Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?

Is there a new anti-intellectualism?  I mean one that is advocated by Internet geeks and some of the digerati.  I think so: more and more mavens of the Internet are coming out firmly against academic knowledge in all its forms.  This might sound outrageous to say, but it is sadly true.

Let’s review the evidence.

1. The evidence

Programmers have been saying for years that it’s unnecessary to get a college degree in order to be a great coder–and this has always been easy to concede.  I never would have accused them of being anti-intellectual, or even of being opposed to education, just for saying that.  It is just an interesting feature of programming as a profession–not evidence of anti-intellectualism.

In 2001, along came Wikipedia, which gave everyone equal rights to record knowledge.  This was only half of the project’s original vision, as I explain in this memoir.  Originally, we were going to have some method of letting experts approve articles.  But the Slashdot geeks who came to dominate Wikipedia’s early years, supported by Jimmy Wales, nixed this notion repeatedly.  The digerati cheered and said, implausibly, that experts were no longer needed, and that “crowds” were wiser than people who had devoted their lives to knowledge.  This ultimately led to a debate, now old hat, about experts versus amateurs in the mid-2000s.  There were certainly notes of anti-intellectualism in that debate.

Around the same time, some people began to criticize books as such, as an outmoded medium, and not merely because they are traditionally paper and not digital.  The Institute for the Future of the Book has been one locus of this criticism.

But nascent geek anti-intellectualism really began to come into focus around three years ago with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, when Nicholas Carr asked, “Is Google making us stupid?” in The Atlantic. More than by Carr’s essay itself, I was struck by the reaction to it.  Altogether too many geeks seemed to be assume that if information glut is sapping our ability to focus, this is largely out of our control and not necessarily a bad thing.  But of course it is a bad thing, and it is in our control, as I pointed out. Moreover, focus is absolutely necessary if we are to gain knowledge.  We will be ignoramuses indeed, if we merely flow along with the digital current and do not take the time to read extended, difficult texts.

Worse still was Clay Shirky’s reaction in the Britannica Blog, where he opined, “no one reads War and Peace. It’s too long, and not so interesting,” and borrows a phrase from Richard Foreman in claiming, “the ‘complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality’ is at risk.”  As I observed at the time, Shirky’s views entailed that Twitter-sized discourse was our historically determined fate, and that, if he were right, the Great Books and civilization itself would be at risk.  But he was not right–I hope.

At the end of 2008, Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, got into the act, claiming that Google makes memorization passe.  “It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings,” Tapscott boldly claimed, “without having to memorise that it was in 1066.  [Students] can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google.”

In 2010, Edge took up the question, “Is the Internet changing the way you think?” and the answers were very sobering.  Here were some extremely prominent scientists, thinkers, and writers, and all too many of them were saying again, more boldly, that the Internet was making it hard to read long pieces of writing, that books were passe, and that the Internet was essentially becoming a mental prosthesis.  We were, as one writer put it, uploading our brains to the Internet.

As usual, I did not buy the boosterism.  I was opposed to the implicit techno-determinism as well as the notion that the Internet makes learning unnecessary.  Anyone who claims that we do not need to read and memorize some facts is saying that we do not need to learn those facts.  Reading and indeed memorizing are the first, necessary steps in learning anything.

This brings us to today.  Recently, Sir Ken Robinson has got a lot of attention by speaking out–inspiringly to some, outrageously to others–saying that K-12 education needs a sea change away from “boring” academics and toward collaborative methods that foster “creativity.”  At the same time, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel sparked much discussion by claiming that there is a “higher education bubble,” that is, the cost of higher education greatly exceeds its value.  This claim by itself is somewhat plausible.  But Thiel much less plausibly implies that college per se is now not recommendable for many, because it is “elitist.”  With his Thiel Fellowship program he hopes to demonstrate that a college degree is not necessary for success in the field of technology.  Leave it to a 19-year-old recipient of one of these fellowships to shout boldly that “College is a waste of time.”  Unsurprisingly, I disagree.

2. Geek anti-intellectualism

In the above, I have barely scratched the surface.  I haven’t mentioned many other commentators, blogs, and books that have written on such subjects.  But this is enough to clarify what I mean by “geek anti-intellectualism.”  Let me step back and sum up the views mentioned above:

1. Experts do not deserve any special role in declaring what is known.  Knowledge is now democratically determined, as it should be.  (Cf. this essay of mine.)

2. Books are an outmoded medium because they involve a single person speaking from authority.  In the future, information will be developed and propagated collaboratively, something like what we already do with the combination of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, and various other websites.

3. The classics, being books, are also outmoded.  They are outmoded because they are often long and hard to read, so those of us raised around the distractions of technology can’t be bothered to follow them; and besides, they concern foreign worlds, dominated by dead white guys with totally antiquated ideas and attitudes.  In short, they are boring and irrelevant.

4. The digitization of information means that we don’t have to memorize nearly as much.  We can upload our memories to our devices and to Internet communities.  We can answer most general questions with a quick search.

5. The paragon of success is a popular website or well-used software, and for that, you just have to be a bright, creative geek.  You don’t have to go to college, which is overpriced and so reserved to the elite anyway.

If you are the sort of geek who loves all things Internet uncritically, then you’re probably nodding your head to these.  If so, I submit this as a new epistemological manifesto that might well sum up your views:

You don’t really care about knowledge; it’s not a priority.  For you, the books containing knowledge, the classics and old-fashioned scholarship summing up the best of our knowledge, the people and institutions whose purpose is to pass on knowledge–all are hopelessly antiquated.  Even your own knowledge, the contents of your mind, can be outsourced to databases built by collaborative digital communities, and the more the better.  After all, academics are boring.  A new world is coming, and you are in the vanguard.  In this world, the people who have and who value individual knowledge, especially theoretical and factual knowledge, are objects of your derision.  You have contempt for the sort of people who read books and talk about them–especially classics, the long and difficult works that were created alone by people who, once upon a time, were hailed as brilliant.  You have no special respect for anyone who is supposed to be “brilliant” or even “knowledgeable.”  What you respect are those who have created stuff that many people find useful today.  Nobody cares about some Luddite scholar’s ability to write a book or get an article past review by one of his peers.  This is why no decent school requires reading many classics, or books generally, anymore–books are all tl;dr for today’s students.  In our new world, insofar as we individually need to know anything at all, our knowledge is practical, and best gained through projects and experience.  Practical knowledge does not come from books or hard study or any traditional school or college.  People who spend years of their lives filling up their individual minds with theoretical or factual knowledge are chumps who will probably end up working for those who skipped college to focus on more important things.

Do you find your views misrepresented?  I’m being a bit provocative, sure, but haven’t I merely repeated some remarks and made a few simple extrapolations?  Of course, most geeks, even most Internet boosters, will not admit to believing all of this manifesto.  But I submit that geekdom is on a slippery slope to the anti-intellectualism it represents.

So there is no mistake, let me describe the bottom of this slippery slope more forthrightly.  You are opposed to knowledge as such. You contemptuously dismiss experts who have it; you claim that books are outmoded, including classics, which contain the most significant knowledge generated by humankind thus far; you want to memorize as little as possible, and you want to upload what you have memorized to the net as soon as possible; you don’t want schools to make students memorize anything; and you discourage most people from going to college.

In short, at the bottom of the slippery slope, you seem to be opposed to knowledge wherever it occurs, in books, in experts, in institutions, even in your own mind.

But, you might say, what about Internet communities?  Isn’t that a significant exception?  You might think so.  After all, how can people who love Wikipedia so much be “opposed to knowledge as such”?  Well, there is an answer to that.

It’s because there is a very big difference between a statement occurring in a database and someone having, or learning, a piece of knowledge.  If all human beings died out, there would be no knowledge left even if all libraries and the whole Internet survived.  Knowledge exists only inside people’s heads.  It is created not by being accessed in a database search, but by being learned and mastered.  A collection of Wikipedia articles about physics contains text; the mind of a physicist contains knowledge.

3. How big of a problem is geek anti-intellectualism?

Once upon a time, anti-intellectualism was said to be the mark of knuckle-dragging conservatives, and especially American Protestants.  Remarkably, that seems to be changing.

How serious am I in the above analysis?  And is this really a problem, or merely a quirk of geek life in the 21st century?

It’s important to bear in mind what I do and do not mean when I say that some Internet geeks are anti-intellectuals.  I do not mean that they would admit that they hate knowledge or are somehow opposed to knowledge.  Almost no one can admit such a thing to himself, let alone to others.  And, of course, I  doubt I could find many geeks who would say that students should not graduate from high school without learning a significant amount of math, science, and some other subjects as well.  Moreover, however they might posture when at work on Wikipedia articles, most geeks have significant respect for the knowledge of people like Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins, of course.  Many geeks, too, are planning on college, are in college, or have been to college.  And so forth–for the various claims (1)-(5), while many geeks would endorse them, they could also be found contradicting them regularly as well.  So is there really anything to worry about here?

Well, yes, there is.  Attitudes are rarely all or nothing.  The more that people have these various attitudes, the more bad stuff is going to result, I think.  The more that a person really takes seriously that there is no point in reading the classics, the less likely he’ll actually take a class in Greek history or early modern philosophy.  Repeat that on a mass scale, and the world becomes–no doubt already has become–a significantly poorer place, as a result of the widespread lack of analytical tools and conceptual understanding.  We can imagine a world in which the humanities are studied by only a small handful of people, because we already live in that world; just imagine the number of people getting smaller.

But isn’t this just a problem just for geekdom?  Does it really matter that much if geeks are anti-intellectuals?

Well, the question is whether the trend will move on to the population at large.  One does not speak of “geek chic” these days for nothing.  The digital world is now on the cutting edge of societal evolution, and attitudes and behaviors that were once found mostly among geeks back in the 1980s and 1990s are now mainstream.  Geek anti-intellectualism can already be seen as another example.  Most of the people I’ve mentioned in this essay are not geeks per se, but the digerati, who are frequently non-geeks or ex-geeks who have their finger on the pulse of social movements online.  Via these digerati, we can find evidence of geek attitudes making their way into mainstream culture.  One now regularly encounters geek-inspired sentiments from business writers like Don Tapscott and education theorists like Ken Robinson–and even from the likes of Barack Obama (but not anti-intellectualism, of course).

Let’s just put it this way.  If, in the next five years, some prominent person comes out with a book or high-profile essay openly attacking education or expertise or individual knowledge as such, because the Internet makes such things outmoded, and if it receives a positive reception not just from writers at CNET and Wired and the usual suspects in the blogosphere, but also serious, thoughtful consideration from Establishment sources like The New York Review of Books or Time, I’ll say that geek anti-intellectualism is in full flower and has entered the mainstream.

UPDATE: I’ve posted a very long set of replies.

UPDATE 2: I’ve decided to reply below as well–very belatedly…

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 163 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started,,,, and Infobitt. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

305 Responses to "Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?"
  1. Reply Jonathan Martin June 7, 2011 14:52 pm


    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:08 am

      The most common joke-response to the essay. Nice one!

      • Reply M. Olson March 4, 2013 05:45 am

        RE: your posted essay.

        Thumbs up. That’s about as bad as it gets. Somebody climbs into a number box and damns to hell anything he can’t get in there with him. Where does that lead, supposing it’s the wave of the future? Maybe there’s some use in looking at it that way, by its outplay.

        Ninety thousand generations of homo sap have come and gone–or pick a number–and none of them walked around with little pieces of electronic junk hanging from their heads at all times–just us. We’re in the midst of a major evolutionary shift, happening instantaneously too. Now it’s ubiquitous and de rigueur. Everybody’s put in front of one from their earliest years, and the mindset of it is taken on insensibly. That’s the source of that anti-intellectual-ism you seak of: the loss of individuality that comes with it. Our cultural heritage depends on that article, and can’t be preserved without it. Lose that and we lose everything.
        Where will it lead? I’m in an electronic store and the guy says, “All this stuff here’ll be obsolete in five years.” “Yeah?” And I’m thinking, OK, so how many five-years will pass before all that junk’ll be inside their heads, I wonder. And what’s to prevent? Be much better that way, actually, in terms of efficiency and ability. Then we could be like those fighter pilots who have the weapons system rigged to their eye movements; so that all they have to do is look at something a certain way and it fires. Wouldn’t that be something? We’d be god-like then, right?
        Is it all about prowess? Would we be willing to sell everything we are for that? What’s to prevent? Then you’ll be somewhere and somebody’ll be somewhere else going beep-beep-beep-beep beep-beep-beep and you’ll go off and do something and you won’t know why. So what would your prowess amount to then, that you were somebody’s tool? That there are no limits that stuff is the point, no con-straints. Anything like that has to come from the outside, from some larger conception and belief in the value of our common humanity. That’s why it can’t be the end-all and be-all of everything, and why the traditional university experience can’t be forgone. Where are those values sourced but there, that we can’t live without them?
        OK, there’s a lot of muck there, granted. But where would it lead if we let go of it? To that looming dehumani-
        zation I described? Let’s go a little further down that path and see what happens. That’s the ultimate argument of a position, right? And it’s defense.

        So I’m reading this essay by I think it was a pale-ontologist–how he could know, though, exobiology not having been invented you, I couldn’t say–but passing that–sez that the arrangement of our senses is an Earther signature, that any being with a similar design is from here. OK, maybe it’s goof-head, but let’s go with it. Could be true. What then? So let’s put that together with something else, viz. All the depictions f the grays I’ve seen show that same signature arrangement–minimalized and, as it would seem, atrophied, but still recognizable. Which means, assuming that, that and that, that they’re from here. Not extraterrestrials at all; nor their craft space-ships exactly, but time-ships. They’re us, say ten million years down the line. It’s what we become. No?
        Look at it this way: if at any time in the future, assuming we survive to it, time travel becomes possible, they’ll show up here. That they’re a dying race is obvious; they sacrificed their existentials to their technology, not realizing until it was too late that it was a trap. And so they return, like those ancient belles in Pope’s lines, who “haunt the places where their honor died.” This is where the mistake was made. We went that way and our fate was on iron rails. Our striving and suffering, our hopes and aspirations through all the millennia of time lead to this: a race of vampire cattle-rustlers. Sneer at if you can–but what’s to prevent?

        The insectivization of the race goes on apace. More like grasshoppers than people they are, those beings we will become. Outside a hard bony shell of technology, and inside a little white much: is that what you want?

        A little fiction action, right? Focuses thought.

