Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Well Educated Anti Intellectual

One of the weirdest (or funniest, take your pick) things about David Brooks is his posturing anti-intellectualism. He is very well educated, and doesn’t mind being so when on PBS, but once let loose in the New York Times, he knows what his conservative audience demands of him.

Well educated and anti-intellectual… it’s one of the fascinating new developments in neo-conservatism. After all, the Neocons fuel the ideology of the most anti-intellectual President in modern history in one of the great anti-intellectual times that our country has ever been through. Of course, this also seems to correspond with widespread higher education gains amongst the poor, but I’ll let you parse that one our for yourselves.

Anyway, David Brooks’ well-educated anti-intellectualism (or WEAI) was well on display in yesterday’s New York Times. The basic thrust of the article? Applying to College is one of the least important things you’ll ever do, good grades don’t matter because all that means is that you’re trying to please your teachers etc. This is not to say he doesn’t make a few good points, he does, in his usual hallmark condescending prose, but the overall thrust is that getting good grades and applying yourself in school is equal to being a toadie for the system. And then we get this little sneaky one-two punch:

“But in adulthood, you'll find that a talent for regurgitating what superiors want to hear will take you only halfway up the ladder, and then you'll stop there. The people who succeed most spectacularly, on the other hand, often had low grades. They are not prudential. They venture out and thrive where there is no supervision, where there are no preset requirements.”

Does anyone really doubt for a second that he’s not talking about George W. Bush here? He’s sneaking a very specific view about the President and his underlings (who, by the by, are become famous for their abilities to regurgitate what he wants to hear and who often get fired for not doing so).

There’s also this salient detail: people with bad grades who go on to achieve often do so because there is some other thing that helps them along. Maybe it’s wealthy parents whose grandfather, a senator, did business with the Nazis. Or maybe it’s because you went to the 92nd St. Y for Kindegarten and everything’s been coming up roses since then. Or maybe (let’s just be honest here) it’s because you’re white, you’re straight, you’re male, you don’t openly challenge your privilege and you act (to quote The Donald) “classy”. These are all legs up. What Brooks doesn’t consider is that if you don’t have any of the above (if you are, for example, a black woman trying to make it in the still very white and male world) good grades and a good school wouldn’t hurt.

There’s also an additional danger to the WEAI attitude, and that danger is playing itself out in Iraq. Check outthis Christian Science Monitor article, which covers an issue I haven’t really seen written about anywhere else.

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