You might wonder why someone would go on a cable news network and talk about the potential positive side of an attack by terrorists. You might also wonder what would compel the host of that show to not only decline the opportunity to denounce that suggestion, but to say that he, too, contemplated whether such a thing would be useful.
Well, this happened, and it happened this last week on a Fox News show hosted by Glenn Beck. Beck's show has been notable for its dark, ominous forebodings of coming political violence. In fact, just moments before Scheuer appeared, Beck again said it. He said he hoped it wouldn't happen, although this was just moments before intimating that last weekend he had thought through a scenario by which a major terrorist attack sparked a grass-roots revolution.
Most normal people wonder what kind of revolution is necessary. We can move about without the need for travel permits. People are not being rounded up and shipped off to re-education camps. There is no rationing; people who wish to buy meat may buy as much meat, booze and gasoline as they can afford. Our elections are contested; power transitions without private armies. We remain a mostly free people.
The key part to understanding what is at work comes in the second part of the quote, the need for "grass-roots, bottom-up pressure." Right before suggesting that the way to get this going is through a major terrorist attack, Scheuer suggested that the enemy are people from places like Harvard, telling everyone what to do and how to live. It is American anti-intellectualism at its keenest.
Anti-intellectualism is not a phenomenon confined to the United States, but here it is a mostly secular thing based on the assumption that knowing stuff is somehow effeminate. It was expressed when George Bush dismissed an EPA report on global warming as the product of a bureaucracy. Translated, It meant, "Real men don't know things. Real men put their heads down and charge forward."
The face of American anti-intellectualism today is, coincidentally, Glenn Beck himself. He has harnessed it and given it a home, which is filled with no end to vapid references to disappearing freedoms and tears shed over a country he once knew.
Today, anti-intellectualism is framed not primarily as hostility toward science and the arts, per se, but as a component of government regulation, interpreted as government telling you how to live. That's what it's all about … you the individual. Government is taking your money for programs that don't directly benefit you. Government wants to force you to stop smoking so other people who aren't you don't develop cancer. Government wants you to stop releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere because it's altering how complex climate patterns function. Government wants to limit which heart specialist you can see so that people who are not you can see the doctor. If only government would get off your back, you could be happy.
You can see how anti-intellectualism feeds this. The first step toward making regulation reasonable is acknowledging that a problem exists. That is, if you say, "Yes, secondhand smoke causes cancer in others," then it becomes entirely reasonable to tell people they can't smoke in public. It might offend the general "live and let live" philosophy most of us claim to cherish, but those are small potatoes when it comes to inflicting miserable death on others. Better to attack those making the case that the problem exists by ascribing dark motives to them and suggesting that the problem with eggheads is that they think they're better than everyone else.
This, in turn, has been fed by the Internet. Today, it is widely held that the ability to do a 10-minute search crafts opinions that are every bit as deserving of weight as someone who has studied something for years. It is, "Yes, I realize that the world's climate scientists agree that human activity is altering the climate, but look at this press release I just found from the Heartland Institute that says I have nothing to worry about." Case closed.
You can work this backward. If you need not worry about something, government need not take action. If it does, it's tyranny, which must be met occasionally with the blood of patriots. The eggheads are the problem, and what we maybe need is something to cause people to rise up and cast them down from their ivory tower.
I'll leave it to the reader to interpret whether this an intelligent way to approach the world, or whether it more accurately resembles unruly adolescents fantasizing about standing up to their parents.
Click to view image: 'intellectual cat'
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