The Rise Of Anti-Intellectualism And Its Repercussions For Society

Anti-intellectualism is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a hostility or indifference to culture and intellectual reasoning.” In modern society, anti-intellectualism is not only on the rise, but it has also become de riguer. This assertion is supported not only by the opinions of intellectuals but also by current academic, cultural, and political movements. Unfortunately for society, the rise of anti-intellectualism has numerous repercussions of which the majority of the population is completely unaware.

Historically, the rise of anti-intellectualism began during the Industrial Revolution. As industry began to play a larger role in the success of a population, academics began changing to fit the needs of business. For hundreds of years, the goal of the upper classes was a classical education, which resulted in a theoretical understanding of philosophy, literature, history, science, and the arts. During the Industrial Revolution, a theoretical education became less desirable than a practical education, and since that time, the educational systems in the West have continued moving more toward the practical.

In the United States, during the 20th and 21st centuries, the rise of anti-intellectualism via a practical education continued, although unintentionally, as students were pushed toward science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by government-backed STEM initiatives. While STEM education in the United States has the potential to create intellectuals, it is, in many cases, creating graduates who only have skills specific to their fields and whose knowledge of classical subjects is limited at best. In a more extreme example, in Great Britain, students who choose STEM subjects are not likely to be exposed to any subjects outside of their chosen majors after entering university. This approach has left many well-educated Britons with excellent understandings of their chosen fields but with almost no advanced exposure to subjects outside of their areas of expertise.

In the West, the dominion of anti-intellectualism, the value of a classical education appears forgotten, but its value is now greater than ever. A classical education gives rise to the ability to think subjectively, while a practical education can limit a student’s ability to thinking objectively. It is indeed of utmost importance for an engineer to know how to solve real-world problems using established scientific and mathematical laws; however, according to Science magazine, it is equally important for an engineer to have the ability to think creatively. In a list of “Ten Important Reasons to Include the Humanities in Your Preparation for a Scientific Career,” the study of the humanities provides the tools for lifelong learning, global understanding, and communication, to name only a few.

Outside of academia, the rise of anti-intellectualism is even more apparent. Modern American culture worships anti-intellectualism through its devotion to reality television, today’s entertainment staple. When MTV broadcast the first episode of “Real World” in 1992, no one imagined the influence the genre would have on entertainment. Much in the same way that “video killed the radio star,” reality television has furthered the rise of anti-intellectualism in the West.

A perusal of online news often results in more stories of reality television’s pseudo-celebrities than in real news. This rise in the amount of information on the lives and loves of those who are famous merely for being famous has resulted in a generation whose heroes do not possess great intelligence, bravery, courage, or goodness but, instead, great wealth gained through little to no effort. Thanks to the rise of anti-intellectualism, gone are the days when heroes were men and women like Franklin Roosevelt and Rosa Parks; today’s heroes are celebrities like Kanye West and Donald Trump — both of whom embody all that is anti-intellectualism.

In fact, Trump’s background in reality television and professional wrestling, along with his current political candidacy, makes him the best example of the rise of anti-intellectualism in existence. Although Trump earned a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he not only exemplifies all that is anti-intellectualism, but he also glorifies it. Author, attorney, and activist David Niose recently affirmed his position on the connection between Trump and anti-intellectualism in an article in Psychology Today.

“…anti-intellectualism is at the root of much of the dysfunction in America today, and nowhere is it more evident than in the political realm…So even if Trump fades as many predict, clearly a large portion of the electorate is hungry for exactly what he offers. With other candidates across the country succeeding by taking stands that deny evolution and climate change while vilifying foreigners and beating the drum of militarism, there’s little to suggest that the anti-intellectual trend is just a passing phase. This can’t bode well for the direction of American society.”

It is at this time that we arrive at our hypothesis: anti-intellectualism is on the rise in the United States, and society will suffer greatly from its repercussions.

Those concerned with the rise and glorification of anti-intellectualism may want to consider the following questions: Will the rise of anti-intellectualism prevent the next generation of Americans from thinking creatively? If so, who will replace the great legal, scientific, and philosophical minds of today? Due to the influence of anti-intellectualism, will the next generation of Americans place more value on the Reality TV Awards than on the Pulitzer Prizes or the Nobel Prizes? Will American politics disintegrate further and become an extension of today’s celebrity-crazed culture? Will anti-intellectualism result in the country’s eventual demise?

It is important for the members of American society who have concerns about the direction in which the country is headed to do their parts to combat the rise of anti-intellectualism. Thanks to social media, the influence of anti-intellectualism constantly enters our homes, schools, and minds. Lies presented as truths are being distributed at an alarming rate, and those lies are being accepted by the public even though accessing information is easier than ever before. To further the rise of anti-intellectualism, many Americans are questioning science in the name of religion, regressing to a time when claims that the Earth was round were considered blasphemous.

It is the job of those concerned with the rise of anti-intellectualism to work diligently to spread truth and knowledge in today’s society, while ensuring the education the next generation receives facilitates creative thinking, an understanding of philosophy and history, and a refusal to allow the rise of anti-intellectualism to continue.

[Photo by John W. Ferguson/Getty Images]