  2. Reply sh0ck June 7, 2011 14:54 pm

    You are confusing anti-intelectualism with truth. College is a waste of time and going there has no bearing on you being intelectual or not. I sense you are old and dont understand the new world as it is, or are young and dont understand the world as it is. either way… you are wrong.

    • Reply jp June 7, 2011 15:08 pm

      @ sh0ck Misspelling “intellectual” belies your argument, if one could call it that.

      • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 17:32 pm

        Not only is the spelling a problem, but so is the thinking.

        The anti-intellectualism in the remark you are responding to stems from a form of technological self-righteousness that has creeped into our culture, where if somehow you say something on the internet or over some sort of “smart” device that somehow more true or meaningful than if it is deduced or stated via some other more traditional mechanism.

        Its not really so much anti-intellectual is it is simply having lower brain centers shunt off additional neuronal activity by the prosencephalon. Consequently, especially given our politics, which are reinforcing this, the art of the put down has come be more valued than actual thinking, logic, and reasoning. So many now think that if you are just dogmatic and forceful enough, this will somehow actually substitute for actual thinking. This is a quite common misconception among the anti-global warming and anti-evolution , whether they have gone to college or not.

        However, when all is said and done, it comes down to a phrase often used by the late John Wooden “Its what you learn after you know it all that counts”.

        • Reply Dan June 8, 2011 07:16 am

          Sure, as an artist, I didn’t have to go to college to learn art history, design theory or how to use 3D software to become an artist. I didn’t have to take world history, United States history, psychology, biology, or English to become an artist. But the knowledge I’ve accumulated through practice and self-teaching pales in comparison to what I have been taught by knowledgeable people in class, and my work has improved exponentially because of it. I’ve also made many friends in school who will continue to be lifelong friends as well as having learned to function in world outside of my mother’s basement.

          • Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:10 am

            Well, obviously, making you a better artist is not necessarily the point of college. Part of the anti-intellectual mindset is to assume that the only purpose of gaining knowledge is to improve one’s employability.

        • Reply David Bandel June 8, 2011 12:09 pm

          If you’re referring to global warming as a man-caused phenomenon, then I think you have your analogy skewed.

          What you’re talking about only really applies to anti-evolution, pro-global warming mindsets.

          The point is to ignore knowledge and accept all appeals to authority to come to ones own, horribly misinformed, unqualified, heavily reinforced opinion.

    • Reply DrDork June 7, 2011 15:21 pm

      College is a waste of time if you only go there to take some easy liberal art classes and spend the rest of the time drunk or high. College as an institution based around learning and intellectual exploration is not a waste at all; the waste is from students who go to college for the wrong reasons, and from schools whose educational standards are so pathetically lax as to make the experience meaningless.

      People who argue that we don’t need to /know/ or /learn/ much of anything because we can simply access the facts via some external source (Google, Wikipedia, etc) are missing the point: if you go down that line, you lose your frame of reference and your ability to assimilate ideas and concepts. Take away learning, take away independent knowledge, and all those articles just become a collection of inaccessible and meaningless words.

      As to anyone who thinking that the masses somehow know better than the experts, let us think back on all the things that have been “common knowledge” and yet were (and are) completely wrong–it’s a very, very long list.

      • Reply Seguin June 7, 2011 18:28 pm

        I’m sure we could also write down a very long list of when “intellectuals” were proven wrong by the facts.

        The problem with these discussions is that it’s based on a fundamental conceit: that intellectuals per se are necessarily intelligent, which is not true. Self-designated intellectuals are a hodge-podge of people, most with some form of certification from a place of higher education, whose only real claim to the title is that they hold what previously self-designated intellectuals consider to be the correct opinions, and hold them in a way that flatters the already extant group.

        In a sense, this anxiety about “Intellectualism” is more about tribalism than anything else. Knowledge and truth are objective things to be found by any means necessary, not only by membership to the aforementioned group – to tie it in with my opening statement, “intellectualism” and intelligence don’t correlate very highly.

        • Reply jw June 7, 2011 20:31 pm

          Agreed. The fact that higher education has become less rigorous has only accelerated the decline of credentialed authority.

        • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:22 am

          @Seguin: “self-designated intellectuals”? Honestly, have you ever heard anybody refer to himself as an intellectual?

          Your opinionizing here only concerns your stereotype of intellectuals, according to which intellectuals are people with degrees who gain pride by repeating the dogmas of their fields, and who associate with others in their field “tribally.”

          This is, of course, a silly caricature, but…whatever helps you sleep at night…

      • Reply Travis June 8, 2011 08:01 am

        I think one point that also needs to be made is that if we rely entirely on the knowledge currently accumulated and available on Wikipedia and the like we are no longer fostering the advancement of knowledge. I feel the real danger in some of the anti-intellectuals is complacency and an acceptance of the stance that we know now everything that we could possibly need to know, which is obviously preposterous. Treating Wikipedia as the final arbiter of all human knowledge or even assuming that you can find anything you could need on google is dangerous and just wrong. Seeing a mathematical equation without knowing the components or how they work together or even where they came from can very easily lead to fundamentally incorrect applications if they can be used at all.

        • Reply Dan June 10, 2011 04:28 am

          This is exactly it. This is where the real problem lies. It is simply not possible to rely on the information being in a database, without someone having the knowledge to actually use it correctly. I can personally attest, that in the Engineering field, having a number of equations listed on the internet does not do anyone any good. A significant amount of time needs to be spent with these equations, to learn how to apply them to real life problems, and to know when to apply them. This kind of application is extremely difficult without the guidance of a good instructor, and peers (as you would find in a college or university). As an engineer, even with the assistance of peers and instructors, the subject matter is still thoroughly daunting.

          From an Engineer’s point of view, who has graduated with good grades from a reputable engineering school (who has lived through the hell I call an engineering curriculum), I can personally say that I do not want a high school student to assume that they know-how to build a bridge or design a circuit because they found a few equations on the internet.

          Good and safe design requires a good background in theoretical knowledge, applied appropriately and practically to a problem. It also requires the knowledge of good practices, which only come from people who have been in the field for years and have experience, hence (most) professors. Granted, I’ve had some pretty bad professors, but the ones that are good can pass on knowledge that you won’t find a textbook or on the internet.

          In the fields of science and engineering, we simply cannot rely on some Joe Schmoe with an internet connection to solve the world’s problems.

      • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:17 am

        @DrDork, you say, “College is a waste of time if you only go there to take some easy liberal art [sic] classes… College as an institution based around learning and intellectual exploration is not a waste at all.”

        I guess there are some easy liberal arts classes, but most of my students complained that philosophy was too hard. And if you think that subjects like philosophy, history, or classic literature are not the paragons of “learning and intellectual exploration,” then really you are only demonstrating your failure to learn much about those subjects.

    • Reply Justin June 7, 2011 15:35 pm

      Shock, you are actually the one who is apparently confused. Even if one were to agree with you and disagree with Sanger, calling an opinion ‘truth’ is as anti-intellectual as you can get.
      Also, even if you hate the idea of college and never bothered learning how to spell, you should investigate this fancy new tool called ‘spell-check’.

      Now, to the point. The idea that college is a waste of time is the ultimate in unassailable stupidity. That anti-intellectual position misses the link between decrying the herd behavior of the often maligned ‘sheep’ of popular culture and being too blind to recognize that behavior in one’s self. You don’t want to be one of the drones that goes to college and learns about things. So you learn nothing more than what you must have to survive.

      I would worry for the fate of society after all of the new anti-intellectual herd inadvertently erases any hope we have of redemption, but I honestly don’t think that any of you will have the common sense to ever recognize your loss.

      The image of a fiddle being played while Rome burns occurs to me…but you probably won’t get the reference.

    • Reply Matthew Strebe June 7, 2011 19:54 pm

      I never went to college, but I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. People who can’t learn to spell or use apostrophes correctly certainly need it.

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:13 am

      @shock I, like others, couldn’t make any sense of your comment. One of the things that education generally, and a liberal arts college in particular, will do for you is to make you better capable of writing in a way that others can parse. There are some excellent communicators who didn’t go to college, but generally, if you choose the right college and study hard, you’ll get a lot better.

      • Reply Dudesowin February 3, 2013 08:01 am

        Couldn’t make any sense? Sure are a lot of replies to one post that supposedly made no sense! Maybe you are just dumb then? How about a little less ad hominem. Anti intellectuals keep large social contacts and often have gang ties with fraternities. They usually flunk out of college and get a fake degree or anything with sufficient rank such as bachelors, masters. Doesn’t matter at all what field you practice long as you did “hard” work. Intelligence is all about making things easy and speeding up tasks yet anti intellectualism is all about validation against that. But those whom buy into college have to support it else they are stuck with an immeasurable debt in their life that they don’t know what to deal with if they are not better for what they have done.

    • Reply Arc October 21, 2011 05:28 am

      For many college can be extremely important. In America our secondary schools very often do not try to or encourage students to “think outside the box.” At universities, especially in the American Liberal Arts schools, this is often the main point – to learn how to think analytically and critically. Many people, myself included, needed the classes and extra-curriculars in college to begin to really think critically about the world. Learning should not be about how much money one can make form it. We need citizens that think critically – it is an extremely important aspect to creating and sustaining a fair and just society.

    • Reply Jerry Mander May 27, 2012 05:51 am

      What do you know grand-dad? Young people

      You get the picture…I’m going to go one further and say that the car mechanics of yesterday are the ‘geeks’ of today.

      Yeah, that’s right! I’m fighting fire with fire. I’m an elitist snob and I don’t care.

  3. Reply raymond June 7, 2011 15:11 pm

    Supposedly, you wrote this article try to get your idea to the other side. But if you realize people on Internet don’t read long text, then putting your main point in the middle of your article will actually make those people you are trying talk to stop reading it.

    • Reply morgan warstler June 7, 2011 20:35 pm

      smartest comment here.

      • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:28 am

        And yet I did get through to a lot of people. Over 60,000 page views of this essay in a week, over 100 comments…

        I admit I took a chance, though. In the first 24 hours after the essay was released, it got virtually no response at all.

  4. Reply moe June 7, 2011 15:12 pm

    This is less “geek” than “hipster”. Geeks have always and will always be about knowledge. Hipsters seem to like trying to steal the (un)coolness of geeks without putting forth any effort. I believe hipsters are a passing fad just like their horrible tastes in clothing. Hopefully when they are gone it won’t be cool to be uninformed any longer.

    • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 17:37 pm

      The critical issue is whether the women will think that. If they continue to be fooled by uneducated but highly opinionated “hipsters” then that behavior will flourish. Women make the choice that drives sexual selection.

      What concerns me is just how few women there are who care about topological spaces. I feel as if I’m standing in the wrong place.

      • Reply An Anonymous Coward June 8, 2011 09:21 am

        Interesting and appropriate application of sexism.

      • Reply Sara June 8, 2011 17:18 pm

        I’m a geek, an intellectual, and a mathematics educator who believes strongly in inquiry/project based learning. When properly applied, inquiry based learning DOES NOT move away from teaching facts, rather it moves away from the memorization of individual, disconnected fact and toward the construction and understanding of knowledge deeply rooted in conceptual context and intellectual rigor.

        ps: I’m also a woman who wrote a dissertation on the S & L space problems (kinds of topological spaces)

        • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:38 am

          @Sara, I think there’s too much emphasis on project based learning in schools today. I was subjected to endless amounts of it in the 70s and 80s in school, and found it incredibly boring, and I didn’t learn much at all. But maybe it all depends on the project and teacher…

          The only other comment I had for you is that one cannot learn how facts “interconnect” and what “context” they have if one does not learn the facts in the first place. Besides, the information about how facts interrelated and the background information we call “context” are also, obviously, facts.

          Generally speaking, teaching my little boy a lot of history lately, I’m finding that virtually everything we’re learning now can be described as “background” (for later learning). But the same can be said for much of K-12 and even college education. What are often dismissed as “meaningless facts,” such as important historical dates like 1066, actually become in other contexts essential “background information.”

  5. Reply Matt June 7, 2011 15:13 pm

    You didn’t link to the proper TL:DR link >_>

  6. Reply rlg June 7, 2011 15:14 pm

    America has always been more of a feeling culture than a thinking culture. I think most of the anti intellectual points you bring up are people rationalizing their own world view. Thinkers still read books, look for proof, and master knowledge, but they will always be a minority in an action-centric culture like America. It’s ironic because most of our contribution to history is intellectual, from our constitution to our innovations like the light bulb, car, and other technology. Anyways, nice article. Keep it up.

    • Reply Pete Hague June 7, 2011 16:58 pm

      If rlg believes the car was invented in the US, this would be some anecdotal evidence that anti-intellectualism is on the rise.

      • Reply mark June 7, 2011 18:32 pm

        …or the light bulb, really. I think the light bulb is a nice, simple example of why knowing things is important. The kind of person addressed in the article thinks that knowledge can be separated into discrete, simple facts, like “Thomas Edison invented the light bulb”. Certainly no American came up with the concept itself. To understand the history of its development requires you to first know many other things, and to do that, you have to read.

      • Reply Liz June 9, 2011 10:54 am

        Perhaps he’s referring to Ford’s assembly line, which brought the cost of cars down enough to be affordable…

    • Reply Duckduck123 June 8, 2011 12:18 pm

      I agree that anti-intellectualism has always been an underlying trend in the United States. Richard Hofstadter wrote a book entitled appropriately enough, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.” It was written in the 1960s and largely focuses on McCarthyism, but still, many of the passages could have been written about today’s society. Very frightening indeed!

      • Reply Erin McJ June 8, 2011 19:25 pm

        (came here via twitter)
        I was going to reference the same book, which I highly recommend — it’s one of my favorites.

        The book itself brought me to understand a parallel that might interest Mr. Sanger — one of the roots of anti-intellectualism in America is the Protestant reformation and its idea of a priesthood of all believers. If everybody is allowed to be an expert, the experts are no longer untouchable. It isn’t about knowledge, exactly, so much as social power.

        • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:43 am

          Maybe you all didn’t realize that I linked to the book in my essay…

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:41 am

      @rlg I’m not aware that my points are specifically applicable to Americans. I’ve seen a lot of the sentiments I describe as anti-intellectual among European geeks, too. My post is about geek anti-intellectualism, not anti-intellectualism in general.

  7. Reply AzSandRat June 7, 2011 15:18 pm

    I think you are mistaking the awakening of a new type of intellectualism with the banishment of intellectualism in general. When you look at many of our most successful people, you find that they do not have a degree. I have come to believe that the greatest innovations are a result of people who are able to work outside of the establishment of modern academics. To much of the modern educational system teaches what cannot be done, rather than seeking to explore ways of going beyond the barriers which stand in our way.

