UPDATED: Overt anti-intellectualism? Well, that would explain CM Price’s votes against the interests of his own district.

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During the past week, two letters to the editor by Shirley Baird appeared on the opinion page of the New Albany Tribune. Without delving into the phantasmagorical details, it should suffice to say that Ms. Baird’s point of view differs somewhat from NA Confidential’s perspective.

Ironically, as Ms. Baird posits the existence of a “silent” majority that supports her point of view, she remains one of the few open supporters of the city council’s Gang of Four who is willing to comply with the Tribune’s requirement that letters to the editor be signed.

This is commendable of her, although it is equally regrettable that Ms. Baird — along with sitting council members and their wives — continues to abet, assist and enable the anti-social blatherings of the academic-pretend blogger “Erik” at the anonymous rant forum known locally as Freedom of Speech.

Enough of the negligible “professor,” but what about Ms. Baird’s majority? Let’s not be coy about these exaggerated claims, whether expressed on behalf of non-existent scholarly credentials or conjuring a tsunami of righteous Luddite indignation.

Any honest reckoning of the composition of a “majority” in this or any other American city of similar size surely must lead to the inescapable conclusion that many more adult citizens than not are apathetic and indifferent to the topics discussed in traditional news media like the Tribune and here in the blogosphere.

They’ll neither participate in the debate, nor vote, and as always, we are left with a minority of the citizenry, a majority of whom, in the electoral determination, eventually will determine the state of affairs and direction for the remainder.

Regrettably, Ms. Baird has chosen to align herself — intentionally or otherwise — with social, economic and political sentiments that are conservative, oppositionist, regressive and fundamentally anti-intellectual in nature – and we at NAC persist in our contention that these qualities represent a relatively small portion of the civic-minded minority as presently mobilized in New Albany, even if such populist perversities are the lifeblood of the conniving Siamese Councilmen and their enablers.

Conversely, NA Confidential proudly and unapologetically carries the banner of genuine progress, smart growth, multicultural diversity, social and political tolerance, and the virtues of education and individual empowerment, all of which stand as achievable and sustainable aspirations that rely not on base, populist appeals to fear, prejudices and conspiratorial suspicion, but are supported and advanced by human reason, engagement and cooperation among real people with real skills and real goals.

Readers are invited to perform their own calculations as to the size and parameters of these two divergent sides of the New Albanian coin, but it cannot fail to have escaped all impartial observers that whatever their total number, virtually all of New Albany’s progressives are known, visible and identifiable entities who write, speak and move in the reality-based community.

The same cannot be said of those populating Ms. Baird’s side of the aisle, where cowardice remains the flavor of the day.

Now and in the future, New Albany’s progressives live productive lives of full disclosure. We are out in the open. We hide neither our identities nor our platform for an intelligent, improved New Albany.

And you?

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The following was first published here in October, 2005: Overt anti-intellectualism? Well, that would explain CM Price’s votes against the interests of his own district.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, comes this quote from a long-forgotten 19th-century writer and pedagogue, Bayard R. Hall:

In 1843, Hall wrote of frontier Indiana that “(w)e always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily, smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness.”

162 years prior to New Albany’s summer of infantile troglobyte discontent, and even long before that time in 1980 when future councilman Steve Price strummed himself to sleep at night to the pleasing chords of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” (“We don’t need no education” … sang Roger Waters, and murmered CM Price — in the dark, as always), Hall accurately glimpsed and correctly diagnosed a cankerous sore on the American body politic, which Wikipedia proceeds to describe:

Anti-intellectualism is a term that in one sense describes a hostility towards, or mistrust of, those who call themselves intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits. This may be expressed in various ways, such as an attack on the merits of science, education or literature.

Those progressing beyond the literary realm of Bazooka Joe comics and the dubious merits of reality television will at some point come into contact with the ideas of historian Richard Hofstadter’s, whose 1964 book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” surveyed America’s past and identified the malign influence referred to in the title.

The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.

Eric L. McKitrick writes:

If any one theme could be said to unite all (Hofstadter’s) his writings, it was the importance of ideas in history; more precisely, it was the relation between the way people behaved, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they made of their minds.

