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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:32 PM
Original message
intellectual vs. intellectualist vs. geek
Okay, I'm very confused here.

I posted a rant to my blog last night about the horrifying level of anti-intellectualism in this country. Here's an excerpt (lest you think I'm trolling for hits):

My Kind Isn't Welcome Here Anymore

I came to that stark realization this morning. No, I'm not black, I'm not gay, I'm not obese or handicapped -- I'm not really part of any marginalized minority (we could argue about me being a Jewish female, but women aren't a minority and the neocons actually like the Jews). I'm not even talking about being a Democrat, liberal, progressive, loony lefty, whatever.

What I am, and what I have determined isn't welcome around here, is an intellectual.

There. I said it. My name is Stacie (hi, Stacie) and I'm an intellectual.

Those of you who know me offline surely find this revelation to be a big, fat duh. I spend more time complaining about the dumbing down of America than I do about just about anything else (OK, election-year politics excepted, but that goes hand in hand). You're probably sick of it, even if you share my belief (in that case, feel free to click on something else).

I wonder when, exactly, anti-intellectualism started taking root in the United States. I know that during the Cold War, intellectuals were often lumped in with the Communists (well, many intellectuals, especially academics, were Communists). But it seems to have hit a new high (low?) in recent years.

Take, yes, politics. I'm not going to say our current president is dumb (I have studied Gardner -- who knows, maybe Dubya's an excellent dancer) -- there probably is quite a bit of intelligence there, somewhere -- but he's most certainly not an intellectual. He doesn't project any book-style intelligence whatsoever, nor does he want to; he wants everyone to think he's just a regular guy, likes to clear brush on his ranch, likes to jog.

There's nothing wrong with regular guys. Some of my best friends are regular guys (or so the saying goes). We need regular guys of all genders. The problems is when it can be taken too far, when they don't read and need to have dire warnings that Al Qaeda wants to strike in the United States, with planes, possibly in Lower Manhattan, pared down to one page.

John Kerry, by most accounts, is an intellectual -- or, at least, he projects an image of such. He's a thinker. He reads (not that he has any time to do so right now). He uses big words.

And because Kerry projects an air of intelligence, he gets hammered in the media, and even by some on the left. He's told he needs to dumb down his language -- people won't vote for someone who says "obfuscate" when they mean "hid," or someone who says 100 words when waving a flag will do (and no, I don't have links -- I'm generalizing, not researching). He's told he needs to hang glide and kiss babies and shoot things, in order to seem less intellectual and more regular guy.

What I want to know is -- When did intellectualism become an election liability? Since when do we not want our president to project intelligence?


A commenter made the following remarks (again, excerpted):

I don't think you're really an intellectual... definitely a geek and an intellectualist, but not an intellectual. Krugman is an intellectual - he is a world-class expert on currency exchanges, he's written tons of books, and he regularly writes scholarly articles. Even Chomsky is an intellectual. The intellectualist will try to find the truth, and opposes its abuse, as in the cowboy culture that almost got Bush elected, or as in the pseudoscientific crap that comes from the mouths of, say, creationists. The difference between being an intellectual and being an intellectualist is similar to the difference between being a Christian theologist and being a Christian.


I, of course, freely admit I'm a geek (though I prefer nerd), but I'm not exactly sure what the hell this poster was talking about otherwise. My working definition of intellectual is someone who values pursuits of the mind. John Kerry at least projects that point of view (who knows how he is in real life, though?); Dubya does not. (The dictionary is even more vague -- intellectual is that which pertains to the intellect). "Intellectualist" shows up as "someone who overestimates the importance of understanding" or "someone who buys in to the doctrine of intellectualism," which just brings us back.

I have to admit -- I don't get it. (I should add -- this poster has never met me, I've never met him, but he's been following my blog since the Candidate's Wife days.) What is the difference between being an intellectual and being an intellectualist, and why am I (according to one random Internet stranger) the latter, but not the former?

Can anyone help me here? (And thanks.)
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sir_captain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:38 PM
Response to Original message
1. You're whatever you want to be
you're not a world-renowned scholar, perhaps, but technically, an intellectual is really just someone who engages their intellect more than their emotional faculties.

In terms of anti-intellectualism in this country, it is true that historically, it has been pointed at people of specific academic backgrounds (mostly Ivy Leauge) and of a certain level of intellectual accomplishment.

But by no means does your original point lose its meaning...
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:55 PM
Response to Reply #1
5. Thanks
No, I'm not a world-renowned scholar (but I am a recognized expert on professionalism in the cleaning industry, or so I've been told), but I don't think one has to be prominent or an academic, for that matter, to be an intellectual. (In other words, I like your definition.)
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Waverley_Hills_Hiker Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:47 PM
Response to Original message
2. geek is more technological, intellectualist ...???
Edited on Mon Jul-19-04 03:49 PM by Waverley_Hills_Hiker
....never heard that one before.

