Anti-intellectual intellectuals

February 3, 2015


If intellectual curiosity means the desire to learn new things, encounter new ideas, explore and explain the world, then “intellectuals” have no more of it than other people do. Possibly less. They limit themselves to one field and do their job and earn their paycheck, as a reward for serving the masters by enforcing shallow conventional wisdom and political correctness. In fact, it’s more common to find subtlety and openness of thought, as well as sheer common sense, among the working class, which has been less indoctrinated and regimented than the middle and upper classes. The British journalist William Cobbett said it in 1820: “Give me leave to say that…these [lower] classes are, to my certain knowledge, at this time, more enlightened than the other classes of the community… They see further into the future than the Parliament and the Ministers. –There is this advantage attending the pursuit of their knowledge: they have no particular interest to answer; and, therefore, their judgement is unclouded by prejudice and selfishness. Besides which, their communication with each other is perfectly free. The thoughts of one man produce other thoughts in another man. Notions are canvassed without the restraint imposed upon suspicion, by false pride, or false delicacy. And hence the truth is speedily arrived at.” Talk to someone from the working class about politics and, unless he’s a white man who has been corrupted by Limbaughite fascism, you’ll see he understands elementary Marxian truths—that the rich run the country, politicians are bought by the corporate sector, American “democracy” is a sham, the whole game is rigged against the majority of the population—that most academics can’t even comprehend, much less believe. The more education, the less rational.[1]



[1] To give a minor example: upon my arguing once that big business has near-total control over U.S. policy, a highly respected liberal historian said there was an obvious problem with this opinion, namely: if the rich are so clearly in charge, why doesn’t everyone know this fact and rebel against it? To which I replied that most people (not academics) do know it—just look at public-opinion polls—but that it isn’t exactly easy to rise up collectively and overthrow a society’s central institutions. His blindness to these profoundly obvious truths is symptomatic, and very different from non-academics’ relative clear-headedness. See Nicholas Abercrombie et al., The Dominant Ideology Thesis (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984).

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