Archives for posts with tag: America

Anti-intellectualism as a term has become a lot more prominent in critical circles these days, and it has some value in its increased use. Alternative facts are hedging in on actual facts, and it has become as if being proven wrong by “society” is a badge of honour, distinguishing a person as a martyr against the “establishment” or the “elite” because they had to resort to research and statistics, which are becoming less and less relevant to current methods of debate. This is quite rightly viewed as a tragedy.

Because I’m a nerd who writes a blog about anti-intellectualism on a Friday night, I was listening to a recording of Noam Chomsky, and he was asked about the strain of anti-intellectualism coursing through America, and he gave such a good answer that I’m just going to summarize it here because I don’t think there’s much of an overlap between the people who read my blog and people who listen to Noam Chomsky recordings. I dunno, prove me wrong.

Anyway, Chomsky brings up the mechanic as an example of a profession that requires quite a lot of brain power and intellectual prowess in order to do their job well. Having a holistic understanding of the functioning of a complicated piece of machinery like a car or a jet engine, and then being able to deduce based often on little evidence what is malfunctioning and then knowing how to fix it, are all aspects of their job that are incredibly challenging in a mental sense. Similarly with engineers, being able to foresee what might go wrong in these complex contraptions and attempting to mitigate them in the design phase is an incredible intellectual feat. However, neither of these intellectual elites are ever ridiculed for being such.

Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk: brilliant men, but never accused of belonging in an ivory tower. Their intellectual prowess stems from hard work and gumption, not like softy liberals who spent a decade in a university writing their thesis out of laziness and affirmative action! You see, it’s not intellectualism that is the problem. It is the subject of the intellectualism. The “elites” are only those who think beyond the spectrum of capitalism.

Consider the education system. In a typical situation where such a thing is demanded, what gets cut and what gets funding? The courses that get cut are the things that create “intellectual elites”, and the courses that get funding are the STEM classes. The arts and literary studies which force students to see the world in a different way, or philosophy and gender studies which force students to think about it in a different way, these are the courses that produce the “pretentious”, and they are always first on the chopping block. The classes that can produce workers are the ones which are prioritized, because if you can’t make money for the business you ultimately work for, why bother with an education at all?

So it’s not really anti-intellectualism that is the problem in America (and around the world, to be honest). There are too many celebrated smart people for that to be the case. If someone is calling someone else an “elite” in reference to their status, it’s not going to be that person’s intelligence, but what they stand for that is at issue. This is true even if the person using the term is referring specifically to their education as the reason for their dislike. It may be fun to call people anti-intellectual because there is nothing better than calling your opponent stupid, but it’s not addressing the actual problem.

This is especially pertinent when you consider how American anti-intellectualism began in the first place. Down to Earth Republicanism trying to convince the working poor that the interests of the business class superseded theirs. The people telling them otherwise were Other. Untrustworthy, smug, self-righteous, lazy, and prone to affirmative action! It was never about actual intellectualism. I mean the elephant in the room, President Trump, is revered due to his alleged business savvy and acumen. Intellectual pursuits! He himself claims to be incredibly intelligent. Personally I would consider that just another alternative fact, but the point is that because it relates to a pro-capitalist agenda, his accomplishments are not considered “elite.” Imagine a world where a billionaire president is not considered an intellectual elite by his own argument, and that should give you a good impression as to what anti-intellectualism is really about.

Despite Bernie Sanders clinging desperately to his chances of nomination like the country itself depended upon him to be the only rational choice in an otherwise catch-22 election, I feel comfortable saying that the next American presidential election will be a catch-22 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton representing the downward spiral that is the American status quo, and Trump representing the harbinger of the end of days.

I don’t want to spend that much time covering why Trump is the absolute worst person imaginable. He thinks building a giant concrete wall is somehow financially feasible or that the president has that kind of bullying power over another country. He thinks censoring the press is something reasonable to do within a democracy. He disparages women with superficial insults, and thinks that Hitler had the right idea when it came to handling an ideology that differed from his own. Honestly I feel stupid for even writing this out because if you haven’t figured out that Donald Trump is a terrible human being by now, then literally nothing I write is going to convince you. That being the case, moving right along.

