Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Myself, the anti-intellectual
Arts & Letters Daily, a valuable compendium of popular philsophical thought, exposes me to viewpoints I might not otherwise consider. Take Mark Crispin Miller, for example, professor of media studies at New York University. In this essay, Miller divides the country into intellectuals and anti-intellectuals (no points for guessing in which category he places himself).

The categories themselves require further definition. At first I thought by "anti-intellectualism" Miller must mean that those who have not attained his degree of academic enlightenment have evaded it by specific intent -- that they are "anti-intellect", meaning opposed to thinking, convinced that excessive thought is, if not the root of all evil, at least not required in today's spoon-fed world of sound bites and weakest links.

As I continue reading, though, it becomes apparent that I misunderstand. By "anti-intellectualism" he means those who do not accept that his perspective is the correct one. He means people who disagree with people like him (who, being born of intellect and academia, are obviously of a superior breed).

In short, I realized with a start, he means people like me.

What really seems to have Miller's boxers in a bunch, it develops, is the treatment he received at the hands of Bill O'Reilly, on whose program he appeared last June as he was promoting his book, The Bush Dyslexicon. (Last June? Has this article been sitting on the shelf that long, or does Miller really hold a grudge?)

I have to wonder, though, why he bothered. Did he find out what O'Reilly was like in advance (somehow I suspect Miller does not regularly watch Fox News), conclude "I can take this guy" (or the academic equivalent), and prepare for the tactics he was likely to encounter? Or did he decide to "wing it" on a major national talk show?

If he believes what he says about the complicity of O'Reilly specifically, and Fox News in general, in promoting the image of Bush as a Real President (and I don't doubt that he does), did he really think six minutes' exposure to his presence would turn it around? Does he think that highly of himself? Or did he just assume he would look golden by comparison to O'Reilly because he's an Intellectual?

And if he had such a low opinion of Fox News' audience going into the broadcast, who did he think would be impressed by him?

The nature of the e-mails he received from Fox' viewers should not come as a surprise, but somehow, to Miller, they say so much more than they say. One man comments that he borrowed a copy, read it, and... well, he didn't like it. But Miller deduces that he couldn't possibly have read it; why, he wouldn't even know anyone who would have a copy, therefore he must be lying. And so, therefore, he "could not be said so much to hate it as to have despised the very thought of it." By the end of the paragraph, Miller is comparing GWB to Hitler, as a leader who commands this kind of loyalty from that kind of people.

"Anyone who flips out at the thought of personal analysis is really asking for it himself", Miller says, awash in unintentional irony. "Such venters tend to tell us more about themselves than any self-respecting person wants to know."

In this, Professor, we agree completely. I think that's a good place to stop.

UPDATE: Kayjay at Irving Place left a comment (Thanks!): She seems to think that the foul language and simplistic tone used in the e-mail Miller received (which Miller quoted, and I didn't) makes it clear that the writer hadn't read the book. I don't follow that, but as I consider it an unprovable point, I won't pursue it further.

In any case, I do not fault Miller for blowing off such "criticism". I fault him for using nuclear weapons where a flyswatter would do. I fault him for drawing the conclusion that anyone and everyone who disagrees with him does so out of ignorance, hostility and bias, and not for any intellectually acceptable reason. That is the textbook example of academic elitism. "I'm right, you're just jealous, nanny nanny." Does this argument work in academic circles?

Even if he had stopped short of equating Bush to Hitler (as Justin Slotman points out, the invocation of the spectre of Adolph Hitler is a well known "hallmark of a goofy argument"), it makes me question everything else he says, and does nothing to convince me that Miller has a valid point to make.

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