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Yay or Nay? Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge

I know all of you wonderful CitizenSugar readers love knowledge, but some think you are a minority in America. A recent New York Times article consulted a bunch of scholars about America's hostility to knowledge.

These self-proclaimed nerds indicted Americans for being ignorant about essential scientific, civic, and historical knowledge, and even worse — for not thinking any of it matters!

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian, said that "when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues." Hm. Sound familiar?

Do you see anti-intellectual tendencies in America?

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Cadet Cadet 8 years
From my experience in school, I've seen that most students will do the minimum amount of work possible to get a passing grade. Whenever we peer edit essays I'm disgusted by simple grammar errors made by college English students. I'm floored when a large majority of my class can't remember the rules for naming unsaturated hydrocarbon chains. It's not rocket science, it's basic college!I also think that once people are done with schooling, most stop introducing themselves to new subjects or brushing up on familiar ones. I love my parents and grandparents, but they aren't aware of half as many current events as I am. It's as if they've incased themselves in snow globes or something.
Cadet Cadet 8 years
From my experience in school, I've seen that most students will do the minimum amount of work possible to get a passing grade. Whenever we peer edit essays I'm disgusted by simple grammar errors made by college English students. I'm floored when a large majority of my class can't remember the rules for naming unsaturated hydrocarbon chains. It's not rocket science, it's basic college! I also think that once people are done with schooling, most stop introducing themselves to new subjects or brushing up on familiar ones. I love my parents and grandparents, but they aren't aware of half as many current events as I am. It's as if they've incased themselves in snow globes or something.
Advah Advah 8 years
Tresjolie, I found it really interesting to read your experience of living in Europe as an American.I've lived abroad for two years now, and have met a lot of foreign people especially through my studies, and didn't have the same experience at all (btw I'm not American). While it's not necessarily an aggressive reaction (that might also be because I was in an exchange student context, and things were more about comparing cultural differences then biting each other's hand), people do have a lot of ridiculous and insulting misconceptions.People seem to think it's ok to criticise the US, while if the same thing was said about any other country they'd call that 'stereotype'. It's about everything - language, food, tv, clothes.. - and especially stronger now with the elections, where people generally make fun of candidates, but when you ask them questions they don't know anything about their agendas or backgrounds. Anyway to go back to the initial topic, this is definitely not a situation that's specific to the US. What someone said about Abraham Lincoln is just what sadly happens with history at school - most of what we learn is closer to myth than proper history.
Advah Advah 8 years
Tresjolie, I found it really interesting to read your experience of living in Europe as an American. I've lived abroad for two years now, and have met a lot of foreign people especially through my studies, and didn't have the same experience at all (btw I'm not American). While it's not necessarily an aggressive reaction (that might also be because I was in an exchange student context, and things were more about comparing cultural differences then biting each other's hand), people do have a lot of ridiculous and insulting misconceptions. People seem to think it's ok to criticise the US, while if the same thing was said about any other country they'd call that 'stereotype'. It's about everything - language, food, tv, clothes.. - and especially stronger now with the elections, where people generally make fun of candidates, but when you ask them questions they don't know anything about their agendas or backgrounds. Anyway to go back to the initial topic, this is definitely not a situation that's specific to the US. What someone said about Abraham Lincoln is just what sadly happens with history at school - most of what we learn is closer to myth than proper history.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
And"Tresjolie- I hope you understand I wasn't literally trying to say American beer was better, I don't think it's very good either, so you can save your convincing "blah blah tastes like water" speech."Seemed to me to be a little excessive since you brought it up in the first place.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
And "Tresjolie- I hope you understand I wasn't literally trying to say American beer was better, I don't think it's very good either, so you can save your convincing "blah blah tastes like water" speech." Seemed to me to be a little excessive since you brought it up in the first place.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
"Why must people say such divisive things like "voted for Bush=idiot?" "My family voted Republican for their whole lives. They have thought out their positions as much as I have, and while they hate what Bush has done, I don't think voting for him makes them "bad apples." Sheesh."I didn't say these thing, so it wasn't opposing my argument but rather defending your own stand.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
"Why must people say such divisive things like "voted for Bush=idiot?" "My family voted Republican for their whole lives. They have thought out their positions as much as I have, and while they hate what Bush has done, I don't think voting for him makes them "bad apples." Sheesh." I didn't say these thing, so it wasn't opposing my argument but rather defending your own stand.
