Anti-intellectualism and racism

Fearing and, thus, hating someone who is different from us is a natural emotional response from a brain wired for life in the forest fighting other warring hunter gatherers. Racism, as a result, is a natural part of our humanity. We are all racist and discriminatory. If it isn’t based on color, we discriminate based on religion, education, sexual orientation, nationality, caste, etc.

The relationship between education and discrimination is a fascinating one as it is one that is underlined with a lot of tension. The reason for this tension is that an educated mind is one that treats every belief as a hypothesis that needs to be tested. Galileo Galilei, one of the fathers of the scientific method, discovered this was an issue in 1610 when he faced the ire of nearly every institution that mattered. The church, arguably the most powerful of those institutions then, took nearly 500 years to declare him innocent.

The essence of discrimination is blind belief. Education, thus, is dangerous as it shakes its foundations of discrimination. As a result, a key part of the oppressors playbook is to control the education its citizens receive. If you can fake education, i.e. pretend to educate while not really teaching the scientific method, people will never find out.

Until they do, of course.

This is why the Brexit was a damning verdict for anyone concerned about the state of the world today. It wasn’t because the Brexit was the absolute wrong result. There is a case to be made that it was a good result for both sides in the long run – that Britain will benefit and that the EU will treat it as a wake-up call to right the many issues inherent in its structure. The issue was the way it happened. It happened without the voters really understanding why they were doing what they were doing. It happened without any debate of the real long term issues. It was a classic anti-intellectual process and it was as good as a bunch of fearful people voting yes for xenophobia.

That is also why the November election in the United States is critical. It is becoming increasingly clear that the beliefs that drive the Republican party in the United States is not that of smaller government, but one of cultural disillusionment. It is also becoming increasingly clear that “make America great again” seems to just be a different version of “make America white again.” There are a lot of direct effects of the Republican nominee becoming President but probably none as powerful as the brand of anti-intellectualism that he espouses.

The key part of the Donald Trump message is simplicity. It is a clear action plan that involves shutting down borders, breaking ally agreements and building walls. These simple steps will put an end to the death, gloom and destruction. Leaving aside facts about violence and the like, this sort of simplicity ignores that one thing that makes debate necessary – nuance. Or, to use a more fitting term, trade-offs. Good decision making requires an understanding of trade-offs. Good decision making requires spirited debate and an understanding of nuance. But, discussing nuance isn’t what won Trump the Republican primary. It isn’t what he is about. He makes decisions based on his gut and data is for losers. Well, life can be relatively simple when you are born into a brash household in the top 1%. It isn’t that simple for everyone else and it is certainly not going to be simple when you govern in an interdependent world.

This is one direct effect, however. The full list is long. The most important indirect effect, in my assessment, is that I think his coming to power will sadly reverse the trend on discrimination and racism. The facts on violence and discrimination tell us one thing for certain – as bad as things seem, they have only been getting better and are better today than ever before. However, the moment we give up our willingness to debate, we indicate that we are open to flexing our discrimination muscles. It is a recipe for bigotry – an intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from us. If we are intolerant toward different opinions, can you begin to imagine what the future holds for people who look different from us?

This indirect effect is beautifully summed up in a line from a comment I shared following the Brexit – “But, can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?”

When indeed…

anti-intellectualism and racismThanks to Storify for the image

15 thoughts on “Anti-intellectualism and racism”

  1. Thank you. So well said. Tweeted to sec of St Clinton in hopes she schedules many debates. The more the merrier.

  2. Hey Rohan, great post. I can tell this is a lot of collected ideas and thoughts put together. We’ll see where things go with the election from here.

  3. This is a well thought out, well reasoned post and I agree with the overall thesis that anti-intellectualism breeds racism (from all races).

    Is Donald Trump a bigot? Yes, it certainly seems that way. And he’s most definitely leveraging fear in an attempt to win the votes of the right and undecided voters.

    Some random thoughts:

    1.) I wish there wasn’t a two party system. It fuels this divisiveness.
    2.) I wish the right wasn’t so fearful of other cultures and people different from them. I wish they actively sought out and encountered people different from them and realized that they’re not that different. How many educated Millennials with gay friends and co-workers are still socially conservative? Not many.
    3.) I wish the left would acknowledge that some fear and anger are justified responses to endless violent attacks by enemies within. We can’t just pray away these problems.
    4.) Personally, the following two statements seem to be much more reflective of the left (especially those in college) than the right:

    > “The moment we give up our willingness to debate…”
    > “…an intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from us.”

    In my experience, it is the left-leaning intellectuals that insist on political correctness and impose reputational sanctions on those that disagree with their opinions — even ostracizing others. It’s these groups that are prone to violence and stifle dissent. (See: Dozens of left-leaning groups in colleges across the country.)

    I love what J.K. Rowling said about people’s intolerance for alternative view points:

    I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.

    1. So many interesting thoughts Ryan. I agree with you on all of it. I didn’t know that about left leaning groups.

      My sense is most folks in the middle agree with both sides on various things – the traditional republicans view on government, trade, immigration and the liberal view on social issues. There’s so much good in the middle.
      You may be right about the two party system resulting in us spending time everywhere but the middle even if the design was otherwise…

    2. Great points, ryan. My husband and I are more center left and do watch both sides. I agree that most do not. It’s up to parents and teachers to teach this.

      Love the jkrowlings quote.

  4. Thanks for raising awareness to this issue, Rohan. Coincidentally, me and my sister were discussing racism this morning as well.

    I agree that it’s a lack of understanding underneath that caused the discrimination. It’s also the belief that a person represents their race, religion etc. If you look at people as individuals with vastly different backgrounds, and ultimately are simply human like we are, then it’s much easier to empathise with them. At least, that’s how I think about others.

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. My feeling is both major parties are capitalizing on fear mongering and neither is the ethical choice. Once again I will be voting third party.

    My observation over the last decade or so is that the Dems and Reps have contributed to keeping the contry polarized. Who profits when the voters are split down the middle? Their campaign funds do.

    I am tired of being told I should vote for someone I don’t want in office out of fear that another candidate will win. I am disappointed that people attempt to bully others into voting D or R because a third party candidate is “throwing your vote away.”

    My vote matters when I check independent. It states that I am not happy with the current system and I want another choice.

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this matter, Rohan.

    1. Firstly – thanks for sharing, Sara. I don’t disagree with the polarization note – sad as it is.

      I am sure there is some interesting game theory model that will solve for this. However, since my game theory understanding is woefully inadequate, I do think it does unfortunately boil down to that fear question – how much do you care about the upside of clearly expressing your displeasure with the system (and, in some ways – will that realistically drive change.. that would be the long term best i’d imagine) versus how much do you care about making sure the person who scares you more doesn’t become President?

      Does that make sense at all?

  6. Thanks for this post and for “going there!” I was having a similar discussion with a friend this morning.

      1. And understandably so. I’ve been vigorous in avoiding it thus far but this last week was the tipping point for me.

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