Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Against Stupidity

My Doppelgänger, Thesaurus Rex, declares war on anti-intellectualism. Arthur enlists enthusiastically. I'll sign up for a hitch--after all, nobody really disputes that the other side has weapons of mass ignorance, and doesn't hesitate to use them--but I don't have any illusions about the possibility of victory.

Let me put it this way: we won't be greeted with flowers.

Anti-intellectualism is too deeply ingrained in American political and cultural life. This is probably the only nation in the world that could have a political party called the Know-Nothings. It goes back at least as far as Andrew Jackson, who, like Bush, turned accusations of intellectual inferiority (in Jackson's case, of illiteracy) to his advantage. (Just try reading Hofstadter on the 1828 election:

The main case made by Jackson's spokesmen against Adams was that he was self-indulgent and aristocratic and lived a life of luxury. And, what is most relevant here, his learning and political training were charged up not as compensating virtues but as additional vices....Jackson's triumph over Adams was overwhelming. It would be an exaggeration to say that this was simply a victory of the man of action over the man of intellect, since the issue was posed to the voters mainly as a choice between aristocracy and democracy. But as the two sides fashioned the public images of the candidates, aristocracy was paired with sterile intellect, and democracy with native intuition and the power to act.
without thinking about elections 175 years later.)

And the thread continues unbroken through history. McCarthy's crusade was more an anti-intellectual jihad than anything else. Nixon championed the 'silent (i.e., inarticulate) majority' against the 'liberal elites'. Liberals watched All in the Family thinking every episode put Archie Bunker in his place, but most viewers got the opposite message: Archie Bunker was the working class hero, shooting from the hip, his judgment unclouded by education or sophistication, giving the pointy-headed intellectuals the comeuppance they deserved.

This is the country we live in. It isn't going to change. Bush and the political culture of stupidity that has grown up around him (including a fundamentalist revival that is inimical to intellectual inquiry) may be particularly virulent manifestations of the disease, but (in that respect) they're still nothing new; the Republican war on science is an echo of the attacks on Adams's plan to build observatories. It's entirely possible that the catastrophic corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress will buy us a few years of respect for intelligence and ability and understanding, but a few years is the best we can hope for. The disease will come back. It always does.

So yes, sign me up for the struggle; but against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.

[That's all, folks]