7.5.08

a trend of anti-intellectualism

I was watching MSNBC during my lunch break yesterday when – and I wish I could find a transcript instead of paraphrasing from memory – a discussion on the silly gas tax holiday plan got my attention. The host, whoever she was, asked her visiting talking head (Fiona, Fiora…something?) about the letter signed by 230 economists declaring the gas tax holiday plan proposed by McCain and crypto-Republican Clinton to be a bad idea. In essence, the tax is such a small portion of gas prices that suspending it wouldn’t yield great sums, the savings wouldn’t be passed on to consumers, and it does nothing to support conservation. Talking Head’s response was along the lines of “Who are these economists anyway? They don’t have to go to work, or drive miles and miles everyday to get to work, or get their hands dirty.” In other words, economists are out-of-touch academics who can’t relate to the plight of the “working class.” In yet other words, economists are elitist eminence grises whose oracular pronouncements are as easily disposed of as Armageddon-warnings on a street preacher’s sign.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who won’t “put [her] lot in with economists.”

I’m a bit outraged, frankly. These economists – four of which are Nobel prize winners – who have made it their vocation to study economics. Why is their experience dismissed so cavalierly? Why doesn’t a consensus of 230 economists carry any weight?

The answer ties into what I’ve been reading on the topic of Intelligent Design/Creationism in magazines like Skeptic, namely, how science education is severely lacking. The consequence is that creationist attacks on evolution gain traction in part because people don’t know enough about science and evolution to understand what’s wrong with creationist arguments. But this scientific ignorance also stems from a similar kind of suspicion towards education. Academia? Bad. Education? Bad. Reason and intelligence? Bad. There’s something scary about them booksmart people and all that edookashun.

I guess this fear and suspicion explains why intellectual-seeming Democrats get trashed as elitist and Republican simpletons with folksy charm (read: nausea for the rest of us) get credible presidential campaigns.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's rather funny you used the term anti-intellectualism. I've been listening lately to a comic from who was anti-Bush during Senior Bush times (he's unfortunately dead now - Bill Hicks). It's quite amazing the coincidences between then and now that he talks about in his act. One of his bits happen to be about a growing anti-intellectualism going around at that time. Must be a Bush in the White House that breeds this type of thing...

Frédérik Sisa said...

That's a good point - the Bush administrations do seem to embody an institutionalized hostility towards science, reason, and all that intellectual stuff, more so than other administrations. Just look at how Bush Jr. officials politicize climate change science...

But I think it's more than just Bush in the White House. It's also the "right-wing" dominance in talk radio (i.e. Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc) and major cultural forces such as the creationist/ID movement and their "wedge" strategy.

Sounds like I should look up this Bill Hicks fellow...