Anti-intellectualism in the voter suppression movement

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

The above is a quote from one of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov, and I believe it helps to illustrate at least part of the reason Republicans have decided to target college students in their war on voting. While there are both racial and ageist reasons as well, as the young and minorities tend to vote Democrat, we would be ill-advised to ignore the ramifications of anti-intellectualism permeating this issue.

I've explored some of these issues in the past, so I won't rehash a lot of the psychological drivers behind anti-intellectualism, other than to note that this phenomenon is not limited to only those who lack learning. It goes much deeper, into the core of the individual's sense of self and status. And no number of framed degrees on the wall can alter that.

Many of the more notable anti-intellectuals we see lashing out on social media appear to be acting like an 8th grader, and that may be more accurate than you think. During puberty, both sexes go through an involuntary anti-intellectual phase when their reproductive and hormonal systems kick into high gear. For at least a few years anyway, primal urges take over and the intellectual pursuits must take a back seat. It's how we're wired. But by the late teens, most of those impulses are under control. For some people, anyway. Others will continue these strutting and antagonistic behaviors until a relieved family finally puts them into the ground.

But a much wider group of anti-intellectuals actually fear the influence of knowledge; that it has the power to determine their destiny, and they are virtually helpless to chart their own course in the face of it. Nevermind the fact that knowledge has provided them with a quality of life never before experienced on the face of the Earth, and nevermind the fact that they have been provided more choices than ever before. That's intellectual talk, and it should be ignored.

And there is another group, which is likely comprised of elements from both of the above groups, whose anti-intellectualism stems from their desire to take control of the situation via political means, and reform society into something they are comfortable with. They don't want an intelligent population, because that's just too difficult to control. And they don't want intelligent voters, because they're too difficult to fool. They see right through even the most crafty bullshit, which brings us back around to the student voters.

Even GOP college students are intellectuals. A high percentage are Libertarians, and while I might disagree with most of their positions, they thrive on intellectual arguments. If you get the urge to argue with one of them, you might want to go ahead and pack a lunch, because it's going to be a marathon. If you'll notice, mainstream Republicans have started to push back at Libertarian intellectualism, and I predict it will get very ugly before it's over.

But Democratic college students are the worst. They're so used to deeply researching issues before they write about them, not to mention defending those positions vehemently, most of them simply can't walk into a voting booth and randomly pull a lever. They go in there with a purpose, and the vast majority of those purposes are sound, well-reasoned and would likely benefit society if put in action.

And that last part, even more so than political party desires, is why Republicans will do everything in their power to stifle these students from voting. And it's also why we must stand up for them. It's our future, too.


An epiphany for me! Thank you.

In various forums, I have been struggling for months to adequately articulate my hypothesis that the unprecedented insidiousness thrust upon us by the extremist elements of the Republican Party transcends even the popular narrative of it's “hijacking” by the menacing Tea Party.

While surfing the Intertubes for more content about anti-intellectualism, I happened upon this 2011 Iowa State Daily opinion piece “Witte: Just what is fascism?”. I cannot vouch for the author, Jacob Witte. All I've been able to determine is that he was a “Senior of Political Science” at the university when his submission was published. Nevertheless, I couldn't have editorialized my own views more succinctly.

I'll ask those interested enough, to read the linked article through and draw your own conclusions with regards to the true motivations of the likes of Charles and David Koch, and, their “brother from another mother”, Art Pope. But, of particular relevance to scharrison's post, is the following:

Anti-intellectualism is also rampant within fascist cultures. Because fascist regimes forced themselves onto the masses, they obviously had to cater the lowest common denominator to attract as many as possible. Thus, intellectuals were not trusted, institutions of science and higher learning were abolished, and the exodus of intellectuals ensued. This hatred was in light of intellectuals being able to resist tyranny; they were aware of what was happening, and had the capacity to speak out against it. But they were merely a small boat trying to paddle against a torrent of volatile waters; it is only a matter of time before something has to give, and the water is very strong.


"Let's not be too rough on our own ignorance; it's what makes America great!" - Frank Zappa (6/29/1988)

Well written!

We are often bombarded (pun intended) with the notion that the only defense against tyranny is a populace armed to the teeth with firearms of every type and size and lethal capacity.

Yet the essay makes clear what all of us know, that the best defense against tyranny is a populace armed with knowledge. The real tyrants are those who would deny the people access to that knowledge, in whatever form such denial of access takes.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

"lowest common denominator"

is absolutely correct. Not trying to bash rural folks with this example, but snake-oil salesmen avoided high-population areas because of the likelihood they would be challenged by intelligent people residing there. It was much easier to peddle their fraudulent concoctions amongst farmers who had quit school at an early age to go into the fields.

And yes, I was sorely tempted to explore the connections between anti-intellectualism and totalitarian regimes in the piece above. It's the only way the weak-minded can stay in power for very long, and it is a frightening aspect of the trend.


From T.M. Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University

She studied evangelicals in one book, psychiatric patients in another, and her insights go beyond those particular populations. Another reference I can't recall discusses a faith-based approach in thinking in contrast with an intellectual or left-brained approach. There is a place for both intuitive and heart-centered thinking as well as intellectual rigor, remembering that compassion is a quality that belongs to both sides in their highest expressions of caring for humanity. I just caution a blanket characterization as "anti-intellectualism". Though justice and "righteous" advocacy certainly have a place in liberalism.

"I grew up with these questions. My mother is the daughter of a Baptist minister, my father (a doctor) the son of Christian Scientists, and when I was young we lived in a neighborhood with Orthodox Jews. I grew up among many wise people who thought differently about the world, and I was curious about how they made those decisions, and what an observer could say about the ways they used and experienced their minds in making those decisions.

I use my training in anthropology to understand how people know what is real. I don’t pass judgment on whether they are right. Instead, I ask: what leads people to make the judgment that God was present? What do they perceive that makes them more confident or more uncertain? How have they learned to pay attention? I observe what people do, and I listen to what they say, and I search for patterns. I am also interested in what happens when that capacity to judge what is real gets broken, and how we help those who are in pain."

The problem is, I'm not seeing

very much compassion in the behaviors of Conservatives these days, especially the ones in power. Unless you consider a paternalistic effort to expose the needy to a much-increased level of hardship via "tough love" or some other patently manufactured excuse for helping the wealthy increase their profit margins.

As I mentioned above, the anti-intellectualism as practiced by (mostly) Republicans is not static or monolithic. It comes in many forms, and has various motivations. I have no desire to see if it meets the criteria of standard or classical definitions, because it has (once again) escaped from the pages of philosophy and is being used to alter the fabric of our society.

It is a very real threat, and we need to face it head-on.