Hi there! Are you tired of these so-called “experts”? Have you had it with all their smug, holier than thou college degrees? Do you prefer easily, digestible soundbites to hard, scrutinised, peer reviewed facts? Are you a figment of my imagination that I’m using as a lazy literary device that’s the equivalent of a punching bag made out of proverbial pummelled horse corpses for the purposes of this tired, drawn out series of rhetorical questions? Then you’re in the right place!
As I see it, anti-intellectualism is on the rise again. It all became startlingly clear when I was sloshed up on whiskey and self-loathing, watching a baffling Question Time segment where economist and Voldemort’s better adjusted little brother, Yanis Varoufakis, was answering a few audience queries. In the clip a rather blunt, well-meaning Londoner whom, if I had to peg I would call a stereotypical dive pub loudmouth, opined that the economy is simple and that we should treat it like household spending, i.e. decrease spending and limit debt so there’s more money to go around. His exact words being:
“Economics is really simple. If I go out and buy 3 pints of beer in Cambridge, I’m probably borrowing money. If I carry on doing that then I’m going to run out of money and then I’m going to go bust. It’s not difficult, guys.”
There’s perhaps nothing more working class English than an over-simplified, patronising example built around a beer metaphor. It’s an elegant little proposition but Varoufakis shoots it down by trying to explain the complexities of debt and growth on a macroeconomic scale and how spending and healthy debt are subject to far different laws than simple subtractions of numbers. That, unfortunately didn’t stop our average joe from mansplaining the economy to a foremost academic economist.
Around the same time, the abominable anus weasel Michael Gove announced that Britain had had enough of experts. Gove, as you’ll remember, was one of the front-linesman of the Brexit camp. The irony of an Oxford educated MP with a penchant for promoting royalism decrying those filthy, city-dwelling elite should have caused an irreparable chasm in space-time if this were a sane universe. Worse yet, he was allied with Boris Johnson, a man so unbelievably elite and posh his full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. What is it about the upper class that they have to stack their names into a car crash of improbable monikers. In a sane universe these men would have been laughed out of their country club golf course for even trying to use this ploy.
Unfortunately, this is not a sane universe. This is one where Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are given pedestals to shoot laser targeted verbal diarrhoea at masses of disgruntled low income earners whilst instituting policies designed to stiff them badly. The reason these thin-skinned scrotal hematomas hate experts is because they are con-men. They are nakedly, transparently unequipped to deal with the realities of governance and they resent anyone who points out that the emperor has no clothes.
This is why Trump hates the media and any political commentator worth listening to. It’s why Farage had no plans post-Brexit and abandoned UKIP at what should have been the dawn of a Britain that won it’s ‘sovereignty back from those unelected elites in Brussels’. It’s also why psychics hate James Randi and then insist that scientists are also elitist, obstructionist gate-keepers to the real truth and that modern science doesn’t know everything therefore anyone can fill in the gaps of knowledge with whatever witch-doctor malarky they damn well please. They are silver-tongued snake oil salesman praying on the economic anxieties of a beleaguered working class with race-bait politics and misdirection.
And it’s at this point I will surely be subject to some troglodyte who doesn’t read things through before pompously rushing to the comments to talk big about how “if Varoufakis is so trustworthy, then why is the greek economy in the toilet”? To which I say, 1) Yes I can read your mind and 2) this was a deliberate trap and you’re actually making a point in my favour. The bottom line is that the Greek government didn’t listen to Varoufakis and went ahead with haphazard reforms in spite of his admonishment. Anti-intellectualism and bad planning were the cause of this turmoil and people seem to want more of it out of sheer spite for some strawman stand-in for professionals that they’ve come to mistrust. They’d had enough of experts telling them what was and wasn’t a good idea and they thoroughly cocked it up. Sure, water doesn’t stop fire 100% of the time, but pouring gasoline on it is ‘bigly’ ill-advised and just because it’s an unconventional solution doesn’t make it worth trying.