hausfrau hausfrau 8 years
I don't think people here are defensive at all. Opposing someone's argument does not make you defensive.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
You misunderstood me, or I might have been unclear. I didn't say that the voters were rotten apples, but that our President and his administration is. I don't think Republican are evil, or stupid, so we can all calm down, perhaps? Maybe I wrote it poorly, since both of you got upset by it, but what I meant was that a President counts for more then one or two ignorant voters. Since he has been in charge of all of us for seven years now. As I stated above, I live in Europe, and I have yet to encounter anyone who disliked the fact that I'm American. But I have also yet to meet anyone who doesn't give me an earful about our elected President. I don't really have much more to say about the subject since it's clear that people are very defensive here, and I'll save my speeches, right?
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
You misunderstood me, or I might have been unclear. I didn't say that the voters were rotten apples, but that our President and his administration is. I don't think Republican are evil, or stupid, so we can all calm down, perhaps? Maybe I wrote it poorly, since both of you got upset by it, but what I meant was that a President counts for more then one or two ignorant voters. Since he has been in charge of all of us for seven years now. As I stated above, I live in Europe, and I have yet to encounter anyone who disliked the fact that I'm American. But I have also yet to meet anyone who doesn't give me an earful about our elected President.I don't really have much more to say about the subject since it's clear that people are very defensive here, and I'll save my speeches, right?
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Great quote! I think it's hard not to skim over the truth when it is hard to accept though, I have done it completely inadvertently more than once. Tresjolie- I hope you understand I wasn't literally trying to say American beer was better, I don't think it's very good either, so you can save your convincing "blah blah tastes like water" speech. Why must people say such divisive things like "voted for Bush=idiot?" I don't think it was the right decision, in either election, and honestly not the most intelligent decision. But I know a lot of people who did vote for him who did not think he would do the things that he has done. Our votes are supposed to elect the leader we think will be most competent, not provide approval for every action the leader takes. I love Al Gore, and I know that he would not have handled the situation in Iraq the way Bush has. If he had been elected though, how would he have responded to the terrorist attacks? I think he would have done a better job than Bush for sure, but things would still be very messy. My family voted Republican for their whole lives. They have thought out their positions as much as I have, and while they hate what Bush has done, I don't think voting for him makes them "bad apples." Sheesh.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Great quote! I think it's hard not to skim over the truth when it is hard to accept though, I have done it completely inadvertently more than once. Tresjolie- I hope you understand I wasn't literally trying to say American beer was better, I don't think it's very good either, so you can save your convincing "blah blah tastes like water" speech. Why must people say such divisive things like "voted for Bush=idiot?" I don't think it was the right decision, in either election, and honestly not the most intelligent decision. But I know a lot of people who did vote for him who did not think he would do the things that he has done. Our votes are supposed to elect the leader we think will be most competent, not provide approval for every action the leader takes. I love Al Gore, and I know that he would not have handled the situation in Iraq the way Bush has. If he had been elected though, how would he have responded to the terrorist attacks? I think he would have done a better job than Bush for sure, but things would still be very messy. My family voted Republican for their whole lives. They have thought out their positions as much as I have, and while they hate what Bush has done, I don't think voting for him makes them "bad apples." Sheesh.