    • Reply henchan June 7, 2011 22:00 pm

      I agree with the comment made by @AzSandRat below.

      Similar arguments were made for hundreds of years over use of the vernacular. The new schools seemed to neglect much of the knowledge that had previously been assembled in Classical languages. It may appear to some observers that the rot has again set in. But actually, we are in the midst of progress of the one step back and two steps forward variety. Both sides should now try to show understanding and respect because ultimately it won’t be either/or but both. The new communication patterns will become overwhelmingly dominant, just as they have finished assimilating the best of what passed for knowledge under the old paradigm. Including those tldr classic books mentioned in this article.
      Punks, it eventually turned out, were not so different from the hippies. Yet they had to first assert their anti-establishment credentials – the crasser the better.

    • Reply piplzchoice June 8, 2011 14:33 pm

      Is the university degree a mandatory condition of being intellectual? Personally, I don’t think so. I would like to believe that this subject was brought through not by the geek anti-intellectualism, but deterioration of educational system that fail to teach critical thinking. BTW it is already proliferated into business as important decisions are made with support of dubious information generated by black-box models. We seem to confuse our beliefs with knowledge in business, politics and science.

      • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:52 am

        @piplzchoice asks “Is the university degree a mandatory condition of being intellectual? Personally, I don’t think so.”

        Neither do I. There are plenty of degreed people who haven’t got an intellectual bone in their body, so to speak. And I know a few very intellectual people who never finished college.

        And your point is?

    • Reply Liz June 9, 2011 10:56 am


    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 09:48 am

      @AzSandRat says “I think you are mistaking the awakening of a new type of intellectualism with the banishment of intellectualism in general.”

      What is this “new type of intellectualism,” then? In your comment you seem to assume that if someone is successful, and makes a “great innovation,” then he is an intellectual. Why think that? And anyway, if you’ll look at the minds behind many of the more successful Internet sites, you’ll find that many of them were, in fact, well educated.

    • Reply Don't forget about class July 9, 2011 02:38 am

      How many of these successful drop-outs and never-wents came from privileged backgrounds? It’s easier to be “successful” without a college degree when one starts out with financial support and a strong social network.

      • Reply GPC July 10, 2011 12:48 pm

        They typically are from privileged backgrounds, so they most likely received a solid education at the K – 12 level and in the home. This simply isn’t true for the vast majority of high school graduates. College gives students a chance to learn many things that they never learned properly or at all in their K – 12 schooling.

    • Reply NWM July 24, 2011 02:42 am

      “When you look at many of our most successful people, you find that they do not have a degree.”

      This is simply not not the case. For one, “successful people” is not well defined. Are you simply referring to people whose net worth has a ‘B’ in it? Have a ‘C’ at the front of their title at some company? Even when using the vague definition of “known as successful”, it is false. It seems to be the case only because it is noteworthy when an exceptionally successful person does _not_ have a degree. This is called the spotlight fallacy. (Either that or blatant cherry-picking)

  8. Reply Reulberg June 7, 2011 15:29 pm

    I am a geek, and I am anti-intellectual…
    I respect and value deep knowledge of any topic, with extra respect for knowledge that things can be done with, whether that is craft a piece of prose that succinctly expresses a particular view point, builds a new engine, or proves NP=P.
    I have no respect for intellectualism itself, as having knowledge without doing something is a colossal waste of time(of both the student and of the teacher).

    Intellectuals seem to be misers of information, taking great pleasure in having something that the are unwilling to share or use.

    TL:DR version: gas without a car isn’t as useful, car with no gas not very use either. Car full of gas in garage, wasteful. Go somewhere, do something.

    • Reply ezod June 7, 2011 19:32 pm

      We ought to force those miserly intellectuals to disseminate their knowledge — say, by teaching students at universities, publishing and reviewing books and articles, and starting web-based encyclopaedias that anyone can edit.

      • Reply Russell Snow June 11, 2011 04:27 am

        Who the hell are you to force anybody to do anything. The misers worked hard to acquire their knowledge, why do you get to decide what they do with it?

  9. Reply Michael Block June 7, 2011 15:30 pm

    Your point may have some merit, but being so verbose and redundant makes it hard for any anti-intellectual to be won to the cause. The fact is that most people, not just geeks, are anti-intellectual. This is not a recent thing. So it seems difficult to understand the real crisis here. The distribution of knowledge through the internet, search and collaborative tools increases the scope of knowledge for intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike. This has been happening since Gutenberg. The more things change, the more they stay the same….

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 20:43 pm

      I get the sense that “verbose” in the mouths of some means “contains words I don’t know.” Sorry, I don’t really like dumbing down my writing. I do that sometimes, but not very often. I do–I hope–choose my words because they are the best words for conveying my precise meaning.

      Anyway, I don’t believe my main intended audience was geeks. If I had addressed myself to geeks directly, I would have used a different approach altogether, I’m sure.

  10. Reply Darren June 7, 2011 15:32 pm

    To many people think they are intelligent just because they have a degree. Half the professors I had in university couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag and some of them had doctorates. I was very discouraged by instructors that wouldn’t discuss new ideas on the subject because it wasn’t part of the curriculum or it challenged the status quo.

    Learning is all about challenging existing knowledge and being creative. In grade 7 my science project was titled “can light be trapped?” I got to visit the local university and use gear from the optics lab which was cool for a kid. I latter was told that it was impossible only to find out many years later it had been accomplished. That experience put me off science for many years.

  11. Reply Anonymous June 7, 2011 15:35 pm

    There are some typical mouth breathing responses, but I don’t think it is fair to claim just geeks. I’m seeing a lot intellectualism from the right wing and from popular culture. I would argue these forces are much stronger and that geeks are just a humble cross-section of humanity who happen to espouse these beliefs.

    Had you picked on libertarians I would agree with you since the libertarian and geek overlap is annoying large, probably due to a love of simple rules that are analyzable and give you quick yes/no answers instead of dealing with the grey matter that is reality.

    • Reply Anonymous June 7, 2011 19:10 pm

      I was just thinking how that was true about conservatives and jocks.

    • Reply Russell Snow June 11, 2011 04:46 am

      It seems to me there are two groups being attacked here (maybe more.) There are the genuine opponents of the idea of an expert. They inhabit Education Departments all over the world. Read Richard Mitchell’s books to understand them. Then, there are people who disagree with the author. If your response to someone who disagrees with you is totally an appeal to authority, you might the real anti intellectual. Not all disciplines are on equally firm footing. Can you really say that physics is on the level with some grievance “studies” degree? Yet they both get doctorates. One mimics the other. When I attack the excesses of the university system it is the latter I am concerned with, not the former. Some things and fields are more knowable than others. Trying to appropriate the respect of one field to promote another is the problem. I am neither anti intellectual nor anti expert, but the field of AGW has serious problems, most of which are caused by its proximity to policy debates.

      “Why should we bother to reply to Kautski? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There’s no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautski is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.” -Nikolai Lenin

      • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 21:00 pm

        @Russell Snow, thanks for your response. As perhaps you can imagine, I am inclined to attack the excesses of academe as well, and if I had time, I’d do it a lot more. Indeed, plenty of academics do that, and nobody thinks them anti-intellectual for doing so. It depends on the content of your arguments, not your targets, whether you are anti-intellectual or not. If you’re standing up against lock-step conformity in academe and for the life of the mind, you’re in my camp. If you’re attacking academe because professors make you read irrelevant stuff like War and Peace, it’s much more likely that you’re (to that extent) anti-intellectual.

        I love Richard Mitchell. Go to and enjoy!

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 19, 2011 20:47 pm

      @Anonymous I didn’t claim that just geeks were anti-intellectual. I see anti-intellectualism all over the place–even among many K-12 educators and some academics (as I explained in my more recent post on geek anti-intellectualism).

  12. Reply michael June 7, 2011 15:36 pm

    I tried to read this but it got too long and boring. (j/j ) Someone im’ed me a quote

    “Knowledge exists only inside people’s heads. It is propagated not by being accessed in a database search, but by being learned and mastered”

    I guessing you missed that episode of jeopardy where database searches displayed a pretty solid mastery of the task of responding to trivia knowledge base questions, using Wikipeida among others as their dataset.

    Getting philosophical about embodied knowledge and whether Google is conscience or not, whether information is in our heads or in the cloud, does not really matter when it comes down to measuring excelling at a given task. I thought we were past “but can you solve this on a desert island line of thinking”?

    I guess I don’t worry much about how people think about thinking as much as how they think to get a particular task accomplished.

    If being “intellectual” means you read a particular journal that helps you arrive to the correct diagnostic of a given sickness, then that great. if being “anti-intellectual” means you have a computer read a wikipedia articles and a wider range of medical journals for you that lets you reach the same diagnostic then that great too.

    If one way routinely outperforms the other then embrace what working better, and can augment any existing intelligence you already have.

    I guess what your criticizing is people “augmenting intelligence” having much intelligence to start with? Which is valid, to ridiculously reduce this down … certainly 1+10 is better than 1+0

  13. Reply Awkward Engineer June 7, 2011 15:39 pm

    I’d like to argue against your point of view that this new disdain for college is “anti-intellectualism.” It’s not the learning that Peter Thiel questions, it’s whether your time in college is spent learning useful things, and how well that learning prepares you for the real world.

    • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 17:41 pm

      Such remarks about the lack of effectiveness of a college education are really without meaning until one goes to college and finds out. It is presumptuous both morally and intellectually to expect that to be a rhetorical question that doesn’t require an answer, without actually conducting the experiment.

      • Reply Russell Snow June 11, 2011 04:49 am

        I guess I will never know if crack cocaine is bad for me till I get addicted to it.
        (And yes, I have been to college)

  14. Reply Michael June 7, 2011 15:43 pm

    There’s a strong movement of anti-intellectual-authority, i.e. just because you have a college degree in field XYZ doesn’t mean you actually know anything more than I do. The world changes too fast for a 4-year degree. Geeks still hold those with knowledge in high regard, it’s just that -practical- and creative knowledge is held in higher regard.

    • Reply mark June 7, 2011 18:38 pm

      If you’re the same Michael as above, I’m guessing you have a degree in trolling.

    • Reply Fred June 8, 2011 00:24 am

      Funny, but I think people who are qualified experts (or at least professionals) in their fields would find your assertion laughable.

  15. Reply Ross Williams June 7, 2011 15:48 pm

    “So there is no mistake, let me describe the bottom of this slippery slope more forthrightly. You are opposed to knowledge as such.”

    I don’t read this as a defense of “intellectualism” but of the importance of your place in the world which “geeks” are not properly appreciating.

    The truth is not that anyone “opposes knowledge as such” but that the breadth of knowledge people need to know and use in developing an understanding of the world is broader than the narrow canon you choose to consider “intellectualism”. The way in which people attain that knowledge and the selection of information that they need to retain is rapidly changing.

    Given the volume of information available, so-called experts can no longer maintain real expertise except within a very narrow range of knowledge. As the world is exploding with access to new information and knowledge “intellectualism”, in your version, becomes the defense of a very narrow canon of information that is manageable by the self-appointed experts.

    Intellectualism is about expanding knowledge, not constraining it. Like the Catholic bishops faced with expanding literacy and a printed bible that allowed direct access to the word of god, the high priests of western thought are losing their control over intellectual discussion and the ability to constrain that discussion to the narrow canon of their own knowledge.

    How many Asian universities make their students knowledge of Tolstoy or the history of England priorities. Are these things really necessary for their “intellectual” development? I don’t think so. Which means they aren’t that necessary for American students either. Which is not to say there is not benefit to either set of students reading Tolstoy or studying English history, but those things are necessarily less and less important in a world of expanding knowledge and intellectual discussion.

    • Reply RichardInVA June 10, 2011 07:50 am

      Ross gets it exactly right.

    • Reply K-R-X July 1, 2011 02:34 am

      This, I think, is the point exactly. As information and travel expands past current limits, culture based information (such as said reading of ‘War and Peace’) becomes less about education and more about backing current academic trends. For every great novel read there are a thousand others outside the current cultural paradigm that go unread – because they were forgotten or because they are in the wrong language.

      Reading such liturature is not pointless, but seems to drift outside what is practical for establishing a common ‘general education’. And as higher learning becomes more devalued with every passing year, if colleges do not evolve to meet current employment needs then they themselves will become outdated.

      Education, for the majority, is about income. It is no longer providing the very real value that it once did and therefore can be very properly evaluated as lacking. If higher learning does not evolve to use technology more and teach unemployable skills less, then it will, by economic nessissity, become outdated.

      • Reply Larry Sanger July 1, 2011 12:46 pm

        First, @Ross, I didn’t make any claims to expertise or intellectual authority, I don’t think. I regard myself as more of an outsider than an insider in almost all fields, and I have significant beefs with all sorts of intellectuals. So, when you say about my motives, “I don’t read this as a defense of ‘intellectualism’ but of the importance of your place in the world which ‘geeks’ are not properly appreciating,” you are guessing, and you are guessing wrong.

        I’m quite frankly laughing at the suggestion that anti-intellectual geeks somehow stand for a broader base of knowledge than proponents of liberal education. To read “War and Peace,” together with other world literature and other branches of the liberal arts, is precisely to become broadened. This is not a “narrow canon of information”–it is a selection of works that, together, broaden and deepen our understanding of human nature and the world we live in. The problem you have identified, that there is far too much to know, has existed for centuries. This is why a canon exists in the first place; if you could read all the books and websites, then a canon wouldn’t be necessary.

        Your claim, that it is not possible to maintain “real expertise” except within “a very narrow range of knowledge,” is very dubious. Take my own field of philosophy as an example. It is true that few philosophers would claim expertise in any but a few branches of philosophy. But one earns a Ph.D. in Philosophy, not in any branches of philosophy, and one’s training is in the whole discipline, not just parts of it. This is true of many other fields as well. The training one receives concerns not just expert knowledge of a very narrow field (or two or three), but also broader knowledge of methods, and deeper knowledge of all fields than one has at the undergraduate level. So there is still a very robust sense in which a philosophy professor has expertise in the entire field, Philosophy, which a typical philosophy B.A. graduate would not have. It is true that fields in which this sort of broad-based expertise have become more and more specialized; but this is why it is possible now to get more specialized Ph.D.s in broad subfields such as Molecular Biology or Analytical Chemistry.

