Anti-Intellectualism, Illusions Of Intellectualism, And The Culture Of Misrepresentation

According to many of today’s thinkers, anti-intellectualism is in fashion. From the Deep South to the West Coast, icons of anti-intellectualism, like Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian, are celebrated, while the icons of intellectualism among us are treated with hostility and distrust.

While this is true, it is also true that the illusion of intellectualism, made possible by the wealth of easily accessible information — some accurate, some quite the opposite — is also in fashion. While anti-intellectualism and the illusion of intellectualism seem unlikely partners, social media has allowed them to coexist, resulting in a trend toward a flourishing culture of misrepresentation.

To support my belief that today’s icons of anti-intellectualism are using illusions of intellectualism to further their careers or positions, I refer you to a study recently published by the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology’s titled “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullsh*t.” In the introduction to the study, the authors use Princeton professor emeritus Harry G. Frankfurt’s analysis “On Bullsh*t” to clarify the meaning of the term.

“For the essence of bullsh*t is not that it is false but that it is phony.”

Frankfurt goes on to clarify the intention of the bullsh*ter.

“The bullsh*tter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.”

Now that the term and the intention have been clarified, we can return to the University of Waterloo study and its support for my statement about illusions of intellectualism.

“Indeed, given the rise of communication technology and the associated increase in the availability of information from a variety of sources, both expert and otherwise, bullsh*t may be more pervasive than ever before.”

In the study’s general conclusion, the authors offered a description of those who are more drawn to phony statements.

“Those more receptive to bullsh*t are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

The prevalence of inspirational quotes and memes has made it possible for everyone to present illusions of intellectualism without the need for true understanding. The ability to use a search engine to find a quote fitting a specific situation has allowed everyone to appear literary without ever needing to open a book. The brighter icons of anti-intellectualism know how susceptible the public is to the illusions of intellectualism, so they use carefully chosen illusions to misrepresent the validity of their opinions to further their own agendas.

This trend of misrepresentation through the use of illusions of intellectualism has caused society to ignore the rise of anti-intellectualism, which is now near the point of no return. All the anti-intellectuals have to do is share a quote that either sounds meaningful, like the Deepak Chopra quotes cited in the University of Waterloo study, or that was written by a respected author, and they instantly appear more intelligent, better informed, and more authoritative than they really are.

Even more concerning is that these icons of anti-intellectualism use both types of quotes to lend credence to their often-dangerous and nearly always narrow-minded opinions. Today, illusions of intellectualism are used to support everything from religious beliefs to political leanings to hatred. For our society to survive, the public must begin looking past the obvious and toward the source and the real meaning. The public must reject anti-intellectualism and educate themselves by refusing to believe in the illusions of intellectualism many public figures attempt to project.

The dangers presented by anti-intellectualism and our growing culture of misrepresentation are largely underestimated, as are their negative influences on the future of society. To prevent anti-intellectualism from causing the downfall of our society, as it has caused the downfall of so many in the past, we must stop blindly assisting the icons of anti-intellectualism from allowing illusions of intellectualism, grandeur, wealth, and popularity to create an entire culture built on misrepresentation.

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