Farewell to Anti-Intellectualism

Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate who lost two successive runs for the President's Office in the 1950s, was once told by an admirer that he had the vote of every thinking American. To which he responded, "That is not enough-- I need a majority."

The end of the gruelling election season and the rise of its charismatic winner has restored faith in politics and justice among many Americans. While the world jubilates at the falling of racial barriers, a sizeable population is hopeful that the new president will usher in an era of American intellectualism that has all but disappeared under the current occupant of the White House.

Despite the fact that the United States arguably houses the largest number of top Universities, research laboratories and other academic institutions, one of the insults that has gained ground in the last several years is the misuse, and possible abuse, of the term "elite". In sociological circles, elitism is used to describe a minority group that enjoys privileged status, usually due to the possession of power or money. Americans are somewhat unique in also using the term to describe one's educational level, with these achievements being a source of mockery in political circles. The public's preference for folksy presidents who make good beer-companions explains why highly educated presidents like Nixon and Clinton routinely self-deprecated their laurels.

While it is tempting and somewhat simplistic to point towards the prevailing infotainment culture for the intellectual black-hole that American society finds itself in, even serious media cannot be absolved of their portion of blame. One of the oddest features of the American news media that strikes an outsider is their sense of bogus objectivity which assumes truth is always equidistant from two points, according equal importance to both sides of an argument regardless of their intrinsic merits. Effects of this variety of forced impartiality result in an environment where a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, for instance, is offered as a legitimate alternative to the scientific theory of evolution. Oversimplification of issues not only robs them of their complexities and associated human costs, but also paints a picture in garish black and white which is a far cry from the colourful image it is supposed to truthfully portray.

Only time will tell if the inauguration will be a precursor to a new age of intellectual curiousity, respect for the sciences and abandonment of dogma. Of course, intellectual ability does not equate to administrative skills, as evident from the disastrous presidency of Woodrow Wilson (formerly the president of Princeton University) and the ancient reign of Emperor Nero (who literally fiddled while Rome burnt to the ground). However, there is no harm in hoping that the fullest capacity of human intellect will no longer need to be sheltered in the shadows of academic buildings. And the election of the new president, who is undeniably black and unabashedly brainy, means that history has been made in more ways than meets the eye.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'

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