This piece was originally published on Righteous Anger.
The other day, one of my Facebook (and real life) friends shared a link to a blog post entitled “The Top Seven Facebook Cries for Help”. It’s mostly just the same, tired hipster “I’m-so-cool-talking-shit-on-the-Internet” waste of bandwidth. There was one statement, though, that just smacked of the kind of political apathy that is killing this country. The number three “cry for help”, according to this self-appointed arbitrator, is political passion:
3. Divisive political rant
These people can’t just have a point of view. They need to share it with the world. All the time. Over and over, all day long. They treat their political outlook like their favorite sporting team, loudly cheering on their own opinions while at the same time, incessantly suggesting that everyone whose life experiences are different than theirs must have either a lower intellect or inferior moral character than they. The funniest part about the divisive political update authors is that they will tie everything back to their political opinion, no matter how unrelated a topic might be because by now they have invested their entire sense of self in their online political persona.
“Well I see that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally inducted Guns N Roses. What about Trace Adkins? I guess Obama and his liberal media are too busy electing A BUNCH OF DRUG ADDICTS than honoring a REAL AMERICAN.”
“Great news everyone (cough, cough…) The wheat grass shots at Whole Foods are now $3.50. We can all thank the Republicans and all their Wall Street fat cat buddies for yet another #EPICFAIL”
What this means:
“As long as I have something to complain about, I can continue to avoid taking a long, hard look at myself.”
First off, what the hell does “politically divisive” mean? I take it the problem here is that the person who is “crying for help” doesn’t go with the flow. Guess what, hipster? Politics are divisive. If you want a world where politics are not divisive, you’re inviting a truly Orwellian existence. Maybe that’s what our hipster friend is looking for, though: that Orwellian utopia where no one ever holds a strong opinion that might cause him to spend a moment thinking about the world around him.
The second thing that sticks in this oh-so-cool windbag’s craw is that those with opinions “need to share it with the world.” Is Facebook really “the world”? I’m not so sure it is, unless you’re randomly going about friending people you have no real-life connection with. Even if it was, so what? Things don’t get done in this world by sitting in the corner, quietly contemplating the body politic and the state of the nation. Demonstrations. Opinion pieces in the newspaper. Political conversations with friends. All those things are “sharing it with the world.” Name one advancement in human history that didn’t come about because someone or many someones were audacious enough to “share it with the world”. They even did it “over and over, all day long.” What the hell was that Martin Luther King even thinking about making all of those long winded speeches, marching, and preaching his message of equality over and over, all day long? What a pretentious, overbearing ass, amiright?
The last sentence of this self-important armchair diagnosis is the real kicker here. This person–who has just dedicated his time to creating a judgmental post devoted to complaining about others–has the nerve to tell them that they are avoiding facing some fundamental personal flaws by dedicating themselves to their political commitment. The hypocrisy is palpable, but that’s not the real issue here.
The hipster who wrote this piece is like so many others of his ilk–hipsters, as well as far too many of what I call the White Boys of the Internet. You know the guy. He is the one who dismissively says that “politics don’t matter”. He just wants to have a good time. If someone points out that the video game he’s playing has racist themes and imagery, he waves his hand and says, “I just want to be entertained. I don’t want politics in my video games.” If someone points out that the TV show he quotes from memory is full of misogyny, he huffs that, “It’s funny. Why is everybody so PC?” Then, he turns his attention back to memorizing more dialogue that he can use to impress his buddies. He is intentionally ignorant. He is intentionally offensive, thinking it marks him as a “real individual”. It actually just marks him as a real asshole.
While the politically apathetic hipster generally hangs around the edges of progressive groups, he has his counterpart among the conservative types. The right-wing equivalent to the hipster’s political apathy is anti-intellectualism. This is the belief that ignorance and lack of education are badges of honor. It manifests as slings of “snobbery” and “laziness” thrown at college students. It spins the story that learning is unAmerican and teaching is outright treasonous. It portrays the uneducated as “salt-of-the-earth,” and the educated as elitist and out-of-touch. It glorifies faith over knowledge.
Anti-intellectualism is how the Right hopes to control the hearts and minds of America. It especially informs the approach to public education, where it has been used as the basis for banning of books, destruction of programs, and firing of teachers. Here, people who step outside the dead-white-guy view of history and scholarship are viewed as enemies of the state. They “promote the over-throw of the United States government,” in the words of Arizona lawmakers.
The problem with anti-intellectualism is that it is anathema to democracy. An ignorant populace cannot hope to make wise choices. It cannot hope to think for itself. It cannot begin to come up with new solutions to old problems. Unfortunately, this does not concern the proponents of anti-intellectualism. The anti-intellectuals of both the Republican and Democratic parties have a lot to gain from the idea that critical thinking and education are wastes of time and even dangerous. If the citizens of this country can be convinced to reject logic and critical thought, they can be much more easily led via sloganeering and the cult of personality. This is tied to what Paul Rosenberg refers to as the “imagination deficit”:
Our imagination deficit is closely tied to our critical thinking deficit. Minds that are perpetually muddled in uncritically accepted ideas and psuedo-facts, incapable of grasping clear-cut truths are hardly prepared to grasp projected possibilities and judge them soundly.
The anti-intellectual attempts to shut down critical thought through charges of “elitism”. Even commentary on the existence of anti-intellectualism and the dangers it poses are shut down. As Susan Jacoby wrote in 2008, our so-called leaders play into and encourage this by repeatedly stressing how they are “one of us”:
It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an “elitist,” one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just “folks,” a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980.
In the end, anti-intellectualism and political apathy are two sides of the same coin. They both push us towards a dangerous precipice. They discourage active, informed engagement in political life. Those in power know this, so they seek to encourage these twin killers of true democracy. A truly informed, active, passionate populace would be able to fight for their own interests, instead of being led to believe that the interests of the very wealthy are intertwined with their own well-being. That cannot be allowed to happen, if the American elites are to remain elite. Fortunately for the elites, they don’t have to worry about enforcing the fascism necessary to retain their positions of privilege at the expense of the vast majority of the American people. The populace is happily putting that yoke around their own necks.