-- FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers
One of the more disturbing trends I have been forced to grapple with over the course of my life is the trend of anti-intellectualism. Over the last few decades being characterized as intelligent or an intellectual has fallen out of vogue. This trend has progressed so far in fact that general society regards intelligence as a net negative rather than a positive. The origins of and the forces driving this trend are beyond the scope of this post to address, so I won't be attempting to do that. Instead I'm going to talk about how that trend intersects with the concurrent trend of Tribalism to create a dangerous cocktail of pain and suffering for the world at large.
Tribalism on the other hand isn't a particularly new phenomena. The human race as a whole has been grappling with this issue since the dawn of our species. Whether it be Christians versus Muslims, the United States versus Russia or even something as pointless as the Patriots versus the Los Angeles Rams, the tendency towards tribalism appears to be rooted in the very core of human nature. This is particularly tragic as tribalism doesn't really fuel much forward progress when it comes down to it. The vast majority of pivotal conflict related events in human history could've arguably been avoided altogether if we weren't so prone to tribalism.
Ok so I can hear some of you asking, "What is Tribalism?". Good question. Let's check and see what dictionary.com has to say about that.
- The customs and beliefs of tribal life and society.
- Strong loyalty to one's own tribe, party, or group.
Well that's pretty basic, right? The real question that remains to be answered is just how far that loyalty goes. Generally when it comes to matters of the human race, tribal loyalty tends to go way too far. How does one determine when loyalty goes from being a trait we should admire to one that we consider a fault? The simple answer is that loyalty ceases to be an admirable value once it requires the loyalist to abandon either their principles or critical thinking skills to maintain said loyalty.
This is of course where anti-intellectualism comes into play. When any individual embraces anti-intellectualism they are effectively abandoning critical thinking. This has the direct effect of making them much more prone to the tendencies of tribalism. Even with a firm set of principles, without critical thinking, it becomes impossible for a loyal participant to adequately determine whether or not those principles are being honored by the institution in question.
Examples of anti-intellectualism by itself are easy to find in today's world. Some of the more virulent examples of this trend are the anti-vaccine, flat-earther and 9/11 truther movements. All of these movements require their members to abandon their critical thinking skills in order to join their ranks. That's because the central tenets of these movements fly in the face of all available empirical data.
However those are extreme examples and members of those movements have likely already adopted anti-intellectual stances in many parts of their lives before they get to the point of embracing the emotional delusions fostered by these movements. Beyond these extreme outliers, the real damage of anti-intellectualism can be seen in changes that occur to an institution people are loyal to over a much longer period of time. A great example of this is the child sex abuse scandal that the Catholic church is currently dealing with. Despite this obvious, egregious and ongoing moral failure on the part of the church, it is still able to push itself as the absolute source of moral authority for Catholics all around the world, even the ones Priests sexually abused while they were children.
Despite this, there are well over a billion Catholics in the world. Why is that? It's because the Catholic Church is one of the tribes they have adopted and they have abandoned their principles and critical thinking skills in order to remain upstanding members of that tribe. Now let's be clear: I'm not singling out the Catholic Church as an extreme example as there are a wide variety of popular institutions throughout the world that currently require members of said tribe to do the exact same thing. A few quick examples are US political parties (Republican mostly and Democrats to a lessor extent), social networks (anything operated by Facebook) and tech giants (Google and their recently cut "do no evil" directive). The list here goes on and on.
So what is the solution? I honestly have no idea. But each and every day as I turn on the news and read Reddit I see more and more examples of this dangerous cocktail beginning to rear its ugly head. It's too late to get out in front of it, but maybe, just maybe if we all become aware of what is happening, we can roll it back enough to give society time to re-evaluate what can be done to mitigate these influences moving forward.