Sunday, October 9, 2011

Waves of Intellectualism: We are at a Low

Many people consider anti intellectualism an aspect of Post Modernism (aka our new Dionysian Romanticism).  I suspect the reason for this is that the rise of anti intellectualism in the 1980s is coeval with the more obvious push of Post Modernism in those years.  However, let’s not forget that much of Post Modernism has been pushed by people who would normally be viewed as intellectuals.  And, the Dionysian basis of Post Modernism was well entrenched by the mid 1960s.

Intellectuals and anti intellectuals are found in any era.  During the age of scientism (ca. 1890-1985) many disliked arrogant professors or they made fun of mad professors.  During the romanticism of the 19th century should we call the Transcendentalists anti intellectuals?  Doers versus thinkers is not Dionysian versus Apollonian.

Our current wave of anti intellectualism began in the early 1980s under Reagan and it likely peaked under Bush Jr.  This wave has been a concerted attack on rigorous thinking and research, and the whole system of Modernist meritocracy built around good thinking and research.  Anti intellectualism has been a tool by the materialists of our society to subvert hindrances to corporate profit.  The recent wave likely was started by the tobacco industry (Allan Brandt) and then used by the oligarchy to subvert the conservative right (here) which prior to Reagan was quite intellectual.

The spread of anti intellectualism in America has been intentional; the goal has been to make consumers and voters stupid so that higher profits could be made, and regulations reduced.  Anti intellectualism is not a Dionysian impulse in of itself; using it to gain power and money is a Dionysian impulse.

Into this mix we have the problems of academia and the corporatization of our universities.  The demise of good science and history is a result of anti intellectualism impulsion through society.  Here is an example.

Historian David Kaiser (wiki, blog) recently wrote a nice piece about how the history profession has changed over the last three decades, here.  He describes what history used to be like and what it has become.  He views himself as being a product of the modernist era and wishes that it was still active.  Here are some of his descriptions.

To Kaiser, Modernist historians were…
trained to address, research, and study great questions of war and peace...They took their own and others’ opinions on those questions very seriously, and they enjoyed discussing these questions in a frank, if generally friendly spirit…Most importantly of all, perhaps, the historians and political scientists…did not feel bound to confine their comments to their research specialties.  We had been taught that historians have opinions on every major question, and we expressed them…[H]istorians used the fullest possible documentary record to make the best judgments they could about what actually happened.

He argues that…
Now a new view [has taken] hold [Post Modernism]:  that arguments about knowledge…were about the interests of groups, not the opinions of individuals, and that everyone was free to reshape the past based in large part on identity politics…A new view of history has triumphed, one which indeed denies the existence of any single truth…Everyone, it seems, is entitled to his or her own small plot of intellectual land, within which he or she can develop a particular variety of history.  A general non-aggression pact among the practitioners prevails.  The idea that certain books are superior in research, argument, or scholarship to others has become most unfashionable…Another feature of the current historical profession:  historians (and political scientists) are afraid to take a stand…[S]erious archival work involving exhaustive research has fallen out of fashion…[T]hat the changes in the academy have benefited the political right far more than the political left.  Because the historical profession is no longer interested in the doings of the rich and powerful, but only in the lives of the marginalized…

Certainly, under Modernism people generally believed in absolute truths--and history and (general systems theory) science benefited from this.  However, the Post Modern switch to relativistic perspectives can also lead to good science and history.  Creating relativistic and situational understandings of life is a good goal for both, and many are pursuing it (e.g. here).  

Actually, I think Kaiser is complaining more about the rise of “bad history” or “pseudo history,” the fact that many do not take their work seriously, so they don’t need to take a stand about anything.  Modernist intellectuals tend to view themselves as being serious and they want to be “taken” seriously.  The intellectual has authority when they are taken seriously.  The demise of authority in this country is due to the spread of egalitarianism that is a part of the Dionysian trend.

An educated mob has taken over academia and they will play out the processes of Dionysian hierarchy building (power and money dominate) as they please; and any older Apollonian advocate of modernist meritocracy will need to step aside.  Good luck David.

Intellectualism in America comes in waves and there are peaks and valleys.  There are periods when the whole culture is caught up in good thinking or bad thinking.  I think America’s intellectual high points are the Awakenings, leaving of course, the low points to be the secular crises.

The demise of history is not due to post modernism; it is a micro reflection of a culture that went from Awakening to unraveling to crisis.  There will be a new high and a new Awakening.  I fully expect our New Romanticism to have a powerful intellectual and ecstatic climax similar to the Progressive Awakening (1890-1920), which to my mind still stands as the greatest era of creativity in the history of Western Civilization.

Update #1

I was pinged that I have contradicted myself.   Remember the matrix metaphor, multi-scalar discussions are the norm here.

Level  One:   the recent transition from Apollonian to Dionysian occurred in the Fourth Awakening 1960-1990.  American culture is predominately Dionysian; some sectors of society are still in transition.

Level Two :  The transition from the Rationalist/linear/Modernism to the Intuitive/nonlinear/Post Modernism patterns.

Level three:  changes in Institutions within our culture reflect levels one and two.

Level Four:  there will be great diversity among Individuals.

My comment The demise of good science and history is a result of anti intellectualism impulsion through society is a Level Three statement.

My comment The demise of history is not due to post modernism; it is a micro reflection of a culture that went from Awakening to unraveling to crisis is a Level Two statement.

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