Sunday, November 11, 2007


I am by turns amused and confused by various reactions to some of my blog posts by those on the right. I am not picking on Marshall Art, but as he is the most frequent right-winger to post here, I will use him as an example, for the good reason that examples abound from his very keyboard. He wrote here of "liberal intellectuals" (when he was actually referring to judges interpreting the law); he wrote here the following:
It's also legitimate to question the faith of someone who so proudly rejects long held beliefs about the faith as backward or uneducated, as if education is a basis for determining good or evil.

In one of his very first blog posts, he attempted to prove "scientifically" that a fetus was a human being because of the presence of unique DNA in fetal tissue. When I pointed out to him, politely but firmly, that he didn't seem to understand the way science works, and I wrote a post on the subject, all I got in response was a change in tactics. I also pointed out that trying to argue for the personhood of a fetus ignored the fact that we are nation of laws, and the response was a bunch of Bible verses thrown at me. In other words, rather than argue, the ground continued to shift to keep the argument from centering on something that might disprove his assertion.

In 1963, Richard Hofstadter wrote a Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. In this book he explores the history what he calls "anti-intellectualism" in politics, religion, and social life. While I agree with my old college professor, Robert Heineman, who in his own book, Authority and the Liberal Tradition, raises many questions about Hofstadter's work, including the quite elitist notion inherent in the term "anti-intellectualism", there is abundant evidence in Hofstadter's work to back up his thesis that there is a history of rejecting out of hand the thoughts and opinions of people who are well-educated, articulate, and knowledgeable about a great many things. This is not to claim some victimhood, to have a pity-party for all the smart people suffering at the hands of stupid people. It is merely to point out that it exists, and to wonder what, exactly, we can do about it.

The funny thing about this subject is that it becomes confused, and complicated, by a tendency among some of the most ignorant, anti-science, anti-thought movements in the country to create institutions similar to serious intellectual ones. Therefore we have the Institute for Creation Research, and its accompanying journal, which is almost a parody of serious, peer-reviewed scientific publications. We have various "universities", like Bob Jones, Liberty, and Regent (the last having lost its accreditation long ago, even as its law school graduates infect our Federal Justice Department) which produce students good at dressing well, but totally ignorant of basic biology, chemistry, geology, and American history.

There are the propagandists of the right - Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Michelle Malkin, with their "books", their "arguments", and their constant talk. We are flooded with talk We are overwhelmed by it, drowned by it. That none of these people has any serious moral, intellectual, or political acumen at all is ever brought up (well, maybe the moral part) when they are dragged out from under their various rocks and presented to the American people. It isn't just that they aren't educated (actually, Coulter is a lawyer); they are ignorant, and their ignorance runs so deep and is so profound, it staggers my own imagination that anyone takes them seriously at all. Yet, they are serious media players despite being deeply flawed individuals.

Finally, all this filters down here, on the Internet, and we have people who actually argue that there is no such thing as evolution, or that the big bang doesn't take all that much imagination to picture, or who claim that DNA proves that abortion is murder. What are we to make of it all?

I have written that I refuse to argue certain things because they are beyond the point of argumentation. Whether it's evolution, or the age of the Universe, or some other scientific issue, an anti-science position does not deserve to be taken seriously at all, and any response confers upon it a legitimacy it does not deserve. I suppose, for that reason, that I am elitist. Yet, what other choice is there?

Where do all these musings lead? Only here. In the first place, I do not consider myself an "intellectual", but a consumer of intellectual work. It is one thing to argue about the merits of a work based upon what the author presents. On the other hand, to dismiss out of hand someone's writing this way:
Another lunatic is on the loose. Talk about over-inflated sense of self-importance. This kind of talk makes me sick, with all it's psuedo-elitism, "I'm immune to such lowly nonsense" nonsense. People like this add nothing to the culture, the system or the social interactions of real people living real lives. We're talking about a professor of holier-than-thou.

it seems to me the only proper response is no response at all. Refusing to engage non-arguments, based upon some person's pride in their own ignorance, is the only way to keep moving forward.

Virtual Tin Cup

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