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  1. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    09 Feb '09 05:45 / 2 edits
    I've heard it said that anti-intellectualism is a self-validation ritual created by and for intellectuals. Seems to make sense.

    There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves.

    The extent to which the population falls back on superstition or violence can be traced back to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them.

    Jacob Weisberg's "The Bush Tragedy" (2008), argues convincingly, through careful biographical analysis, that G.W.Bush, R.Cheney and K.Rove all had massive streaks of deeply ingrained anti-intellectualism running through them. And yet they actually got their hands on the levers of power for a while there and a consensus seems to be forming - on both 'left' and 'right' - that it has been a disaster. ("We weren't bombed again" is rather a flimsy legacy after 8 years with hand on rudder, although it does seem to suffice for some anti-intellectual parts of the citizenry). I wonder what affect all this has had on self-validating rituals of the elite. One upshot seems to be that the U.S. populace has been permitted to elect somewhat of an egg-head as President. Is this a coincidence?
  2. Standard member Scriabin
    Done Asking
    09 Feb '09 17:58
    See Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
    NY: Alfred A Knopf, 1974

    According to the historian Richard Hofstadter, in the main, intellectuals affect the public mind when they act in one of two capacities: as experts or as ideologues. In both capacities they evoke profound, and, in a measure, legitimate, fears and resentments. Both intensify the prevalent sense of helplessness in our society, the expert by quickening the public's resentment of being the object of constant manipulation, the ideologue by arousing the fear of subversion and heightening all the other grave psychic stresses that have come with modernity.

    Hofstadter notes that Dwight Moody [post Civil War revivalist, precursor of Billy Sunday] was consistently conservative; the union between the evangelical and the business mind which was to characterize subsequent popular revivalists was, to a great extent, his work. His political views invariably resembled those of the Republican businessmen who supported him, and he was not above making it clear how useful the Gospel was to the propertied interests.

    The two new notes which were evident in a most striking form in Billy Sunday's rhetoric, according to Hofstadter, the note of toughness and the note of ridicule and denunciation, may be taken as the signal manifestations of a new kind of popular mind. One can trace in Sunday the emergence of what Hofstadter calls the "one-hundred per cent mentality" - a mind totally committed to the full range of the dominant popular fatuities and determined that no one shall have the right to challenge them. This type of mentality is a relatively recent synthesis of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist Americanism, Hosfstadter says, very often with a heavy overlay of severe fundamentalist morality. The one-hundred percenter, who will tolerate no ambiguities, no equivocations, no reservations, and no criticism, considers his kind of committedness an evidence of toughness and masculinity... "I have no interest in a God who does not smite."

    The literature of the extreme right also shows a significant continuity in style, Hosfstadter says, indicative of the degree to which the pattern of fundamentalism has become the pattern of militant nationalism.

    Hofstadter notes that while we in the US have had a number of conservative intellectuals and even a few reactionary ones; if there is anything that could be called an intellectual establishment in America, this establishment has been, though not profoundly radical (which would be unbecoming in an establishment), on the left side of center. And it has drawn the continuing and implacable resentment of the right, which has always liked to blur the distinction between the moderate progressive and the revolutionary.

    It has been largely the function of expertise (or the egregious lack thereof) which has restored the intellectual as a force in American politics. But the pertinent question, Hofstadter says, is whether the intellectual, as expert, can really be an intellectual - whether he does not become simply a mental technician.

    The case against intellect, according to Hofstadter, is founded upon a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the grounds that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice, and the "purely" theoretical mind is so much disesteemed. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism. Once the validity of these antagonisms is accepted, then the case for intellect, and be extension for the intellectual, is lost. Who cares to risk sacrificing warmth of emotion, solidity of character, practical capacity, or democratic sentiment in order to pay deference to a type of man who at best is deemed to be merely clever and at worst may even be dangerous?... Intellect needs to be understood not as some kind of a claim against the other human excellences for which a fatally high price has to be paid, but rather as a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consummated.

