There’s a ton of anti-intellectualism kicking around right now, but that’s nothing new. In fact, it’s been chic (and, depending upon who you ask, expected) to hate on anything that smacks of learning.
Because at it’s core, learning is about challenging the way you perceive the world. It’s about looking at something as ordinary as the food on your plate and wondering “what the f*#! is actually in this, how did it get there, and is it really the best option I have?”
It is something that we as a species are also terrible at doing on a daily and large – scale basis.
Well before the idiocy of the past decade – the “I want a president/politician/economist/plumber who I can have a beer with, not someone who might actually be different from me” decade – people have been dismissive of those who shake things up. And I don’t mean those who try to go “back to the roots”, though there’s a fair amount of shaking up going on as well.
I mean those who look at all aspects of the status quo – both real and imagined – and ask “why”.
Case in point: When 19th century biologists and botanists were collectively piecing together and testing theories of evolution, the status quo was still all about the idea of static creation. They had all of human history to back them up. Yet still, Darwin et al looked at how animals and species actually lived, reproduced, and survived and said “ that old model doesn’t quite work.”
And there were haters. The derided term wasn’t egghead but atheist and evolutionist – two terms that still polarize societies today. Darwin was depicted as a monkey, a dumb creature not on par with the divine image supposedly created by the perfect hand of God.
Similar hate wars erupted during the European period of enlightenment a century before. Philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, historians, writers, and even theologians were lambasted for their ideas on the nature of man, science, the universe, and God. If you want to see just how ugly it got, read Enemies of the Enlightenment. FYI, It has all the drama we crave so you won’t be able to put it down, either.
We can look back at just about every society and find instances and cycles like this. It spans all cultures, all religions, and all economies. People squabbling over how we should look at the world, and how we should act in it.
It’s by no means an idle argument. It’s a deadly serious exercise, and it has a sizable body count to boot. Societies rise and fall based on who “wins”. Our own society – the heir to Darwin, the Enlightenment, Reformation & Renaissance, the Middle Ages, etc., etc., – is in the grips of another serious fight on seemingly everything.
Religion. National Population. Wealth, equality, and “fairness”. Government. International Relations. War & Peace. It’s a hefty burden to bear for any civilization – and it’s often enough to take one out.
Because of this, it’s all the more important that the movers and shakers, the investigators and “why” askers, continue to press the issue. In order to address these issues – never mind “solve” them – we as a society need people willing to pick about everything, examine how it actually works in the world, and make decisions based on that.
We need people who do this even as everyone else is losing their heads over it – and who don’t stop, despite the screaming.
Because if you learn to examine everything, you get better at managing and executing complex tasks, like dealing with your life in the midst of a recession. Cognitive reasoning skills are not the strongest among those who don’t engage in this type of activity. Rote memorization and acceptance never does much to prepare you for these types of challenges, much less the workforce.
Do yourself -and your world – a favor. Make a pledge to exercise your mind every day. Just like physical exercise, you don’t need to run a marathon to be fit; you just need to take a 30 minute walk.
Ask one new question a day and see where it leads you. Start small – “how exactly does Netflix know what I want to watch” is fine – and go from there. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to keep going.