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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A Defence Of Intellectual Elitism


I often wonder if calibrating the world for the use of the stupid has been the biggest mistake of the modern era. The democratisation of discourse and political participation is usually accepted as being the shining apogee of what has otherwise been a very dark and bloody few centuries, but it strikes me that rather than being the redeeming feature of an epoch of violence and hatred, it might actually be a contributing factor. Basically, I wonder if our strange compulsion to dumb everything down to concussed jellyfish level is the root, rather than the result, of all our more recent struggles.

How would it have been possible for the Nazis, for example, to garble Indo-European theory into the hateful master race doctrine if all materials on the subject were written in language they would have had no hope of either understanding or taking an interest in? Or for later racists to use Darwin and 'common sense thinking' to argue for black segregation if no-one had had the bright idea to summarise his theories in words of one syllable? Or for evangelicals and Puritans to so hideously twist and misinterpret The Bible if nobody had ever translated it into English?

If complex concepts were only really accessible to people with complex understandings, I strongly suspect the world might be a much better, or at least quieter, place. Of course I'm not advocating for some totalitarian Gattacca-like state where people have to pass an IQ test to be given access to information. My thinking would be decidedly more 'free market' than that. I'd just suggest that we stop talking down to idiots who don't even really care what we're saying anyway, and then see how that goes. In fact, I'm not even talking about intelligence, but rather about effort. How would it be if we lived in a world where people, in order to participate in complicated debates about high concepts and the fates of nations, actually had to learn how to talk and think first as a sort of earnest of their status as stakeholders?

I know there are many valid points to be made here about time, money, and basic human rights, but I'm not talking about restricting intellectual discourse to an idle moneyed class a la the mediaeval period. It's not the mediaeval period, and access to education is currently quite broad, and should certainly be broader. What I'm more talking about is a world where an article entitled, "Political and Racial Ontologies of Gender Constructivism" isn't automatically and inevitably paired with one called, "What It's Really Like to be a Black Transexual". Because the thing about the second one is that it's useless. First and foremost, it is not going to be able to tell me what the title claims it will – nothing can. And secondly, there are ideas so complex that simplifying them doesn't so much clarify them as it utterly warps them. If we're really going to get into it, converting big complex ideas into the currency of "tradeable facts", as I like to call them, negates the possibility of actually knowing or understanding them at all. 

I'm also not saying that education/intelligence and evil are mutually exclusive. But I am saying that having every discussion dominated by clueless, mindless reactionaries is not just unhelpful, but positively harmful. And it's not as if most people are invested in these big issues anyway. I don't think your average householder would give a toss about racial or gender politics if they weren't living in a world so weirldy insistent on their participation in debates they don't understand, and the outcomes of which don't actually affect them. Kate McCulloch is a prime example. It's abundantly clear that her position on Islam and immigration is largely derived from a complete ignorance of what the words 'Islam' and 'immigration' actually mean, combined with a social epistemological framework which more or less demands that she have an opinion on these things she knows nothing about and has no actual practical stake in.

The result of this nonsense in Kate's case is typical of the general political and social malaise we currently live with. Complex ideas and issues are dumbed down so that unwilling members of the public are required to process them, almost always incorrectly, and then white out the channel of discourse with their dim-witted, uncomprehending rambles and rants. Why don't we stop trying to explain this stuff to these idiots? Why not just let people who aren't either interested in or equipped for these discussions just opt out, as I suspect they'd rather do anyway? Just leave complex ideas in precise and complex language, so those who wouldn't otherwise be bothered with them have the perfect excuse not to. Then perhaps the intellectuals of the human race, freed from the onerous and time consuming necessity of braking for morons, might finally be able to think and talk productively for long enough to break the cycle of reaction and actually figure some stuff out.

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