8 Ways to Combat Anti-Intellectualism

A guide to staying smart.

America has turned into the bully on the playground who can’t read. It’s the kid with daddy issues who shakes down the little kids for their lunch money and has all the muscle it needs to get the job done with gusto. What’s lacks, unsurprisingly, is cerebral power. For years now there’s been a generalized sense of anti-intellectualism sweeping this country and, to a certain extent, the world at large. The internet allows us to stay placated by mindless entertainment for hours. Television unconsciously programs us into blind consumers desperately wanting products we don’t need. The average American reads a measly 16 books annually, with 28% having not read a single book in the past year. And for those who actually do pick up a book, it doesn’t take a private investigator to deduce that they’re probably not reading Camus and Kierkegaard.

The intellectual is a dying breed. It is simply easier to turn the other cheek to the curiosities and injustices of the world; this means denying the written word as well as facts. Denying facts requires a denial of information. The irony of today is that we’re so saturated with information that it appears meaningless. And, the less-informed a populous is, the more they rely on ambiguously faulty political rhetoric and meaningless New Age pseudoscientific half-assed philosophical platitudes.

The basic framework of inquiry and knowledge-thirst that supports the intellectual mindset is largely vacant at this point in time. Most people cannot be bothered with the philosophical questions of the ages, and colleges reflect this opinion. Those who major in Comparative Literature and Philosophy are laughed at for being unemployable, while business school graduates are lauded for getting six-figure jobs at companies expediting financial crises, military conflicts and third-world slave labor.

Critical intelligence is no longer a priority. This needs to change.

Eight places to start:

-Watch less television. Celebrities do not matter. Your friends, family and ideas do matter.

-Read more books, preferably quality fiction and nonfiction rather than pop paperbacks or books with overt political biases. In addition to novels, I enjoy sites like Arts and Letters Daily and Bookforum, which link to dozens of thought-provoking articles every day. If you don’t make a conscious effort to improve your intellectual capacity, it’s easy to fall into a rut and ignore it entirely.

-Exercise more and avoid processed food. Mind and body are inextricably linked. Exercise improves your ability to focus and subsequently think critically. Eating a simple, high-protein and vegetable-rich natural diet will empower your brain.

-Keep a journal or a blog. Write often. Reflect on your world and what it means to you. Respond to whatever you’re reading leisurely.

-Initiate intelligent conversation. Stop talking about the goddamned weather. Avoid frightening your friends with intense political debate, but philosophize and be open to their point of view. Listen intently.

-Meditate. Devote mindfulness to the present moment. Understand the intricacies of time and your relationship to it. Take full advantage of every second.

-Focus on the big picture. Save your worrying for what matters. Remove toxic relationships from your life. It won’t be easy. You’ll thank me later.

-Meet new people. Go new places. Experience that which you are afraid of. Diversify your worldview.

The extent to which you learn more about the world increases the depth of your experience. To live smarter means to live fuller. It also means to be aware of how much you can never know. To understand the limits of your knowledge is a wonderful thing. It is our responsibility as human beings to deliberately take advantage of the fact that we are living at a time when valuable information is more accessible than ever before.

Stay curious and critical. Whenever someone tries to pass of what they are saying as the truth, question it internally. For every perspective you read, also expose yourself to opposing viewpoints. Understand the complexity of issues and that the two-sided paradigm we’re taught to buy into is far too simplistic to adequately solve any problems. I make tons of book suggestions on The Daily Zen’s Facebook page. Also, Goodreads is a wonderful resource, as is Reddit’s r/books forum. Have fun with it. We all have a lot to learn.

The Daily Zen Book of Wisdom is out now. Get it here.