I read an article that actually appeared in 2014, but seems to be even more applicable today than just two years ago. Below is a short section, but be forewarned, you’re not going to be happy with what you read:
We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.
Bill Keller, writing in the New York Times argues that the anti-intellectual elitism is not an elitism of wisdom, education, experience or knowledge. The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often, a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the conspiracy followers – not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they foment a rabid culture of anti-rationalism where every fact is suspect; every shadow holds a secret conspiracy. Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool.
Keller also notes that the herd mentality takes over online; the anti-intellectuals become the metaphorical equivalent of an angry lynch mob when anyone either challenges one of the mob beliefs or posts anything outside the mob’s self-limiting set of values.
Keller blames this in part to the online universe that “skews young, educated and attentive to fashions.” Fashion, entertainment, spectacle, voyeurism – we’re directed towards trivia, towards the inconsequential, towards unquestioning and blatant consumerism. This results in intellectual complacency. People accept without questioning, believe without weighing the choices, join the pack because in a culture where convenience rules, real individualism is too hard work. Thinking takes too much time: it gets in the way of the immediacy of the online experience.
I think it’s easy to get sucked into this way of thinking. All of the above looks so obvious. I’m not saying there isn’t an element of truth to this. At the same time, if we allow ourselves to get sucked into this line of thinking, all we are doing is complaining – really contributing to the downward spiral of civilization.
In a way, America has always been anti-intellectual – it’s a part of who we are from the founding. America has always mistrusted the elites who would rule over everyone else because they were smarter, or had royal blood, or were somehow gifted.
But complaining about it doesn’t do anything to change it. I was hoping that after the author pointed out all the gory details and facts and figures that he would offer some rays of hope or ideas of what to do. Alas, there were none – just doom and gloom.
What’s the point of complaining? It seems more like justification for being a victim than offering something positive to change a situation.
In a way, this reminds me of the doom and gloomers that write a great deal about the imminent death of the organized church. They make similar arguments, yet refuse to offer solutions or ideas on what to do.
Is the church in decline? Sure is, when it comes to number of butts in the seats. But that’s not the only way to measure health – that’s just an organizational metric and the church is more than just an organization.
So, taking my own advice, what do I think should be done for American culture and for the church? Well, it starts with you. Read more and talk about what you are reading. Invite others to read with you, or at least to talk about what you are reading. People see no problem with telling each other about what they watch, even if the other person hasn’t seen it, why not do the same with books.
Maybe books aren’t your thing – how about this – exercise more. Go for a walk. And maybe you could take someone with you for that walk. Leave the screens behind and just talk while you walk. Talk about things you never have time to talk or think about.
Maybe walking isn’t your thing – how about praying. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it right then and there – don’t put it off until later. Say a prayer with that person. Don’t worry about having the “right” words.
Maybe prayer isn’t your thing. I’m sure you can come up with something, anything that is creative and forces you to use your mind. If we want to move away from anti-intellectualism, then it starts with small steps. That’s how you tackle big challenges – with small steps. None of the things I’m offering are very difficult. You can do any one of these, or all of these today. And it starts you and someone else on a different path. And it has the potential to have a ripple effect.