        You actually seem to be assuming that I think that intellectualism means shrinking one’s intellectual interests to the range of a flea. You couldn’t be more wrong. I, like any true intellectual, agrees that being an intellectual requires “expanding knowledge.” But the very best way to expand your knowledge is precisely to get a foundation for the rest of your knowledge in the best and most important literature and history, to say nothing of science and math and other disciplines. To do this is to train your intellect, to come to a finer-grained, more nuanced understanding of concepts and seminal events–and thereby, as the tired phrase has it, “learn how to learn.”

        @K-R-X, the claim that “culture-based information” is “less about education and more about backing current academic trends” really does sound like knuckle-dragging anti-intellectualism to me. The idea that the literary and artistic canon, let’s call it, exists only to “back current academic trends” (as you say) is a complete non-starter, and doesn’t even merit comment, not without a long argument to support it in the first place.

        Education never was “about income,” even if that’s why people go to college. What education is “about” is not determined by majority rule or the motives of college students, but by the nature of the thing. If college becomes increasingly vocational and leaves the liberal arts behind entirely, then it will cease to be about the most basic, worthwhile, and necessary sort of education–liberal education. In that case, if one wants a liberal education, one will not go to college; one will have to go elsewhere.

  16. Reply salv0 June 7, 2011 15:54 pm

    I don’t think geeks are becoming anti-intellectual. I think anti-intellectuals are becoming “geeks”. Of course a serious intellectual would need to operationally define the term, but people are already complaining that the article is too long, so nevermind.

    Of course the masses resent the elite. That’s how it has always worked. Only now the masses are online. What was a geek 30 years ago can’t be considered geeky now can it? Geekiness to me means a certain attitude, not so many hours per day spent on a computer. And I agree with what Doctor Dork said about college being a waste of time.

    • Reply Anton June 7, 2011 20:22 pm

      salv0: “I don’t think geeks are becoming anti-intellectual. I think anti-intellectuals are becoming “geeks”. ”

      Agreed. Being a geek used to be something to be avoided by the mainstream, now it seems everyone with an XBox and uses Facebook from their iPhone is one.

      Personally I regard myself as an intellectual and I definitely thrive on acquiring deep knowledge, but am I somewhat anti-academic in my own learning/thinking. In saying that I recognise the value of academia – I just don’t want to be personally constrained by it.

  17. Reply Chris June 7, 2011 15:54 pm

    I think the anti-intellectuals you are referring to are not real geeks. Real geeks tend to geek out and search for as much knowledge regarding a subject as they can find. I think you are talking about the same blustering morons who have always found some way to succeed on the backs of geeks and proclaim themselves “geeks” or “digerati”. As for the classics, maybe it’s time for some new classics like Neuromancer and The Baroque Cycle. No one wants to sit around reading the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  18. Reply fsck42 June 7, 2011 15:56 pm

    Well said. I’ve been bothered by this for years. I’m so glad to see geek anti-intellectualism finally getting the scrutiny that it deserves. This tendency, among others, is one of the major reasons that I don’t get along with other geeks.

    It’s no accident that many different ancient cultures developed formal educational institutions and universities. These institutions were replicated widely because they have real educational and societal value, not because “there was no Internet back then.”

    The biggest problem with universities today (in the U.S.) is that too many of them are admitting and catering to students who, to be frank, aren’t smart enough nor dedicated enough to have any business getting a 4-year degree. The idea that almost everyone should get a Bachelors degree after graduating from high school is absurd. This approach has ‘dumbed down’ the entire collegiate system as a whole.

    I went to a state university, got a good education for the money, but felt the whole time that about half the students just didn’t belong in college at all. It was endlessly irritating to sit in classes that were so obviously dumbed down to high school level. The good education I got could have been a great education, if the profs didn’t have to cater to all the morons.

  19. Reply Matthew Graybosch June 7, 2011 16:02 pm

    Today I learned that to suspect that higher education has become a racket that all but forces young people into indentured servitude in order to obtain knowledge they could get on their own is a sign of anti-intellectualism.

    • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 17:48 pm

      I suspect you didn’t learn anything today. You merely substituted self-righteousness for thinking. Its a clear sign that you can’t distinguish sophism from a reasoned argument. It is absurd to suggest that one will get a “better” education by poking around on the internet hoping to learn something, as opposed to actually learning how to learn, which is what a college education is about.

      • Reply Jodo Kast June 7, 2011 22:53 pm

        Wrong. I learned how to learn in high school.

        If you feel you need 4 more years of this, or you need a piece of paper to practice legally, then sure go for it.

        I don’t need to learn how pompous college grads are… that’s obvious. 😉

        • Reply TDM June 12, 2011 14:34 pm

          Ad (koff-koff) Hominem…

          And so it goes.

        • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 07:28 am

          All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

  20. Reply Randy June 7, 2011 16:04 pm

    Two comments:

    1. “Amateur” is not necessarily the antonym of “Expert”. It is the antonym of “Professional”. There is a such a thing as a knowledgeable amateur; arguably, they often are more knowledgeable than the professionals because they have a love and a passion for the subject matter. Otherwise, I agree with your point. People who do not have competence in a field cannot render capable judgment on what is correct and what is not (c.f. Dunning-Kruger Effect).

    2. Of the 5 points you make that indicate anti-intellectualism, I agree with you on 4 of them. The fourth: “The digitization of information means that we don’t have to memorize nearly as much. We can upload our memories to our devices and to Internet communities. We can answer most general questions with a quick search.” however, is a good thing. I wonder how many scholastics decried the printing press because people didn’t have to memorize whole books anymore because the books became more plentiful. I will admit that the tendency to be lazy and not memorize *anything* is stronger now than it ever has been, but spending less time checking basic facts leaves more time to create new knowledge, which is the cornerstone of true intellectualism, in my opinion.

    I came here via Slashdot, and I’m glad I did. Though I’m not sure I agree with you completely, you do raise important points that should not be ignored.

  21. Reply Hanonymouse June 7, 2011 16:05 pm

    The only thing that the internet has done is give a voice to the other half of the normal curve. Now more than ever critical thinking is required to avoid drowning in an ocean of fairy tales.

  22. Reply Devon Jones June 7, 2011 16:17 pm

    I think you are confusing a problem with authority with anti-intellectualism. Personally, I’m a geek, and I read a ton. Sometimes it’s audio books, sometimes it’s paper, sometimes it’s on a kindle, but it’s (imho) a healthy mix of nonfiction covering science, economics, medicine, politics and history. I don’t personally have much patience for classic literature, mostly owing to a preference to read non-fiction where I can learn something as opposed to consuming a nice (if societally impactful) story.

    I do however have some opinions that you would probably feel fit in with your post. The issue is not knowledge. most geeks I know thirst for knowledge, and consume it voraciously in many different fields. The problem is, geeks as a whole have a big problem with Authority. We are used to being a group of people, who create new capabilities, only to have the old guard experts poo-poo them because of personal preference that they are selling as their expertise. All you have to do is read any on of the authoriatarian responses to items like a kind. A kindle not smelling like a book being a problem isn’t expert judgement, it’s personal preference (just as an example).

    The geeks I work with and know nearly universally have at least one hobby where they are amateurs producing near professional quality work. Why do they do this? Because they love doing, making, implementing and learning. What they don’t like are people who have lived their professional careers fiddling only with theoretical knowledge and never testing their knowledge practically. Engineers do, they build, they /test/ the knowledge that the theoreticians create, but they also deal with the practical knowledge that the professors conveniently overlook because that makes the models too complex.

    Geeks are sick of these people looking down their noses as them when they are doing real, practical work in one of their pro-am pursuits due to the sheer fact that they are not credentialed by those experts. As a group, we don’t feel the need to pay homage to the authority to be granted their leave to work on things that interest us.

    • Reply frank lowey June 10, 2011 20:29 pm

      Devon. I read a lot of nonfiction too, and not a lot of fiction. But I’m convinced that there is a lot of truth in fiction, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of stuff that is practically useful. The knowledge in the literature classics, I strongly suspect, differs from “nonfiction” in that it generally deals with a different area of knowledge (how humans behave in practice when they deal with one another, and when they deal with non-human things – rather than how non-human things behave under conditions that are often tightly specified and constrained) and it present that knowledge in a different way (Not “Humans become agitated and aggressive when sexually frustrated and socially rejected” but “Alexandr Dimitriov felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising as he saw the clearly recogniseable figure of Olga Kotova, HIS Olga, in stark silhouette against the mid-afternoon sun.”) I strongly urge you to consider doing what I say and not what I do – try to have the patience to understand fiction. I’m going to. One day. When I get around to it.

  23. Reply Carlos Bill June 7, 2011 16:19 pm

    Are you crazy, man?

    Be it adopted or not, OpenFlow is a hell of a technology, born from academy – and that is shaking the world.

    Be it more adopted or not, cloud computing is a hell of a idea, implemented from the architectural efforts, joint work and years of Distributed System’s true educated and classic nerds.

    Routing algorithms. GPS. Virtual physics. Touch screens. Resistive/capacitive/whatever things.

    Man, the true and educated and classic nerds still implement and build every single bit of your technology, and this will continue to happen for the foreseeable future!

    I can say this because I’m a third-world citizen, I did not studied english in a school, but I can sort of communicate in this language. And even so, I enjoy being with my academic peers, being reviewed by them and being touted to cram as much knowledge as I can in my brain – because this will allow me to build and think and try to build great things, even more!

    That’s because the practical and undisciplined knowledge is merely *instrumental*. Yeah, you can hack even the guts of a kernel module today, implement a so-so message system in Ruby or build a crazy mashup and get rich. C00l. But this is only possible because a true educated person, with a true background, translated all the real technology into a easy-to-play construct.

    The persons with science and education inside will not get into this child’s play 🙂 Those persons generally don’t get interested in creating a new type of advertising, or creating fancy chat tools. OK, these may be important or even play an interesting role in our life – but that’s nothing compared to planning the infrastructure of the future! Of trying to attack a NP-hard problem. Or, specializing the former question, giving birth to an algorithm that will let your freaking iPhone get connected out from thin air (and allowing you to do something useful with it).

    The persons who create the real tech are not geeks. Are nerds. Are ugly, are smelly, are anti-social. And are perfectly happy with that, and with being friendly only when – and how – they want.

    Because they attach to things that other persons (and other geeks) doesn’t care about. And all the greedy ambition of other ends up concentrated elsewhere 🙂

    Best regards. Peace. I really think that way, and I’m not saying you’re a moron. I swear that I don’t fight people over this.

    My only sin is lying to hiring consultants when they ask me about this things.

  24. Reply ananvxora June 7, 2011 16:20 pm

    I’am a student of Science Computer. and sometime one guy said that:
    “Even read in paper books, upgrade and use a digital readout”.
    In my opinion perhaps anti-intellectual is occurring in the uncontrolled and unconscious use of technology.
    when humanity might extinguish the only thing that will survive a printed book of our history.

    Continuous buying books printed each week, and I want to finish my career maybe to continue studying physics or mathematics.

    Greetings from Mx.

  25. Reply Ted Lemon June 7, 2011 16:23 pm

    I think that you are making the mistake here of addressing a result, and not analyzing the cause of that result.

    It is not the case that the pursuit of knowledge has been rendered useless. It is rather the case that the body of human knowledge is so large that there is value in a new discipline: the discipline of cherry-picking and cross-pollinating knowledge.

    So it’s not the case that specialists are no longer valuable; rather, it is the case that geeks are practicing a new discipline. And of course, they value that discipline more highly than they value expertise, just as many experts would tend to value their discipline more highly than other disciplines.

    What geeks bring to the table, when they are doing what they do well, is the ability to gather together all the information they need to solve a specific problem. They were never experts on the topics that they cherry-picked to get the solution to their problem, nor would they have claimed to be; rather, the skill they brought to the table was the *ability* to quickly identify disparate sources of information, learn them in enough depth to have a useful, temporary understanding, and then integrate them into a solution.

    So the attitude you see in geeks is precisely the attitude you’d expect. If you write a really long article explaining something, it will be ignored, because it can’t be digested quickly. Information sources, such as wikipedia, that can be digested quickly will be preferred. Errors in these information sources are tolerated, because they become obvious when you try to use the knowledge you picked up there.

    It would indeed be unfortunate if everyone stopped focusing deeply on specific problems. It would be equally unfortunate if all the geeks one day decided to become specialists. And it would be particularly unfortunate if practitioners of both disciplines became antagonistic toward one another, which, I think, is the anti-intellectualism you are describing. Just don’t forget that it cuts both ways.

  26. Reply Evan Kaufman June 7, 2011 16:29 pm

    I think it’s not anti-intellectualism so much as the same kind of anti-establishment feeling that has ALWAYS permeated geek culture. We are the People Who Question Everything. We don’t generally trust someone based on their own claims of merit or expertise, we require proof of expertise. That, in itself, puts us at odds with most definitions of “The Establishment”.

    • Reply Barry D June 7, 2011 17:55 pm

      If I can add… “Intellectual” is a label that members of a certain Establishment class give themselves. This class has often been found, in history, working with the conventional ruling class, to exert power over other people.

      Some victims of the intellectual class of their times have been the very people who are responsible for modern science. “Intellectual” is not a synonym for “intelligent”, nor for “deep thinker”. It’s a social class.

    • Reply ES June 7, 2011 17:58 pm

      I do believe that the general consensus is a group of individuals that are generally anti-establishment. Be it the Gen-X crew or just rebellious youth, there is a mass of “the general mass agreed to an establishment and that establishment is jaded.”

      College graduates aren’t nearly the “elite” they used to be – between low quality community colleges, for-profit degree mills and the lowering of standards in education…. you aren’t stupid if you didn’t get a degree – you’re just lazy. “Geeks” could’ve invested a significant amount of time to find a quality Engineering school rather than going for some Liberal Arts Major like all of your peers. You would’ve found instructors and peers capable of challenging you rather than doing 42 book reports on recycled material in over-expensive and outdated textbooks that aren’t relevant.

      And yes, most textbooks *and* courses aren’t relevant: The average “Religion in America” course talks about only Protestants and the Church of England. You’re omitting hundreds of years of history just to cover the same crap the old white guys with cigars in coffee bars did a hundred years ago. Imagine the surprise if “Archaeologists from the Future” discovered our *modern* textbooks saying there are only two religions in America and 6 in the entire world.

      Further, no one recognizes what modern American colleges are primarily used for: networking and finding opportunities. On average, dude in a basement (geek) far more capable with *any* programming language is *not* going to get the job that Bob’s Sports Buddy does. *Especially* in the geek primary field of technology. Nepotism wins. Knowledge loses.

