aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Wisdom has built her house -- Proverbs 9:1

Victor Davis Hanson writes in a recent piece on the deflation of the Academic brand. So many people with expensive, brand-name degrees from elite institutions have demonstrated such abysmal ignorance that it calls into question what kind of education these people received. Meanwhile, another news story today concerns a candidate for State House of Representatives in Florida who claimed a degree from Miami of Ohio that she never received. She apologized for her "mistake" (how do you mistakenly claim a degree you never received?); meanwhile, the pic of her posing with her diploma shows that it is for a degree that Miami of Ohio doesn't confer -- that is, it's been consciously faked (how do you mistakenly fake a diploma?).

Both of these articles show that diplomas and degrees have been commodified and are presumed to have value apart from anything one actually knows or can do. Which fits our present day, which is obsessed with credentials. If I have a Harvard degree, I am presumed smart, even if all my data is junk and my judgments a total train wreck; meanwhile, if I don't have a degree, I will fake one rather than present myself as a candidate who lacks one. To all of which, I ask, again, "What university did Socrates attend? What was his Major?" Socrates, of course, was self-taught; yet, we are still arguing over his thoughts twenty-four centuries after his death.

Meanwhile, some of my lefty friends and colleagues again and again accuse us conservatives and traditionalists of being anti-intellectual, or anti-science, or something. Yet they themselves are only shallowly educated, and many of the public icons they hold up for emulation are little better than ideologues who use their credentials to gain currency for ideas that are poorly supported by the facts.

There is, indeed, a strain of anti-intellectualism in American life, and always has been. Anti-intellectuals are those who think everything is a con. They think they see through all the fancy arguments. They dismiss education as airy-fairy stuff. They operate mostly on the level of slogans.

Intellectuals are those who ask questions in order to find out answers. They are genuinely curious and they are willing to be convinced. They may question motives, but they know that motives are secondary or irrelevant when facts are on the table. They respect education, but they are not obsessed with credentials; they remember that it was an uneducated child who asked awkward questions about the emperor's new clothes. Some of the best-educated people I've ever met never went to college; some of them didn't even finish high school.

Meanwhile, the pseudo-intellectuals are those who are obsessed with credentials. They signal their belonging to the elite in various ways: not only by their fancy degrees, but by their herd-following opinions. If "all the best people" are going one way, they go that way, too. If someone who lacks their credentials or connections tries to be heard, they pooh-pooh his opinion. They are immensely status-conscious. They suck up, and they punch down. The worlds of academia and the clergy -- the two areas I have spent most of my life in -- are full of them. The world of politics is, too. Pseudo-intellectuals think they are data-driven, but they will throw facts overboard before they say or do anything that will challenge their place among the elite.

The existence of pseudo-intellectuals and anti-intellectuals justifies the prejudices of each about the other; neither is really interested in learning anything, which is the mark of the true intellectual of any age and level of schooling. When I was getting ready to go off to college, my brilliant mother said to me, "Never let college interfere with your education," and I have followed her advice throughout my life.

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