    Hofstadter's cited argument is similar to that commonly used by the evangelicals. One begins with the hardly contestable proposition that religious faith is not, in the main, propagated by logic or learning. One moves on from this to the idea that it is best propagated (in the judgment of Christ and on historical evidence) by men who have been unlearned and ignorant. It seems to follow from this that the kind of wisdom and truth possessed by such men is superior to what learned and cultivated minds have. In fact, learning and cultivation appear to be handicaps in the propagation of faith. And since the propagation of faith is the most important task before man, those who are as "ignorant as babes" have, in the most fundamental virtue, greater strength than men who have addicted themselves to logic and learning. Accordingly, though one shrinks from a bald statement of the conclusion, humble ignorance is far better as a human quality than a cultivated mind. At bottom, this proposition, despite all the difficulties that attend it, has been eminently congenial both to American evangelicalism and to American democracy.
  3. Standard member Scriabin
    Done Asking
    09 Feb '09 17:59
    Hofstadter cites Louis Bromfield's definition of an Egghead:

    "A person of spurious intellectual pretensions, often a professor or the protege of a professor. Fundamentally superficial. Over-emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem. Supercilious and surfeited with conceit and contempt for the experience of more sound and able men. Essentially confused in thought and immersed in mixture of sentimentality and violent evangelism."

    I think we ought to find another term, don't you?
  4. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    10 Feb '09 00:55
    Originally posted by Scriabin
    Hofstadter cites Louis Bromfield's definition of an Egghead:

    "A person of spurious intellectual pretensions [...] Essentially confused in thought and immersed in mixture of sentimentality and violent evangelism."

    I think we ought to find another term, don't you?
    No. I'll stick with Egghead, which means 'intellectual' but with a degree of gently whisked scorn that would have left Hofstadter champing under the yoke of his own hardboiled chalaza. The irony went undetected, it seems, and now the moment has been over-egged. Louis Bromfield's polemical definition is amusing though. I wonder what his definitions of Anorak or Barrow Boy would be.
  5. 10 Feb '09 03:37
    Originally posted by FMF
    I've heard it said that anti-intellectualism is a self-validation ritual created by and for intellectuals. Seems to make sense.

    There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves.

    The extent to which the population falls back on superstiti ...[text shortened]... been permitted to elect somewhat of an egg-head as President. Is this a coincidence?
    Was it coincidental that Tony Blair was elected to Parliament, or is it the House of Commons, or the outhouse...whatever y'all call it?
  6. Standard member Scriabin
    Done Asking
    10 Feb '09 03:46
    Originally posted by FMF


    There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves.

    I disagree. A large part of America does indeed give every indication they wish to reject learning and those who are learned. Whether they want the best is an ambiguous and entirely subjective concept -- the entire concept of the Blue and the Red in American politics is all about who gets to define what is the best for our society and our people.

    I've cited Hofstadter to show how a thread of anti-intellectualism runs through the history and culture of 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 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.

    They are generally depicted as white wine and brie elitists who look down on the common folk. 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 represent that they believe 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. This is often the kind of smoke screen put down by the moneyed, conservative elite to oppose progressives.

    One saw this over the last 8 years under the Bushies as they subverted and politicized science and corrupted scientists and their organizations.

    Hofstadter, though writing in the early 1960s, remains quite relevant, for the political technique of trashing intellectualism is deeply rooted in American history. He cited 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 Jefferson by portraying the curiosity of his active mind as too trivial and ridiculous for important affairs. Today, military ability is the kind of test of character which is portrayed viewed as good for political leadership, and many voters view a show of intellect with suspicion.

    I just watched Obama's first prime time press conference and I come away impressed, relieved and almost downright optimistic. The man is thoughtful, careful, articulate, funny, deft, and politically astute beyond anyone in that position I've seen in my adult life.

    In business, 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. All that has come crashing down onto our heads -- which is a strong reason why Obama won the election. While he did not anticipate having to deal with what's on his plate right now, the menu is what got him the seat at the table.

    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 as 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, especially in previous eras when most people did not go to college. Hofstader also cites studies that showed that even if students study "superfluous" intellectual subjects with no practical application, there ARE practical benefits; namely, learning any subject in depth teaches one how to learn something new.
  7. Subscriber FMF
    a.k.a. John W Booth
    10 Feb '09 06:04 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Scriabin
    I just watched Obama's first prime time press conference and I come away impressed, relieved and almost downright optimistic. The man is thoughtful, careful, articulate, funny, deft, and politically astute beyond anyone in that position I've seen in my adult life.
    But does this perhaps mean he's doomed?

    I, for my "sins", occasionally loiter at the heart of darkness (www.freerepublic.com) and it seems that the very qualities that have rendered you impressed, relieved and optimistic, are filling his opponents with seething, bristling rage and an essentially incoherent kind of loathing.

    What will be the sequence of events, and timeline, if this rancorous anti-intellectualism... if that is what it partly is - I presume some other -isms are in play here too... what if it regroups and reasserts itself?

