Posted by: minnow | November 2, 2008

The Anti-intellectual Coin has Two Sides

Stereotypes and prejudice are two way streets.  This fact was driven home for me while reading a post on One Hand Clapping.  Julie Clawson has written a thoughtful post on anti-intellectualism.  As I read about her experience and perspective it occurred to me that my own experience was quite different from hers.  I was also struck by the thought that the difference I felt did not negate Julie’s experience.  In fact these two experiences together better examined the question and exposed the stereotypes and prejudices responsible for the lack of sincere conversation. 

Please read Julie’s post for yourself even though I will try to summarize for sake of continuity.  The anti-intellectualism Julie takes issue with the most is the attitude toward those who are well educated that their education is a liability or worse yet, evil.  The stereotype painted by these anti-intellectuals  is a picture of people who are out of touch with the plight of “real” folks, who label babies zygotes to make killing them more palatable, who like discussing ideas and philosophies but fail to get their hands dirty.  They may be able to quote Byron and Kahlil-Gibran but their “better-than-you” snobbery has never had to do a hard day’s work.   The flip side (I more personally identify with) is tired of the assumption that “Joe the Plummer” or “Joe six-pack” is a stupid man whose stupid wife only knows two words—“Yes, dear” and stands around in the kitchen all day barefoot and pregnant and ironing his blue collar shirts because he was too stupid to get a “good” education.  Grrr…

Both of these points of view are anti-intellectual.  Both distort the “other” point of view by jumping to conclusions, misjudging motive, and failing to inquire.  Instead we whine in self righteous indignation and fail to see how our own reactions are every bit as responsible as the other’s for our lack of serious (progressive, creative, healthful, solution producing) debate.

Although several voices in the comment section echoed Julie’s experience—that education is often regarded with distain by conservatives out to villain-ize liberals—I personally believe most of those “anti-intellectuals” actually feel a need to defend what they perceive as attacks on their own intelligence.  I further think, as the so-called anti-intellectuals attempt to make the argument that education does not always mean being taught how  to think but often means being taught what  to think, they inadvertently demonize the educated.  (One group’s attitudes shout, “You’re a snob.”   The other group’s attitude shouts, “You’re stupid.”)  Meanwhile both groups sacrifice a serious exchange of ideas for self-righteous anger and self-pity.  ARGH!

The language we use has meaning.  HOWEVER not everyone assumes the meaning we may intend.  If I misunderstand your meaning and respond with what you perceive (correctly or not) to be an attack against your intelligence you may response with what I perceive (correctly or not) to be an attack against me as an educated person.  Meanwhile our misunderstandings have moved us away from a healthy/helpful exchange of ideas. And of course, we blame the “other” for trying to make the debate about personality instead of ideas.  If instead of jumping to false conclusions we stopped to clarify the other’s meaning our response to his/her questions/statements might change dramatically. 

As I said on Julies blog, we would be much better off and more likely to work through differences if we asked people to tell us their stories–what brought them to their conclusions? What are their priorities? How have they been involved in the issue?–and not just their opinions. Sharing our experiences helps others see through new lenses and listening to other people’s stories helps us to see through new lenses as well.  We must figure out a way to take the best of what all sides have to offer, address the fears each side raises, and begin to find solutions to the problems our whole nation (world) faces. I think it begins with a willingness to try rather than the perpetual blame shifting, name calling (labeling so one can argue against a stereotype instead of wrestle with ideas), and whining.

I confess that I have often felt an arrogant attitude rise up in me against those with whom I do not see eye to eye, both in politics and in the Church.  A question from a “brother” from across the pond (on another blog and on a different topic) caught me up short.  It caused me to ask myself some pretty tough questions along the lines of the importance of being right vs being kind and I am embarrassed to say that my behavior has too frequently shown how much I value being right and too seldom shown how much I value being kind.  From here on out I plan on changing that ratio.




  1. I agree — great post.

  2. Great post! I made a similar, though less complete statement on Julie’s blog. It’s reassuring to know that there are people on both sides of these issues that are trying not to attribute the worst to those who differ from them.

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