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article imageOp-Ed: The Vietnam War started when the Vietnamese bombed Pearl Harbor? What?

By Paul Wallis     Feb 16, 2008 in Lifestyle
The classic whine of the “intellectual classes” bemoaning the ignorance of the rest of the population, has been around since the Greeks and ancient Chinese. According to a new book, America has a particularly virulent strain of anti-intellectualism.
“The Age of American Unreason,” by Susan Jacoby, is a study of America’s apparent loathing of knowledge.
Actually people have been despising the public’s intelligence, particularly in America, for a long time. According to his bio, Henry Ford didn’t actually say, “History is bunk.” He said “To say people don’t learn from history is bunk.” He was misquoted for decades.
Well, they’ve solved that problem. Now they just don’t learn history, their own on anyone else’s. Nor is geography considered relevant.
Jacoby’s arguments, and the history of America’s odd relationship with the kind of intelligence which has produced most of modern technology are explained in the New York Times:
…But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.
Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.
She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map
She decided to write the book when she heard the quote above regarding Pearl Harbor, on 9/11, 2001.
Jacoby’s not on any particular political side. She points out failing education standards, the religious conservative “antipathy to science”, and the vague meanderings of the progressive side, along with pop culture and a media culture where intelligence is definitely not a requirement.
The NYT article generated 978 comments. She said her object in writing the book was to generate a conversation, and she’s obviously succeeded to that extent.
OK, the culture is a joke, and a mass of double standards. If you get a broken leg, you don’t go to see a talkback radio jock, you see a doctor. The society is dependent on knowledge, whether it likes it or not.
I’d just like to make one point here.
The one group left out in terms of responsibility was intellectuals. I’ve met self proclaimed intellectuals whose actual intelligence, outside their little set speeches and formula brow beatings, was nonexistent.
Having obtained their level of “intellectual authority”, if there is such a thing, they become obstacles. They make careers out of denigrating new ideas, obstructing more talented people, and generally creating a view of intellect and knowledge which is purely negative.
Case in point: Physics.
At one time there was a saying in physics that “Physics is the only real science, the others are just stamp collecting.”
That’s an interesting statement these days, mainly because of physics’ routine inability to prove its own ideas. Biology, at the time considered the lowest of the low, is now doing science physics couldn’t even approach.
The culture at the time of that statement was pure arrogance. Even now, multidisciplinary work is considered some weird innovation.
Physics has yet to produce a concept like gene expression, or variable values in an equation. Nor has it yet found a use for the Mandelbrot equation, which can give you a mathematical formula for a pine tree.
It’s sort of funny, in a slapstick way, because the Mandelbrot is probably the only way of getting a unified field theory; it’ll be something like “E is to F”, because like a Mandelbrot, a field has to have a consistent, working, relationship with itself.
Einstein couldn’t get it because he didn’t have the “is to” function, which was itself derived from chemistry, not physics or mathematics.
Levels of knowledge are relative, too. Today’s tyrants of information are the ignoramuses of tomorrow.
If you’re a pedant or a dogmatist, you can’t be an intellectual, because there’s nothing in either method requiring intellect any more than a calculator.
There’s a fallacy in the whole idea of anti intellectualism. Any fool can claim to be a genius, and believe it. Many fools do.
But being considered an idiot is always going to be something any human being will avoid if possible.
I just wonder how much of America’s anti intellectualism is caused by these damn little tin gods in their Fortresses of Ineptitude?
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