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July 11, 2003
The Promised Explanation Elayne said:

Elayne said:

Lots of disagreement on the anti-intellectual article you linked to, but I'll probably save that for my own blog.
Looking forward to it.

Because of course there's a cult of anti-intellectualism, so naturally real people (i.e., folks who speak plainly) can't speak for themselves. Grr. I'm sorry Anne, but I can't tell you how strongly I take exception to your last sentence. I've blogged about it before, but I think I'm going to again...

Okay, that could be a sideswipe at my tortuous prose style but clearly it isn't and that's my ego (I'm the center of the universe!) getting in my way. Let me make something very clear. I'm not at all against people who can, and do, speak plainly. (I only wish I were one of them.)

If that comment was still in reference to the book, then my only response if that the author spoke because the "real people" didn't have a forum. I don't fault the woman's intent. Just her execution.

Anti-anti-intellectualism rant follows

My reference to the (I think, very real) "cult of anti-intellectualism" was, specifically, to the Republican Party's long history of dismissing the Democrats as, "intellectually effete" as though the two were synonymous and bad. Intellectualism in this country is also linked (usually by the Right) to ineptitude.

The clear inference is that to be intellectual is to be an incompetent wimp. It's as though you can either think or act, but you can't be good at both.

This infuriates me in our society and never more so than in politics.

I'm enraged by reports that the single most important quality a politician can possess these days is, "likeability." I despise the mentality that makes smart men and women work to project themselves to the voters as, "just like you" and "a regular joe/jane."

I'm more than angered. I'm afraid.

Okay, everyone, take a look at the person in the next cubicle or walking past your desk right now. Do you want someone like that in charge of this country's destiny? Is this the person you want with their finger on the nuclear button?

Is this the person you'd trust to research and understand the intricacies of the economy, how small business interacts with big business, how manufacturing at home benefits us but how marketplace restrictions on imports hurts us, how the country's need for clear air and water have to be balanced against the cost of legislation and the expense to corporations, expense that's passed along to the worker making $5.75 an hour?

Is this the person you want investigating the tensions in the Middle East and deciding whose government or whose economy is most open to 'liberalization' in the hopes that increased personal freedoms and democracy will result and that the governments of the same countries can be brought to understand that their health and survival necessarily have to depend upon the health and survival of both their neighbors and their citizens?

I'm willing to bet that 99.5 percent of you said not only "No" but "Hell, no!"

When did people in this country become so disconnected with reality that they lost track of the hundreds upon hundreds of delicately balanced, conflicting interests that have to be managed by the leaders of this country? When did the general public decide that just any "nice guy" could probably do the job?

When did the unspoken agreement come into place that what we want are politicians we'd like to have a beer with and discuss the All Star Game, instead of politicians with the education and smarts to understand incredibly complex issues?

The problem (as I see it) is that there's been an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in this country for a very long time.

Unlike, for instance, access to education, funding to provide equal opportunities, and marketplace realities that offer the chance for real, large-scale success to everyone, you can't legislate equal intelligence.

Regardless of whether or not IQ tests "prove" anything, the truth is that, numbers aside, some people are smarter, a whole lot smarter, than other people. And no law you pass is going to change that.

The problem with intellect is that it's not democratic.

Because of that, there's a feeling in this country that being "smarter' than other people is somehow shameful. Being too intellectual makes you a freak. Thinking about serious subjects, just because they interest you is almost un-American.

We're a shootin' and fishin' and beer-drinkin' kind of country, we are. We're led by Real Manly Men, we're not going to follow some four-eyed wimp. Nossir, not us. Bah, humbug!

This is, for those who haven't figured it out, a huge part of what the Neocons are offering to their newly energized pool of wingnuts. This is what Savage is preaching, and what Limbaugh is all about. This is why LBJ and presidents since (including the current guy) buy farms and ride around in pick-up trucks.

I mean, god forbid that the leaders of this country should look, you know, smart enough to handle the job. (I loved the episode of West Wing that took on this question. In fact, this has been a subtext in a number of episodes.)

This disenfranchises intelligent people and does a disservice to us all. The press used it against Gore in Election 2000. Before, him, Clinton was smart, but he also had the "likeability" thing down pat, so he got past the voters.

'Reagan? What did voters see when they looked at him but a conglomeration of the man's B-movie roles as a "regular joe"?

Bush I and Bush II both ran on the same image (there was certainly no aura of intellectualism around either of them, especially II).

This is an astoundingly, mind-numbingly complex world we're living in. Nothing is as simple as it looks.

Take tort reform. Bush's push for tort reform is a knee-jerk issue for a lot of Democrats. No! they scream. He wants to destroy our ability to get restitution for the wrongs done to us!

The problem is that we need tort reform. Not only to keep people from suing McDonalds when they gain weight, because that's frivolous and unwinnable and clogs up the courts that should be dealing with real wrongs that have been done.

No, we need tort reform because the culture of litigation in this country is pushing insurance rates up so high that start-up businesses can no longer afford the insurance they have to have in order to actually open their doors and start making money. The collapse of the dot-com bubble, for instance, was accompanied by a wave of lawsuits. That pushed the liability insurance premiums for a start-up company doing business on the internet (as almost everyone does nowadays) into the stratosphere.

I'm not saying we need Bush's version of tort reform, because I don't know the details of what he wants. But we need it, and I'm not voting for any politician who says we don't.

What I want is a politician who seems smart enough to weigh our need for the clout to sue, and win, when we have a legitimate grievance against the need to keep companies in business. This person will also have to consider the cost and effectiveness of federal regulations about corporate behavior that will minimize the need for lawsuits, and determine which issues should be state-mandated and which are federal matters. What kinds of regulations and legislation will work and how do you enforce it without placing an unworkable burden on the government or the corporation or both? What will it cost and who can be trusted to oversee it? How will this interact with the Constitution and what solution is workable to both parties so that you can be confident it won't be repealed in four years?

You need smart people for these issues.

We need to be smart, too. People reacting to these issues need to think about them before they act or react.

But there's not always time, is there? And we don't all have the desire to do this, and certainly not on every topic. Some of us aren't smart enough to figure these things out on our own anyhow.

So, we need elected officials we can trust to be smart enough to have investigated ramifications and potential outcomes of the steps they take. So that we can listen to them and trust that they're giving us a fair assessment of the situation.

We need this, because the dumber they are, the more time and effort each and every one of us has to spend doing the research and doing the thinking ourselves. And if we're having to spend two hours a day second-guessing our elected officials and explaining what they're doing, or supposed to be doing, to them, then exactly what good does it do to us to have them? We might just as well eliminate elected officials and go to a pure democracy where the government takes no action except by direct vote of the populace.

When I vote for someone, I don't want to know how dumb and average they can pretend to be. I want to know if they're smart enough to take on the job they're up for. But we never really get to learn that about candidates because no one wants to be the next Al Gore and no one wants to be tarred with the brush of intellectualism that will turn off millions of voters.

There's a cult of anti-intellectualism in this country and it's...by gosh, it's undemocratic!

The real point of democracy isn't to smooth out the bumps in life until we're all lowest-common-denominator equal, okay? It's to do what we can to bring everyone up to the level of the highest among us.

Until we start celebrating the right kind of success, we're just going to keep sliding down the slippery slope of infantilism. (Hey! I worked the original article back in!)

A country, a society, is a living organism, and, like all living organisms, has the choice to either grow or die.

We're dying and we're dying, not because of people speaking in "plain voices" or otherwise, but because if one of those voices, plain or otherwise, shows signs of undemocratic intelligence, they're buried under a wave of scoffing and ridicule.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:01 PM