimizes the value of intelligence, knowledge, and curiosity. Anti-intellectuals believe that science, expertise and "book knowledge" are less valuable than "street smarts" and "common sense." They also believe that they don't have to read anything about a field of knowledge before dismissing it with their own "theories".


[edit] Presence

Anti-intellectualism is notably prevalent among young Earth creationists who feel that the Bible is proof enough for their beliefs and empirical evidence simply does not matter.

Anti-intellectualism also informs many political ideologies. Radical groups, especially the far-right and far-left, often take up the mantle of anti-intellectualism, since intellectuals often criticize dogmatic political philosophies. Populists enjoy dabbling in anti-intellectualism, seeing higher education as "elitist." One of the most vicious anti-intellectuals was the Maoist Pol Pot, who, during the Cambodian genocide, ordered the murder of people with glasses (since they were seen as academics). Anti-intellectualism is one possible response to the cognitive dissonance of a personal ideology conflicting with the findings of experts.

In the modern West, anti-intellectualism tends to be associated with the political right, such as the reactionary wing of the United States Republican Party, UKIP, the Coalition under Tony Abbott or some members of Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada.

These anti-intellectual political movements are very rarely (if ever) violent. Instead they prefer to use the word "intellectual" as a snarl word or paint intellectuals and academics as "know-it all liberals." Favorite conspiracy theories for wingnuts are that universities are "secularist" or "Marxist" recruiting centers, a claim that has little-to-no actual evidence to back up. Ironically, openly right-wing "universities" (ie. Liberty University, Bob Jones University) act exactly like how wingnuts frequently describe normal universities, distorting the truth and not allowing dissent from their beliefs to push a blatant partisan agenda.

One may notice that most anti-intellectuals have little problem with academics and experts who side with them. In fact, they often champion them and their credentials. You can tell whom among your friends are anti-intellectual: if they list "University of Life" or "School of Hard Knocks" in their Facebook pages and repost all sorts of stupid political memes.

[edit] Three types

Synthesizing the work of Richard Hofstadter and Dabiel J. Rigney, Diane S. Claussen describes three types of anti-intellectualism:[2]

  • Religious anti-intellectualism, in which emotion is taken to be warm, good and humane, while reason is taken to be cold, bad and robotic.
  • Populist anti-intellectualism, in which skepticism is expressed about politicians with inherited wealth and elite educations.
  • Unreflective instrumentalism, in which the value of learning is reduced to immediate material gain in the form of higher profits and higher salaries. In higher education this results in "suppression of ethics discussions, pressure for vocationalism in the humanities and social sciences, and advocacy of less autonomy in education."

[edit] What is anti-intellectualism

  • Believing that academics or experts (even in their fields of expertise) aren't worth listening to because they lack "common sense" or are "out of touch."
  • Believing academics are "others" and have little care for the common people. (One must wonder why they are in academia, then.)
  • Pushing conspiracy theories around places of higher education.
  • Believing academics are "elitists."
  • Believing academics promote "sinfulness" or moral degeneracy.
  • Going with your gut over the advice or studies performed by various experts, because you see it as superior.
  • Not understanding or checking the arguments of experts before dismissing them.

[edit] What isn't anti-intellectualism

  • Disagreeing with an expert in one topic when talking about another. (make sure they are an expert in the right area)
  • Disagreeing with an expert or experts while taking the research in the field seriously (that includes being able to understand the relevant parts). That includes disagreeing with the majority opinion of experts on a subject, so long as you have evidence and good reasons to back up your position.
  • Noticing a diploma mill, or pointing out argumentum ad verecundiam.
  • Believing a specific expert is an idiot, particularly if he/she has a history of being fractally wrong.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. [1]
  2. Diane S. Claussen. "A Brief History of Anti-intellectualism in American Media." Academe. May-June 2011. Pp. 8-13.
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