Rage Against the Academics
By David Snyder
We’re living in quite the time, indeed. The scientists and engineers are toiling away in their academic sweatshops, unlocking the mysteries of the universe and building the future. Scholars are breathing warm air onto the icy glass of the distant human past, revealing treasures of long ago civilizations, our forbearers. The blue jean-clad poindexters in Silicon Valley, Singapore and Deli are coding tomorrow’s reality. If Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and John Locke were the head honchos of the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, then Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Pinker, and Sean Carroll are just a few of the great minds working towards whatever a better future might look like for we people of today.
And then there’s the political realm, the “arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt was wont to call it. In a time when society and civilization are speeding ahead come what may, politicking has seldom seemed more in the mud, more destructive, more harmful. The Orange One is but the most well known of these anti-Enlightenment crusaders, spewing all sorts of anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and anti-inclusive bile left, right and center. At a time in which the cork is all but out of the bottle, all those who support the rhetoric and low ideals of His Orangeness are doing their level best to pour concrete on the cork not only as it is, but as it once was in some dreamt up better yesterday.
These are stressful times for supporters of academia, social progress and the pushing of the human race forward. Take, for example, the small yet vocal band of flat-earth believers. The issue isn’t simply that they’re wrong, as they are in every possible metric, but that they believe so many thousands and millions of believers to the contrary are lying to them. In other words, the issue isn’t the shape of the earth, but that there’s a significant sect of people who believe the world has conspired against them.
I have no empathy for such people, try as I might. At the outset of this whole pig-wrestling, I thought, well, shoot, maybe some things haven’t gone as planned; some people have been left out to dry and don’t understand how all of this came to pass. Fair enough. But now, seeming eons later, the discussion, if one is so bold as to call it that, has decayed into liberals defending themselves for believing that the earth is round or that all people, no matter religion, race or creed, are entitled to basic dignity. This seems an odd situation to find one’s self in while at the same time technology and science are blazing onward, so starkly contrasted against what’s happening in politics.
Is this reactionary wave but a flash in the pan? a freak accident for which no social scientist can seem to conjure up an explanation for? Anybody with a certain answer is quite a brazen fibber, for no one can wholly contextualize one’s own society in one’s own time. Only when looking backward is the situation put under the microscope. What I do know for sure is that I haven’t a clue about any of it, and that it’s as stressful a thing as there is in this country today for those with enough time in the day to think about such things. At the risk of melodrama, there are times when I simply can’t bring myself to do much more than stare at a blank computer screen, for the sheer magnitude of what’s happening in politics is so thoroughly disheartening, what’s being said by my compatriots is so thoroughly despicable. It sits upon my shoulders like two bags of cement, and, for anybody who’s had the privilege of mixing up cement, it’s quite tiring lugging such weight around.
The worst of it is that what am I to do? What am I to say to those who are convinced I’m a liar and a threat? What does one say to those who hate so explicitly, who reject all that modern progress has wrought? Helplessness has taken up the vacancy in the pit of my stomach.
Christopher Clark wrote a great book released in 2014: Sleepwalkers. He tells the tale of the First World War as though a bunch of great nations were sleepwalking right into the flames, so to speak, mindlessly marching to war. I recently returned to Sleepwalkers, this time with the eyes of a person of 2016 and not two years prior. I had to shut the thing after the first few pages, for the imagery of so many clueless sleepwalkers running smack into one another, into catastrophe was too painful an image to bear.