Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Do anti-intellectual tendencies within society adversely affect anarchist efforts?

+4 votes
If so then what is the origin of anti-intellectualism and is it intertwined with the origin of anarchist intellectuals as such? Can one attribute too much importance to intellectual pursuits of ideas about theory, analysis, and strategy, or are the predominant tendencies within society too much the opposite of this?
asked Jun 3, 2013 by anonymous
Seems like you're asking several different questions here.

Anti-intellectualism will have a consistently negative effect on every antipolitical theory and philosophy, even on moderate challenges to the status quo.

To determine how much of an impact anti-intellecutalism has had on anarchist intellectuals, you would need to have some kind of sociological analysis of both anti-intellectuals (who wouldn't go along with it), and anarchist intellectuals (who probably wouldn't go along with it).
could you define what you think anti-intellectualism means? is an intellectual purely someone who practices intellectualism?  I feel like there might be subtle but meaningful differences of how people would define the term(s).

and lawrence, could you extrapolate your argument for your assertion?
It's less about a definition than it is a catalog of characteristics and behaviors.

Anti-intellectualism is characterized by an aversion to big words and big thoughts. It usually takes the form of dismissal of anything that takes more than what passes as "common sense" to (begin to) understand; it's not always connected to how many syllables are in a word, but that is part of it.

It will look different in different communities based on the general (accepted) level of education. American anti-intellectualism derives from the colonial era through the end of WWII, when a four-year college (to say nothing of post-graduate education) was the exclusive province of the economic and political elites.

Anti-intellectualism takes some distinctive forms, among them the affectation of a regional accent despite one's actual cultural origins (think GW Bush affecting a homespun Texas accent even though he grew up in Yankee country and attended the finest private Eastern schools) and the use of dumbed-down jargon/dialect.

There's also a generalized distrust of intelligence. My father and I were both called "faggot" from elementary through high school because we were smart and got good grades; there remains a gendered/homophobic revulsion of "real men" toward smart boys, especially if they wear glasses, the sure sign of intelligence.

The declarations of many "class struggle anarchists" that big words alienate working class people is another manifestation of anti-intellectualism, but one that is particularly pernicious since the implication is that working class people are not capable of increasing their own education...

The aversion to big words and big ideas will naturally mitigate against an acceptance of anything that challenges the social, economic, and political status quo because you need a few big words and big ideas to explain what's wrong with it beyond an emotional appeal to vague and vacuous ideas like Justice and Equality. To explain the intricacies of how interlocking hierarchical institutions of power and exploitation congeal to keep poor and dispossessed people from attaining any kind of justice or equality requires a few sophisticated ideas and ways of adequately expressing/explaining them. Avoiding the big ideas and big words while agitating against injustice has a way of devolving into populism, especially in the US.
The comments above seem to answer the question rather well, no?

Lawrence, when referring to education, do you mean both formal and informal, self organised, and guided in part by the workers themselves maybe?
When referring to education, yes. Although mostly not formal (ie state-sponsored).
big words are used just as or more frequently to justify and rationalize *not* resisting as they are to feed resistance.
i think that a gut feeling of stuff being wrong can be just as or more relevant than an articulated explanation of what is wrong exactly or how it is wrong (articulated explanations being usually a lot more easily coopted, subverted, or argued away, also).

gut feelings are of course less fun to talk about (or to), but that's a different conversation, perhaps.
lawrence, aside from the method, what do you mean by 'education' when you say, "the implication is that working class people are not capable of increasing their own education..."?
Education is a process of learning through reading, discussing, doing, and experiencing alone, face to face with one or two or more people who are interested in whatever topic/skill is under investigation.
by that definition, dont most people educate themselves?  people teach each other and discuss and learn alone every manner or banal minutia whether its how to get to work with the least traffic, which popular culture icon is doing what or died, how to understand and compute every boring detail of sports statistics, etc etc.  Do you think these things fit into your definition of education?  If not, whats defining about them or education that keeps them separate?
Yes these things fit. What's the point you're trying to make?

1 Answer

0 votes
Anti-intellectualism can be described as a distrust of the academy, the traditional source of the intellectual, and the things that symbolize it.

Certain words, sentence structures, writing formats, dress codes, mediums for those words (audio, video, internet, print), gestures of approval, etc represent the intellectual institution and others represent those excluded from the institution, and anti-intellectualism is the ranking of these presentations.

Since anarchist efforts don't originate in academic institution, anti-intellectualism does not need to have an adverse effect on them. Often it can support a critique of the academy and the specialization and privitization of ideas, which coincides with anarchist perspectives. It might sometimes be a way of opening up the ways we can think about things, or what it means to be smart.

That said, anti-intellectualism can be conflated with being anti-theory, anti-reading, anti-writing. It can encourage a climate where people don't know how to critically engage with material, media, or each other. It also can be a way to reinforce the dichotomy between using our brains and using our bodies. That is a sad dichotomy.

*edited to be more wishy-washy*
answered Jun 19, 2013 by dark.heart (240 points)
edited Jun 23, 2013 by dark.heart