“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
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12 thoughts on “Just As Good?”
There’s a similar idea in Sarah Vowell’s book about the Puritans. She talks about the American “distrust of experts” (why we sometimes like prefer candidates who are “regular folks” over “experts”) and makes an interesting parallel to the Puritan notion (later enthusiastically embraced by evangelicals) that you don’t need an intermediary between you and God–you can pray/be saved/whatever without an “expert’s” help.
So it’s a Protestant thing, you think? Interesting. Leave it to us to take a good idea in one area and torque it into something never intended for another!
I’m no historian, but are there studies to indicate that regimes populated by the intelligentsia are any more (or less) successful, or kinder, or human progress makers than those populated by the “common man”? JFK’s short tenure comes to mind, with its pride in hiring the “Best and the Brightest,” yet its legacy of the Bay of Pigs and the MacNamara-led expansion of our role in Vietnam. Reagan was at least viewed as one of unexceptional IQ, and he either ruined things or was the last great savior, depending on the color of your vote – but he was generally accepted as one who was pretty good at getting his agenda accomplished. I’d be surprised if the Protestant element is a driver – we’ve had too many immigrant influxes from Ireland / Italy / Hispania to be harking very attentively to the Puritan in our past.
I’m relieved to hear that take on it. I draw a bright line between my thoughts on needing human authority figures in my spiritual life and my serious need for human authority figures in other areas. The world of science comes to mind.
Your implication that intelligence does not equal kinder/better/more productive is certainly solid. And elitism, even academic, seems to sometimes be productive but also unsustainable. I wonder why that is?
But ignorance being equal to knowledge in decision making is just something I can’t embrace and see no evidence to support. I think Asimov’s quote points out our societal confusion about what democracy is supposed to be and how it is achieved.
I think a lot of people perceive that history has shown that “super smart” does not equate to “kind, good, or even effective.” Maybe too many examples of arrogant or immoral scientists doing experiments on unwitting humans, or often, just turning out to be wrong about what they so strongly asserted and has been overturned by some new insight. How many government intellectuals, regardless of party, have royally screwed things up with ineffective policy that had great theoretical appeal but little practical chance of working?
Maybe it’s the balance between emotional and intellectual intelligence; sometimes “regular folk” are perceived as having more of the former? There is also sometimes a tendency for intellectuals to talk down, vs. with, others.
There have also been a lot of needless attacks on faith from intelligentsia (and vice versa), which I think has served to create distrust. That’s been a real shame, because in reality (in my perception of reality, anyway…lol) faith and science/logic serve each other well, as long as neither oversteps its bounds and mischaracterizes the other. Everyone, in my opinion, uses both faith and logic. It’s simply a matter of where you choose to focus those uniqely human tools and how you use them to get to the closest thing to reality as a human can muster.
Maybe a related quote could be, “my arrogance is just as good as your humility?” Find me a humble intellectual, they might actually work pretty well.
Nice points, Jeff. I also think about the mix-ups between equality under the law — the goal of the Constitution being applied evenly and fairly to all citizens — and the concept Asimov references, that all ideas are equal or all states of readiness to participate in a successful democracy are the same.
“Intelligence plus character – that is the true goal of education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (how powerful was this highly educated, faith-oriented man’s combo of emotional and intellectual intelligence? wow)
Elizabeth, you always delight. Now you have gone and quoted one of my boyhood heroes. I’m sorry I haven’t been stopping by as often lately. I just moved to Kentucky and don’t have internet at home yet. I have a lot of catching up to do!
Welcome to Appalachia! If you ever have cause to be close to Charleston, WV, you MUST let me know!
Wow, call me slow to respond, because I have been. Everyone I know who has been through WV has described as beautiful, so I’m certain I’ll have cause to be close to Charleston, and I WILL let you know! Thank you for the welcome!
Come on down! 🙂