Monday, February 29, 2016

How anti-intellectualism is killing America


"Relax. There's no way Trump is going to be elected."

That was a popular refrain within my social circles last summer shortly after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. Fast forward to March, 2016. Even after making all manner of startling assertions about Hispanics and women, Trump holds 82 of the delegates in the GOP primary. This total puts him far out front of anyone else in the race. How? Why?

Listening to "The Takeaway" on NPR this morning, a few random Trump supporters claimed it is because "he tells it like it is, no political correctness." Is that it or is Trump's success indicative of much larger and systemic problem in the nation? Consider the most recent round of political sparring between Trump and rival candidate, Marco Rubio:

Donald Trump on Marco Rubio: "I go back and I see him with makeup. And it's like he's putting it on with a trowel."

Rubio on Trump: "And you know what they say about guys with small hands."

This is not mere eschewing of political correctness. This is utter disintegration of political discourse between adults.

And many in the electorate are lapping it up, preparing to premiate Trump with the presidency. I argue, gentle reader, that these turn of events are indicative of something larger and far more insidious at work. It has been going on for quite a while now, just simmering beneath the surface of our socio-political fabric. We've joked about it in pretty much the same way anyone does when confronted with a problem they don't quite know handle. Now, there can no longer be any denying it.

America reveres stupidity.

I alluded to that argument a bit in my last article on education. John Taylor Gatto, educator and author of The Underground History of American Education and Dumbing Us Down, has long warned of this situation. A stupid populace is ideal for anyone in power in a politically corrupt government. They also make optimal consumers for corporations. Critical thinkers, on the other hand, just cause problems for the powerful. As evidence, I have collated a brief smattering of claims that have been floating about in the ether over the past several years:

Obama is a Muslim.
Social Security is no different than welfare.
The government is going to take away your guns.
The President is pushing a homosexual agenda onto America by supporting same-sex marriage.

I simply cannot convince myself that these falsehoods would have had any longevity in an educated society. But that's just it, isn't it? We don't like smart people. We don't like education. Think about it. One of the most popular targets for a politician is a teacher. Look at Scott Walker's incessant jihad against teacher's unions in Wisconsin and Rick Santorum's bizarre claim that colleges are a left-wing indoctrination camps, causing "62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it." Where he got that statistic is anybody's guess. Of course we dare not forget GOP candidate Marco Rubio's wail for more welders and "less philosophers." [sic]

Because if we actually had people educated to think and reason critically, why...that would just be bad for all involved, wouldn't it?

Part of the problem of American anti-intellectualism is that the problem itself cannot be addressed without serious backlash. To suggest that America isn't...well, just isn't smart anymore is bound to run against hyper-nationalism, itself a form of anti-intellectualism. In fact, I reconsidered several times if I should even write this for fear of at best being accosted by a deluge of "Hey! America is number one!" comments or at worst being accused of treason. David Niose penned an article for Psychology Today about this very issue. 

"What Americans rarely acknowledge," Niose writes, "Is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational."

Indeed, by example he shows that the very assertion of "America is the greatest country" in the world falls apart under scrutiny. Niose goes on to cite:

"International quality of life rankings place America far from the top, at sixteenth. America’s rates of murder and other violent crime dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate, while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low. American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world."

But America does still lead the world in military spending. So we got that going for us.

I don't know what else to think. We just don't like smart people. Intelligent, capable voices are regularly derided by the Right Wing for having "Ivy League educations" while former President George W. Bush brags "C students--you too can be president." In fact, if the aforementioned conditions of the 2016 presidential race are any indication, a quality education might be to a leader's detriment, not an asset.

Anti-intellectualism in America is of course a far-reaching subject with a wide variety of consequences. That's why this will likely be the first in series of installments.

After all, I've got to get them in before a potential President Trump makes thinking illegal.


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