Tag Archives: Richard Hofstradter

ANTI-INTELLECTUAL ELITISM IN THE USA

Or to put it in simple terms, democracy, Christianity, and the information super highway.

In an article dated June 7, 2014 in psychologytoday.com, entitled “The Cult of Ignorance in the United States: Anti-Intellectualism and the ‘dumbing down’ of America,” author Ray Williams indicates that there is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.

Not so sure that I understand the complete meaning of all that was said above, but I’ll forge on anyway.

Mr. Williams gives examples of how the United States of America is being “dumbed down,” and indicates that part of the reason for rising anti-intellectual elitism can be found in the declining state of education in the U.S.  as compared to other advanced countries.  One such example is from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, through a commissioned civic education poll among public school students: 77% of public school students didn’t know that George Washington was the first President of the United States, and couldn’t name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, only 2.8 of the students could actually pass an American citizenship test. Other examples include that 18% of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth (according to a Gallup poll), 68% of public school children in the United States do not read proficiently by the time they finish third grade (2009 Assessment of Educational Progress), and barely 50% of students are ready for college level reading when they graduate (U.S. News & World Report).

You can review this list by going to The Cult of Ignorance in the United States: Anti-Intellectualism and the dumbing down of America.

Mr. Williams also cites another Gallup poll indicating that 42% of Americans still believe that God created human beings in their present form less than 10,000 years ago, and that 25% of public school biology teachers believe that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously. Thus our Christian beliefs, including that the Bible is the immutable word of God have contributed to the “dumbing down” of America. Well, Mr. Williams, I have something to tell you: God was “taken out of our society” in 1963 following two landmark decisions, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) where the Supreme Court established what is now the current prohibition on state-sponsored prayer in U.S. schools. From my observations, it seems as most of the so-called “dumbing down” of America took place afterwards. In fact, it was churches in early America that established the first schools.

The article, without a doubt besmirches social media. Mr. Williams points to Bill Keller, a writer for the New York Times, who has indicated that anti-intellectual elitism is not an elitism of wisdom, education, experience or knowledge. The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often, a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the conspiracy followers, not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they foment a rabid culture of anti-rationalism where every fact is suspect, every shadow holds a secret conspiracy. Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool. Herd mentality takes over online, the anti-intellectuals become the metaphorical equivalent of an angry lunch mob when anyone either challenges of the mob beliefs or posts anything outside the mob’s self-limiting set of values.

This kind of reminds me of liberals on social media. Get on a liberal thread and post an opinion different from the other posters, and you’re pounced upon, like Mr. Keller says, dogs cornering a fox.

At an early point in the article, Mr. Williams cites Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Hofstadter, in his 1964 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, describes how the vast underlying foundations of anti-elite, anti-reason, and anti-science have been infused into America’s political and social fabric.

Of course, when “anti-science” is mentioned, we conservatives almost always think about climate change. And while there are experts out there who indicate climate change is a hoax and thus, a means by which the government can more and more control over our lives, we’re demonized, sometimes to the point of being called “flat earthers” when we question the existence of climate change.

Mr. Williams’ article also quotes science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, who once said: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States of American, and there has always been. The strain of 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.”

So, is democracy under attack here? My first question is what makes a science fiction writer an expert on American culture and democracy? It sure looks like our system of government is under attack. One of the tenants of democracy is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We’re free to talk and express ourselves, no matter how ignorant we may appear. Sure looks to me like he’s attacking democracy by indicating that because of our ignorance, we shouldn’t have the right to question experts/those who know best.

With the advent of the Internet and subsequently one of its components, social media, people have access to the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. They also have access to the world’s garbage. We no longer have to pick up the newspaper out of the yard or time our lives by the television to get the news of the day. Instead, we grab or phones, tablets, or laptops and log on to our favorite news sites. And let’s not forget we can turn on our TVs to the various 24-hour news channels. In other words, we don’t have to wait on newspapers, news magazines, or the evening/morning network news broadcasts to know what’s taking place.

Furthermore, if there’s a subject about which we wish to learn more, we don’t have to wait until the library opens, get cleaned up and presentable, and drive to the local branch to see what information the facility may have on our topic, we get on our phone, tablet, or PC.

Because we can absorb more information in less time, from a plethora of sources, we can also form opinions and ask questions.

Through the newer mechanism of social media, we can more readily interact with those who are of like mind or those who are not of like mind. Of course, with the good, always comes the bad. We often make asses of ourselves, and we also can make asses of others.

Mr. Williams, in my interpretation of his article, tells us that the United States is an ignorant nation and is getting even more ignorant. This is because of our Christian faith, the way we govern ourselves, and our immediate access to all the world’s knowledge. It’s made us bold, it’s made us curious, it’s made us question those who put themselves forth as experts.

I agree with Mr. Williams that this country is “dumbing down” or as he would say we are becoming victims of anti-intellectualism. But it’s not because of our Christian/Judeo culture, nor is it because we are a democracy where freedom speech and freedom of expression are not quashed. And lastly, it’s not because of the Internet and subsequently social media.

It’s because we did take God out of our society in the sixties and are still doing it today. Liberalism in its utopic desire to not just guarantee everyone equal opportunity, but to insist that outcomes also be equal has led to the diminishing of competition to determine who is best, replacing competition with a one-size fits all participation trophies.

In our public schools, we seem to hesitate to delineate gifted students who should be recognized and placed on a track to learning that doesn’t allow them to become lackadaisical, losing interest and prone to fill their down time with unhealthy activities. Doing this might affect the self-esteem of the other students and perhaps discourage a potentially gifted student from giving it his or her all.

Teachers’ unions get crazy when anyone outside of academia dares to indicated that their one-size fits all concept of education might be obsolete and various mechanisms such as a school voucher might enhance the educational opportunities of millions of students across the nation.

This country was founded slightly less than 250 years ago, and it is an experiment unlike anything that has ever been tried before. Mr. Williams doesn’t seem to like this experimental nation and feels that freedom of speech and expression, Christian values, and increased access to knowledge continue to make this an ignorant nation. I don’t agree. It’s liberalism.

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