Anti-Intellectualism: Sometimes It Is That Deep

By Lily Bourne

Anti-intellectualism, a constantly evolving concept, continues to manifest within society with damaging effects. Loosely defined as “a social attitude that systematically undermines science-based facts, academic and institutional authorities, and the pursuit of theory and knowledge”, anti-intellectualism allows people to blatantly dismiss facts and statistics, as well as create general distrust towards intelligent authorities, for their own private gain. At first glance, anti-intellectualism may seem like a set of ideals upheld by an uneducated group of people with resentment towards the intelligent, but it goes much further than that. Political and religious groups have continuously used anti-intellectualism to push their personal beliefs onto and increase their power over their followers. 

Politically, anti-intellectualism can be found on all sides of the spectrum, and has been especially prevalent with the rise of ‘fake news.’ Instead of addressing problems, politicians can simply decide problems do not exist! Examples of this can be found throughout history, but are especially evident within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Donald Trump’s original attempt to dismiss the pandemic, and his hostile attitude towards healthcare professionals, including Dr. Fauci (his Chief Medical Advisor), continues to showcase the concept of anti-intellectualism. By blatantly disregarding and undermining medical advice, Trump lost multiple months of critical response time, as well as the lives of American people. He claimed that the scientific community was overreacting and openly mocked their recommendations, both very common responses within anti-intellectualism. However, Donald Trump is only one example of a far bigger anti-intellectualism movement within politics. Wilful ignorance regarding scientific fact removes the equal platform that democracy relies upon. If neither candidate can agree on what the issue is, how are they meant to solve it? If one can just ignore certain facts, how can they be expected to compromise with others? 

Socially, these concepts have also been on the rise. Although not as directly harmful as politicians clearly ignoring science, anti-intellectualism within social media and modern culture has become an issue. Tweets and Tiktoks have gone increasingly viral, all containing one central theme: “it’s not that deep.” Referencing movies, songs, and books, users ridicule others analyzing these pieces of media. In one viral post, a Venn diagram is depicted with two sides: “what the author meant” and “what your teacher thinks the author meant.” These two circles have very little overlap. The teacher claims that the author made the curtains blue in this story because they “represent his immense depression and lack of will to carry on”, while the author means “the curtains were f*cking blue.” Responses to the original post varied, but many agreed with its sentiment. “The curtains were blue” can now be found repeated across the internet, and anti-intellectualism ideas are often right along with it. Now more than ever, people have no desire to understand the deeper meanings behind media, and as a result, have contributed to the rise of anti-intellectualism even as children.

This intense pushback against any attempt to analyze media, as well as against information from experts, represents a larger and more dangerous movement against critical thinking. Critical thinking is an essential skill for all human beings, and without it we are unable to make decisions. Democracy will fail if people can not choose who would best represent their beliefs, and since facts and science can now be effectively “changed” within the human perspective, this outcome is closer than we would like to believe. It is imperative that people continue to inspect and evaluate the media they are consuming, as well as utilize critical thinking skills as they navigate politics, science, and the world.