I Am An Anti-Intellectual

 

I can’t take it anymore. Uncle! You were right, Thomas Sowell — though not right enough. Nothing good can come of intellectuals.

This is a stunning reversal from my earlier position. If you told the 2014 version of me that I’d join the barricades against the educated, against the literature junkies and the philosophy hobbyists and the “curious” class writ large, I’d have laughed in your face. But here I am.

Why have I changed? Because they’ve changed. Because I didn’t know, lo those many years ago, what a vacuous lot they were. I didn’t know that they, and not the illiterate underclass, were the real cultural vandals. Nothing in their behavior suggested as much. Forgive me, for I was blind.

If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles; one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate,” the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent. And the problem isn’t that these people have been filling their heads with garbage and nothing else. A devotee of Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoyevsky is as likely to yell “ACAB!” as a devotee of Angela Davis. Nor is it about the educational institution, either. What happens to the idealistic young 21-year-olds churned out by the country’s six or seven classical liberal-arts colleges — the beacons of hope we conservatives pour so much money into? They head off to the charter and parochial schools, ready to enlighten a new generation . . . and turn woke. In with “pyramid of white supremacy” diagrams! (This very diagram circulated among Hillsdale alumni last summer, to some acclaim.)

So, I’m out. Call it reverse snobbery. Call it an overreaction. But if all that exposure to the best that’s been thought and said gives me is a mop of blue hair and a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever Ellen “Elliot” Page appears on television, then . . . what’s the point? Best to take my chances with the pipefitters.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Kephalithos: Best to take my chances with the pipefitters.

    Amen, brother.

    • #1
  2. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Kephalithos: …self-identify as voracious readers…

    Admittedly, I only skimmed this (before my morning coffee) but…I do not believe that “voracious readers” in any way equates to “intellectual.” I suspect there is an error or bias in you diagram methodology.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    George W. Bush is a voracious reader, for instance.

    • #3
  4. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    The issue is a complete lack of a plumb line. For western civilization it included a belief in God and the Bible was that plumb line. Or agnosticism and an acceptance that the principles on scripture were good for civilization.

    That has been jettisoned. Welcome to the beginning of the coming dark age.

    • #4
  5. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    There was a time, when the intellectuals in the USA pledge their lives, their honor, and their fortunes to create a land of free people with a government established to protect their God given rights.  Today’s intellectuals are weak and vainglorious.  

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    philo (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: …self-identify as voracious readers…

    Admittedly, I only skimmed this (before my morning coffee) but…I do not believe that “voracious readers” in any way equates to “intellectual.” I suspect there is an error or bias in you diagram methodology.

    I don’t think intellectuals and scholars are the same category.

    Nor are intellectuals and smart people.

    Or scholars and smart people.

    Or smart people and wise people.

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    Umm . . . no. If this were true my book reviews would be unpopular. In fact, I don’t see how a omnivorous, voracious reader could end up thinking the US is systemically racist. It’s only possible if you read the same limited set of books over and over, which is the antithesis of being a voracious reader. 

    The real gripe I have against intellectuals is they are – for the most part – poseurs.  They pretend to be deep thinkers while staying in the puddle end of the intellectual pool. There are many groups that work primarily with ideas, including engineers, doctors, and military leaders. They are not considered intellectuals. Why? Because to them an elegant idea is one which is intuitive and simple. To the group of those working with ideas who identify as intellectuals an “elegant” idea or solution is one that is complex and unintuitive, which can only be appreciated by a tiny elite, and which is disqualified as elegant if it has a practical application. It is a form of mental masturbation used primarily to impress themselves with their own importance.

    So, be down  on intellectuals if you will. I will cheerfully join you in that. But omnivorous and voracious reading is a path away from intellectualism, not towards it.

    • #7
  8. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Coolidge
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    I suppose it depends a lot on what they voraciously read; whether they voraciously read the classics or if they voraciously read this week’s hot socio-political treatise.

    • #8
  9. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Coolidge
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Kephalithos: You were right, Thomas Sowell — though not right enough. Nothing good can come of intellectuals.

    Also, perhaps it’s not Intellectuals and Society that you need to read, but The Vision of the Anointed. Or A Conflict of Visions. Once you understand that the vision of the left operates without constraint.

    From Wikipedia:

    The unconstrained vision

    Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as “the self anointed.” Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society.

    The constrained vision

    Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest.

    • #9
  10. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    Umm . . . no. . . .

    . . .

    He did mention those who identify as voracious readers. Not necessarily the same category as people who are voracious readers.

    • #10
  11. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Kephalithos: Best to take my chances with the pipefitters.

