December 10, 2011

FRANK J. FLEMING: Anti-Intellectualism:

The main problem may be confusing “simple” with “dumb.”

If something is simple, then dumb people will believe it. And if dumb people believe something, then soon some conclude that smart people should believe something else. There’s a flaw in that philosophy.

Why shouldn’t you touch a hot stove? There’s no complex, smart answer to that. You’ll get roughly the same answer from Stephen Hawking that you’d get from Forrest Gump: It’s hot, and it will hurt.

But say you were going to argue that you should touch a hot stove. That would have to be a very complex answer, since it defies basic logic. And some people could run with that, talking in detail about pain receptors and the brain’s reaction to stimulus, and come up with a very smart-sounding argument on why touching a hot stove is a great idea.

Others will go further and mock all those ignorant people in the flyover states for their irrational fear of hot stoves and announce, “The most enlightened thing to do is to press one’s face against a hot stove.” Those people are what we call intellectuals.

Similarly, when someone comes up with a well-reasoned argument backed by top economists that two plus two equals five, there’s no brilliant way to refute it. The only response is: “No, you’re an idiot; it’s four.” But if you say that, you’ll be called anti-smart people.

Well, when the wave of anti-intellectualism sweeps America, Frank’s probably safe.

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