What’s worrying is that instead of learning that we should question authority, a large swathe of people have learnt to distrust all institutions offhandedly if they don’t fit with their pre-decided stances running into the arms of the soothsayers, conmen and political identity pandering pundits. The system was rigged when Trump was losing, but it’s been unrigged by the electoral college which Trump used to hate when it seemed like they might vote against him. The FBI was awesome when it investigated Clinton but Federal Agencies couldn’t be trusted when they went against Trump. He swings back and forth like a pendulum on crystal meth.
And again, I’m going to read the mind of a die-hard Trump supporter and suggest that they’ll insist “Dems did it too when they lost! What about blaming Russia and what about saying electoral college was wrong”. Which is a fair point until further examination. Fact is: 3 million more people voted for Hillary. No getting around that. Fact is: Independent and state Intelligence communities and even Trump now, accept the assessment that Putin’s administration interfered. The difference is that Trump claimed rigging even before the results were even in, because money clearly can’t buy dignity. In other words, irrationality and emotional misdirection were the order of the day.
This is the crux of why anti-intellectualism exists: To have a shape-shifting set of positions based on nothing but what suits your needs at the moment. The right to not be expected to think or be consistent. The convenient excuse of being able to call whatever upsets you a lie should be familiar to anyone who has dealt with anti-vaxxers and holocaust deniers and fans of Bill Cosby. Am I saying the intellectuals are never wrong? No. Not at all. But they’re wrongness will always be rooted in a better process of deliberation. A bumper sticker on the back of a pick-up truck with plastic balls hanging off the back of it is not an equal opinion to that of of a university thesis or an established journalist. Stop placating idiocy.
I can’t believe we live in a time when I have to remind people why experts exist in the first place. Hell, This is the reason society exists in the first place. No one person can be expected to learn all the skills necessary to keep the ship sailing so we delegate the tasks to others and live in a common trust called a society. The erosion of that trust is how anti-intellectualists form a false consensus among their own supporters. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of people who are willing to be lied to (that’s why Fox News is the most watched news channel in America).
Pandering to the innate distrust of institutions and the unique inferiority complex of the uninformed voter have always been a hallmark of Far-Right and the Far-Left campaigns (not to say mistrust is unjustified in every case). What worries me about this is that it is precisely the same instinct with which Russian state-owned media operate. Everything they don’t like is the fault of NATO or America or Europe or a plane full of dead bodies. It’s unpopular and just not as edgy to insist that we eat our greens, finish our broccoli and pay attention to the boring people who calmly tell us the relevant facts but we’re going to have to be more discerning consumers of news. And no, calling me a “cuck-mangina-beta-snowflake-regressive-SJew-libtard-poopieface with a fat mum” is not being a discerning news consumer.
I’m fully aware that I am by no means an expert but that’s precisely my point. I know I’m an idiot, thus I delegate the heavy thinking to the trust-worthy while I focus on my expertise (knob gags and crying in the shower). It’s easy to think this is isn’t that big an issue but anti-intellectualism becomes a denial of reality and that makes it easier for crooks to subvert the entire system for personal gain. What’s the worst case scenario? Let me put it this way: even the wikipedia article for anti-intellectualism has an entire section on its links with authoritarianism and fascism. Apparently, “stupid is as stupid does” will be the official motto of the next reich.
Related Reading Recommendation: “Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Went from the Party of Reagan to the Party of Trump”, a book by Matt K. Lewis
Matt K. Lewis is a young, conservative writer with a good head on his shoulders and a great grasp of the historical roots of conservatism (the admirable kind of conservative commentator, not the naff, opportunistic vulgarians that litter the right-wing political sphere in our post-Trump world). Highly recommended for anyone interested in finding out how the Republican party went off the rails and began to actively reject its core principles in favour of short-term political benefit. I may not be a conservative by any means, but this was an engaging, well-reasoned book.
The Varoufakis video in Question