Since the 1960’s, maybe earlier, the American academy has said that America is an anti-intellectual country. I first heard this said when I was a freshman in college. A professor said that America does not have academics or experts in politics like Europeans. Instead, intellectuals are kept locked up in the academy. This opinion appears to have formed in the post war years and became an article of faith in the 60’s. This was all before my time, but it strikes me as something the Boomers would have cooked up.
I always associate this attitude with the false worldliness that is common on the Left, particularly among Progressive politicians.The Clintons were two hayseeds from the Ozarks, but they carried on as if they were citizens of the world. Obama has a habit of pronouncing foreign words with the foreign accent associated with the word. He was raised abroad and never picked up the basics of another language, just the funny accents, like a bad comic from the 70’s.
Americans are anti-intellectual, but very much pro-expert. Foreigners often remark on this weird quirk, which is an English habit we inherited from the mother country. The Brits are nuts about experts. Have a problem around the house? Go find a man in a shed, who is a specialist at that particular problem. We have a bias against generalist and we have bias in favor of the practical application of knowledge. Learning a bunch of esoteric stuff just for the sake of learning it strikes most Americans as a bit pointless and dishonest.
When it comes to the topic of anti-intellectualism, the focus should be on the chattering classes, which in America operates as the megaphone for public policy experts. The vast managerial class that controls all aspects of society listens to these people. Most Americans, for example, don’t bother watching the chat shows and cable news channels, other than when something big happens. On the other hand, the managerial class, particularly the vast army of government bureaucrats, pay close attention.
It’s why the chattering skulls appear to live in a bubble, divorced from what is happening in America. Their lives are devoted to those who pay attention to them. They write and talk about what they know to people who live and work in politics. It’s why Charles Murray is treated like Marco Polo by the managerial class. He is one of the few to wander off campus and visit the country. His observations about Americans are read like Jonathan Swift, by the intended audience. Most probably think he is a fiction writer.
This obtuseness is everywhere in the chattering classes. This post I saw on NR reads like a parody. The guy who wrote it gives off a Rip Van Winkle vibe, as if he has been asleep for the last few decades. The PC terror campaigns waged in corporations and on social media are well documented. The people in the chattering classes, on the other hand, are just noticing. The article that is the subject of the post is worse. It reads like an essay for the Efficiency Society. Someone should send him Vox Day’s book.
This post, by the retired Marxist Ron Radosh, is another example of the insularity of the chattering classes. He is long past his expiry date so maybe he can be forgiven for not noticing that those “conservatives” are not conservative. They are Trotskyites just like him. They wandered over to the GOP because they feared the return of the Tsar, but otherwise, they retained all of their Progressive inclinations. The only people unaware of this are those in the chattering classes.
It is not just the B and C level talking heads. This post by big shot libertarian economist Tyler Cowen is a master work of juvenile vacuity. His great insight is that people don’t like paying for their own health care. He thinks Democrats are refusing to acknowledge this. Everything about the Democrat Party over the last century has been based on the free lunch, yet Cowen suspects they are trying to hide this from us. Cowen is a sheep in sheep’s clothing, by posing as an intellectual pretending to be an anti-intellectual.
Wu Zetian is credited with expanding and developing the imperial exam system during the Zhou dynasty. Wu could also be considered the first power-skirt, or perhaps the first power-gown. The exam system was used to recruit and train the best and brightest to work in the imperial administration. During the Song dynasty, the system was formalized throughout China. It was highly competitive, as it was the only way for an ambitious person to gain status in Chinese society. China became a land of scholar-bureaucrats.
The system also became increasing narrow, rewarding the memorization of select philosophical texts, to the exclusion of more practical knowledge. The result was a boiling off of the curious and critical. The one sure way to lose your place was to ask questions or be too curious. The system was great at promoting and enforcing conformity, but it resulted in a ruling class lacking the necessary technical skills to constructively address the world. It resulted in a ruling class that prized not noticing above all else.
A good example of how this warped the Chinese intellectual class, is the story of the first telescope brought to China by Western missionaries. The Chinese were duly impressed, but instead of using to understand the heavens, they wanted to use it for better fortune telling. This story is often cited as an example of how centuries of mandatory conformity can cripple an otherwise smart people. It is also often cited by modern population geneticist as an example of what is happening today with genetics.
Pulling the threads together, what seems to be happening in our chattering classes, and our academic classes as well, is a narrowing of thought to the point where the most prized ability is never looking up from the approved text. You cannot comment about the fly on your friend’s face if you never look at his face. In order to achieve unity and collegiality, our managerial class is adopting a monocular political ideology that screens out applicants at the college level, and boils off non-conformists, who slip by the gate keepers.
Again, it is ironic that the person credited with the imperial exam system was a woman, given that the modern exam system is increasingly dominated by women. It used to be that college was for men to acquire skills. Now it is a place for women to learn the rules and how to enforce them. It’s not a surprise that our intellectuals, the chattering classes, are increasingly blinkered. Rare is the scholar who possess anything resembling useful skills. Instead, they memorize the rules and how to cleverly restate them.
The imperial exam system served China well, but only after she conquered all of her neighbors and unified the Han people. The system was about locking in the gains of the past. What that says about the modern managerial class is open to debate. Perhaps they are solidifying control as globalism supersedes the nation state. Perhaps, like we see in modern business, the arrival of the SJW signals collapse. Regardless, we seem to be heading for anti-intellectualism, driven by the product of the managerial exam system.