Anti-intellectualism and racism – revisited

I shared a post about my reflections on the US Presidential race around this time 4 years back.


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…


It is a post I’ve thought about more often than I’d have liked in the past 4 years.

Never more often than during these few days, however.