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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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 years
I don't think people here are defensive at all. Opposing someone's argument does not make you defensive.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Lain - I agree with you about China, India, etc as emerging and/or already superpowers but you don't see the rest of the world emulating China, paying attention to Chinese sports, travelling to China as their top choice of destination, or having 90% of their entertainment exported from China. I got sick of hearing about the election on the news the other day so I switched over to BBC news and what are they talking about? Our election! This is what I mean by saying we're the most important country in the world, other nations are very aware of our actions and we are absolutely the leader. I couldn't really figure out a better way to say that than to say we're the most important nation. But yes, I agree that if we want to stay that way, we need to make some changes! And I totally agree with you about the distinction between entertainment and news media. Snowbunny - I was in Europe recently for the first time and I was expecting to be bombarded with anti-American sentiment from Europeans (afterall, this is all we hear about from some on the left, how everyone in the world hates us). I was greeted with the exact opposite! Perhaps because I was in Eastern Europe, nations emerging from communism who will not hestitate to tell you how awful anything socialized is. By the end of my trip I realized there is a lot that we can take from Europe to make the US better, but by no means is it better there than here! I suppose I'm just a small minded patriot. :)
remedios remedios 9 years
I doubt people would be willing to say knowledge is bad, but there is a definite disdain for learning "too much." Advanced education is associated with the elite, which is code word for bad liberal. But I think that was created for ratings purposes. Cable news networks are not interested in knowledge (or don't seem to be, anyway).
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
Cabaker- I might be called part of the elitist liberal group by some, but yes, I get pretty tired of the whole anti-America sentiment, especially from friends who travel abroad. I enjoy going abroad also, but really, when everything from beer to politics becomes "better" just because it isn't American, it gets really tiresome, really quickly. Bush is bad, Kellie Pickler is bad, but I am just as American as they are, we have a very diverse country and it would make me happier if some of these friends chose to identify more with positive American influences than choose a few rotten apples and decry the whole country as stupid. And, I just finished reading a NYTimes article about professional couples having children later in life and moaning about how they don't match their high-end furniture! I mean, I love the Times and all just because they do a good job covering a lot of what I want to read, but...yeah the Times isn't always the most intellectual read. It is really amusing how they tried to turn that topic into something semi-intellectual anyway! Lainetm: I was really just trying to describe the whole sentiment that my church espouses, and many churches do, when it comes to intellectualism. There definitely a segment of society that really does proscribe to these ideals, but I was being a little general when I mentioned my family. It's more of a cultural thing I think that conservatives get that is partially driven by this religious element. It's not like my family is actually unaware they have brains, or that they really believe in God anyway. They're just in it for the potlucks, socializing and Rush Limbaugh.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
This is *old* news, but I'm glad to see it reported. Just ask any Mensa member how they are viewed. A lot of them keep their membership secret. A lot of textbooks and classes are written with political correctness as a primary goal. I have two high-schoolers, and the crap they hear from their teachers is amazing. It's only been in the last year or so that they've told me enough of it for me to see the pattern and try to get them to examine it critically. Bettyesque: Global warming is a good example. There's substantial science on both sides concerning whether it is or is not mostly due to human actions--but no one is emotionally willing to objectively examine and compare the facts and look for historical patterns. snowbunny: I'd tell your family that God also gave them brains and free will--did He not expect them to use them? cabaker: I disagree that we are the "most important" nation in the world. Depends on how you define "important". Most economically powerful, maybe. However, a lot of that power is now in the hands of China and India--both fast-growing economies--and the oil-producing states. Also, the way Putin's been talking lately, I have visions of a new Cold War. Also, Ann Coulter is a *satirical commentator*. I don't understand why people don't get that. She's as much of a "journalist" as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. moveon.org, on the other hand, professes to be factually. It worries me that the distinctionsbetween our entertainment and news media seems to be blurring. bailaoragaditana: I can relate to your flight. My HS senior DD is planning to move to Europe for University and to teach English as a second language, probably in The Netherlands. It's a shame that our culture is so dysfunctional we're driving our children out of the country. JovianSkies: IMO the "geek factor" is only valued when it supports something concrete, like technology. Fine arts, history, philosophy or classical languages, for example--not so much.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 9 years
Jovianskies: I agree with you exactly!
whitefox whitefox 9 years
Cabaker27, I couldn't agree with you more!
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
The scholastic system is heinous in America, and I believe that the lack of education is producing a philistine mindset, not just towards intellect, but culture (art, science, history, etc). However, I don't think that being knowledgable is looked down upon, because there's been a trend of being a "nerd" or "geek" being seen as a good quality.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
I love how it seems like "if you don't agree with me, you can't possible be intellectual". I feel like this is what a lot of liberals put out and it's this elitest attitude that alienates most of the public and this is why they won't win an election until they stop calling most of America stupid.
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 9 years
I agree with Bella on this - I think there is definitely some rampant anti-intellectualism. To be honest, even in a lot of "university" environments you get it - I got so fed up with it that I've left the States and taken refuge in this bastion of intellect that is the University of Oxford. But when I go home in the holidays, I just realise how badly things are going for America...
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
By the way, I'm insulted that the NY Times has printed this solely for the fact that this is a paper that seems to love to put America and Americans down in any way it can. And if someone was truly intellectual, they would see the NY Times for the biased, poorly written rag it is.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
I def. agree with Bella and Bethany. Though I often wonder if there is such a thing as fact anymore, seems like everything gets spinned from whether things are getting better or worse for our country to whether or not eggs are healthy! I mean really! On the other hand, we are the most important nation in the world so I feel like other countries have to learn about us because we are so important whereas we dont HAVE to learn about them (meaning in school, everyday news, etc.). I'm not saying its right, I just can see how it happens. I also think we have a problem with pseudo-intellectuals. Not everything you read on a politicians website is true, 95% of whats read on moveon.org is complete crap and lies, and anyone who reads or listens to anything Ann Coulter says has some screws loose in my opinion. Yet these people would think they are more "enlightened" and intellectual than the majority of people.
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