I find the current anti-intellectualism craze in my country fascinating though my fascination is mitigated by fascinated by the worry about its consequences. As indicated earlier this stems largely from my past life in an hyper-conservative Arkansas community when conspiracy theory was one of my favorite “comfort foods.”
But epistemology is relevant. These anti-intellectuals are not without intelligence; in fact, some of them are very well educated and have powerful posts in our government. But intelligence is not a static phenomena, or shouldn’t be. For intelligence to be meaningful it must be accompanied with the capacity to view things critically, even belief systems that are near and dear to their own heart. Without that critical capacity, one will find himself in a closed mind which does include the “comfort” of not knowing one has a closed mind. And one who lives in this prison…self-imposed in some manner…will automatically dismiss anything that threatens his view of the world. This is the “epistemic closure” or “confirmation bias” that I address here so often.
Intelligence is not objective. With the anti-intellectual crowd, they have intelligence but they have used that intelligence to formulate a comfortable world view and then said to themselves unconsciously, “Ok, that’s enough. I don’t need to know any more” and will spend the rest of their life viewing the world and themselves through that narrow little prism. Instead of “thinking” they will be spend their life “thought” by a body of ideology comprised of preconceptions which have never been questioned. Their thought life will be a daily regurgitation of these preconceptions. And having that narrow view of the world pierced would be extremely painful so most who are within its “safe” confines just will not allow it to be pierced. For this “penetration” by reality would evoke a deep sense of being existentially “wrong” which is related to why so many of them often avow a deep conviction of being “right.” And this “wrong” that they fear is not a conscious “wrong” of having done something amiss but of “being” wrong which would evoke what I have posited earlier is the experience of “the judgment of God.” The experience of “being” wrong is at an extreme unmitigated terror and that is why we have been given a persona without which we could not function.
But if we live our whole life knowing ourselves only as the ideology-based persona that we trot out every day, we will not have understood the question posed by Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” Our persona can survive, and even thrive on self-scrutiny but our ego will always tell us that it can’t. And therefore, when threatened, we cling even tighter to our persona rather than experience some version of the aforementioned terror. And for most of us the “terror” will only be some degree of discomfort, i.e. “cognitive dissonance.” But usually we “cling in panic to our tall beliefs” when “Truth holds our her hands” and proceed to “shrink away like an ill-treated child.” (Auden) We prefer the comfort of our ideas rather than addressing the “Reality” that lies beneath and beyond these ideas. We cannot bring ourselves to declare like W. H. Auden, “Oh blessed be bleak exposure on his sword we are pricked into coming alive.”
It is no accident that the fundamentalist Christians who are the driving force of this anti-intellectualism vehemently oppose meditation and yoga, often denigrating it as “Of the Devil” or “Straight from the pits of hell.” And, they are right…in their way of looking at the world! For the “mindfulness” that is in the vogue in our culture with many of us “damn liberals” emphasizes awareness of one’s subjective experience that precedes our “fall” into the realm of cognition. The “awareness” that mindfulness disciplines offers is frightening to one who is an ideologue and trapped in his ideological “comfort food.” This “awareness” frees us from the bondage to our thinking.
“Words,” wrote John Maynard Keynes, “ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.”
A very thoughtful assessment of this current anti-intellectual craze is found in the magazine Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america
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