Anti-intellectualism as a term has become a lot more prominent in critical circles these days, and it has some value in its increased use. Alternative facts are hedging in on actual facts, and it has become as if being proven wrong by “society” is a badge of honour, distinguishing a person as a martyr against the “establishment” or the “elite” because they had to resort to research and statistics, which are becoming less and less relevant to current methods of debate. This is quite rightly viewed as a tragedy.

Because I’m a nerd who writes a blog about anti-intellectualism on a Friday night, I was listening to a recording of Noam Chomsky, and he was asked about the strain of anti-intellectualism coursing through America, and he gave such a good answer that I’m just going to summarize it here because I don’t think there’s much of an overlap between the people who read my blog and people who listen to Noam Chomsky recordings. I dunno, prove me wrong.

Anyway, Chomsky brings up the mechanic as an example of a profession that requires quite a lot of brain power and intellectual prowess in order to do their job well. Having a holistic understanding of the functioning of a complicated piece of machinery like a car or a jet engine, and then being able to deduce based often on little evidence what is malfunctioning and then knowing how to fix it, are all aspects of their job that are incredibly challenging in a mental sense. Similarly with engineers, being able to foresee what might go wrong in these complex contraptions and attempting to mitigate them in the design phase is an incredible intellectual feat. However, neither of these intellectual elites are ever ridiculed for being such.

Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk: brilliant men, but never accused of belonging in an ivory tower. Their intellectual prowess stems from hard work and gumption, not like softy liberals who spent a decade in a university writing their thesis out of laziness and affirmative action! You see, it’s not intellectualism that is the problem. It is the subject of the intellectualism. The “elites” are only those who think beyond the spectrum of capitalism.

Consider the education system. In a typical situation where such a thing is demanded, what gets cut and what gets funding? The courses that get cut are the things that create “intellectual elites”, and the courses that get funding are the STEM classes. The arts and literary studies which force students to see the world in a different way, or philosophy and gender studies which force students to think about it in a different way, these are the courses that produce the “pretentious”, and they are always first on the chopping block. The classes that can produce workers are the ones which are prioritized, because if you can’t make money for the business you ultimately work for, why bother with an education at all?

So it’s not really anti-intellectualism that is the problem in America (and around the world, to be honest). There are too many celebrated smart people for that to be the case. If someone is calling someone else an “elite” in reference to their status, it’s not going to be that person’s intelligence, but what they stand for that is at issue. This is true even if the person using the term is referring specifically to their education as the reason for their dislike. It may be fun to call people anti-intellectual because there is nothing better than calling your opponent stupid, but it’s not addressing the actual problem.

This is especially pertinent when you consider how American anti-intellectualism began in the first place. Down to Earth Republicanism trying to convince the working poor that the interests of the business class superseded theirs. The people telling them otherwise were Other. Untrustworthy, smug, self-righteous, lazy, and prone to affirmative action! It was never about actual intellectualism. I mean the elephant in the room, President Trump, is revered due to his alleged business savvy and acumen. Intellectual pursuits! He himself claims to be incredibly intelligent. Personally I would consider that just another alternative fact, but the point is that because it relates to a pro-capitalist agenda, his accomplishments are not considered “elite.” Imagine a world where a billionaire president is not considered an intellectual elite by his own argument, and that should give you a good impression as to what anti-intellectualism is really about.