    Some of the most widely-read, and the smartest and wisest (those two things don’t always go together) people I know have been plumbers, deep-sea fishermen, and farmers.**

    I generally find it easy to distinguish between those who are worth conversing with and those who aren’t through one simple observation:  Is this person interested in absolutely everything?  Because what I observe in those widely-read, smart and wise people I mentioned above (no matter the extent of their formal education)  is deep-seated and wide-ranging intellectual curiosity.  They want to know how everything works.  They want to know where we came from and how we got here.  They want to know why.  And in their efforts to learn more and find out the answers, they’ll read anything, try anything, learn anything, and talk to anyone who might help them on their way. 

    One problem with Western academia is that it has, over the past seventy-five years or so, retreated from real life, at the same time that it’s tried to convince all of us that we need a college degree to get on in life.  That’s just nonsense, and a pretty good example of self-interest at work. I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.  (Dr. Doodledoo, I’m looking at you.)

    Another problem is the cattle-market environment which pertains at lots of colleges and universities where, in efforts to propel themselves to the top of the heap, “intellectuals” are forced not to widen their horizons, but to narrow them, and to invent and focus on “specialty” topics and areas of interest that are so bizarre that no rational, normal, person gives a hoot about them. Only by doing so can they call themselves “experts” in a particular field, and find themselves eligible for publication, promotion, and tenure as they step on their “colleagues” to further their own careers.

    The net result of both these things is a population of narrowly-focused, self-righteous, self-interested, self-limited individuals who  can’t acknowledge much beyond their own narrow focus, and who are incapable of a wide-ranging discussion about anything.

    Kephalithos: But if all that exposure to the best that’s been thought and said gives me is a mop of blue hair and a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever Ellen “Elliot” Page appears on television, then . . . what’s the point?

    Oh, I do hope this attitude doesn’t become prevalent on the Right.  I think of ahistoricism and cultural ignorance as a “feature” of the Left, and I hope it doesn’t take hold here.

    IMHO, we need to right the ship, not sink it.  

    **The late Mr. She, a qualified “intellectual” in his own right, with a PhD in Medieval English Literature from the University of Pittsburgh, and a career as a professor in same at Duquesne University, loved to tell his academic peers that the education he received from the farmers in Washington County PA after we moved out here in 1986 was at least as hard-won and the equivalent of, a second PhD.  I’ve been closely associated, in a familial sense (daughter, student, wife), with US higher-education since 1963.  Some of my best friends (still) are full professors.  All of them, whether on the political Left or the Right, are smart, engaged, and worth talking to. 

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I was never interested in trying to become an intellectual, whether that’s not my orientation or it required too much work for the rewards. But I gravitate to people who are wise, and those who are smart enough to know that they will never, ever stop learning. Those are my role models.

    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.

    Always.

    • #13
  14. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.

    Always.

    I’d quote my father, but I’d probably be suspended if I did.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.

    Always.

    I’d quote my father, but I’d probably be suspended if I did.

    Bullpucky is as bullpucky does.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):
    I suppose it depends a lot on what they voraciously read; whether they voraciously read the classics or if they voraciously read this week’s hot socio-political treatise.

    I think it depends a lot more on which side of their bread is buttered.  

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I’ve known a lot of intellectuals who were anti-intellectual, especially when it came to their philosophy of education and their ideas about how our system of public education should work. I’ve always viewed this as a problem. 

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    Kephalithos: If you told the 2014 me that I’d join the barricades against the educated — against the literature junkies and the philosophy hobbyists and the “curious” class writ large — I’d have laughed in your face. But here I am.

    Quibble: By Sowell’s definition, I don’t think hobbyists and enthusiasts count as intellectuals.  I seem to recall that his definition of an intellectual is, “someone who makes their living selling ideas rather than selling goods or services”.  Somebody can correct me if my recollection is faulty.

    Addendum: I would suggest that activists and proselytizers who propagate ideas “for free” should also be included under the intellectual umbrella. The point is that the intellectual propagates ideas rather than merely consuming them, and they all expect some sort of return even if that return is not monetary.

    • #18
  19. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    Umm . . . no. . . .

    . . .

    He did mention those who identify as voracious readers. Not necessarily the same category as people who are voracious readers.

    Like the people who are renting cardboard rows of books to put behind them when they appear on Zoom calls or the lady caught using a shower curtain with books on it as a Zoom background.

    • #19
  20. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    I tried to describe intellectuals in a small way on here – believe it might have been around Oct but am way too lazy to check on that – and can assure you that you probably are more intellectually benefitted among those pipefitters …. or any good horse trainer with an 8th grade education :)

    • #20
  21. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers
    @OleSummers

    But I will add that I enjoy intellectuals as defined by me, but have little use for the self-proclaimed variety 

    • #21
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    I suppose it depends a lot on what they voraciously read; whether they voraciously read the classics or if they voraciously read this week’s hot socio-political treatise.

