Wednesday 4 January 2017

The growing danger of anti-intellectualism

The problem of anti-intellectualism in Britain has got so bad that members of the political establishment class now feel comfortable with actively instructing the public to ignore expert analysis and make important political decisions based on ignorance and blind instinct.

Michael Gove's "people in this country have had enough of experts" comment during the EU referendum debate was the most high profile example of an establishment politician actively promoting anti-intellectualism. It's no surprise to see such a sentiment being expressed by this particular politician. Michael Gove was the man who stuffed our schools with unqualified teachers and ideologically vandalised the comprehensive education system; Gove is a a man who has put ideology and ambition above expert opinion and verifiable evidence for his entire political career; and Gove was just the second person 
in the entire history of the United Kingdom without any legal qualification whatever to serve as Lord Chancellor, the first completely unqualified Lord Chancellor was his immediate Tory predecessor Chris Grayling and the third is his immediate successor Liz Truss.

Michael Gove is such an anti-intellectual that he actually said that deterring youngsters from ordinary backgrounds from attending university with the prospect of vast student loan debts is "all to the good".

Of course Michael Gove hates the idea of decent levels of public education and actively promotes anti-intellectualism. A burning contempt for experts and expertise is woven through his entire political career.

The problem of course is that this kind of vehement right-wing contempt towards education, experts and expertise is staggeringly dangerous because it feeds into the belligerent "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge" mentality.

Anti-intellectualism and dangerous ideological puritanism go hand in hand. Ideological fanatics fear education and expertise because educated minds tend to subject things (including political ideologies) to critical scrutiny. The fear of ideological non-conformity is the reason that extremist ideologies tend to censor criticism and debate, ruthlessly punish dissent and promote anti-intellectual mentalities amongst the general public.

History has taught us that anti-intellectualism (book banning, simplistic propaganda, enforced ideological conformity, ideological purges of universities, government, the media and the civil service) is one of the main features of the road to totalitarianism.

Think of Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain, Fascist Italy, the McCarthyite witch-hunts in the US, Stalinism in Russia, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile. All of these regimes dealt ruthlessly with intellectuals who stepped out of line by contradicting the official ideology of the state. They burned books; they purged the education system of non-conformists; they banned dissent; and they imprisoned, tortured and killed people for holding "wrong opinions". They embraced anti-intellectualism out of an ideological fear of informed political debate.

Ideological extremists demand certainty and enforce conformity, while the fields of science and philosophical investigation tell us that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and that many of the greatest advancements in human history have come about when intellectuals have developed new paradigm-shifting ideas instead of conforming to the orthodoxies of their age. Thus, anti-intellectualism isn't just a dangerous mindset that goes hand in hand with political extremism, it impedes the development potential of humanity.

History tells us that it's when politicians begin instructing the public to despise experts and intellectuals, and promoting their fanatical political ideologies as unquestionable political truths, then things begin to get dangerous, and that's exactly what is going on in Britain today.

The French philosopher Albert Camus wrote that "the most incorrigible vice is that of an ignorance which fancies that it knows everything", and by calling for the British public to reject experts and intellectuals in order to embrace this kind of ignorance, right-wing politicians have demonstrated that the vice of ignorance is something that they're deliberately trying to foster and promote in British society.

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