Wednesday, May 04, 2011

[Intellectual Discrimination]

It's one of those things that I thought would (and, at the university I went to, did) fade after high school. I never did understand it anyway, as both my parents raised me to value education and putting forth my best work and effort in any situation. It's not so much perfectionism as it is wanting to use my full potential. Yet I keep seeing examples of distaste for intellect. Now I understand finding pretension annoying. I've read scholarly articles that have reeked of snobbery and pretension. But it seems that our culture takes it a step (or ten) further and accuses people who make the effort to, for example, use correct grammar and spelling (even the basics) of being intellectual snobs or of being judgmental, especially if we point out this pattern. Look, I know I'm an English teacher and probably give such topics more thought than most, but I'm not unreasonable about it. I don't think twice when I see split infinitives, dangling participles and modifiers, typing all in lower case in social media, or misspelled longer words. I get that some people struggle with those concepts, and even I have issues with them from time to time. What does throw me is when I see people completely forego any form of correct spellings (seriously... how hard is it to type "be" rather than "b," especially when you're using a computer and not a cell phone? And didn't we learn how to spell words like "becoming" in, oh, second or third grade?) that we learned in first grade. You're welcome to think I'm being picky, but I see it as a sign of, and I hate to say it having heard it misused in some churches over the years, a slippery slope. It's like people are afraid of learning how to use critical thought or identify rhetorical fallacies.

I went to a church, at one time, that spouted misused verses along the lines of "The wisdom of God is foolishness to sinners" [paraphrased] as a way to make people fear education. "If you get educated, you're more likely to lose your faith!" It's that very mindset that led to Galileo's persecution for reporting that our solar system is heliocentric rather than geocentric, as the Bible (which, notably was mostly written during a time when people had no concept of science as we know it today) states. Nowadays, with a few fringe exceptions, even most fundamentalists (i.e. literal translation readers) acknowledge that that bit of information is likely due to human ignorance and therefore does not negate the Gospel. But suggest that similar logic and research may apply to the creation story, and suddenly there's talk of not being able to trust the Gospel if we don't accept the literal version of the six-day creation. So if you believe in evolution, even if you think that God's hand directed it and used nature to complete His will, you can't call yourself a Christian.

Seriously?  With that logic, no wonder people think we're crazy and can't take us seriously. And the worst part, for me, is that for a long time I bought into at least some of that fallacious logic. That rigid mindset and antipathy toward education and logic came close to driving me away from my faith when faced with facts.

That frustrates the heck out of me.

So now there's this notion of admiring the maverick... the one who intentionally shrugs off reason for independence and autonomy (as if they have to be mutually exclusive); and then there's this distrust of someone well-spoken, calm, and diplomatic ("He's got to be up to something... he's too smart for me."). Look, I admire people who are great with their hands and are hard workers--I wish I had more of that in me, to be honest (the former, I mean). But does one have to come at the cost of the other? Why can't we all be striving for both? Look at the Khmer Rouge genocide of Cambodia in the 1970s. Other than the aristocracy, who did they target? The scholars and educated leaders (i.e. teachers, doctors, etc.). Why? Because knowledge was a threat to their regime. Someone who could see that their methods were fallacious could persuade others to see the truth.

It's dangerous to demonize education and logic. That's how people become brainwashed. That's how charismatic leaders gain support for their atrocities. Ignorance leads people to support ideas that lead to oppression.

So, yeah, I've got a problem with that mindset. I have a problem with leaders who use ad hominem fallacies to rouse people into a frenzy to support their methods. I have a problem with a culture that likes to take the lazy way out and not do the work required to find the truth (and I don't mean digging up rumors). I have a problem with people who scream "heretic" when someone suggests that the evidence suggests something other than tradition or orthodoxy. And yes, I have concerns with growing calls to cut back on general education (i.e. English (writing where one learns to use critical thought and research), history, science) in favor of only focusing on one's vocation (What if that position becomes obsolete? Where's the foundation to go in a new direction?), and yes, I do believe that the way we approach even minor details like basic grammar and spelling (key word: basic; not the complex rules so much) can, by way of habit, start a domino effect. I'm not saying that I think individuals who do flout those standards or don't understand them are stupid or bad people; what I am saying is that I'm concerned about the mindset that discourages making an effort to not take the easy way out in favor of efficiency or avoiding looking smart or nerdy.

[Disclaimer: I'm on Benadryl and Claritin D, and I didn't sleep enough last night to completely metabolize the loopy effects, so some of the words I chose here I might have chosen differently were my head completely clear]

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