avatarDouglas Giles, PhD

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Anti-Intellectualism

Arrogance comes in many forms; this is one.

“Only someone with a PhD could be so stupid.” — Actual words from an actual troll, actually. (Image Source: Piqsels)

Note: Medium promotion team has rejected this philosophy article for distribution. Read into that what you will.

Further note: Despite Medium deciding this article isn’t worth reading, many people are finding it and supporting it. I thank all of you for your support.

I recently wrote about receiving an e-mail ridiculing the writers of the Medium publication, Original Philosophy. The person's opinion is that philosophy articles aren't worth much and recommended instead that medium promote articles about pop culture, dating tips, business networking, and such.

The e-mail is an example of a very old phenomenon--anti-intellectualism. Not a lack of interest in intellectual discussion — which, right or wrong is everyone's right — but the attitude that intellectual discussion should not be encouraged or perhaps should be discouraged.

Well, this person will be upset with me, but I am going to insert some philosophy into this issue. Should there be a ⚠️ warning label that this contains intellectual content?

The Sin of Arrogance, Part One ⚠️

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Yes, some intellectuals are arrogant and boring. (Source: Piqsels)

In my earlier article, a reader brought up the issue that some intellectuals are arrogant and condescending toward others. Totally true. Such snobbery is common in the sciences, academia, and publishing. Wherever there is research, thinking, and writing, there will be some people exuding intellectual arrogance. Some people who are dedicated to an acquisition of knowledge will fall into the hubris of believing they are superior to those not in their particular subculture of interests.

We can argue over who are the worst offenders. I say it's the STEM people, but I acknowledge that too many academics in the humanities suffer from intellectual arrogance. Some teachers, yes, are arrogant. Engineers, yes. Business people, definitely, especially self-styles entrepreneurs and efficiency experts, can be very arrogant.

The point is that, yes, some intellectuals are arrogant and condescending toward others. Such people believe that greater knowledge in one area makes them superior people. But the intellectuals are only one type of person who makes this arrogant mistake.

The Sin of Arrogance, Part Two ⚠️

“Shove me in the shallow water, I’m above deep thinking.” (Source: Piqsels)

Arrogance comes in many forms. Intellectual arrogance is one. Another is the remarkably similar anti-intellectual arrogance. Both forms are people telling other people what they should think and think about.

We could easily dismiss, as too many intellectuals do, that anti-intellectuals are stupid people envious of smart people. Easy answers tend to be incorrect, and this one is too. Perhaps envy explains a few people, but there is no universal “stupid people want to shut down smart people” reality, and to believe such is, well, rather arrogant. I suggest that there is something else going on.

The anti-intellectual is saying that they know best what is important, and because they don’t like being an intellectual, they are superior to intellectuals. Same basic dynamic of arrogance and condescension. The physicist who believes his PhD means he is an expert on matters outside of physics and the anti-intellectual who believes science is a waste of time are equally arrogant.

Perceptive readers will note a political dimension to anti-intellectualism. Reactionary activists on the political Right have long sought to remove intellectual content from education. They especially want to suppress open questioning of dominant narratives. Some anti-intellectuals are just lazy thinkers snarkily exporting their aversion to deep thinking, but others actively seek to limit other people’s intellectual freedom.

The person who e-mailed me, going out of the way to ridicule philosophy, doesn’t find philosophy interesting and therefore condemns it as worthless. This person therefore wants the intellectual discussion of philosophical topics to be hidden. Perhaps not exactly censored, but kept away from the persons’ preferred interests. Some people prefer silos. Echo chambers in which one is never challenged by different ideas give an illusion of safety. The person was being arrogant, the arrogance of anti-intellectualism.

Stuck In the Middle With You ⚠️

It’s ironic, in a way, that philosophers receive arrogance and condescension from both sides. Philosophers are intellectuals who receive condescension from STEM and business “experts” and receive condescension from anti-intellectuals. Of course, some philosophers are arrogant and deluded about their sense of superiority, but that doesn’t justify attacks on the profession and everyone in it.

I love philosophy. I don’t expect anyone else to love philosophy. I find many things interesting — usually things most people have no interest in. That’s okay.

There are many things I don’t find interesting. Among those many things are things that are hugely popular. That’s okay too.

Both intellectual arrogance and anti-intellectual arrogance are the delusion that one can judge other people on what interests them. Personal bias inclines people to believe that those who don’t share one’s interests are dumb or wrong. We all have our personal interests and things that excite, amuse, and entertain us. That’s what makes life fun. Arrogantly denigrating other people for not sharing your interests is, for lack of a better word, childish.

The delusion that greater knowledge makes one a better person is not helpful, to say the least. Trying to prevent other people from thinking about things you don’t want to think about is actively harmful. Both intellectual arrogance and anti-intellectual arrogance are desires and actions to limit other people’s freedom.

Whatever you’re into (as long as it doesn’t harm others) is cool. Go for it. Let other people go for what excites, amuses, and entertains them (as long as they aren’t harming others).

P.S. — I know almost no one will read this far, but there will no doubt be objections to this article from certain people. Ask yourself first though, if you are just being arrogant.

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