“Systematic philosophical and practical anti-intellectualism such as we are witnessing appears to be something truly novel in the history of human culture.”–Johan Huizinga
Huizinga’s observation is alarming, but he did overlook one very important point. The dilution and condemnation of intellectual knowledge and science has led to the decline and destruction of previous civilizations. This has been proven many times.
Our species really does have a lot of difficulty learning from historical mistakes. This is evident in spades. It’s manifesting in retrograde political and philosophical mass movements in Western Europe and North America to a very alarming degree.
I’ve been watching and commenting on this deterioration of learning for the past 15 or 20 years of my life. There are times that I feel like I’m a passenger on the HMS Titanic. I can see the iceberg ahead of us, but the rest of the passengers and crew are oblivious. The captain and crew are either ignorant or in denial. It’s horrible to watch, especially knowing that I’m aboard the doomed ship.
Among the most famous great civilizations of historical note, the demise of all can find the roots of their decline and obliteration at the feet of anti-science and anti-intellectualism.
The greatness of Egypt and Mesopotamia come to mind first with their grand traditions of architecture, language and political structure. The greatness of ancient China deflated with the onset of anti-progressive rulers. Ancient Greek city-states withered on the vine in the face of popular movements against philosophy, science and learning. Ancient Rome faded from neglect brought about, in part, by apathy of the citizenry distracted by bread and circus mentality. The spirit of learning and intellectual pursuits had to take a back seat in favor of the inevitable decline.
I think of the many scientific discoverers who have given our lives today much safety and convenience. People like James Watt, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Luther Burbank, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and countless others. These were people who were consumed and engrossed in the adventure of learning how things work and what applications can come from knowledge about the primal powers of the earth and the universe. They were perpetually hungry for knowledge. They went after it full bore.
This striving for ways to improve human life and living increased into the 20th Century. Breath-taking advances took place that completely revolutionized the ways in which we all live. Technological marvels that we largely take for granted.
Mechanized transport overland and in the air are so common that we barely give it a thought. Who would ever consider going without a telephone, microwave oven, refrigeration and central heating? Only several decades ago, all of these would have been considered to be miraculous inventions worthy of much awe.
How did we get these things? They came about through the scientific method employed by researchers, inventors and scientists. Our world, today, would be vastly more primitive without science and intellectual learning. There would be no computers, space exploration, nor the Internet without science. Look around you now and see for yourself what the scientific method and intellectual learning has brought forth into your home or office.
I’m amazed how a particular sort of leader can proclaim how we are going to hell in a handbasket because of science and learning. They proclaim their opinions over radio, television, satellite communications, and the web. They infiltrate our schools and universities with the unpatriotic messages of anti-intellectualism. Their tools have come about through science and free inquiry. How ironic this is. How sorry for the future of our country this is.
I used to think that anti-intellectualism was only an isolated quirk to be found out in the boondocks. I was wrong. It has infected some of the most sophisticated cities and nations on earth. It has become viral at precisely the time we need more science and intellectual study.
The anti-intellectual movement is lavishly funded by well-heeled special interests. Special interests that wish to advance ignorance and anti-democratic ideals. Pseudoscience is on the increase, real science is hurting. Will we be able to avoid the collision with the icebergs that could cripple or sink our civilization?
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you got something from this OpEd posting. Your thoughts?