February 06, 2004

Culture shock and Ray Thomas

This article is one of the best examples of the political culture in this country that is largely responsible for electing people like George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. Ray Thomas and people who share his views make the "red states" red.

Thomas doesn't only reflect some variation of the political right-wing, as opposed to the political left-wing. This is also a reflection of a "regular guy" culture, as opposed to what Mr. Thomas would call an "elite" culture. If I may be allowed to translate Mr. Thomas' terms into my own, this article reflects an anti-intellectualism which self-consciously rejects almost all of the cultural aspects of my daily life.

That's why it's so good for me to read him, and also why it's so infuriating. The smug bastard doesn't think like me, act like me, dress like me, or talk like me. He certainly doesn't want to understand me. At least, that's the impression his article gives.

But I want to understand him. . .

Here are the interesting questions: Are there any values which Thomas and I share? Is Thomas's anti-intellectualism inherently tied to the right wing? Could Thomas ever be persuaded to vote for the Democrat? Is it possible for me to persuade Mr. Thomas of anything? Can he persuade me of anything?

I'm willing to cut Thomas some slack. Sure, he likes "small government" just like all conservatives; he shares with them a preference for allowing citizens to sink or swim economically. I don't share these views, but I think I understand how reasonable people could subscribe to them.

What's harder to understand is Thomas' disdain for education. He isn't entirely disdainful of thinking per se. He proudly announces that he's learned to "think for himself," but in Thomas' world one learns to think by listening to Rush Limbaugh and staying out of college. "Probably the best reason I'm not a liberal dupe is that I didn't go to college."

I wonder what the analogue is on the left to folks like Mr. Thomas. It might be the pot-smoking hippies, but although some of these people aren't formally educated, I don't think that they reject the ideal of formal education with the same vigor that Mr. Thomas does. Which leads me to wonder: is there some special affinity between right wing politics and anti-intellectualism?

I don't believe there is, but Mr. Thomas does shake my confidence...

Posted by Carey at February 6, 2004 07:26 PM

I dunno, I particularly like the disclaimer at the end:

The information on this page is not legal advice. Before carrying out suggestions found here consult your attorney.
I also like his comments that he thinks liberals would kill to stop Bush. I'm really not sure what to make of it. I think he's been talking to the votese a little too much.

Posted by: Heidi at February 6, 2004 08:58 PM

Maybe it's just the lens I view politics through (science policy, education, etc.), but all I see is one huge and growing connection between the right wing and anti-intellectualism. You just don't see left-wing politicians working to sabotage science or advance absurdities like creationism.

And it's getting worse. Before Reagan made stupidity popular, conservatives seemed fairly rational and sensible on these issues. Now...man, I just can't bear to read anything on science from the Republicans anymore. That degree of corruption induces nausea.

Posted by: PZ Myers at February 6, 2004 10:53 PM

I suppose as one of the few resident self-proclaimed Republicans around here, I should defend this guy, but really, it's just a bad article.

That said, I think you mistake a disdain for current academic culture for a disdain of formal education. Let's put it this way: just this term I've had two of my teachers slam Bush, an off-hand comment about how moderate Republicans are an endangered species, and of course, the inevitable "let's pick on Scalia" comments. With the sometimes exception of the last, none of these were substantive comments on the topic at hand; rather, each was a 'humorous aside' or, in other words, an insult. Anti-Democrat jokes? I've heard of one, against Howard Dean, by someone who's a Dem but not a Deaniac.

Simply put, while the 'liberal bias' in academia is probably overstated, being a conservative--particularly an outspoken one--in higher education isn't easy. Thomas didn't come out and say, "I think higher education sucks." He merely thinks it's biased against his viewpoints. Which, frankly, he's probably right about.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 7, 2004 01:28 AM

On this question:

"Which leads me to wonder: is there some special affinity between right wing politics and anti-intellectualism?"

I suggest reading Richard Hofstadter's book "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." It paints a nuanced historical portrait of this subject and sadly, I think, not much has changed since the publication of the book in the early 1960s.

Posted by: at February 7, 2004 04:25 AM

As someone who is liberal and considers himself to be a "recovering intellectual", I have this to say: Some of the greatest advances in liberalism, such as the progressive income tax and the secret ballot, were advanced at the turn of the last century by the agrarian populists who were also acused of being anti-intellectuals. On economic issues, we are certainly on the side of John Q. Public.
While this populist movement contained some elements antithtical to modern liberalism, such as Wm. J. Bryan's opposition to the teaching of evolution, as well as a hint of racism and anti-semitism, the liberal movement would do best to avoid the ivory tower mentality. I once heard a speech by Michael Moore decrying the intellectual snobs who express pride that they "don't own a TV." he pointed out that they had deliberately placed themselves out of touch wth the people who they were fighting the revolution for. Just remember that there are Conservatives and liberals who think they're better than everyone else. Neither side has a monopoly on snobbery. Hey, many conservatives believe that the Good Lord is on their side alone, the ultimate form of snobbery

Posted by: Larry at February 7, 2004 03:34 PM

I have a feeling that if you sat down face-to-face with old Ray that he would admit to many positions that could be considered "liberal," but which he does not think to be liberal. I also have a feeling that Ray lives in a state that takes more federal largesse than it gives, and he would complain first (and loudest) if any of his federal benefits were taken away.

In regards to right-wing anti-intellectualism; well it is easier to contorl an uneducated population (with or without guns) than an educated one.

Posted by: ttam117 at February 9, 2004 02:30 PM