inventing the egghead


Is America anti-intellectual? The jury is still out. One could make equally plausible cases for our country as a hotbed of hostility to organized intelligence and as a sort of paradise for the cleverest, a place that elevates intellectual sophistication (especially when it has economic or technological applications) above basic moral decency. We oscillate wildly between demonizing our intellectuals and deifying them; they appear to us, in turn, as nuisances, threats, and saviors. We cut their funding and then study how their brains function. We trust them with our economy, our climate, our media and our institutions, then rage against them for their failures—and then trust them all over again. Of course, much depends on what is meant by “intellectual.” The term, which originated in France and entered the English language around the time of the Dreyfus Affair, is notoriously vague and unstable. Though in its most neutral sense it describes only a tendency toward speculative thought, it is very quickly made into a social category with determinate characteristics. Put a novelist, a philosopher, a physicist, a political analyst and a computer programmer in a room together and they’re likely to discover as many differences as similarities—provided they can understand each other at all—but all can be identified (for ease of condemnation, if nothing else) under this single heading.

more from Evan Kindley at The Point here.