      So yes – why waste time with college? I can find more accurate and relevant information about many topics instantly and easily. It’s far too much work to crank through a degree mill to end up like the blue collar masses that aren’t nearly as capable as the average geek.

      The answer is: to find the best job by discarding your passion for technology.

      The only other option is to keep your passion and be resentful of the current establishment’s bar-setting standard of “googling it.”

      ….. the best Java developer I ever knew was a garbage man by trade.

      ….. the best consultant I ever knew tried to make a SOAP method with 33 parameters. None of which were typed and all of which were strings.

      • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 07:42 am

        ….. one of the best computer scientist I ever met, didn’t finished College, but he is invited to many important computer labs around the world.

    • Reply Matt June 13, 2011 12:03 pm

      What would you accept as proof of expertise? A degree in a certain subject is apparently not enough, so what would you use to measure this? I ask this because I’ve heard a lot of people disregard experts within fields (especially scientists around such ideas as climate change when a commentor online really disagrees with it) so I am just curious. I’m not attempting to troll, I just fear that we will slow our advancement in all academic, or intellectual fields if it becomes totally commonplace to dismiss everyone we disagree with regardless of their credentials.

      • Reply sdenka June 19, 2011 07:54 am

        Who would prove your expertise?

        The learning COMMUNITY on the field will prove your expertise, this community is integrated for people with and without degrees, children or adults, indigenous or urban, etc, etc. The most important is their practical and applicable knowledge they have on the field.

        How you will prove your expertise?

        In a practical and concrete way: helping to your community with your expertise, with a free and volontaire work.

  27. Reply Mark June 7, 2011 16:31 pm

    Most of these “anti-” people are generally and quite simply too lazy to put their nose to the grindstone and acheive a worthwhile degree. The notion that one can, in a like timeframe, gain the tools and learn the theory to be something like an electrical engineer using nothing but the Internet and trial and error is simply absurd.

    Having the discipline to learn abstract and inherently difficult subject matter is something that most will not be successful at without designated curriculum which exercises that specific gray matter. Also, learning to accept the proper criticism of your superiors and your peers is a priceless commodity. This is something that the younger folks are becoming increasingly less capable of. Hence, the “I don’t need college” rhetoric. Well, as Judge Smails once said, “The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny.”

    • Reply Seguin June 7, 2011 18:44 pm

      Hate to break it to you Mark, but most intellectuals don’t think engineers are part of their little group. Take it from the son of one, the brother of another, and the holder of a similarly looked-down upon degree (B.S. in Genetics).

      And if you went to a state school, then they definitely don’t want you as part of their little club. Intellectualism is a status thing, nothing more.

  28. Reply Damian June 7, 2011 16:32 pm

    This has been on my mind for the last few days, and I certainly appreciate the point you are trying to make, I certainly do feel that there is a wave of anti intellectualism, and it is worldwide. It’s funny, because I started re reading the foundation novels and it only reinforced the idea in my head.
    I don’t think I’ve got a handle on it though just yet, and I appreciate your article but I’m not sure that I agree with you on these key points:

    1: Who is a geek intellectual? I don’t consider the people you quoted as geeks, certainly part of geek culture, but not geeks themselves, somebody else posted something along these lines. In truth anybody who is a geek cannot be anti intellectual by definition, someone who identifies himself as a geek, and holds strong anti intellectual views, does not behave as a geek.

    2: There are real reasons for believing that academia is outdated, but if you watch the Ken Robinson talk you alluded to, he says that’s there is a need for REFORM, because schools are not teaching skills people need in the job market AND they don’t teach people to think, he essentially both proves your point and argues in favor of it.

    3: The amount of anti intellectual discourse available on line can be disregarded especially because of anonymity, most people that say that your ideas are old, are probably too young to understand what they are talking about, I myself probably held similar views when I was 14. These are the people that believe that Wikipedia proves their point when in reality it doesn’t, but anyway, this will explain what I’m talking about:

    4: Wikipedia is not about the wisdom of the crowds per se because for anything to survive it needs to be verifiable, I’ll let XKCD make my point: In fact, as long as the moderation system in Wikipedia holds it helps fight the anti intellectualism wave. Meaning: As long as the information is accurate, then you are actually engaging in “scholarly” reference work by using Wikipedia, just like going to a library or consulting youre very own encyclopedia at home.

    5: For anybody that may be interested TLDNR non withstanding, The current situations is that people that have a lot more free time to think about life in general (Philosophy) because their life is made easier by technology, and who do not understand said technology, believe that the pursuit of knowledge is fruitless, (Since we already know all we need to know to enjoy life) (Stop fighting, have a microwave burrito, smoke pot and lets go to a rave, Yes I’m misrepresenting, deliberately). The prediction is that since people do not understand the technology and don’t feel they need to learn how it works (And this of course includes reading “The classics” after all “If I have seen far it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”) will live in slowly deteriorating conditions since they are making sure there are no more people that can understand the technology so it will stagnate. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

  29. Reply A.N. Ignoramus June 7, 2011 16:33 pm

    I think this is a reflection of the Corporatisation of society. Corporations are insane – they pursue policies with little to no long term vision and that put profit above all else, despite this being obviously retarded and destructive.
    The (vast) profits that are made in this manner are threatened by informed people capable of critical, analytical thinking.
    Secondly, Corporate financing of further education, and even secondary education, is informed by this basic irrationality and so, ever mindful of the economics of every action, only that which is required to maintain that profit driven model is taught.
    This is something of a simplification.
    The so called “dumbing down” of education and media output is partially driven by the need to have an acquiescent population – happy to consume and happy to not question why things are as they are.
    These factors, added to the speed with which “knowledge” (answers) can be found, which is really a reflection of the ‘ticked boxes’ nature of examinations (which are in themselves microcosms of the issue here under discussion), combine to produce an apparent anti-intellectualism. It’s as though the method, once learned, is all that is necessary – the actual content can be found using a browser. This misses the essential point that “the content” is the written output of those who have mastered the science/art in question.
    So the net grants us access to the knowledge of others, by which we may take on the appearance of being learned without all that tedious mucking about with actually learning.

    • Reply Seguin June 7, 2011 18:46 pm

      Well, at least you got the name right.

      • Reply A.N. Ignoramus June 8, 2011 01:43 am

        So you don’t actually have anything to say, just a casual insult. That sort of underlines everything said on the thread.

        Go back to youtube, I’m sure there’s something entertaining for you there.

  30. Reply tc June 7, 2011 16:34 pm

    I got my BA, MA, and Unix admin skills. And now, I’m doing a job that can easily be done by a high-school drop-out. Why? Because the world is run by non-geeks with “people skills” who shit on knowledge (PHBs is the term). Actually, this is why I became convinced that God and Satan are real, because so many times when something good comes along, it’s completely transparent that there’s a force of evil which will work to stifle it.

    As regards college, if I had to do it over again, I’d spend MUCH more time trying to find a wife. Behind every good man is a good woman. Single, nerds, they don’t go far in this pop culture dominated society.

    That’s what all of my learning has taught me: Fat, dumb, happy is better than slim, smart, & sad.


    • Reply Justin Megawarne June 11, 2011 18:45 pm

      I found this comment genuinely saddening, and I feel compelled to tell you that I hope you don’t still feel this way. If you value knowledge, you have the essential tool to navigate whatever terrain may come, and I can only implore you to keep trying.

  31. Reply Mark June 7, 2011 16:37 pm

    1. Experts have been known to be wrong, sometimes to the impediment of scientific progress. Ideas should be weighed on their own merits, based on available evidence.

    2. Books are heavy, voluminous, expensive, and difficult to search. I find myself reading more ebooks these days. That’s just about the medium though. People were upset when bound codices started replacing scrolls; the world didn’t end. I’d argue that some physical books are functionally obsolete; telephone directories and printed logarithm tables are notable examples.

    3. The literary canon changes over time. New books get published, and old ones fall out of fashion. It’s been that way since around the time vernacular European literature started catching on. People started reading Boccaccio, and Boethius started to become less relevant. Scientific works are a special case; the published works of Newton, for example, are seldom used as physics textbooks.

    4. Rote memorization should not be confused with knowledge. I don’t bother memorizing phone numbers. Yeshiva students don’t bother memorizing the Talmud. Memorization started falling out of fashion with the advent and increased popularization of writing, followed by printing. Actors may need to memorize bits of Shakespeare; the rest of us can look it up when we need to.

    5. There are many paths to success, and there is no objective definition of success.

    There’s nothing new under the sun. Now, get off my lawn!

  32. Reply Desmoden June 7, 2011 16:43 pm

    i would not equate “anti-intellectualism” with a skepticism of academic institutions and existing “trusted” sources.

    For many really sharp folk with a passion for something they can make money doing college is often a waste of money. Of time? Thats debatable. But certainly money.

    For people who are sharp or not, who don’t know what they want to do. Or for folks who want to be in a “old world” established career like Medicine or Law it’s an absolute necessity. How else would a person growing up on a farm or in an inner city housing complex get exposure to particle physics?

    However, what many of us (myself included) have discovered is that most of what we learned in school is either a.) Opinion more than fact. b.) True for that time because we didn’t know any better or c.) Total BS someone said years ago that everyone blindly followed like lemmings.

    As a result, it’s very hard to understand why I should have spent 20k a year to get an education that was 5-10yrs out dated when I graduated and may be proven to be totally wrong 20yrs later?

    Only if I needed structure, needed to learn how to learn, needed to learn social or team building skills, needed to learn how to binge drink, needed to be exposed to many things to see what it was I wanted to do, or wanted to go into an “old world” career that demands such degrees.

    Otherwise, I can get all the info from iTunes University, TED, Youtube, Discovery Channel, reading on my own, seeking out and befriending those who already know what I want to, or any other source of learning I can find online. And most of it’s FREE

    as a basic rule you should not charge for knowledge. It’s wrong

  33. Reply Ron June 7, 2011 16:45 pm

    “[Students] can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google.”

    This attitude has been percolating through the Education Establishment for 30 years: learn how to learn, drill and kill is bad, facts are irrelevant.

    Society is just simply reaping what anti-Western pseudo-Intellectuals sowed in Academia 40 years ago.

  34. Reply Ross Williams June 7, 2011 16:49 pm

    There seems to be some confusion between elitism and intellectualism. Intellectualism is recognizing the importance of ideas and the creation of knowledge for its own sake. While some intellectuals are also elitists, its not a requirement. And many geeks are elitists, convinced of both their own superiority and that they are therefore deserving of more authority. Certainly more authority over their own lives.

    As a an argument between two sets of elitists over who is superior and should be given more authority, this discussion makes sense.

    • Reply Barry D June 7, 2011 17:36 pm

      More simply, this sounds like a simple power struggle, where credentialed gatekeepers are afraid that their power over other people is being threatened.

      • Reply Ron June 7, 2011 19:17 pm

        “credentialed gatekeepers are afraid that their power over other people is being threatened.”

        Except that credentialed lawyers (via politics and the eternal fear of lawsuits) are gaining power every day, and egg-headed denizens of the Ivory Tower have little control over me.

      • Reply Sdenka June 19, 2011 08:12 am

        Who would prove your expertise?

        The learning COMMUNITY on the field will prove your expertise, this community is integrated for people with and without degrees, children or adults, indigenous or urban,
        etc, etc. The most important is their practical and applicable knowledge they have on the field.

        How you will prove your expertise?

        In a practical and concrete way: helping your community with your expertise, with a free and volontaire work.

  35. Reply K Huie June 7, 2011 16:55 pm

    “spending less time checking basic facts leaves more time to create new knowledge, which is the cornerstone of true intellectualism, in my opinion.”

    Without checking older ideas, facts, methods, you are just re-inventing the wheel over and over (& getting it wrong over and over) while patting yourself on the back regarding your own cleverness. (BTDT)

    “5 minutes in the library can save you 5 weeks of work” G. Westweimer.

  36. Reply Instapundit » Blog Archive » PERHAPS THE PROBLEM IS WITH THE INTELLECTUALS, NOT THE GEEKS: Larry Sanger: Is There A New Geek An… June 7, 2011 17:08 pm

    […] PERHAPS THE PROBLEM IS WITH THE INTELLECTUALS, NOT THE GEEKS: Larry Sanger: Is There A New Geek Anti-Intellectualism? […]

    • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 17:58 pm

      There is a kernel of truth here. Intellectuals are expecting the non-intellectuals to think and that, for many, may not be much of an option.

      Consequently, we may soon see a day when we don’t have scientists, as they will all have been done away with as an unnecessary government expense.

  37. Reply David June 7, 2011 17:15 pm

    Fear not, Larry Sanger. The intellectuals are not diminishing. It’s merely that the internet has given the rabble a voice. These individuals didn’t concern themselves with intellectual pursuit before the internet, and nothing has changed since it’s advent. The majority didn’t store information before Wikipedia either – they just didn’t “know” OR have access to information.

    Those who are intellectual have not been impeded at all. I don’t believe the ratio has shifted at all in the new generations either. The only difference is now you experience the chorus of voices of the incompetent and inadequate, that previously one would not have been exposed to.

  38. Reply Matthew Tippett June 7, 2011 17:23 pm

    There is a balance. There are those that refine new concepts and those that break the mould and define new concepts.

    The defining can be done by anyone, although it will be skewed to those that break the mold – independent of education level. The refining process usually takes some level of knowledge and experience in the field.

    Both of these types are needed, arguably the scales tip in different directions at different times.

    Realize that a lot of the “drop-out” successes that we see have conceptualized without the education, but then have built empires based on the “educated” people building the systems. Most of the companies that these people have founded will not hire drop-outs without a bucket load of experience.

    From what I have seen even within Google, you can’t transfer into some roles without a high GPA – which means you need the education to get progress.

  39. Reply Reuben June 7, 2011 17:25 pm

    Find it interesting in the article and in comments it sounds like Information and Data are being confused with knowledge. I agree that the Internet has made memorization largely redundant- but memorization of facts does not constitute understanding of those facts. By study and consideration, does an intellectual come up with new concepts and ideas.
    One can be an intellectual without having formal education at a societally approved/licensed educational establishment. In fact, i would posit that those who refuse to have their minds twisted into calculators by the Ivy Leagues as more intellectual, at least they come up with their knowledge honestly, instead of the vast majority of those going to college in order to make a bigger paycheck.

  40. Reply TTTCOTTH June 7, 2011 17:29 pm

    The author confuses Intellectualism, Intelligence, and Education. The three can be connected but are mutually exclusive.

    • Reply turkeyfish June 7, 2011 18:00 pm

      I’m not so sure. There is clearly a rise in anti-intellectual behavior, particularly coming from those who do not want science telling them they are wrong.

