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Are you too clever for your own good?

November 24, 2016 22:57

Even before the Duke of Gloucester had berated Edward Gibbon for his "thick, square book", the encouragement of ignorance was already a powerful force in the English speaking world.

Whilst it can be recognized that the Right get in a tizzy when the Left use the USA as a reference, the fact is our cousins across the pond do have some of the brightest and best examples. Such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, both accused of being unsuitable for political office due to their intellectual pursuits.

Later, Richard Hofstadter, in a classic study of the plight of intellectualism in the USA, noted that "It seemed to be the goal of the common man in America to build a society that would show how much could be done without literature and learning--or rather, a society whose literature and learning would be largely limited to such elementary things as the common man could grasp and use".

Indeed, the widely popularised and populist Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, delighted his followers with observations such as: "It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word".

In France, Sarkozy's "Cultivated Anti-Intellectualism" is something of an embarrassment, given that the Gaullist right were never "quintessentially vulgar" or anti-intellectual. That is in contrast to the situation in other G8 countries, where "bread and circuses" are served up as a daily substitute for political engagement. Indeed, if people consider that a bit of textual chit-chat on the old Dog and iBone is a political statement, then where are we? And so to Isaac Asimov, dead as he is, who thought that there was a " false notion that democracy meant that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'".

Meanwhile, in the UK, a former Education Secretary told an audience, including "gifted and talented" children, that academic success is to be celebrated as much as sporting achievement, adding "being clever is sometimes seen as a term of abuse, for example: 'Too clever for your own good'." But this was the very same person who was a cabinet colleague of a man who blamed the French for the Iraq War, because they had voted against it. It didn't stop there, because the justification for using the "blame the French" ruse was so mangled and indecipherable, that Mark Steel was lead to comment that "the Government would have done better to have their policy explained by Po off Teletubbies".

Anti-intellectualism extends to the political blogosphere, where the established principle seems to be that the way to attack the left is not to address it - because that would involve reading and comprehension - but to mock, ridicule, trivialise, deny, invent, deflect, and misrepresent, and then, when all of that has failed, to attack, with blunt adjectives and rightful indignation.

Of course, there is nothing new in that. Stewart Lee said: "you can prove anything with facts, can't you", since, when an argument cannot be sustained by reason or evidence, then gut instinct and prejudice become your friends.

It seems that giving a reasoned and well placed opinion is actually a transgression, something that decent chaps just don't do, or simply, as if political blogging was a football match, between the Right and Wrong.

The keeper in the red, effortlessly blocks a weak shot, boots the ball right up the field to his mate cruising in the opposition's penalty area, who Villa like, sends the ball crashing into the back of the opponents net. Of course, then Team Right, in the blue strip for those watching in black and white, unleash special pleading on the official in charge of the game: "Oy! Referee! The left are cheating again, that argument was well offside".

Okay, the liberal left does have some fine examples of this too, but I ran out of time ... :-)

November 24, 2016 22:57

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