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What is Anti-Intellectualism?

Instructor: Sharon Linde
What is anti-intellectualism, and how does it affect public policies in this country? This lesson answers these and other questions you might have about this attitude towards intellectual pursuits.

What Is Anti-Intellectualism?

Have you ever heard someone say something about the environment or evolution that seemed a little out of touch with known facts? This is called anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is an attitude that devalues intellectual pursuits. People displaying this attitude distrust science, art, history and other things they read in books.

You may have friends that don't believe dinosaurs existed, or you may not believe that global warming is occurring. Anti-intellectuals live across the globe and their ideas can apply broadly. Let's take a look at anti-intellectuals closer to home - the United States.

Anti-Intellectualism in the United States

People who can be described as anti-intellectuals are mostly like the rest of the population - they live in the same communities, work similar jobs, have families and attend social functions. You may think anti-intellectualism is something new, but it has actually been a part of this country for a while. Let's look at an example from the 1950's.

In 1954, Marlboro cigarettes was trying to think of a way to sell more of its filtered cigarettes. Since they had received feedback that the product was viewed as less masculine than filterless competitors, they came up with the concept of the Marlboro Man to combat this perception. The cigarette smoking cowboy turned out to be a hugely successful advertising campaign lasting more than 40 years. Do you think the campaign would have been successful if they used a thin, pale professor from an Ivy League school? Probably not. Why was the Marlboro Man a marketing success?

Dr. Isaac Asimov, a biochemistry professor at Boston University who published 468 books on an incredible number of topics in his spare time, put it this way, 'There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'

Facts Illustrating American Anti-Intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism can be seen in countless ways in the United States and across the world. Some examples include:

  • More than 2 out of 5 Americans do not believe in evolution
  • Less than one-fourth of public education students can name the first President of the United States
  • Almost 1 in 5 Americans believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth
  • The majority of Republicans in both houses of Congress do not believe climate change is real

Let's zoom in on one of these and see how anti-intellectualism works. In America, 2/5 of the population does not believe in evolution. Likely, most of those who don't believe do so on religious grounds and follow a belief structure of how man came to be based on the teachings of the Bible. In spite of what solid scientific research now tells us about how man evolved, they choose to believe in another explanation. Their choice goes against the intellectual, or scientific, facts and evidence.

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