Saturday, February 13, 2010

Smart Thinking

I see someone posting this daffy-nition of an intellectual:

"Someone who takes too much time to say more than he knows."

Now I have to wonder about the rise of anti-intellectualism in America. It seems to me that to be an intellectual - to be possessed of a superior mind - would be something to admire. But here is the definition of this movement from historian Richard Hofstadter: "Anti-intellectualism is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it, and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life."

I have seen snobbery and reverse snobbery in action all of my life. Yes, I know people who look down on "service workers" and I know "service workers" who sneer at every echelon of society they consider to be above them. It doesn't make sense to me. If everyone showed a little more respect for everyone else, we might not have these stratifications.

For instance, there are people who look down on the guy who repairs things - until they need something repaired! At a big banquet hall, when some waiter drops a tray of roast beef/twice baked potato and green beans almondine dinners, someone has to come along and clean up the mess, or no one is going to have a very good time.

There is some new TV show called Undercover Boss or My Boss Can't Do My Job or something along those lines. The preposterous point of the show is to have the big head cheese of some giant company come out of the boardroom and down to the operating area. In the installment of the show that came on after the Indianapolis Professional Football Team went down to defeat in the Super Bowl, much to the chagrin of their petulant quarterback, the CEO of the world's largest trash hauling firm was given goggles, a safety vest and gloves, and showed up on the sorting line, where, of course, he was shown to be inept, thus making others feel better. It's this man's job to run the company, which does not make him a better person than the person sorting bottles and cans on a conveyor belt. That's my point: I think it would be a good idea to show respect up and down the ladder.

To quote from The Breakfast Club:

Brian Johnson: I'm a %$@*)^! idiot because I can't make a lamp?
John Bender: No. You're a genius because you can't make a lamp.

Remember that scene? The scholarly lad was upset because he was getting the first failing grade of his life in shop class because the lamp he made did not work, and he regarded lampmaking as an insignificant calling. The subtle beauty of John Hughes, who wrote that screenplay, was in using a device of illumination to...illuminate a point. Which was, to me, that we need lampmakers and lamp fixers and people who sit by lamps reading great books and non-great books. To hate someone for being intellectual is tantamount to hating someone for not being intellectual. As soon as we all figure that everyone has his or her own niche, and we all show a little respect for everyone in that niche, my, what a better world we can all inhabit.

1 comment:

Ralph said...

Mark, anti-intellectualism is as American as apple pie. Off the top of my head I can trace it back at least to the nativist "Know-Nothing" movement of the 19th century. In more modern times, are you old enough to remember Adlai Stevenson and his followers being derided as "eggheads"? (Stevenson was bald, and the supposed cause was too much intellectual activity.) John Kerry suffers from the same derision. It's been taken to such an extreme by now that the brilliant Michael Steele, head of the GOP, really thinks "nuanced" is a quality to be avoided (find the interview with Steve Innskeep). We joke about the dumbing down of the country, but it's real, it's real.