  41. Reply Endless Fun June 7, 2011 17:31 pm

    Argument by Authority (either of the credentialed individual or the madding crowd) has always been mere sophism. Wave your gnarled stick all you want, curmudgeon, you travel in bad company. I recall the editor of NYT railing against the blogosphere where they’ll print anything and have no standards; but the New York Times is also the reprint house for American Intelligence propaganda. Nobody has any standards; at least the blogosphere is right twice a day. There are no authorities we can trust, but the democratization of research means that there is at least an increased chance that the truth will be amongst the options we can see. There is nothing (*) anti-intellectual in rejecting expertise.

    The typical college student 2011 studies for about eight hours a week, and spends the rest of the time drinking. The typical college graduates these inebriates. The typical college degree certifies only liver function. There is nothing (*) anti-intellectual in rejecting college.

    The K-12 systems needs to be teaching the methods of Polya, not have kids mastering the recitation of propaganda. There is nothing (*) anti-intellectual in rejecting the western educational/indoctrinational system.

    (*) of course the word all of those assertions is missing is “necessarily”. All those institutions are anti-intellectual and need to be reformed or destroyed. At the same time they (and you) propagandize themselves as the homes of intellectualism, so intellectually flyweight (and is there any other kind?) anti-intellectuals attack them as well (rather than rewarding them for a job well done).

    We don’t live in an intellectualist world, we live in a capitalist world. Power comes not directly from knowledge, it comes directly from money. In some scenarios knowledge can lead to money, but we happen to be at a conjunction of circumstances where this is not really true. Money comes from luck, ruthlessness, opportunism, nepotism. A robust intellectual community would be able to inform our exploitation of these opportunities. Robust intellectualism is what we lack; Academia abandoned intellectualism for democracy generations ago.

    There’s a catch-22 after College students cling to the label “intellectual” while rejecting all the substance. They are graduated and become un-intellectual faculty. We passed the critical mass long ago; today an actual intellectual would never get tenure. Are the people who decry them anti-intellectual or anti-unintellectual or intellectual? The word “intellectual” long ago lost the implication “possessing a highly developed intellect” and now means “demonstrating membership in an elite by affecting a learned style”. What does it mean to be anti?

    I think you need to review Fashionable Nonsense. Most of modern Academia is chasing hemlines and rejecting critical thought, and until all that changes there are good reasons to reject college as a waste of time and energy.

    The word elite is tossed around with abandon, with two completely opposite meanings; Shaquille is an elite athlete, by which we mean that his skills and physique are superior to others. And the other meaning of elite, someone who is privileged because of membership in some group but without special qualification, like a graduate of Harvard who is no smarter and no more able than the graduate of Texas A&M but is nonetheless treated better. Now the Harvard booster will jump in and allege that the situation does not exist; Harvard is an elite school precisely because it has standards. I call bullshit: Harvard is full of legacy students, and many of them are as dumb as sticks. Legacy doesn’t scale.

    Most people are incurious; are born clerks who want only to work their eight hours a day then sit on their couch for eight hours daydreaming about their hidden importance while colored lights play across their retinas. Such people need vocational schools and not colleges, and the popular criticism that college doesn’t pay for itself is a criticism appropriate only to vocational studies. A College Education, should it still exist somewhere, enriches your experience of life: it is not there to make you rich. It is an experience for an elite surely, but it is instead reserved for members of a club. If they drive down the demand for college with their rhetoric, perhaps we will again make it affordable for those who deserve it.

    The anti-intellectualism you decry is older than Derrida, it’s as old as Plato; it’s the ocean we swim in. For a brief while the exploitation of computers was intellectually stimulating and the intelligent people were doing that. But not since the mid-nineties when the bubble swelled with ambitious know-nothings have the intelligent people been visible above the crowd. I think they’re all doing biotech now.

    You need to more clearly separate your concerns. Yes google is furthering the degradation of the personal memory that pen and ink started (continued?), but in the end we will simply have humans who think differently. Today the Cathedral of Memory is a parlor trick, tomorrow the ability to jot a note will be. O Tempore!

    As we improve our ability to access information a la google, the ability to intelligently process, filter, analyze is what’s important. Of course tomorrow there will be an App for that, and whomever writes that app rules the world.

    Oh yeah, take an hour and change and watch Desk Set (1957). You’ll see how novel your histrionic whinging really is. Google eliminates the need to memorize! Oh Noes!

    • Reply Seguin June 7, 2011 18:49 pm

      Gig ’em, EF.

      Class of ’04.

  42. Reply Barry D June 7, 2011 17:34 pm

    Apropos of nothing, perhaps, but “knuckle-dragging” is an outdated metaphor. Is the use of such a metaphor itself anti-intellectual?

    Given the significant accomplishments of “geeks” over the past decades, and how much these have change our world, in contrast with the silliness of “intellectuals” (read this article for a fine example “what’s the matter with these kids today” dressed up in erudite language), I have to question what “intellectuals” really have to offer. What does “intellectual” really mean? Turtlenecks and “tut-tut”?

    Who in 2011 believes that “intellectual” is equivalent to “intelligent, informed critical thinker”, anyway? “Intellectual” has become a mail-order identity, all too similar to something as stupid as “goth”, but claimed by people who should be far too old to think like a high school kid.

    When “geek” culture becomes anti-intelligence, and engages in magical thinking and cargo cultism like some of what “intellectuals” appear to espouse, THEN I’ll be worried… Until then, this sounds like the same old crap where some people, afraid of losing their relevance in the modern world, criticize those perceived to threaten them. Have we not seen this before, with different groups substituted for the heroes and villains?

    • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 08:24 am

      Who in 2011 believes that degrees let you have a satisfactory and fulfilling life?

  43. Reply Person of Choler June 7, 2011 17:43 pm

    “For you, the books containing knowledge, the classics and old-fashioned scholarship summing up the best of our knowledge, the people and institutions whose purpose is to pass on knowledge–all are hopelessly antiquated.”

    This is a common attitude, but I wouldn’t blame its prevalence on geeks; I’d fault the colleges and universities who have systematically replaced “old-fashioned scholarship” and respect for intellectual tradition with fads (see Deconstruction) and politically correct indoctrination.

  44. Reply David H Dennis June 7, 2011 17:46 pm

    Why is wanting to read current prose, about your own time, anti-intellectual?

    We are told that we should read Shakespeare, because it holds in it some ultimate truths that we should learn.

    At the same time, Shakespeare is written in some cryptic language that is barely similar to English. In order to understand Shakespeare, you need a dictionary of Elizabethan English by your side. In order to enjoy and genuinely appreciate it, you have to have the contents of that dictionary memorized.

    Surely, I thought in school, there are other, modern authors who also hold ultimate truths. Why should we stick to something hundreds of years old, extraordinarily difficult to read and understand?

    Most of the institutions that exist in Shakespeare’s plays do not exist anymore. Why not learn in more detail about institutions that already exist, that we can relate to? Surely it would be better to learn, say, how Congress really works in the context of a contemporary political novel than how Kings and the Royal Court used to work.

    Personally, what I really wanted to learn is how to write a good story myself, not to listen to someone’s barely translatable stuff. I did great in the one Creative Writing class I was allowed to take, but all of school seems to be about “literature” and writing boring papers nobody would ever want to read, instead of writing something that might be interesting to someone.

    To me the most important thing to learn is how to get the interest of a reader, how to hold it, how to marshal arguments, and so on. Learning literature has always struck me as pointless and an enormous waste of time. Learning how to create your own literature – now that’s interesting.

    A good book is easy to read, not hard. Books that are hard to read simply are not teaching their subjects well. We should learn how to write clearly, simply and in a way that’s easy for people to understand. So why should James Joyce be considered a good example?

    I enjoy reading books that are well thought out, easy to follow and understand, because those books show respect for the reader. Deliberately obtuse (James Joyce) or boring (Thomas Hardy) show a lack of respect for the reader, at least as time-pressed as we are today.

    Classics might be a good history lesson, but I’d prefer to learn how to write by reading current books that reflect the expectations of readers that might also want to read my stuff. I can learn nothing of that by reading Shakespeare.

    Does that make me anti-intellectual, or simply pragmatic? There is an infinite amount of reading material out there. Why not find great stuff from our era and teach it instead?


  45. Reply Sigivald June 7, 2011 17:51 pm

    I see some mismatch in the categories.

    Being “an intellectual” or the subject of “intellectualism” is not the same as expertise, or the possession of credentials.

    Being against the reign of the credentialed expert is not the same as being against the intellect or those who lead the life of it (the intellectuals); it is arguably far more a reaction against a modern tendency for people who are credentialed experts to be incompetent idiots.

    As Reynolds says, “credentialed, not educated”.

    (I confess, as well, that I never did finish War and Peace. But I did finish Anna Karenina, and the Bible (for fun, as I’m an atheist), and staggeringly large amounts of the Canon apart from Tolstoy.

    And point 5 on that list is correct, in that college is in fact typically overpriced, and often not useful; it’s in an inflationary spiral, in fact, and often barely manages to teach at all.

    A good liberal arts education is still very useful – but unless you actively seek one out you aren’t going to get it simply by “going to college”… and if you want one for itself, you can get it for less without getting a degree.

    Given that the degree as a credential is increasingly useless – primarily because it doesn’t actually show that you’re educated, let alone educated in the best and most useful sense – it seems obvious that the degree is not the necessary part.)

    (Disclosures: I have a useless degree in Philosophy. I’m totally a geek. I think Wikipedia is a mess, and Clay Shirky’s kinda of a dumbass.)

    • Reply OsamaBinLogin June 8, 2011 23:56 pm

      I get what you’re saying.

      I think there’s a lot of people who are educated (to some degree), but they have insecurities that lead them to use their knowledge (or credentials) to put other people down. I know I’ve done it, and probably a lot of the people commenting here have done it.

      This turns off a lot of other people, mostly the people who are put down. So, the result is the Sarah Palins, but especially, the people who are Palin’s fans. They just want to get back at the ‘intellectuals’ even if it means disbelieving in the evolution that forces them to immunize their kids year after year. So they act stupid, to spite the intellectuals. The intellectuals (us) put them down More, rinse repeat repeat…

      I think one of the problems is that each human brain is finite. We have a finite capacity to understand, to remember, and the time we have on this earth comes to an end too quickly.

      I have tried to learn French. I’ve got a half bookshelf of dictionaries, phrase books, tapes, even a picture dictionary. I took an evening class, my MOM WAS BORN IN FRANCE for godsakes. To this day, I can pick out a few words or phrases, maybe stumble thru a children’s book, but that’s it. Well, if I go to France (or ah quebec), I cannot converse with those people, even if I’m armed with a Fr-En dictionary, even an electronic one. Does not work, no how no way. (In practice, they speak En to me.)

      The Fr-En dictionary is like Wikipedia. The conversation is like real life, where you have to know it. Looking it up on Wikipedia is not good enough. You, armed with a web browser and Wikipedia, will never be able to remove a person’s appendix, unless you were taught in school (or some comparably fierce experience). You will never write serious computer software, argue against a lawyer in court, or fix high-voltage power lines, unless you got some sort of serious training, more serious than breezing thru a few topics on Wikipedia.

      Is it like, people don’t realize this?

      (Disclosures: I’ve got a degree in Applied Physics, but I’m now doing software that requires I fully understand how to add and multiply 4-digit numbers.)

      • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 08:28 am

        Babies are the best learners, and they don’t need schools, curricula, degrees, etc. to be great human beings.

  46. Reply ZKW June 7, 2011 17:58 pm

    I think that the loss of intellectualism is part of a much larger problem; Humanity seems to have trouble coming to reasonable compromises. When one thing doesn’t work, people often stampede over to the other side of things. Picture this: There is a boat filled with people, suddenly, for whatever reason, the boat begins to tip. Inevitably, one of the passengers will call “Quickly!! everyone run to THIS side!” and thus the boat tips the opposite direction and another shouts “Quickly!! everyone run to the OTHER side!”

    The plain fact of the mater is that any action taken by any one human being is done because that human being thought it the correct thing to do, or, at the very least, not an incorrect thing to do which seemed to benefit a person or persons in some direct or indirect way. (I will just be sticking to “Correct” hence forth as it is much shorter.)

    Let me answer the question before it is asked: Yes, even Hitler. Hitler thought he was doing the correct thing. He thought he was helping the human race evolve. One could argue his intentions were noble, but it is hard to deny that he went about it horribly, horribly wrong. Yet that can be hard to stomach for many, so we strip Hitler of any possible redeeming factor and agree that “Hitler is doubleplusungood.” But it is at this over simplified level where I feel most uncomfortable.

    In George Orwell’s 1984 newspeak, which I used a little of above, is a simplified English. It was constructed by the government to control the people. It went about doing so by getting rid of the words used to form thoughts the government found undesirable. The thing is that it is not just in the book. Something similar is happening because of humanity’s “need” to think simply in a complex world. They go about classifying right and wrong and breaking the world into two piles. This is impossible to do without destroying the complex thought processes that put us on top of the food chain. Why?

    Each human being does what they think is correct. Once you start dividing the world into right and wrong, it becomes difficult to see why another person did something, why that person thinks they are “right”. Which any human being can find difficult to do, even on a good day. You just simply happen to be you and that can make other people confusing.

    The thing is, that it is just human nature to simplify things when they are complex. Which makes it difficult to NOT think in terms of “Right” and “Wrong”, when the world is rarely as easily defined. This causes the cycle to feed its self and humanity, or even just large groups of humans, to have difficulty resolving things.

    Think whatever you want to think, but please do not think simply.

  47. Reply J June 7, 2011 17:59 pm

    Intelletual -> Authority.

    Each appeal to “intellectualism” is actually an appeal to authority. It’s not that we don’t value knowledge, it’s that we don’t respect their pedigree.

    We don’t respect their pedigree because they have devalued it.

    We ask for their data, and they tell us “trust us, we are the experts”. We question their results, and rather than point out a flaw, they attack our credentials.

    We would like schools, if they taught actual knowledge. These days, it’s a form of institutional group-think.

    Liberal arts as taught at college today resemble nothing so much as the medievel church, where the pursuit of real knowledge is discouraged in favor of imposing doctrine.

    No, it’s not that we don’t value knowledge. It’s that the ones calling themselves “intellectuals” are nothing of the sort. They are credentialists.

    The reason for their dismay is that we aren’t buying it anymore.

  48. Reply Justin June 7, 2011 18:05 pm

    Realizing that formal education isn’t worth the money isn’t anti-intellectualism, it’s economics.