However, Clinton’s status quo isn’t much better. The democratic party to which she is aligned, under Obama has deported more people than any previous president. For a political party to condemn Trump’s wall “solution” to illegal immigration, their own draconian practices really shouldn’t reflect the spirit of that wall. Obama also ordered ten times more drone strikes than President Bush, among them the assassination of an American citizen whose crime essentially amounted to hate speech. Closing down the torture prison for Muslims, despite being a campaign promise of 2008, also seems to have been forgotten eight God damn years later. What kind of hypocrisy is it to lambaste the bombastic xenophobia of one admittedly insane individual while grudgingly accepting it within the so-called progressive party of the United States?

That’s the democratic party though, not Clinton, so despite her being fully indoctrinated into its corporate culture, there’s still a chance she might distance herself from its less-than-illustrious past, right? Well, except she kinda voted in favour of that whole Iraq war thing, which greatly destabilized the region beyond its already pretty-much-fucked state of affairs, giving birth to everyone’s favourite terrorist group: ISIS. Clinton, in true politico fashion, prudently regrets the decision now that the whole world knows what a shitty idea it was. Of course, she would have known it then too, if she had actually read the information that was available at the time. This is what we want from a president: gross neglect when it comes to matters of global affairs. Like how she’s facing criminal charges for her mishandling of classified information by using her private, unsecured email server, despite multiple warnings to desist. People rightfully belittle Trump for his many business failures to contrast his claimed acumen, but Clinton’s facade of competency should face similar criticism.

At least she’s not clamouring to ban all Muslims! However, not being Hitler-esque in one’s policies is a really low bar. This article from Al Jazeera makes a compelling argument about the problem with the way Clinton frames the Islamic controversy. She forces Islam into a binary of radical Muslim terrorists on the one hand, and ‘good’ Muslim moderates on the other. This binary ignores the many facets that make up human beings, and resorts to defining Muslims solely in their relationship to terrorism. Within this framework, Islam is still incontrovertibly linked to terror, and it is only the measure of dedication that one has to their religion that denotes one’s likelihood of committing terrorist acts. Again, it’s not Hitler, but it’s not really ameliorating the situation either.

Clinton would also mark the very first woman president, meaning a victory for women akin to the one Obama’s election had for black communities: Pyrrhic. What are Clinton’s plans for low-income and part-time workers, the majority of whom are women? How does Clinton plan to help with child care? Having a female president does not accomplish much for feminism if most of the problems facing women are social and economic, and that president is corporatist in her politics.

So what are Americans to do? I originally wanted to sarcastically suggest voting for Trump, but now even joking about that makes me gag. I mean he’s to the left of Clinton on some issues, so he’s got that going for him, but he’s just as imbecilic about those policies as he is about his right wing beliefs. He advocates for local industry in lieu of global manufacturing which would greatly improve the domestic economy, yet produces all his own products in China. He wants to get corporate money out of politics, and brags about financing his own campaign, ignoring the fact that he himself is quite literally an anthropomorphic corporation. He’s even maintained some fairly progressive opinions during his political flip-flopping, and has come out both for and against gay marriage, which I guess you can call a draw. An article I read that I don’t care to find again because I don’t remember the source speculated that the danger with Trump wasn’t his radical ideology, but the uncertainty of which position he actually held on any given topic.

Chris Hedges in his book The Death of the Liberal Class says that voting for the “less worse” party (ie. the democrats) can only serve to push the acceptable political ideology further in that worse direction, and concessions to the right become a constant. Anyone left of Fox News only has the one option after all, so Americans end up with candidates like Clinton whose most admirable characteristic is that she is not Donald Trump, yet who is by no means a reasonable person to lead a country.

What do you do when the extent of your political influence as a citizen only allows you the choice between a neglectful criminal and a psychopath? Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau very diplomatically said that he would work with whomever was elected, and that the Canadian/American relationship goes beyond the personalities of two individuals. This eloquently illustrates the common mentality of individuals in a contemporary democracy: accept the state of affairs for the sake of stability and maybe grumble about it privately at the water cooler. If either candidate is elected, Americans will very likely continue on with their lives, hoping that in four years their choices will be better. Yet my repeated analogy to Hitler is pertinent to this mentality: at what point is a society morally obligated to abandon traditional means of political change and opt for the non-traditional? Ought a society to continue to accept an escalating criminality in their leadership, trusting that the only potential for change is an increasingly meaningless democratic system?

Noam Chomsky’s theory is that people have forgotten other political processes in favour of blindly focusing on the carnival we call an election. To steal his line because he is much smarter than me and delightfully sarcastic, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world.” By retaining this focus as the only option for political participation, citizens do not even consider the activist route as a means of altering the course of their Hindenburg of a country. If the political system has failed, and it most certainly has, then it is up to the people to make the necessary changes to improve their country.

