2.06.2004

Clarifying Anti-Intellectualism and New Contest Proposal

Elmo Fuzzbuster’s political opponent, Wascawy Wabbit Hasenfeffer, accused him of wearing trifocals to bed. Oh, this is silly, Elmo thought and waved away reporters shoving microphones in his face. Elmo didn’t even own trifocals although he was a staunch supporter of the nose-piece-tape union, which his opponent made frequent reference to. Elmo figured a lack of any tangible evidence would suffice for the voters. Alas, no. A Gallup poll in the next morning’s newspaper showed his popularity had flagged. One question in the poll asked if the respondents felt Elmo was guilty of wearing trifocals to bed. “64% of locals felt Elmo was guilty.” A television crew and a handful of protestors with signs announcing “Down with Trifocals!” and “Stay Home, Four Eyes!” milled about his lawn....

***

At the Iowa Democratic Caucuses John Kerry said a remarkable thing that went more or less: I learned a valuable lesson: That I have to defend myself.

I puzzled over this. Is that true? Indeed, it appears that accusations alone can sound convincing. Unfortunately, defending yourself is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-don’t. If the defendant says “No comment,” he looks like he's evading guilt. If he challenges the accusation, he looks like he’s backpedaling, defensive and guilty.

Moreover, it takes me a long while to compose. I have to pick and choose what I respond to if I want to get anything else done. I appreciate my fellow bloggers who support me and think I don’t need to defend myself, but I feel I should respond, nonetheless, if John Kerry’s testament holds any water. There’s been too much misunderstanding.

“Science fetishism” is a contradiction in terms if the term “fetish” is meant as a magical object. If the fetish is unquestioning reverence, that too is a contradiction in terms. Science seeks answers based on evidence--in fact, it is not satisfied with any old answer but probes and tests to see if it's the best fit. Not to question is not to do “science.” If by fetish some sexual fascination with Bunsen burners is meant (oh that burns me up--har!), I’m afraid my sexual history was inadequately investigated. It’s the Erlenmeyer flask that turns me on.

Do I trust science? Absolutely. No other field of study knows as much as it does with such certainty. Does science have all the answers? I never suggested this. I echoed Strauss’ sentiment by calling it, “reason within reason.” I also called for us not to be afraid of reason.

So if we fully understand what science is and does, how can we call it a fetish? It sounds like a fear of science or anti-intellectualism. If someone doesn’t want to hear about all this “art” stuff (no matter how big into science or philosophy he is), that too is anti-intellectual. Anti-intellectualism is no slur. I even asked myself if I were subconsciously afraid of intellectualism.

Anti-intellectualism is not a crime, not a sin, and not a stupidity. I accused Jacques Derrida of avoiding science (by example and by a logic somewhat similar to philosophy). Yet, as I’ve said, I admire Derrida--his style, intellect, caution, probing into “common sense,” etc. I admire, as writers, E.T.A. Hoffman, Mary Shelley, and Nathaniel Hawthorne more than I do Jules Verne, but they were all anti-intellectuals (Shelley less so). Likewise, I love my Christian brothers and sisters dearly, but I’m troubled when they reject evolution without seeking to understand it first. They are not stupid. In fact, some may technically qualify for genius, but they close off avenues of discussion before they’ve been opened.

A cultural anthropologist would have a field day tracing the changes in attitudes toward science through the movie industry alone (science fiction in print is problematic considering several are scientists growing up in a science-positive society which they maintained through science-negative societies).

In 1936, Einstein and Edison were the two major role models for science and technology. They were seen metaphorically as transforming society before their eyes. Horses were replaced by motorized vehicles. Candles by light bulbs. People could talk on telephones to someone in their house next door or in the next state where before they had to wait for the postal service.

In 1936, in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, the bad guy scientists experiment lethality on prisoners while the good guy scientists still come up with inventions of their own. In the last quarter of a century, our movies have the failing technology of the rebels and the primitive tree-dwelling Ewoks fighting the no-human-flesh-showing, machine-looking storm troopers. Not to mention LOTR.

Somewhere along the line we associated science misused by humanity with science being bad--undoubtedly, due to unethical scientists. FGCtU showed poorly executed and unethical “scientific” experiments, but it didn’t suggest we had to get primitive--back to basics. We just have to use science with care (I am using FGCtU as a cultural signpost, not as an example of great art, btw. It’s a legitimate use).

Despite a thematic undercurrent of anti-intellectualism, I still enjoy the original Star Wars series and Lord of the Rings. I don’t hate them--just as Delany respects the talent of the New Wave but notes an underlying anti-intellectualism (not that the New Wave didn’t create mind-blowingly fantastic art: see discussion of Hoffman, Shelley, Hawthorne above). But I think these all offer signs to us who are willing to read them.

Nick,

You don't know me and I don't know you. Because I'm a slow writer, I simply don't have time to respond in detail to each of your posts. The "Lars" post the other night made it sound like this was all some kind of machismo joke.

As a truce, if you want, we can set up a contest where people pseudonymously write in ad hominems against me (ad hominem only--no pseudo-logic, just ad hominem: an example being the old "You're so ugly your mama put your picture over mouseholes" or "You're so dumb the Richter scale on a balmy day in New Jersey puts you to shame"). You can be the judge. I'll hold the actual names and forward the insults. I'll buy the winner a copy of your book. How's that?

So long as people don’t harbor false impressions about me, I couldn’t care less what they say.

The strings attached?* From here on out, assume the best is intended. Try to tone it down to whomever. No ad hominems. No out of context. Just the basic guidelines of debate.

And forgive me if I don’t answer all your questions. Amongst other things, I’ve been working on a system for decoding Interstitial stories and have found what may be at least one strong theoretical system--not exactly based on the previous post’s proposal or on the present Interstitial definitions, however. IAF may not be wholly new, but it may be reinventing itself which is new, and, depending on how widespread the phenomena are, it most certainly qualifies for requiring a new category.

*all other contests previously proposed by me are null and void. Instead, I’m buying myself copies of Matthew Stover’s books.

Do not send me the insults until Nick publicly accepts. If he does, send your insults and names and addresses to blzblack[at]yahoo.com. No posts sent to the comments section will qualify. How will I be honest? You can bitch and moan when yours doesn't appear on the list. Deadline will be Thursday, February 12, 2004, 12pm, CST. Nick can use all day Friday to decide. Insults about anyone other than myself will not be accepted. Winners can choose to remain publicly anonymous. My apologies if you want to play and Nick is not interested.

Sincerely,

Trent

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