    • Reply Greg Linster June 7, 2011 19:13 pm

      Agreed. It’s definitely all about economics, but the problem is that there is more to economics than mere measurable financial incentives. To think otherwise is oversimplification. What about the lost character development and relationship building that occurs during the college years? Peter Thiel is quite well formally educated himself and his critique of formal education downplays the role it may have had in his success.

      • Reply Glen Raphael June 8, 2011 01:20 am

        What about the lost character development and relationship building that occurs during the college years?

        What about it? Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? Somebody who doesn’t go to college will still exist “during the college years”, will still have what he/she later considers “formative years” and will still have character development and relationship building experiences during some stage of life, no? Where do you get the idea that something of importance is being “lost”? The economic concept of “opportunity cost” isn’t just monetary but applies equally to the character development and relationship building experiences somebody could have had were they not wasting quite so much time and money on college.

        Peter Thiel is quite well formally educated himself and his critique of formal education downplays the role it may have had in his success.

        Peter Thiel is running the necessary experiment; in a few years we’ll be able to determine whether the kids he bribed into avoiding school are, in fact, losing valuable “formative experiences” or merely experiencing different ones. I suspect you won’t like the result.

        Can you honestly not imagine any other way people might get the good parts you see in a college experience, than to go to college?

        This isn’t one of Chesterson’s fences – trying to make college universal is a quite recent innovation. People who didn’t go to college in the past (ie, most people) still managed somehow to have character and build relationships, so I suspect they could do so again.

        • Reply Greg Linster June 9, 2011 17:49 pm

          Of course they will still exist. And of course they may still find value in their experiences outside the walls of academe. You may in fact be right, but you might also be wrong. My point was that we have no way of quantifying which type of experience is more valuable. We could argue all day long about what whether a traditional college vs. a non-traditional college experience adds more subjective value, but that would be a futile exercise. The following statement, however, implies that we should use economic thinking in a purely monetary sense when it comes to education, which is what I was arguing against. “Realizing that formal education isn’t worth the money isn’t anti-intellectualism, it’s economics.”

          As for Peter Thiel’s so-called “experiment”, even if the kids are wildly successful, how could you possibly draw any intellectually honest conclusions from his “experiment”? No econometric study could possibly control for all variables that would need to be accounted for.

          Can you honestly not imagine any other way people might get the good parts you see in a college experience, than to go to college?

          No, I can. I never said you couldn’t, but what I will say is that you can’t get the exact same experience. Again, it comes back to the subjective value I mentioned earlier.

          I think we probably agree on more than we realize. I DON’T think that college should be universal. In fact, many people shouldn’t go to college. Check out my essay I linked to above if you’re interested in reading why. I completely understand the financial argument for not going, but to oversimplify the situation by discounting the other factors I hastily mentioned in my first comment is not accurately assessing the situation surrounding the college decision.

          • Greg Linster June 9, 2011 17:54 pm

            Glen, I just realized the link to the essay I mentioned is actually in a comment I made below. Here’s the link: “Is Higher Education Worth It?” Sorry about the confusion.

          • Glen Raphael June 10, 2011 02:17 am

            Sure, the *first round* of Thiel’s experiment required quite a large payment in order to overcome the social pressure to conform. But if it works, the next time around it’ll be an easier case to make; the size of the necessary payments will tend to decline and the applicant pool will both grow in size and become generally less exceptional. Eventually that econometrics study *will* be possible. The way to do it will be to compare *marginal* students – compare the ones who just make it into Thiel’s program to the ones who just miss making it. With a broad enough set of metrics it should eventually be possible to say something useful about the expected outcome.

            If you intend to claim that “character development and relationship building” justifies the time/money/effort investment of college, it would be nice to see an argument for that assertion. Preferably one which recognizes the degree to which nostalgia over one’s college year (or high school years, for that matter) is largely about age and life situation. You’re right that there exist non-monetary benefits to college, but there also exist non-monetary costs to it – largely the time investment but also the cost of options forgone and the risk of *negative* intellectual impacts. I get the sense that’s part of Thiel’s concern – that attending college might harm creativity or productivity compared to reasonable alternatives, much as grade school and high school do versus unschooling for those suited to it.)

          • Sdenka June 19, 2011 08:31 am

            Who would prove your expertise?

            The learning COMMUNITY on the field will prove your expertise, this community is integrated for people with and without degrees, children or adults, indigenous or urban, etc, etc. The most important is their practical and applicable knowledge they have on the field.

            How you will prove your expertise?

            In a practical and concrete way: helping your community with your expertise, with a free and volontaire work.

  49. Reply JMH June 7, 2011 18:20 pm

    You’re confusing anti-intellectualism with anti-credentialism. Colleges have done a poor job recently of ensuring the people they are giving degrees to actually have any useful knowledge or intellectual skills. You can no longer assume a PhD indicates the holder is competent or intelligent. It certainly doesn’t indicate they are open-minded or intellecutally curious. Nor intellectually honest.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t any of those things, but it’s no guarantee. And it’s an awfully expensive institution for producing such a mediocre result.

  50. Reply Typo Squad June 7, 2011 18:51 pm

    In the original text:

    “Altogether too many geeks seemed to be assume”

    Drop ‘be’.

  51. Reply Alex` June 7, 2011 18:59 pm

    I agree with much that is said here. The anti-intellectualism you describe is worrisome. However, its very easy to blame the internet, but the roots of what you perceive could be laid at the feet of universities and intellectuals who, in pursuit of equality on every level, decided to wage war upon against the “western old white man canon.” I believe much of the anti-intellectualism of today can be laid at the feet of those who attempted to enforce a moral equivalence upon all actions and teachings. When everything has the same moral authority and worth, then nothing has any authority or worth.

    There truly is an educational bubble. At some point, universities moved from the business of teaching to the business of enriching their endowments. The anti-intellectualism

  52. Reply Mike Hardy June 7, 2011 19:14 pm

    Wikipedia is extremely useful and has immense breadth. But like all encyclopedia’s, it lacks depth. And I’ve found that that fact, which seems so obvious to me, is not clear to some sober commentators. You get that depth by study at universitites.

  53. Reply enver June 7, 2011 19:16 pm


    To the anti-intellectual ‘geeks’: not knowing what to look for, or being unable to spell it on Google, can make you look stupid some day.

    As a half-geek, half-intellectual (among many other things), I’m glad you wrote this article. Unfortunately too long for a common internet user, especially twitter-addict, as I agree with you; and unfortunately too redundant in the argumentation for intellectuals. I also avoided part of the comments for TL:DR; sorry if I’m now redundant with some.
    I agree with your observation of geek community harboring a noticeable anti-intellectual current. This occured to me years ago, especially by observing americans (so would you please excuse my sometimes awkward phraseology, for this is not my native language; note I love you, too 🙂 ).
    But as some said, it seems to me that at it’s less the geek subculture that is becoming anti-intellectual, than the fact that ‘people’, that are mostly and already anti-intellectual, are now on the web, as using internet became mainstream. There is also the evolution of the ‘geek’ representation in both the medias and masses. Still, as a woman, I still don’t fit the label and common definition in my own country (for geek and intellectual. I hate labels).
    I would have liked you to dig more on the causes, and state more about the consequences of what you point. Because this may be a remarkable avatar of a deep societal problem. I would have loved to read your opinion. Let me make a try with mine.

    What I would like to say is that, especially in the US, there seems to be a widespread will of simplification at all levels. Just look at any blockbuster made in the last 5 years if you need an example. More and more beautiful, but hollower and hollower. Frustrating.
    There may be an explaination to this: ultra-liberal-capitalism. Don’t scream, people. But the will to get more money quicker makes companies hire lesser skilled people and make them work faster. This can be useful, I love it, but kills quality and optimism on the long run. The same occurs for scenarists, programmers, construction workers…
    At the political level, it seems governance needs people to think less about system flaws, in order to stay in place. Better to stay focused on shiny entertainment and consumerism than to think about the limitations of it and the alternatives. There also seems to be a widespread idea that people are not fit to think, decide, and govern by themselves. I disagree. If knowledge was free and education was about responsabilisation, tolerance and the ability to think and learn by ourselves instead of memorizing norms… there would be a revolution (bloodshed is not mandatory).
    Making money and leading the world are intertwinned. Paradoxically, belief is intellectual knowledge is not useful for the first, but specialists are wanted for the second. I think both statements are false.
    On the other hand, it seems we are approaching a turn of times in several countries. You know about the middle east events; but things are moving in europe too. More and more people are rejecting the system, seeing the wall it’s leading us to. Question is, will something really change, or will fear of the unknown and ourselves prevent us humans to go further?

    For some countries, for exemple France where diplomas are so important, the fact that school is mandatory may be an explanation of the common reject of intellectuals. People there feel more and more unsecure in their homes, in their jobs, and do not trust ‘school is the social ladder’ anymore. The French also say the problem of public school is it’s dumbing down view.
    Partly because both are true, and it’s not working so good; partly because of the ‘american dream of the self-uneducated-made man’ (which is more and more a myth, too). Leads many to communautarism, instead of making them seek information and learn more on their own, with this great tool internet. (GPL licence for all!)
    Social control, based on morality, is strong everywhere. I discovered very young that being viewed as an intellectual was a social flaw. I dropped classic studies and became a geek. Then started to learn on my own, and became a kind of autodidact. And years later, all my fellow uneducated friends are on facebook making small talks and know very few about science, history, etc. That would be funny, except that I’m fed up at correcting false statements when they are manipulated, and they are. My country, as the US and France and many others, is going through a social, financial and political crisis. Everybody knows (at least in mine), but most still expect politics and experts to find solutions. It should be all of us as citizens to do it together, not only a few old men with biased motivations.

    To end preaching for my own beliefs, I would like to point out that knowing the past (including books about long dead cultures and how they saw the world) is as useful to build the future, as the new current phenomenons like internet communities providing new social interactions and way of living.

    End of brain upload for today. 🙂

  54. Reply ncloud June 7, 2011 19:16 pm

    This is just the pendulum swinging the other way. We can find truth(s) if we stop evaluating ideas in terms of their opposites, and start evaluating them in terms of reality.

  55. Reply willem June 7, 2011 19:17 pm

    If you’ve not read John Gatto, you’ve missed the critical mass of the issue. What you call “academic” or “intellectual” is not. It’s Victorian; what is not overt transplanted Prussian institutional elitism is “victorian affect” of Hegelianism and it’s domestic sponsor, Big Coal.

    The Hegelians and their “scientisms” were of such concern in the classical intellectual community during the mid-20th Century that groups such as the Mont Pellerin Society (which brought Karl Popper and Hayak together) were formed in reaction and alarm regarding the collapse of intellectual and academic quality under the degrading fabulisms of Victorian scientism and the reverberations of Hegelian condescension and the horrific scientisms: “socialism” and “phrenology”. Ironically, these two pillars of the Victorian academy which are not only still practiced today, but operate in part as formal federal policy.

    Go back to Karl Popper. Read Gatto’s watershed works on dumbing down education. Read Rudy Rummel’s extraordinary life’s work of the serial murder of innocents by Victorian governments operating the utopianism of Hegelian elites seeking the perfection of mankind via the scientism of socialism to create the new progressive man — a doctrine which led to the murder of citizens by their progressive governments in peacetime at a rate 6 times higher that were killed in all wars of the 20th Century. There has been no more murderous or tragic doctrine in the history of man than the Victorian affect and its pretensions of progressivism pursuing the perfection of man.

    The emerging postmodern Americans are no so much “anti-intellectual” as anti-Victorian. Most have not yet put the terms and the history together. American’s who bother to look can see our nation’s frontier and pioneer roots held many classical virtues not found in the present day Victorian conceit, their foundations, their syndicate institutions, their politics and the major political parties which they now entirely control.

    Peel back those things in American society you like least and you will likely find Victorian conceit or Hegelian corruption at the root of it.

    Start with Gatto. Look at what was done with the Peabody money and why. Look at the day prisons called compulsory schooling today and you we see this through different eyes. The same Hegelian movement that brought us compulsory schooling also created and ramrodded the Jim Crow laws of the 1800s as the British banks bankrolled the monopolistic rollup of the American cotton export market and the plantations that grew it. They brought in the sciences of socialism and phrenology to “improve” the slaves whose transit they also bankrolled.

    That same disgusting mentality is dominating our institutions and corporations today.

    There is way more here than meets the eye.

    The “geek” has never been the problem.

  56. Reply Greg Linster June 7, 2011 19:20 pm

    College can definitely be a bad financial investment for many people. That doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being a valuable life experience though. I, however, think the pro-education argument that everyone needs a college degree is a bogus. I wrote an essay about this subject myself titled “Is Higher Education Worth It?”. Just because not everyone needs formal higher education experience doesn’t mean that no one does. The geeks foolishly believe otherwise just as the pro-higher education folks are dimwitted enough to think that everyone needs a degree. It’s just not that cut and dry.

    • Reply cp June 19, 2011 08:44 am

      You should be open mind and don’t focus too much on money, which is only a symbol. You are worth more than you think. A college degree is not an imperative to be a great professional, society will value you according at how much you can share and help people surrounding you.

  57. Reply Orson June 7, 2011 19:28 pm

    My old friend Dr. Hardy is correct. Ironically, for depth, one can begin with the old Encyclopedia Brittanica – precisely the sort of “knowledge source dissed only a half dozen years ago.

  58. Reply Andy Erickson June 7, 2011 19:34 pm

    This post was way too long.

  59. Reply Wolter June 7, 2011 19:48 pm

    Actually, for most people, college IS a waste of time.

    Much like anything else, giving the masses access invariably leads to the dumbing down of pretty much anything. In fact, it couldn’t be any other way. The majority of the population is in the average intelligence range, and members of that group make average decisions, which are invariably detrimental to themselves long term. The demands they make are also long-term detrimental, but once the floodgates have been opened, everyone in that particular business, be it printing, transport (wheeled, air, naval), or education, must “dumb down” their business to cater to the less intelligent, or risk going out of business.

    Think of the number of people who die every year on Mt. Everest because they’re too bloody stupid to respect the mountain they climb! The per-capita death toll rises with every passing year, as more and more people who shouldn’t even be there are given access.

    And so now you have in the hallowed halls of education the equivalent of loud hawaiian shirts and tweed hats where there was once only the gentry.
    I’ve spoken to a number of professors over the years, and one common theme has been their lament of how they can no longer use the same books as they used to because the students simply would not pass the course if they did. Deans exert incredible pressure upon the faculty to “just give them a pass” so that problem students won’t cause trouble. And of course the inevitable outcome of this is that students become even MORE belligerent, even MORE lazy, and college becomes accessible to even LESS intelligent people than ever before.

