Anti-intellectualism is a mentality that has spread virulently among the Republican right recently, although it is not exclusive to the right. We see evidence of this in regards to “outsider politics,” in which politicians claim that they are in fact more qualified than their opponents because of the fact that they are not politicians. The value of an outsider politician, or more generally, an “anti-intellectual,” is derived from a false sense of independence from outside influence. If someone is not educated from an outside source, they are not influenced by an outside source.
However, the origin of all knowledge comes from outside sources. No man is an island and no individual develops without outside influence. Even internal self-realization come from the result of ruminating on information obtained from the outside world. Even disregarding this fact, human beings cannot exist in a vacuum free from information. Complete isolation from outside stimuli damages human beings and has been used as a method of torture. Therefore, if knowledge is necessary for our psychological survival, it must serve some useful purpose in regards to how we develop new thoughts.
The attitude of anti-intellectualism developed as a response to the inaccessiblity of academia and the devaluing of labor that does not produce economically valuable product. A child who memorizes all the names of the animals at the zoo so that they can recognize them on sight does not question whether or not this information will be valuable or lead to a career in zoology. (A note here: while unusual skillsets such as these can be valuable and in fact, in this example, lead to such a career, it is more important to note the cultural attitudes towards this sort of behavior.) They also do not question whether or not these skills will increase their social value. They engage in this behavior because they find the subject matter interesting and enjoyable.
However, this behavior is quickly smothered the moment that the child realizes that they are required to perform labor for financial gain, and when they realize that their hobby does not bring them social capital. This mentality is not only inaccurate (as mentioned in the note) but harmful. When we look at the attitudes of the individual layman, as opposed to career politicians, we can see other side effects from the negative influence of anti-intellectualism. The individual who “doesn’t follow politics” is far less cognizant of their individual rights than someone who maintains a healthy, frequently-updated attention towards local and national developments. This mindset isn’t just limited to politics. The individual that isolates themselves from intellectual growth – even if that growth is something as simple as enjoying a popular novel – suffers on both sociological and psychological fronts.
The solution is to encourage all varieties of intellectualism. Intellectualism isn’t just limited to those who are capable of speaking eloquently, or producing economically valuable works. This attitude contributes to the environment of anti-intellectualism. We need to encourage and accept all types of growth, even if it does not fit our individual understanding of what it means to be an intellectual. We also need to re-engage with our own childlike curiosity in regards to our own viewpoints of what consider to be valuable skills.