Ive always associated geek more with scientific and technological pursuits, like computers. Almost a single-minded interest in this. There is a similar German term: fachidiot, meaning someone who is single-mindedly interested in his trade ("fach") and not much else.

Intellectual is sort of a vague concept. To me it means academics and expertise, usually some sort of credentialism involved. I guess a "geek" could be an intellectual, but I laways thought this term more applied to the humanities, literature, and things like sociology, anthropology, economics perhaps....

on edit,
the orignal point of your blog is sound. There is even a book on this.."Anti-Intellectualism in America", which traces this sentiment or bias through US history.
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:54 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Thanks...
I'm more of a geek in the sci-fi sense than in the computer sense, but I think otherwise it fits.

And I don't think geekdom and intellectualism are mutually exclusive.

I don't have the advanced or Ivy League degree, but I am a literature (and creative writing and education -- the equivalent of two-and-a-half majors) graduate. I might eventually go back to school (right now it's a time/money/not sure what I'd study anyway thing). Linguistics has been an intellectual interest of mine recently -- not so much learning new languages, but learning how they work.

I need to take a look at the book. Thanks.
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Commie Pinko Dirtbag Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:48 PM
Response to Original message
3. I find the definition Socrates gave for "philosopher" the most apt
Although one usually thinks of the academic types when hearing the word today, its original meaning was a person who was in the "Knowledge Is Good Party".
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:57 PM
Response to Reply #3
6. phil = love of / soph = wisdom
Makes sense. Thanks.
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Nikia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 03:57 PM
Response to Original message
7. I call myself an intellectual
By it, I mean someone who values intelligence, values life long learning and open mindedness, and enjoys discussion of academic type topics.
At my college, there were many intellectuals. In my adult life outside of college, I haven't met many in rural Wisconsin. Intellectuals weren't valued much either in my rural Ohio though.
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:03 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. Sounds familiar
...although I'm suburban Wisconsin.

My mom told me this weekend: "Your sister called. She's taking a summer class, and the first thing she said was, "The teacher's just like Stacie. I can't understand a thing she's talking about.""

I'm not sure whether to take that as a good thing or a bad thing.

My sister is in a masters degree/teacher certification program -- but I wouldn't call her an intellectual. It's just not her personality. She runs marathons and is a great decorator and is 1,000 times better with children than I'll ever be. I don't think the amount of education one has necessarily correlates with one's intellectualism -- there are plenty of people with intellectually-oriented personalities who lack the resources to attend college. (I only have a BA.)
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tigereye Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 05:15 PM
Response to Reply #8
17. a friend of mine who is an academic
Edited on Mon Jul-19-04 05:16 PM by tigereye
once told me I was an intellectual because I like to think and ask questions about things. The implication was that many academics do not do this, which I thought was a disturbing concept.

I do have a master's degree and am a professional, but I think being an intellectual has more to do with interest in the life of the mind, not the degrees you have or your position in the world.

I too heartily dislike the idea that being intelligent and well-read and well-spoken, etc. is a liability. Bush co did a terrible job re this on Gore. I miss Clinton because he read books and was incredibly intelligent in most matters. For heaven's sake, Bush is a WASP who went to Harvard and Yale. He is no populist or country boy. That is a load of whooey. More spin and it's evil consequences - Arnold as governor comes to mind...

ps I am also proud to be a nerd.
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gpandas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:26 PM
Response to Original message
9. television, movies, television, overindulgence in celebrities...
television, worship of dumb athletes, television, video games, television, religion, television,and, of course television are just a few reasons for dumbing down of americans. anti-intellectual people are made, not born. it is human nature to ask why about everything, to wonder what truth is, and investigate the universe for answers. people have been trained, by those seeking power, to be anti-intellectual since the dawn of man.
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sir_captain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:39 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. you realize that you contradict yourself, right?
you can't have it both ways--either modern America is dumb due to the things you clearly don't like, or people have been dumb due to "those seeking power" since, as you put it, "the dawn of man."

Are Americans (and most everyone else as well) less intellectual now than they were 100 years ago--almost undoubtedly. I would argue that the reasons for it are far more complicated than you make them out to be. I'd even point out that your seeming distaste for religion is part of the closed-minded attitude that is part of the problem.

Further, in regards to your last point, history does not agree with you. As recently as the JFK administration in this country, intellectualism was highly prized. There are countless other examples throughout history.

The main point being, it is not so easy to reduce large historical trends to mere platitudes.
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gpandas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:44 PM
Response to Reply #10
13. where is "things that i don't like" in my statement" eom
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sir_captain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:46 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. ok
how about "things you *apparently* don't like?"

I inferred from your message that you don't like, among other things, worshipped athletes and television. If I was incorrect in my assumption, I apologize.