Further elaboration is provided by writer Ariel Dorfman, who paraphrases Hofstadter’s findings.

Anti-intellectualism had its origins … in American traits that anteceded the nation’s founding: the mistrust of secular modernization, the preference for practical and commercial solutions to problems and, above all, to the devastating influence of Protestant evangelism in everyday lives. Anybody who cares to read (Hofstadter’s) masterful book today may be astonished to see how it anticipates and even predicts the rise of the neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalism in contemporary Washington.

Anti-intellectualism in American life is a sufficiently common phenomenon that it need not be discussed exclusively within Dorfman’s neo-conservative, fundamentalist context, although the connection is a point well taken.

In political terms, New Albany’s most renowned practitioners of the anti-intellectual craft are registered as Democrats, although it remains difficult to imagine most of them voting for John Kerry in 2004 – or, more accurately, it is difficult to imagine them voting against George W. Bush’s convoluted grammar, Karl Rove’s simplistic, kindergarten slogans, and the GOP’s Orwellian fables of the deconstruction.

Beyond the collateral damage incurred by other Democrats, why does this matter?

To paraphrase McKitrick’s reading of Hofstadter, “the relation between the way politicians like Dan Coffey and Steve Price behave, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they make of their minds,” is of central importance for the future of New Albany.

Speaking only for myself, CM Coffey can remain the ward-heeling emperor of his tiny West End electoral district – one ripe for immediate and unforgiving redistricting if not for the desire of most involved with local politics to see him remain in relative isolation – for as long as his supporters are content to endure their ongoing impoverishment, but the 3rd District is a different story entirely, if for no other reason than it being my district of residence.

The only plausible explanation for 3rd District CM Price’s abysmal voting record, one that grows more bizarrely predictable each month, is a strident and growing anti-intellectualism.

A permanent state of distemper and incomprehension seems to have spiked CM Price’s landing gear, leaving a steady stream of knee-jerk “no” votes as the only way of him coping with a future direction for this and other cities of its size that he is ill equipped to understand, and detests all the more for his confusion.

Neither for CM Price nor for his conjoined counterpart is there sentiment for the idea that life’s difficulties are best confronted “with an intelligence of which no human should ever be ashamed,” as Dorfman puts it.

Rather, they warn us to be ashamed, but even more so, to be afraid, always afraid – afraid of a pantheon of imaginary enemies, of shifty, phantom withholders of vital information, of the smarty-pants engineers, of those who read, of those who write … afraid of those who can “do,” and not merely posture for the benefit of the congenitally incapable in order to gain re-election.

My councilman, Steve Price, relishes his role as poster child for anti-intellectualism – and for class warfare, mistrust and plain envy. By doing so, he sends a loud, clear and tragically, utterly mistaken message to the community that he is perfectly willing to condemn our children to an uncertain future — to the same atmosphere of unaccountability and low common denominators that brought us to the state we’re in (and CM Price accidentally to office) — rather than to learn, to improve and to succeed.

Anti-intellectualism in this context is little more than the enraged epithet of the slumlord, cynical and exploitative, fearing a change in the “natural” order of things – when a change in this unacceptable order constitutes this city’s best, and perhaps only, hope for enrichment and progress in a competitive, changing world.

It is sadly likely that CM Price consistently and brazenly votes against the interests of his own 3rd District out of sheer spite, because he loathes the very ideas, the very strategies – the very people – who are best placed to lift it up beyond his own abilities to achieve.

He refuses to undertake the necessary process of reform and renewal within the narrow capabilities of his own stunted political worldview, and as long as this remains the case, he cannot be expected to do so outside the boundaries of these self-imposed, damning limitations.

Whatever one’s political affiliation, anti-intellectualism is unacceptable. Those in politics who espouse it are making the most fallacious promise of all – that somehow we “the people” can make things better by attacking the possibilities of the human intellect rather than bolstering, furthering and trusting them.

It’s easier to be mad as hell than it is to think … but only the latter can lead to a better tomorrow.

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