May 01, 2003

The Post-Modern Anti-Intellectual Hublet and

The Post-Modern Anti-Intellectual

Hublet and I often spend time with a fellow ex-grad student who also happens to be our "token uber-liberal friend." He's a nice guy, but the views he espouses remind me why I decided that getting a PhD in literature would be the intellectual equivalent of becoming a two-dollar whore--selling myself cheap and pretending to be whatever the customer of the moment wanted in order to survive. One of his favorite topics is the "rise of anti-intellectualism" and its pernicious effect on society. I've always disagreed with this idea, but it's only recently that my reasons why have crystallized into any sort of cogent argument.

In order to hold the position that America is a nation of anti-intellectuals, you must begin with the belief that the average American is stupid. This belief is widely held in academia--to point out to these people that professors are merely "average Americans" with degrees is a non-starter, as you will be subjected to a lengthy diatribe the upshot of which is that their intellectual curiosity is a rarity, and thus establishes them as members of the intellectual elite. It's a circular argument, and one you cannot win, but it is a useful illustration of the attitude that Den Beste points out in his recent essay: they're in the club, and they OUGHT to be in charge.

When you persist in arguing that there is no inherent superiority in being able to apply post-colonial theory to MacBeth, because the theory itself is as questionable as its application, you get the Stanley Fish answer: the theory is merely misunderstood and misapplied by rubes and enemies of the intellectual left. Never mind that the majority of the folks "misapplying" the theories are being published in journals edited and distributed by the intellectual left, or that these writers are intellectual lefties of impeccable credentials. If you point out that there is a sense of entitlement among the humanities professoriate based entirely on ephemera and circle-jerking self-congratulation, you are charged with the greatest of all crimes: anti-intellectualism!

It is not anti-intellectual to question the truths held to be self-evident by the PoMos. It is not anti-intellectual to hold theories of education up to rigorous scientific investigation; in fact, it is classical intellectual investigation. The only objections the PoMos consistently raise to standardized testing, to the teaching of the Western Canon, and even, in society at large, to what are considered "traditional" values, is that they might be offensive or discriminatory. Instead, the enlightened view goes, we must replace these old offensive and discriminatory ideas and practices with new ones--which are equally offensive and discriminatory, but only to the average (read: stupid) American. When there is an outcry, when the real damage being done to the minds of our young people by failing to insist upon excellence is pointed out, they go underground, hijacking textbook approval panels and inserting their agenda behind the scenes (thanks, Jim, for pointing out that article). Because they know best, after all.

If anti-intellectualism means standing up to smug, insulated, self-righteous intellectual hacks with weak theories and even weaker defenses of those theories, then by all means, call me anti-intellectual. A post-modern anti-intellectual, in fact.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 1, 2003 07:35 AM | TrackBack