In any case, that has really nothing to do with either of our points.
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gpandas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 05:19 PM
Response to Reply #14
18. why make it up if it's irrerelavant? also
the training i spoke of has occurred in the earliest history of humans that i have read, from gog to jim jones, from zeus to voodoo, from the wisdom of jesus to the televangelists, from the cradle to the grave, people are trained to not question the perceived truth of some other person. i only want it one way, not two. my single point is that pursuit of the truth has been deterred by many factors, but i specifically only know about modern times. btw, i love television, and athletics, it's the degree of importance they deserve that is the problem. otoh, i'm a 30 year season ticket holding steeler fan, so what the fuck could i possibly know?
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sir_captain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 05:28 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. dude, relax
I repeat: "If I was incorrect in my assumption, I apologize."

Go back and read your original post--it contradicts itself. The first half blames modern problems, and the 2nd half claims anti-intellectualism as an ancient issue.

I don't really disagree with you, as a note--I merely was trying to suggest that problems like this are rather complicated and reducing them in the way you did in your post isn't very, well, intellectual.

On another topic entirely, I'm very jealous of your season tickets. I don't think I'm ever going to get off the waiting list for the Giants.
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gpandas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 06:58 PM
Response to Reply #19
25. i'm relaxed, dude...
not to belabor this, but there is no contradiction in my op. the problem remains the same. how does making a point that anti-intellectualism exists in the modern world and supplementing that point with the remark that it also existed in the past contradict anything? i'm serious,dude, you're going to have to draw me a map on this one.
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sir_captain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 07:08 PM
Response to Reply #25
26. there is no contradiction in your point
but your original post was not worded in such a way as to make it clear that was your point. And I still think you oversimplified the issue in terms of the relationship between power and anti-intellectualism.

But anyway, at this point, it really is just nitpicking--we mostly agree.
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gpandas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 07:09 PM
Response to Reply #26
27. agreement= end of fun. eom
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Reverend_Smitty Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:40 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. Exactly teach the people to dislike intelligence
and they will do exactly what you want them to do. Those in power don't want people asking too many questions and finding out too much. Ignorant masses are much easier to control than informed ones.
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dolo amber Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:44 PM
Response to Original message
12. You like, use big words and stuff
Nerd. :P

;) :D
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 06:22 PM
Response to Reply #12
22. Wow! Felice? Is that you?
Seriously, that's my sister in a nutshell.

(I'm assuming, though, my 26-year-old sister didn't somehow acquire a 13-year-old daughter without me noticing, so I'll assume you're not actually her.)
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supernova Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:46 PM
Response to Original message
15. I wouldn't worry about it
the poster to your blog is splitting hairs an infinite number of ways.

If you like books, educational pursuits, and learning for learning's sake, then you are in intellectual.
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TrogL Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 04:48 PM
Response to Original message
16. I'm reminded of a West Wing article
Bartlett on a report:

"A smart person wrote it - I believe it".
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Kat45 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 05:38 PM
Response to Original message
20. I have a friend who considers himself an 'intellectual,' and he only
Edited on Mon Jul-19-04 05:39 PM by notmyprez
did a couple of years of college, I think. But I would agree with him. The two of us can talk on the phone for several hours, and none of the conversation is small talk. We'll talk about spirituality (debating theological beliefs) for a long time. We'll talk about psychological disorders. We'll talk about human behavior.

He is a thinker, as am I, and in my opinion, that qualifies as an "intellectual." Often the word "intellectual" implies an academic, but I like to believe that being an academic is not necessary to be an "intellectual." I think of it more as someone who LIKES to think about things, not frivolous things, but weighty things (if that makes sense). A lot of people, probably most people, don't like to think about things (including some who are capable of doing so). I know people with advanced degrees, who did very well in school, are considered smart--but they're not "thinkers"; they have no interest in it. It's too much trouble; it's not important to them; it's too abstract. And I know some who may be brilliant in their field, but have no interest in (or knowledge of) things outside their field.

A number of people that I know (including my mother) have told me that I "think too much." They are being critical of me when they say it, but I think that it is a very good thing to do.
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CrownPrinceBandar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 05:57 PM
Response to Original message
21. Wish I had seen this thread when you posted it.................
because I was thinking along the same lines yesterday. Why is there such a conservative backlash against intellectuals? Do intellectuals have some kind of uncanny knack for making cons feel stupid? I always thought intelligence was an asset.
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onebigbadwulf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 06:32 PM
Response to Original message
23. A true intellectual
would probably refrain from using labels to describe his or herself. Labels are perceptions that other people place on you - labeling yourself seems pointless to me.

Much like the Fonz, you cannot confirm or deny what other people think you are. If he walked around saying "I'm the Fonz, I'm cool" he would certainly be uncool.

Food for thought.
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eyesroll Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-19-04 06:37 PM
Response to Reply #23
24. OK, perhaps...
I guess I see intellectualism as more of a personality trait than a vocation or something similar. I have no problem labeling myself sarcastic, klutzy, etc.

Other people do see me as a great big nerd -- I know that much.
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