bethany21 bethany21 8 years
So, not to be all "nerdy" or anything, but I was reading Nietzsche for school earlier today, and I ran across this, taken from his lecture "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense": "It is in a similarly restricted sense that man now wants nothing but truth: he desires the pleasant, life-preserving consequences of truth. He is indifferent toward pure knowledge which has no consequences; toward those truths which are possibly harmful and destructive he is even hostilely inclined...If he will not be satisfied with truth in the form of tautology, that is to say, if he will not be content with empty husks, then he will always exchange truths for illusions." I think this kind of rings true for today and the type of anti-knowledge sentiment we feel sometimes. Someone up in the comments mentioned global warming, which I think is a great example. Science and simple observations on the weather in the past couple years show us that global warming is a real threat. Yet it's a scary (um, "inconvenient"? lol) truth that we'd rather not know, so we'd rather just not believe it and trade in that knowledge for a more pleasant lie. Just thought I'd share! Thought-provoking stuff, if you're not hostile to knowledge, that is. ;)
bethany21 bethany21 8 years
So, not to be all "nerdy" or anything, but I was reading Nietzsche for school earlier today, and I ran across this, taken from his lecture "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense":"It is in a similarly restricted sense that man now wants nothing but truth: he desires the pleasant, life-preserving consequences of truth. He is indifferent toward pure knowledge which has no consequences; toward those truths which are possibly harmful and destructive he is even hostilely inclined...If he will not be satisfied with truth in the form of tautology, that is to say, if he will not be content with empty husks, then he will always exchange truths for illusions."I think this kind of rings true for today and the type of anti-knowledge sentiment we feel sometimes. Someone up in the comments mentioned global warming, which I think is a great example. Science and simple observations on the weather in the past couple years show us that global warming is a real threat. Yet it's a scary (um, "inconvenient"? lol) truth that we'd rather not know, so we'd rather just not believe it and trade in that knowledge for a more pleasant lie.Just thought I'd share! Thought-provoking stuff, if you're not hostile to knowledge, that is. ;)
hausfrau hausfrau 8 years
Tresjolie, I feel like you just proved my point with my "if you don't think like me, you can't be intellectual" comment. You just said that people who voted for Bush are bad apples? Why? Because you can't POSSIBLY be intelligent AND vote for Bush? This is what the left says. Over half of America voted for Bush. So essentially they are calling over half of America stupid. And I'm sorry, but you can't alienate over half of the voting public and then ask for their vote. I wish they would learn this already and come off thier high horses!
mandy_frost mandy_frost 8 years
I wish there was an other option. I think usually, yes, but when it is really important, I think most folks pay attention to the important stuff. I am a nerd. I always look at the most searched articles on nytimes.com. Ordinarily, sex is a top search term. Lately, though, it hasn't even been in the top 30. Obama, Hillary, and other candidate names have taken over. Good job USA!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Wow, I just ran across an interesting article on this subject! From today's Washington Post, "The Dumbing of America" by Susan Jacoby. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021502901.html
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Wow, I just ran across an interesting article on this subject! From today's Washington Post, "The Dumbing of America" by Susan Jacoby. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021502901.html
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
I understand your feelings, snowbunny. But electing George W. Bush Jr. in 2000, and re-electing him in 2004 counts for more than a few rotten apples. He is the President. Our President. And he and his administration wields more power than any other nation, period.And yes, American beer pretty much suck in my opinion. When the beer is brewed they boil it to pasteurize it, and then re-carbonize it afterwards. I live in Europe at the moment, and I can't stand American beer anymore; not because it's American, but because it tastes peach flavored soda to me. It makes me cringe. But not for a political reason.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 8 years
I understand your feelings, snowbunny. But electing George W. Bush Jr. in 2000, and re-electing him in 2004 counts for more than a few rotten apples. He is the President. Our President. And he and his administration wields more power than any other nation, period. And yes, American beer pretty much suck in my opinion. When the beer is brewed they boil it to pasteurize it, and then re-carbonize it afterwards. I live in Europe at the moment, and I can't stand American beer anymore; not because it's American, but because it tastes peach flavored soda to me. It makes me cringe. But not for a political reason.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
snowbunny: Thanks for the extra insight. It occurred to me later, a lot of "intellectuals" believe they can think up a better answer to (fill in the blank) than any religion can provide. So, I can see where there might be an anti-intellectual bias in some churches. Personally, I wouldn't consider those types true intellectuals, just folks trying to rationalize a reason to behave as they please. I believe there's a lot of value in having established, tried-and-true patterns / norms for social situations. cabaker: Certainly, American pop culture is pervasive. To be fair, though, a lot of kids read / watch Japanese anime, and for 40+ years there's been a lot of English influence in our pop music. (I'll admit that my family may be an exception, though, as we don't listen to rap, hip-hop or country.) RE: European anti-American sentiment. My DD did a year in the Netherlands at 16, returning in July 2007. In her experience people seemed to distinguish between the people, who were generally deemed okay, and the government, which was subject to criticism. Interesting discussion, everyone!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
snowbunny: Thanks for the extra insight. It occurred to me later, a lot of "intellectuals" believe they can think up a better answer to (fill in the blank) than any religion can provide. So, I can see where there might be an anti-intellectual bias in some churches. Personally, I wouldn't consider those types true intellectuals, just folks trying to rationalize a reason to behave as they please. I believe there's a lot of value in having established, tried-and-true patterns / norms for social situations. cabaker: Certainly, American pop culture is pervasive. To be fair, though, a lot of kids read / watch Japanese anime, and for 40+ years there's been a lot of English influence in our pop music. (I'll admit that my family may be an exception, though, as we don't listen to rap, hip-hop or country.) RE: European anti-American sentiment. My DD did a year in the Netherlands at 16, returning in July 2007. In her experience people seemed to distinguish between the people, who were generally deemed okay, and the government, which was subject to criticism. Interesting discussion, everyone!
