Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Glenn Beck and Anti-Intellectualism

The New York Times Magazine has a profile out on Glenn Beck this weekend, but they have a preview available now. After reading it, I felt like it wandered. It was neither revealing of Beck's ethos, nor critical of the misstatements and intimations he dresses up as "history." But that's not what bothered me.

What bothered me was Beck's concept of populist intellectualism, where the "common man" gets it and the college educated mess it up. This was best represented in a comment by an attendee at Beck and Palin's Anchorage performance who remarked, "[Woodrow Wilson] was the start of the Progressive Era. He believed that college intellectuals should decide how the world should be run."

Now beyond the contradiction of deifying the founding fathers, (Thomas Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762 and passed the Virginia bar in 1967) and finding Woodrow Wilson's "college intellectuals" repugnant, there are broader concerns I have.

What's wrong with being a college educated intellectual? Why is this a perceived cause for a fissure in our social fabric? Is this now the great societal divide in America?

The rising tide of anti-intellectualism is one that has increasingly concerned me. It seems politically advantageous to pick on the smart kids. That's dangerous thinking. The college educated should not lord over those that don't have a college education, and perhaps that is the perception. Perhaps that is the reality. Young, college educated students are being tapped to manage older, more experienced professionals that haven't earned that piece of paper called a college diploma.

If that garners resentment, I understand it to a point, but to deride the educated as shysters because they are educated seems like a really good way to prevent the country from moving forward. Maybe that's the idea.

I meandering post to say the least. Maybe if I'd finished that graduate degree it would make more sense. Course, then I'd have to hate myself more.

1 comment:

Colin said...

I'll take a stab at this. I don't think there is anything wrong with being college educated or even, godforbid, getting one's MA or PhD. I doubt most people really think higher education is something to be scorned. But I do think a lot of people are sick of being condescended to by an arrogant and self-congratulatory intellectual elite who cite scraps of parchment as evidence of their superiority.

The problem with such people is that after reading a few dozen books they think they are credentialed to run the world and other people's lives. They have a sense of entitlement that their education should grant them the power to rule over the benighted masses.

Take health care reform for example. Those within Congress and the Obama administration who helped shape this monstrosity certainly do not lack for impressive academic backgrounds. I'm sure they had Ivy Leaguers by the dozen working on this 1,000+ page behemoth.

The problem, however, is that no matter how much they know, their knowledge will always pale in comparison to the collective knowledge of the people as harnessed by the free market. It's simply supreme arrogance on their part to think they can design some Rube Goldberg-type system that will produce superior results to that of free people (and, really, statism is simply equal parts arrogance in one's own abilities combined with pessimism in the ability of others to govern their own affairs).

Guess what? Many people have little interest in being ruled by a credentialed elite. They want to do as they please provided it doesn't hurt anyone else. They don't think they should have to submit to someone just because they have some impressive degrees.

Personally, the more I read and the more educated I become the more cognizant I am of just how little I know -- I wish more of those in government would be humbled, rather than emboldened, by their own education. Perhaps they simply need to study more economics, the task of which according to Friedrich Hayek, is to "demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."