Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
I have been pondering a phenomenon that falls under the very broad label of "anti-intellectualism" off and on ever since moving from a fairly small town to pursue post-highschool education. It falls under that label, but is not discussed in such treatments of it in the united states context such as Aaron S. Leckliter's in the chronicle of higher education (see The Real Victims of Anti-Intellectualism, from 10 september 2017). Rather, I have been thinking about something much less active, and to me at least, much stranger and arguably far less political and obvious. It is a phenomenon that leads to results far more like the picture of the abandoned library captured by Andre Govia featured here. Please note the library is in rough shape, but it has not been attacked or vandalized. The books are mostly on the shelves, barring some that have likely fallen down from shelves and tables that have collapsed. Things are really dusty, and not even footprints old or new are visible in the view. Admittedly, this might be careful and strategic since Govia's intention is to emphasize the absence of recent human occupation and activity. Still, it captures the sense of what I have in mind here, and that is not an active refusal of learning or respect for people deemed intellectuals, or anything of that as such. No, I am thinking of what strikes me as a refusal to engage with learning, of almost any type, not just book learning. If not a refusal, then an insistence by the person I am talking to that unlike me they don't learn all the time. They tell me this even though we have just been going over the results of her decision to learn how to upholster chairs, do interior carpentry, and work out how to repair an annoying plumbing issue with few tools. This conversation especially really bewildered me. All of these tasks involved visualization in three dimensions, design, some paper and online based research, experimentation, and critical thinking in order to select between possible approaches and then adjust for her specific circumstances.
Well holy shit, if that didn't all involve loads of serious learning and creativity alike, I can't imagine what would. And this isn't an unusual project or anything, this person I was visiting with has not been sitting around like a figurative mushroom or something. What is going on here?
It is as if many people have been convinced that the only place "learning" happens is in a classroom and from studying books pulled from large collections of diverse sorts of books. I have also observed a frequent aversion to books, having many of them around the house, whatever their topic, size, or perceived or actual level of difficulty or topic. Reading on the phone or tablet is sort of okay, as long as the person doesn't do it for too long and isn't reading something less than popular. As if a non-trivial number of people are afraid to be caught being interested in ideas or subjects unique to themselves, to be caught learning independently because they want to. They would rather deny they learn instead. There is also a bit of defensiveness I have encountered in people taking this sort of position, in that they assume I must look down on them in some way because I have a different type of education with more obvious book-based elements. The circumstances in which these conversations happen usually block any possibility of finding out what more hands on physical skills I have picked up over the years, and indeed, finding out what book-based skills they may have picked up in contrast.
To the best of my knowledge I haven't been running around as if anybody who doesn't pursue more formalized education or a trade rather than something tied more to work on paper and with computers is doing anything less valuable or difficult to learn. So logically, this has precisely zero to do with me as a person, and more about the times we are all living in, in which it has taken a horrifying pandemic to remind people again that basic things like stocking stores, bagging groceries, and delivering mail among many, many tasks and jobs out there, are hideously underpaid and falsely perceived as unskilled by too many of us. Not enough of us have done those jobs, or done some of them recently enough, or been too bowled over by patriarchal bullshit to appreciate or remember that all these jobs demand skill. Just because they have to keep being redone doesn't make them somehow possible to do without thinking or planning. Nor does working those jobs tell us about the interests of the workers in learning or engaging with something other than popular culture.
So, that suggests what is going on here is a sort of pressure to deny the physical, emotional, and intellectual work tied into all those suddenly rediscovered essential jobs. On top of that, we are under pressure to deny that learning can happen outside the classroom, or that we are able and empowered to learn on our own or with others, or independently of some kind of paid for oversight structure with authorities. So there are quite a few people who are not "anti-intellectual" in the sense of against learning or against people with book-based education having authority or influence, but they are in the nasty position of experiencing peer pressure to behave as if they have no intellectual interests of their own. This goes very nicely with persuading a nontrivial number of people out of attempting to take active part in running and building their communities and larger societies, and strikes me as an extremely dangerous thing.