Understanding Anti-Intellectualism in the United States


About this FieldTrip

We’ve all encountered anti-intellectualism in our lives. Especially with the upcoming election, anti-intellectualism rhetoric in the U.S. has become embedded into almost daily conversation.

American anti-intellectualism today is a social attitude that systematically denigrates science-based facts, authority of the intellectual “elite”, and the pursuit of theory and knowledge. There are 3 main types of anti-intellectualism, per Professor Daniel Rigney (using Richard Hofstader’s seminal work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life):

Religious anti-rationalism: rejection of reason, logic, and fact in favor of emotions, morals, and religious absolutes

Populist anti-elitism: rejection of elite institutions as well as those categorized within the social and/or intellectual “elite” (e.g. professors, old money politicians)

Unreflective instrumentalism: a belief that the pursuit of theory and knowledge is unnecessary unless it can be wielded for practical means (e.g. profit)

What we’ll cover:

1. What is Anti-Intellectualism? A look at the history of anti-intellectualism and its different manifestations in our society

2. The Sociopolitical Effects of Anti-Intellectualism Examining the use anti-intellectualism to reinforce sociopolitical power structures
Anti-Intellectualism and Politics
Anti-Intellectualism and Corporations

3. Critique of Intellectualism vs. Anti-Intellectualism Understanding the purpose of criticisms of intellectualism in comparison to anti-intellectualism

4. Combating Anti-Intellectualism Ways to combat anti-intellectualism in your own life, as well as tools to pinpoint anti-intellectualism in everyday conversation

Attendees will walk away with a better understanding of why anti-intellectualism is so powerful, pervasive, and enticing way of thinking. Anti-intellectualism is not just about politics, but about how we are able to purposefully ignore information that conflicts with what we want to believe. Unless we are able to pinpoint this tendency within ourselves and actively combat it, we are all susceptible to be manipulated by others using anti-intellectual traps. This session is all about better recognizing when anti-intellectualism occurs in our life, and finding ways to actively disrupt the system (both internal and external) that rewards anti-intellectualism in our daily lives.

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