    When my daughters were in middle school, the rage was a series of books called The Sweet Valley Twins. The series was a vapid waste of paper and ink. And the Judy Blume books were the most disgusting abuses of a child’s trust in a book author I’ve ever read. They made me sympathize with book burners. :-) 

    Reading is not a perfect road to intellectual growth. It all depends on what the person is reading. 

    • #22
  23. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Coolidge
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    MarciN (View Comment):

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    I suppose it depends a lot on what they voraciously read; whether they voraciously read the classics or if they voraciously read this week’s hot socio-political treatise.

    When my daughters were in middle school, the rage was a series of books called The Sweet Valley Twins. The series was a vapid waste of paper and ink. And the Judy Blume books were the most disgusting abuses of a child’s trust in a book author I’ve ever read. They made me sympathize with book burners. :-)

    Reading is not a perfect road to intellectual growth. It all depends on what the person is reading.

    And yet I’d rather spend time with someone who reads The Sweet Valley Twins than whatever anti-racist screed is being hawked by the lefty book-hawkers.

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I remember teaching a class years ago where we had a mix of employees from all over a city. I think it was a course on conflict management. One of the students was the manager, Jose, of a group of prisoners who did work for the city. Jose was such a good spirit, Latino, and I suspect he only had a high school education, but it was clear that no one on work duty was going to mess with him. I will never forget the moment when he offered up a pearl of wisdom on conflict–and you could hear a pin drop. I don’t know if the class was surprised that he was the one who said it, or if it was simply what he said, or both. I only wish I could remember what he said! But I learned (as I have many times since) that the jewels that we are exposed to can come from anywhere. We only need to pay attention.

    • #24
  25. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    She (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.

    Always.

    I’d quote my father, but I’d probably be suspended if I did.

    What?  The Wogs begin at Calais?

    • #25
  26. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I blame the post-modernists, and mostly, the French.

    Always.

    I’d quote my father, but I’d probably be suspended if I did.

    What? The Wogs begin at Calais?

    LOL!! Always prefaced with. “All foreigners are bloody; shoot them.”

    • #26
  27. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment): Quibble: By Sowell’s definition, I don’t think hobbyists and enthusiasts count as intellectuals. I seem to recall that his definition of an intellectual is, “someone who makes their living selling ideas rather than selling goods or services”. Somebody can correct me if my recollection is faulty.

    No. You’re right. That is his definition. But I’m using the term in a broader sense, since a lot of wokeness comes from people who don’t peddle ideas for a living.

    Addendum: I would suggest that activists and proselytizers who propagate ideas “for free” should also be included under the intellectual umbrella. The point is that the intellectual propagates ideas rather than merely consuming them, and they all expect some sort of return even if that return is not monetary.

    Good point.

    • #27
  28. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: If I drew a Venn diagram with two circles — one circle devoted to people who self-identify as voracious readers, and one circle devoted to people who think the United States is “systemically racist” and that believing in and publicly acknowledging the existence of two sexes is “hate” — the two circles would overlap by about 95 percent.

    I suppose it depends a lot on what they voraciously read; whether they voraciously read the classics or if they voraciously read this week’s hot socio-political treatise.

    But a lot of people (and probably most people, I’m sorry to say) do both, and that’s the point. Rarely do you find straight “burn it down”-ism at universities. Such people exist, but they remain a minority. Far more common are those who pivot from “Mozart is great!” to “Whiteness must be dismantled!” in a nanosecond.

    As I’ve said elsewhere on the Internet, the average “bookish” 23-year-old spends half her time lovingly curating the detritus of her civilization and half her time gleefully burning it on a pyre. It’s the cognitive dissonance which makes this attitude so repulsive.

    • #28
  29. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):

    Kephalithos: …self-identify as voracious readers…

    Admittedly, I only skimmed this (before my morning coffee) but…I do not believe that “voracious readers” in any way equates to “intellectual.” I suspect there is an error or bias in you diagram methodology.

    I don’t think intellectuals and scholars are the same category.

    Nor are intellectuals and smart people.

    Or scholars and smart people.

    Or smart people and wise people.

    “;”;”;”.

    (Note: some of these may be double-dittos, e.g., the first four.)

    • #29
  30. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    K,

    You’re a good example of an intellectual, according to one definition.  That one  is  my preferred definition, and I am not willing to have the culture abandon it.

    Why?

    • Because there isn’t a ready substitute.
    • Because it is a natural definition, not an ironic one.  Let people who want to use a natural, needed, satisfactory, traditional word sarcastically use scare quotes or “so-called” or “pseudo-“, and then get their paws off of my beautiful, well-evolved native language. Once a word-definition is destroyed to please comics and cynics, it can never come back.
    • Because there are suitable substitutes for the idea you’ve used it to refer to. 
    • #30