Sunday, October 17, 2010

Intellect as Evasion

Mel at BroadSnark offers an insightful critique of (Jay Smooth's) liberal anti- anti-intellectualism.

I understand why people are critical of the anti-intellectualism displayed by right wing populists who seem so disdainful of reading books, processing facts, or critical thinking of any kind. But it amazes me when otherwise observant people can’t see that anti-intellectualism is reactionary. It is a reaction to the idea that there is a small cadre of elites who are uniquely able to make important decisions on behalf of all of us.

There is no essential difference between supporting a ruling class based on blue-blood birth or ivy league degrees – it’s usually one and the same anyway.

The Christine O’Donnell commercial Smooth refers to is focused on morality, not intelligence. She is saying that she will “do what you would do” in the context of not being a corrupt politician. Now I have no doubt in my mind that she will be just as corrupt as the rest, but why not confront the issue of morality and corruption directly? How does being an intellectual make someone more moral? Is intellect the only thing of value in life?

For people who supposedly do a lot of critical thinking and evidence-based decision making, those who think like Smooth offer no proof that these supposedly smarter, more moral people are good leaders. In fact, they seem completely blind to all evidence to the contrary. Bill Clinton was smart and totally fucked us over. Carl Rove is smart. So is Paul Wolfowitz. I hear Stalin was smart.

The intellectual hierarchy implicit in this way of thinking bugs me, but I think what bugs me even more is the abdication of responsibility. In one part of the video, Smooth talks about how he wants to vote for someone who actually knows about stuff he doesn’t. I realize that none of us can know everything, but that also includes politicians. That’s (presumably) why they hold hearings and listen to people with expertise.

It reminds me of a blog comment that really irked me some time back. The commenter was responding to the idea of anarchism.

I have literally no interest in doing much of the day to day running of a city myself, nor do I want to be at the mercy of “might makes right” types. I am happy to cede some powers to government to have them do those things for me.

So basically, the commenter wanted to be able to sit on their ass watching Top Chef without having to trouble themselves with the boring details of life. And if their ability to do that is only won by giving power to people who will use it to enrich their friends, bomb children in Afghanistan, or put millions of poor people in jail? Fuck em.

How selfish is that?

One of the reasons we constantly get screwed is that people think they can remain ignorant of policy and process. They think they can leave the tedious stuff to others. If we actually want any justice in the world, we need to take the time to learn boring shit. We can’t just sit around in our underwear eating family-sized boxes of cereal, at least not all the time. Maybe if we all got off our asses and did something we would find out that we are more capable than we have been led to believe.


Anonymous BroadSnark said...

Thanks for the post.

5:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home