Sunday, May 20, 2007

Answering the Tag(s)

A LONG Overdue Response.

There is an old story from the second of two campaigns for the presidency mounted unsuccessfully by Adlai Stevenson against the very popular Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike, after all, saved the world from the Nazis, or so everyone was told at the time. For his part Stevenson was an intellectual giant and an unabashed liberal. He was ahead of the curve in promoting the environment, equality of opportunity, and a secular government.

(Did you know that it was Eisenhower who is responsible for putting the phrase 'one nation under God' in the pledge of allegiance, and the words 'in God we trust' on American currency? Yeah, it surprised me too.)

We could sure use someone like Stevenson now. To get an idea of what kind of man he was, I went to for a sample of some of his words. He really had some great ideas and expressed them beautifully. He was way ahead of his time.

But back to my story. During a campaign tour, presumably during his second (1956) campaign, Stevenson gave a stirring and well thought out speech at one of his many venues. At the end of the speech, one member of the audience hung around for an opportunity to meet and talk to the candidate. "Mr. Stevenson," he gushed, "After listening to your ideas I don't know how any thinking American could possibly fail to vote for you."

Without hesitating, Stevenson responded, "I'm afraid I'll need a lot more people than that voting for me if I'm to have any chance to win this thing."

I would like to acknowledge the selection of Les Enragé not once, but twice for a 'thinking bloggers award.' The first time by Betmo at Life's Journey, the second by Moxie Grrrl. Here and Here respectively. And, respectively, the dates of these posts are April 26 and April 29, so I have to be a little shamefaced about responding so slowly. My only excuse is that the weather has been very good lately, I've had cabin fever after the long dreary Canadian winter, and I really need to walk off the 10 or 15 pounds I've put on over that dreary winter. Also, I was thinking over my response, which I wanted to be something that made you think no less than any other post here.

I chose the Stevenson story because what really tickled me about being tagged by these particular bloggers was that they themselves are very thoughtful, the kind of people who, back in 1952 and 1956 would probably have discounted Eisenhower's heroism and popularity, given Stevenson a listen, and voted for him on the merits of his positions and policies. That's what you're supposed to use your franchise as a voter to do.

In fact, I would go further to say that you have a duty to your country to do so, and you MUST do so if you expect democracy to continue in America. As Stevenson pointed out,
"As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the law-givers and the law-abiding, the beginning and the end."
And that requires that everyone develop the habit of thinking. Equally to the point,
"The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal - that you can gather votes like box tops - is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process."
The point I'm trying to make if there is one, is that it's easy to get those people already in the habit of thinking to think some more. But we collectively have to work on finding a way to get those people who don't think much to think at least a little bit. Adlai Stevenson was the first Presidential candidate to fall victim to a tactic that has gained way too much traction in the current political arena. The idea that it is somehow wrong to be smart. In a global economy that hinges on intellectual property, this is tantamount to national suicide.

Some snippets from the Wikipedia article on anti-intellectualism. You should really look at the original article - it helps explain a lot of what's going on, from the fight to put Intelligent Design into the classroom, right to the morons that currently pose as journalists on TV.
Anti-intellectualism will often be expressed within communities through declarations of Otherness, that is, intellectuals will be said to be 'not one of us'..

..Although a variety of religions have rich intellectual traditions, some rely on arguments from authority that are not independently verifiable, along with a somewhat common tendency to reject secular critical traditions.It is more common for fundamentalist wings of a religion to harbor anti-intellectual sentiments, due to a tendency to reject that which runs contrary to their religious beliefs..

..Anti-intellectualism is often used by dictators or those seeking to establish dictatorships. Educated people as a social group have often been seen by totalitarian elements as a threat because of the tendency of intellectuals to question existing social norms and to dissent from established opinion.. ..Because many intellectuals refuse to embrace nationalism, they are also commonly portrayed as unpatriotic and subversive..

..intellectuals are presented as elitists and tricksters whose knowledge and rhetorical skills are feared, not because they are useless, but because they may be used to hoodwink the ordinary people, who are conceived of as the 'salt of the earth' and the source of virtue. President George W. Bush has used an appeal to this type of populism..

..Scientific and technological learning may be given a grudging respect; but the arts, literature, philosophy, and similar cultural pursuits are all considered a waste of time and money at best, and subversive at worst. Those who pursue them are supposed to inhabit an 'ivory tower' of academia, full of grand plans whose practice is seen as impossibly flawed..

..Conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh commonly argue that conservative politicians, particularly Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have been attacked by media as being "incompetent" - this can be understood as an accusation of intellectual snobbery by the media. O'Reilly in particular is well known for having a hostile attitude towards what he calls the "Ivy League Elite." The word "intellectual" itself has been used as an insult by many on the right.
Just think of the polemics against Al 'Braniac' Gore and John 'Patrician' Kerry in the last two Presidential elections and you get an idea of how desperately the conservative movement wants to turn America against anyone who might actually be competent to turn the country back onto a path of recovery from their disastrously stupid policies.

VIDEO: Bill Maher - Liberals Have to Take the Word 'Elite' Back

Passing on the tag, I can easily select Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy, as standing head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Truly erudite. I also find Fade at House of the Rising Sons to get my intellectual juices going on a regular basis, as does Jolly Roger's crew at Reconstitution. I'm going to break the unwritten rule and give the nod to Station Agent at Ice Station Tango, whose contributions help make this blog so thought-provoking. Hope Springs a Turtle's Deep Confusion also stands in the warm glow from Diogenes' lantern.

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