This was initially going to be a reflective post on the nature of anti-intellectualism versus pseudo-intellectualism, but then I read my blogroll and just got pissed off. Why? A couple of reasons:
1. Sean Penn is going to Baghdad.
2. Ellen Goodman is still writing.
You would think these things have nothing whatever to do with each other or the idea of the pseudo-intellectual, but you would be wrong. These two largely insignificant, yet blood-pressure increasing news items demonstrate exactly my problems with the state of the intelligentsia in this county. Let me break it down for you, because I know you're probably wondering how the heck Sean Penn and "intelligentsia" are appearing in the same post.
First, Mister Penn. His trip is being sponsored by the Institute for Public Accuracy, which "seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for those whose perspectives are commonly drowned out by corporate-backed think tanks and other influential institutions." So you're trying to tell me that Sean (I've been in front of a camera since I was 21) Penn is somehow being drowned out by corporate-backed think tanks? I'm sorry, if you're a local news producer and you have a choice between a controversial soundbite from Sean Penn or a similar soundbite from the Brookings Institution, which would you focus on? It's a poser, I know, so I'll give you a minute to think about it....
Time's up, and Mr. Penn will be appearing on your local newscast spewing his spew tonight at 6. Because it's all about the ratings (or possibly it's all about how Sean Penn's views are probably a little closer to Peter Jennings' than, say, those of the American Enterprise Institute), we out here in the real world are being forced to watch the erasure of the line between celebrity and expert.
Not that the experts are much help, either. The IPA, "With systematic outreach to mass media...promotes the inclusion of outlooks that usually get short shrift." And here's the crux of the problem. I'm sure that the good folks behind the IPA think they're doing the world a favor by sending Sean Penn to Baghdad (and as far as I'm concerned, Have At It!), but they are only doing it because his opinion, in addition to being a minority opinion, coincides with theirs about the war. Sure dissent is good to have, but there hasn't been a problem with war opponents getting air time thus far. Have they ever stopped to consider that maybe certain opinions get short shrift because they're either a) unworkable in reality, or b) just dumb as rocks?
And that brings me to Ellen Goodman, whose latest column (found via Juan Gato) demonstrates both principles aptly, as she argues that fast food corporations are responsible for obesity, because they try to market to children and they don't have Ronald MacDonald standing outside, repeatedly pantomiming a heart attack to warn people of the dangers of too many Big Macs.
See, we have the FDA, which tests and labels food. These labels are mandated, so you can check out how much that kid's meal will shorten your kid's life. And any food, eaten in enough quantity, will harm you. The crux of Ms. Goodman's argument is this--you people out there are too damn stupid to either monitor what your children eat, or to pay attention yourselves. For this, we must engage the lawyers and the courts and big brother to protect you, else you may just eat until you explode, Monty Python-style. Either that, or you may walk off a cliff. Because you're a moron.
The same thought process underpins the IPA--obviously Americans are just too stupid to know that war for any reason anywhere ever is bad and wrong. Thank God we're here to save them! And if Americans ignore the message, well, we must be getting silenced or repressed! Because no one could possibly disagree with us on principle, unless they're stupid or something.
And this is the state of the intelligentsia, coming from insular homogenous political environments within academia or journalism schools, utterly convinced of their superior intellectual standing, and completely unable to understand that they may actually be in the minority for a reason. They are pseudo-intellectuals, plain and simple, and they dominate what passes for intellectual circles nowadays. It is tiresome, to say the least.