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Resisting Anti-Intellectuals
Written March 11, 2018

There was a merger a couple of years ago between the Center For Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation, retaining the former organization's name but the latter's chief executive officer.

That CEO is Robyn Blumner.  She's been a lawyer, an activist, a leader of major nonprofits, and for 16 years a nationally syndicated columnist with the Tampa Bay Times.

In December 2017, when it came time for CFI's fund drive, Ms. Blumner included a form to be submitted with contributions. 

She asked how we had discovered the Center For Inquiry and what issues now concerned us.  So I told her.

I first encountered your organization many years ago, when Skeptical Inquirer offered rational explanations of such popular “mysteries” as UFO sightings and the Bermuda Triangle.

I continue to worry about anti-intellectualism.  Many Americans cling to what they were taught in Sunday school.  When “elites” and “experts” try to teach them more modern findings about evolution and climate change and such, they feel persecuted.  At the Dover creationism trial in 2005, Pastor Ray Mummert complained, “We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

Ms. Blumner took the time to reply to me, on Darwin Day no less.  “I agree with you,” she wrote, “that dangerous anti-intellectualism is running rampant in our country.  It has always been with us, but it seems ascendant right now.  ...Your generosity toward CFI is one reason we can stand against the Pastor Mummerts of this world.  Thank you for your ongoing support and for taking the time to share your thoughts.”

I concluded those thoughts by confessing:

I'm not sure I can do anything personally about this long-standing difficulty, but I'm bringing it to the attention of the rest of the committee planning my 50th anniversary reunion at Oberlin College.

See also this later post on this website.  The previous month I had e-mailed the other members of that committee, repeating some other thoughts I've posted here.

While we're thinking about various issues, one that particularly bothers me (because I majored in the sciences) is anti-intellectualism.  This is not a new problem in America.

Our founding principle is that all people are created equal.  To me, that means we all start out as infants with blank slates.  Some slates remain blank, or nearly so.  Yet the lesser-educated have developed what Isaac Asimov called “the false notion that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

If Oberlin alumni do have knowledge, it wasn't handed to us because of some pre-existing elite status.  No, we studied.  Others may have chosen not to learn, lest they discover that some of their cherished beliefs are wrong.

Many on the right adamantly reject the findings of recent scholarship about evolution and climate change and trickle-down economics and many other topics.  At a hearing in 2010, Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy cried, “Someone has to stand up to experts!”

Do conservatives resent institutions like Oberlin?  Do they hate our leftist professors for forcing their liberal conclusions down the throats of the next generation?  And if they do, how can we gain more acceptance of those ideas?

For example, Geno Smith of the New York Giants opined on February 24 (in four different tweets):  “You can't serve two masters.  Science has done so many things for us as humans and I'm grateful for it, but I believe in the Lord.  [Nevertheless], as we know, a lot of the ‘truths’ that we thought were true actually aren't.

“I been studying this whole flat earth vs globe thing... and I think I may be with Kyrie [Irving] on this... b4 you judge do some HW but what do you guys think?”

Chris Thompson reacted:  “‘Before you judge do some homework.’  Ah, man!  Literally centuries of homework done by some of the most important figures in the history of physics — to say nothing of, you know, observable phenomena and actual images from space — and Geno wants me to read some damn internet blogs.”  

As Neil deGrasse Tyson points out, “A subject is scientifically controversial when actively debated by legions of scientists, not when actively debated by the public, the press, or by politicians.”

And Eric D. Snider says, “This is like when Fox News polls its viewers on whether climate change is real, whether there is such a thing as ‘gravity,’ etc.  There's an actual, objectively correct answer to this question, but let's see how people feel.”

Thomas G. Liebenguth of suburban Pittsburgh writes:  “In my lifetime, I have witnessed a cultural change that has gone from rejecting stupidity to tolerating it, then celebrating it and consequently weaponizing it.  For many years, the Republican Party has successfully manipulated a large segment of the electorate to vote against their interests by harnessing the forces of stupidity.

“Once upon a time, critical tasks were thought to be best handled by experts, not outsiders who could ‘shake things up.’  Intellectuals were revered, not chastised for being elitist.  Science and math were considered noncontroversial pillars of truth.  Now they are routinely questioned by emboldened average Joes who make up their own facts.”

The emboldened average Joe is very opinionated, but he doesn't know what he's talking about.

He has simple answers that he believes will easily solve complex problems.  For example, profit-minded business executives have convinced him that government shouldn't be run like a government — which it is — but rather like a business — which it is not.

He hates people who are different from himself or have different ideas.  He calls them demeaning names.  He'd like to lock them up or send them back where they came from.

He wants a leader who thinks like he does and talks like he does, pontificating, warning of huge conspiracies against him and his kind.

Should not informed conclusions have more value than Joe's fantasies?



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