    Thank you for the interesting read, by the way.
  8. Standard member Bosse de Nage
    Zellulärer Automat
    10 Feb '09 06:40
    Originally posted by FMF

    I, for my "sins", occasionally loiter at the heart of darkness (www.freerepublic.com) and it seems that the very qualities that have rendered you impressed, relieved and optimistic, are filling his opponents with seething, bristling rage and an essentially incoherent kind of loathing.
    I have the same effect on my father-in-law sometimes. I gather his brother, the Rhodes scholar, received preferential treatment while he was treated as a dunce.
  9. 10 Feb '09 07:06
    Originally posted by Scriabin
    See Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
    NY: Alfred A Knopf, 1974

    According to the historian Richard Hofstadter, in the main, intellectuals affect the public mind when they act in one of two capacities: as experts or as ideologues. In both capacities they evoke profound, and, in a measure, legitimate, fears and resentments. Bo ...[text shortened]... s been eminently congenial both to American evangelicalism and to American democracy.
    wikied dwight moody ... he was an abolitionist and a pacifist ... a civil-war-era liberal! ...
  10. 10 Feb '09 07:07
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    I have the same effect on my father-in-law sometimes. I gather his brother, the Rhodes scholar, received preferential treatment while he was treated as a dunce.
    did you marry roger clinton's daughter?
  11. 10 Feb '09 07:09
    Originally posted by Scriabin
    ...

    The case against intellect, according to Hofstadter, is founded upon a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the grounds that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easi ...[text shortened]... paid, but rather as a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consummated.
    ...
    why, then, do modern liberals wrap themselves in intellectualism?

    is it just so they can feel good and sneer it over the rest of us?
  12. 10 Feb '09 07:12
    a gift for the readers of this thread:

    John Russell Bartlett's work, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States, first published in 1848

    http://books.google.com/books?id=n8MRAAAAIAAJ&dq=dictionary+of+americanisms&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=cyiRSdvzKZLQsAOmyYipCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result
  13. 10 Feb '09 07:14
    http://books.google.com/books?id=7kRPFLHKl6MC&pg=PR1&dq=A+Personal+Narrative+of+Explorations+and+Incidents+in+Texas,+New+Mexico,+California,+Sonora+and+Chihuahua

    Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico ... By John Russell Bartlett
  14. Standard member Scriabin
    Done Asking
    10 Feb '09 17:17
    Originally posted by zeeblebot
    wikied dwight moody ... he was an abolitionist and a pacifist ... a civil-war-era liberal! ...
    Your point? No one is saying only right wingers throughout American history have been the source of this anti-intellectualism.

    Intellectuals challenge the status quo when that is based on premises that can be questioned, facts that can be challenged, ideas that can be deconstructed and found wanting.

    Anyone of any ideological or religious stripe can be discomfited when the basis of the their power and influence is questioned by those whom we call intellectuals.

    It is the characteristic of evangelism itself to which Hofstadter is making reference.

    thought that was fairly obvious -- but perhaps only to an intellectual.
  15. Standard member Scriabin
    Done Asking
    10 Feb '09 17:25
    Originally posted by FMF
    But does this perhaps mean he's doomed?

    I, for my "sins", occasionally loiter at the heart of darkness (www.freerepublic.com) and it seems that the very qualities that have rendered you impressed, relieved and optimistic, are filling his opponents with seething, bristling rage and an essentially incoherent kind of loathing.

    What will be the sequence of ev ...[text shortened]... what if it regroups and reasserts itself?

    Thank you for the interesting read, by the way.
    basically, anti-intellectualism is used by all those occupying positions of power and influence in American life when they feel threatened by educated, sophisticated people with whom they disagree.

    The very characteristic of being capable of intellectual sophistication becomes a negative attribute that all those who wish to defend the status quo merely to preserve their own position use against their perceived opponents.

    That is what Hofstadter is saying: this is a fundamental theme or tactic that runs through American politics.

    I am not surprised that conservatives would foam at the mouth, speak in tongues, or otherwise throw a fit faced with a President who appears charming, humorous, serious, capable, and politically savvy.

    If they had anyone like that on their side, I'm sure they'd put them forward. But the best they could come up with was a grumpy old white man and a stewardess from bumf-k Alaska.

    Oops, there is my pointy headed white wine and brie Bostonian urban prejudice showing again: so sorry, but I'm from a part of the country where one is expected to actually know things, have real experience, not merely be able to see Russia from one's house, so to speak. So we're not too impressed by folks, however red in the face they get, from Dumbf-kistan, U.S.A.