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Cabaker- Haha...my dad emigrated here from Bulgaria as a refugee because his family was being pursued by the Communist rule a few decades ago. I think, even though I never had to experience life under socialism (though he returned in 1990 for quite a while), it's something I am very grateful for because as crazy liberal as I can be, I do enjoy my cushy capitalist life very much. My family lost EVERYTHING in Bulgaria before they came here! My friends from India have a lot of the same sentiments. While culturally I think there is a lot they miss, they are grateful for the opportunities that they have had in America at University here. I mean, living in India is a very different experience from living in a socialist regime, but I don't think it is easy for them to see all the poverty when they go back to visit. Even though India is emerging as a superpower, it still has so much poverty. I wasn't really trying to criticize Europeans as being anti-American, but rather, my American friends who spend a couple semesters in London or Vienna and come back with a complete disdain for our "uncultured, consumerist" culture. So easy to be derisive of our consumerist culture when you have goods to consume! I cannot fault other countries' citizens for their perception of the US, because I think we do bring a lot of bad publicity onto ourselves through some of the insanely poor decisions our leaders make, however my friends are throwing stones from a place of such comfort. It's good to hear your recent experience in Eastern Europe. I think being critical of your country is being part of a patriot, but I really am sick of hearing how much better the brew/fashion/leaders/art/people are in London! Ah, I'll always be very liberal anyway, but yes, this is certainly a point that bothers me. I can care about the environment, dislike rampant over-consumption, care about social justice and still be grateful for what we have and patriotic.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Cabaker- Haha...my dad emigrated here from Bulgaria as a refugee because his family was being pursued by the Communist rule a few decades ago. I think, even though I never had to experience life under socialism (though he returned in 1990 for quite a while), it's something I am very grateful for because as crazy liberal as I can be, I do enjoy my cushy capitalist life very much. My family lost EVERYTHING in Bulgaria before they came here! My friends from India have a lot of the same sentiments. While culturally I think there is a lot they miss, they are grateful for the opportunities that they have had in America at University here. I mean, living in India is a very different experience from living in a socialist regime, but I don't think it is easy for them to see all the poverty when they go back to visit. Even though India is emerging as a superpower, it still has so much poverty. I wasn't really trying to criticize Europeans as being anti-American, but rather, my American friends who spend a couple semesters in London or Vienna and come back with a complete disdain for our "uncultured, consumerist" culture. So easy to be derisive of our consumerist culture when you have goods to consume! I cannot fault other countries' citizens for their perception of the US, because I think we do bring a lot of bad publicity onto ourselves through some of the insanely poor decisions our leaders make, however my friends are throwing stones from a place of such comfort. It's good to hear your recent experience in Eastern Europe.I think being critical of your country is being part of a patriot, but I really am sick of hearing how much better the brew/fashion/leaders/art/people are in London! Ah, I'll always be very liberal anyway, but yes, this is certainly a point that bothers me. I can care about the environment, dislike rampant over-consumption, care about social justice and still be grateful for what we have and patriotic.
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