It is my understanding that citizen-based political reform outside of the incumbent structures of their system is called…

ANARCHY!

The big news of the day seems to be the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and what has erupted is a big hullabaloo about free speech, and how it is necessary and super awesome and how all the cool kids have it. However, there is a catch: it is a packaged deal that allows terrible people to espouse their terrible opinions.

America is the prime example of this. America is a country that allows a certain crazy-as-fuck family to protest the funerals of soldiers, not because they’re against war, but because they believe that God is punishing America for not murdering all the gay people. The belief is that if we disallow people to say crazy, offensive and oppressive shit, all of a sudden we won’t be able to say bad things about the government and we will literally become Stalinist Russia.

In Canada, however, we have hate speech laws that forbid certain aspects of speech. For example, that crazy-as-fuck family is not allowed into our country. We also can’t spray-paint swastikas on synagogues for reasons other than trespassing or defacing private property. The idea behind hate speech laws is that when people engage in hate speech, it propagandizes that belief, normalizes it, and either incites violence or fosters apathy towards other violence that might be going on elsewhere. For example, if you were exposed to the open and unquestioned public ridicule of Islam, you might be more apathetic to the subjugation of the Palestinian people. Think of it like anti-bullying. It would be like if the suicide of Amanda Todd went unpunished, as the man who harassed her was merely expressing his freedom of speech. Or if sexual harassment laws were merely suggestions rather than the rule.

Anwar al-Awlaki is an American who quite voraciously engaged in hate speech against the USA. He was a normal, everyday Imam that was actually interviewed as a moderate Muslim after the 9/11 attacks on the WTC, but became disenfranchised with the West, to say the least, and went over to join Al-Qaeda. Anwar al-Awlaki’s main function was to serve as an English-speaking mouthpiece for the organization, and he espoused all sorts of terrible things: saying America sucked and deserved bad things to happen to it, this and that, you know, regular terrorist-y type stuff. The US, recognizing the power of hate speech, sent al-Awlaki a firm cease and desist order via the courts to put an end to his widespread hate-mongering. This surprised the world because America is so firm on its beliefs in regards to freedom of speech, and to impinge on someone’s right to vocalize their hatred goes dead-against those beliefs.

Of course I am kidding. America straight-up murdered Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike, and then drone-striked his teenage son. They’re dead now. They didn’t get a trial.

So it seems that America doesn’t really love its free speech as much as it might think. Even outside of the extrajudicial assassination of its own citizens, people are punished socially for hate speech all the time. Has Michael Richards had work since he called that heckler a “nigger”? Wasn’t the owner of the Clippers banned from the NBA after he made a racist comment? The social cost for hate speech is quite high, and the completely insincere public apologies that inevitably follow are proof that pure free speech does not exist, even in the States.

Is that bad? Well, killing folks for talking is probably a little much, as both the Charlie Hebdo and Anwar al-Awlaki incidents are both horrific tragedies in their own separate ways, but I believe that quashing hate speech trumps freedom of speech. Perpetuating oppression and instigating violence/hatred are, you know, bad things. If you believe that those are necessary evils for civil discourse and dissent, well here’s a little test for you. Since this began with a cartoon, let’s see if you can tell the difference between these two images:

AntisemitismCriticism of Israel

To the untrained eye, these two images appear identical. However, upon closer examination, one can be identified as hate speech, and the other as criticism. See if you can work out for yourselves which is which.

The common example of an acceptable exception to the rule of free speech is yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre. I honestly don’t know how this example came to be, because honestly why a movie theatre? Why not just a generic room? But anyway, the idea is that it would cause a panic and could potentially injure somebody. Yelling “FIRE!” is usually done for superficial or trivial reasons, without much logic behind it. So superficial reasoning leading to potentially injurious actions is an exception to free speech. To me, that sounds an awful lot like hate speech, especially if the intent is the injurious actions.

Post-script: I don’t know how much this is actually in contention, but a depiction of Mohammed, especially a vile one, would be considered hate speech. Islam has a long, proud history of avoiding imagery in its art, and has made-do with beautiful text-based artwork. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, but to trivialize the anti-idol mandate of the Quran is to be ignorant of the history of that belief, as well as to purposefully disrespect, degrade, and further disenfranchise the already internationally ostracized culture of Islam.