    And so you end up with the situation today, where the intelligent see the fraud of contemporary college for what it is, and conclude that there is nothing they could learn there (or at least, nothing that would justify the cost).

  60. Reply Nate Whilk June 7, 2011 19:52 pm

    “Once upon a time, anti-intellectualism was said to be the mark of knuckle-dragging conservatives, and especially American Protestants.”

    Who told us that? Intellectuals!

    Obama said his favorite theologian was Reinhold Niebuhr. Has Obama had any public theological discussions? No.

    Wendy Doniger, a theologian at the U. of Chicago, wrote in Newsweek of Sarah Palin that “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.” That’s a ridiculous statement on the face of it. If there’s a context in which that makes sense, the context is ridiculous. At the very least, this theologian should have realized she was writing for the mass media and explained what she meant. But no.

    Sorry, the intellectuals are showing how divorced they are from the reality of the average person. They are Mr. Spock to the average person’s Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk. And unlike Spock, who simply does not comprehend humans, the intellectuals think they’re superior in most ways. In their field, they probably are. But that’s a very small area.

    And let’s not even get into how American intellectuals admire French and German intellectuals, from whom they absorb their snobbery.

    The situation is much like that of journalists, whose reputations have dropped precipitously when the Internet has fact-checked their asses and show how nonsense has been reported as fact and how important facts have been simply not reported.

    And the disproved “hockey stick” of global warming has damaged the reputation of all scientists, especially after we’ve seen how they just circle the wagons and say “nothing to see here, move on.”

  61. Reply John June 7, 2011 19:52 pm

    I’m a little confused, I have a PhD in Electrical Engineering. Am I a geek or an intellectual?

    • Reply Mike Hardy June 8, 2011 22:03 pm

      Probably both. You don’t get a Ph.D. without getting the kind of depth that would usually qualify you as an intellectual. “Geek” is hard to define precisely, though.

  62. Reply JD June 7, 2011 19:55 pm

    It’s not a that geeks are unhappy with knowledge. It’s that they are unhappy with *intellectuals*. Our current crop of ‘intellectuals’ is the least deserving of that title ever, and have wrough inestimable harm upon the world and seem intent upon causing even more.

    An intellectual responds to the critcism of his poor judgement and atrociously bad decision making by…suggesting that we need to restrict content on the internet more.

  63. Reply Gene June 7, 2011 19:57 pm

    Alan Bloom wrote a book back in the day that speaks to this subject entitled “The Closing of the American Mind”…great book, and highly recommended for the anti-intellectual geeks out there.

    As a side-note, Jose Ortega wrote a book called the “Revolt of the Masses”…replace “Mass-man” with “Geek-man” and you have something similar to what you describe in your article.

    By the way, I’m not a “geek” per se, but I am a software developer by trade and I “delve” a bit. But I also read other things called “books”.

  64. Reply Astro June 7, 2011 19:59 pm

    I wonder how much of the geek disgust is with intellectualoids rather than true intellectuals. So many of the so-called intellectuals I’ve known over the years are liberals who haven’t had a new thought since the early 1970s. Even the younger ones are stuck in that era. They read the same type of NYT bestseller books they’ve always read, and echo the same opinions and news stories they’ve heard on NPR, MSNBC, etc. And of course have a sanctimonious attitude toward people not-like-them.
    OTOH, the true intellectuals I’ve come across avoid political labels, are wide-ranging readers who are fascinating, have fresh ideas and see a lot of power to revolutionize society (from the bottom up) with technology.

  65. Reply Daily Pundit » Yup, Yup, Us Knuckle-Dragging Anti-Intellectual Conservatives…. June 7, 2011 20:01 pm

    […] Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? Once upon a time, anti-intellectualism was said to be the mark of knuckle-dragging conservatives, and especially American Protestants. Remarkably, that seems to be changing. […]

  66. Reply Zach Dexter June 7, 2011 20:27 pm

    There’s a difference between being anti-college/school and being anti-learning/knowledge. Also, high schools and college campuses can be anti-intellectual environments their damned selves.

    College is 4 years of your life spent endlessly memorizing and compartmentalizing facts (math/science) or endlessly theorizing over the big picture (humanities). College sells you short by forcing you to pick one or the other, while the real world will still expect you to be well-rounded.

    When our brightest students are feeling like college is a waste of time, that means something is wrong and needs to change. But try saying that to someone who could actually do something about it, and you get branded as anti-intellectual.

    It’s a tad ironic, is all I’m saying.

    • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 08:46 am

      Zach Dexter, I agree with you… +1

  67. Reply Penguin Pete June 7, 2011 20:28 pm

    OK, normally I’m careful not to go overboard on claiming a stake in an idea, but this time I have to risk the charge of hubris:

    I am THE #1 poster child for protesting anti-intellectualism in geek circles. My entire life’s work has been devoted to this cause. More than half the posts on my blog at over five years will attest to that.

    And I have two things to say to Mr. Sanger:

    #1. Anti-college != anti-intellectual!

    It’s just that colleges lately have been more about pumping out diploma-mill quality MBAs at inflated debt-inducing prices than actually turning out useful STEM-career graduates. The problem with college graduates is not that they’re too intellectual, but actually that they are hitting the bottom of the barrel in the brains department.

    This is hitting the tech industry the hardest. It’s a side effect of how fast computing has progressed in the past couple of decades. A self-starter who grabs the route with the lowest barrier to entry in order to master the latest hot tech trend is going to be ahead of the college loop where books have to be published and professors have to attain expertise before a new crop of students can be spoon-fed. Surely I don’t have to reiterate here how autodidacts have attained the same level of respect in computing cultures as their degreed peers; ESR, Jeff Atwood, Paul Graham, and Joel Spolsky have been talking about this for years.

    Meanwhile, I’ve had jobs where I worked my way up from the ground floor and ended up training college graduates who were newly hired and – there’s no point in trying to be tactful about it – I basically found them to be no better-educated than a rock and had to teach them *everything* up to and including how to wipe their own nose.

    #2. BOOOOOY are YOU late to the party!

    The horse has already been stolen, the barn burned down, the ground seeded with salt, and the horse turned into glue and you just now get here and say “We’d better lock that barn door before something happens to that horse!”

    Google the word “elitist”. Everywhere you land, that is one more place where an anti-intellectual has sown a seed. It’s the new epithet to hurl at anyone who has done anything that you yourself have not accomplished. Now Google “arrogant” or “patronizing”. There’s a lot more. These words are used against intellectuals with the same spirit that the N-word is used against African-Americans, with exactly the same kind of feeling behind it. And don’t forget every time somebody lashes back at you for suggesting they “RTFM” or Google for the answer to the stupid question they just asked.

    Oh, and anybody who falls on the anti-intellectual side of the debate has no right calling themselves a “geek”. But of course, that statement alone can get you hanged. The dictionary, that’s one more authoritative book there.

    Anti-intellectualism: Don’t look now, but you’re soaking in it. Ask any help-desk employee, going back to even before computers, and also consult with some spirits in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, who can tell you a thing or two about anti-intellectualism. To quote Wikipedia:

    > “During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups who had the potential to undermine the new state (including intellectuals or even those that had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses) and killing many others for even breaching minor rules.”

    Yeah, there’s about a shelf-full of books already on this subject.

  68. Reply Dumb know-nothing June 7, 2011 20:29 pm

    On the contrary, I am a self-made man. I started as so many others did. A poor kid From the wrong side of town that slipped through the cracks. As far as geeks go, I did pretty well for myself and have taught many classes and hosted a number of seminars on the subjects of computer systems architecture, security, network security and systems design to college students in a college classroom. Not only did I fail to get myself a college diploma before I called myself a professional; I didn’t graduate from high school either.
    The problems with college and the technical world is not new. In fact, its very old. I started working in 93 in the tech field without paper of any kind. Ability is the commodity in the tech industry that is in high demand, not theory or science. Moore’s law insists that our computers become more powerful every 2 years. That requires game-changing events in the industry driven by consumers. This violently changes the landscape of everything digital. What is a sought after skill will surely turn into something a million freelancers with laptops will do for $5 a day six months from now. Imagine that happening to your trade every six months. Would you take a few years off work to go to school? Everything you knew would change so drastically that your ability to do your job would be crippled. Unless you want to work in a farm, you have to stay out of the barn. Welcome to my world.

  69. Reply Dr. Kenneth Noisewater June 7, 2011 21:00 pm

    Depends on the Intellectual. Being against intellectuals that seek to leverage their knowledge of a particular subject into political power to advance their wide-ranging ideology? HELL YEAH I’m against that. I’m also against Intellectuals that are also hypocrites, espousing a particular ideology for others, but not for themselves.

    And anyone in Paul Johnson’s _Intellectuals_, they can all eat a bag of d–ks and die in a fire, except they’re already dead. Especially Rousseau and Marx, f–k those guys.

  70. Reply Person of Choler June 7, 2011 21:03 pm

    I wish someone would clarify what an “intellectual” is, at least for purposes of this discussion.

  71. Reply Tensigh June 7, 2011 21:04 pm

    He makes some good points and occasionally shoots himself in the foot. Here’s what’s really happening:

    The author is realizing that the un-educated or “anti-itellectual” movement isn’t actually from who he judged as anti-intellectual previously. He revealed a lot in his statement that it used to be for “knuckle dragging conservatives”, to which he specified “Protestants”. He mentions surprise that it’s not them “anymore”.

    What he fails to see is that it never WAS those “knuckle dragging Protestants”. The anti-intellectual movement BEGAN on the left! It always was and always will be the “anti establishment” left that disparages classics, tears down traditional education and labels any previous methods of education as “outdated”. He’s just beginning to see that his real allies in such education are the people he previous put down.

    Ironic, too, that he uses the politically correct term “humankind” instead of “mankind” while lamenting the lack of tradition in education. Very revealing.

  72. Reply Jack June 7, 2011 21:14 pm

    I agree with some aspects of your piece.

    There is a definite geek culture against the intellectual establishment, and some voices, and many actual examples, are telling people that they can drop-out and build a billion-dollar website, enjoying success in a “scientific” industry, without having to go through the educational peer-reviewed wringer.

    However, I think this is nothing new from “youth culture”, and I think you’re confusing anti-intellectualism, with anti-establishment feelings.

    I don’t think people are decrying education, just the rote style of education currently practiced. Plenty of facts, particularly in subjects like history, really are not worth memorising. Even in physics and math there seems to be an emphasis on learning formulas, rather than on understanding what those formulas mean – the classic example is learning the area of the right-angled triangle. By rote learning, it is simply 1/2bh. Learning that is enough to allow students to become productive triangle-area-calculators, but a simple geometric description shows clearly WHY it is so, and offers far more insight into the beauty of mathematics.

    People are not against books as such, they have just recognised that books are a form factor, just like the 4-minute or so music single that had to fit on a ’45 vinyl record. Scientists publish their ideas in books, because that’s the form-factor that publishers deal in. It would save everyone a lot of time if they didn’t have to pad their ideas to fill a 200-page book, and perhaps even better if books were more interactive, animated, and so on.

    Part of the problem is the speed of change. Old, wise, experts are most respected in fields that change slowly, as their expertise is still relevant. When things are changing quickly, new skills are needed, and of course the old establishment will face accusations of irrelevance, or even of holding back progress.

    On the other hand, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. I think the perception of the rate of change probably far exceeds the reality, especially amongst the young.
    Superficially hemlines go up and down, computers get smaller, user interfaces brighter, but something at the core really hasn’t changed much at all. Us, perhaps.

  73. Reply OldSchoolGeek June 7, 2011 21:17 pm

    I’m confused as to how individuals that call themselves geeks also classify themselves as anti-intellectuals. Don’t geeks embrace knowledge, as it enables them to achieve? Has geek culture been debased by its push into mainstream culture, such that the majority of those that call themselves “geeks” really aren’t, and simply are looking for approval with that label that society has deemed as its new hot item now that we live in a more technology-enabled culture (with regards to computing)? If this is the case, then wouldn’t these same individuals have simply been the same masses that us more old-school geeks would have traditionally been shunned by? Perhaps the comment regarding it being the hipsters (posers if you will then?) being the more appropriate classification has some merit here. Oh, and to the folks that say this article is too long, wow, if you don’t have the attention span to get through this, then I’d say it is a lack of your own mental capacity to digest this and no fault of the author – your ignorance really shines through loud and clear.

  74. Reply wai June 7, 2011 21:21 pm

    A very interesting thread.

    Anti-intellectualism is certainly not new. I don’t believe geeks are becoming anti-intellectual, I think anti-intellectuals are simply calling themselves geeks because geeks have become “cool”. In essence, THEY haven’t got true geek credentials, which must include not only cool toys but a deep understanding of them. And when did “geek” ever equate to “intellectual”? Geeks were collectors of arcane knowledge. They were knowledgeable, not necessarily intelligent (an important distinction for this conversation).

    Anti-intellectualism is a reaction by people who are not particularly intelligent (by lack of capacity, lack of opportunity, or lack of self-discipline) that is mostly sour grapes. They convince themselves that they don’t really want what they can’t have anyway.

    So, to be intelligent (the true issue for which “intellectual” is a proxy here), you must combine factual knowledge with the ability to analyze and synthesize information. All three aspects must be cultivated somehow. How you get there is not restricted to one true path, however, there are some harsh realities: most people lack self-discipline; even with self-discipline, solo learning is HARD because there is no one to test your ideas with or to ask questions; and solitary intelligence is necessarily limited by available time and effort.

    Colleges provide the most efficient environment where you can become intelligent. The fact that most students don’t realize that goal, even if they complete the curriculum, is a comment on humanity, not colleges. That’s why in intelligent circles, a degree is the beginning of the evaluation of someone’s capacity, not the end. What college, what major, and how well you did are the shorthand for a basic evaluation of intellectual competence. You can be just as intelligent without setting foot in a university but the odds are against you and you will need to establish your credibility through some other means that will take time and effort.

    And that’s the true problem with the anti-intellectual movement, geeky or not: anti-intellectuals demand that equality of their value as human beings must extend to equal regard for their “ideas”. When an opinion must be regarded as equal to a demonstrable fact, we have foolishness. When a demonstrable falsity (sometimes called a “lie”) must be given equal weight to a demonstrable fact, we have insanity. That’s where we are today.

    The idea that looking something up on the web is the same as an intelligent grasp of a topic is to confuse facts with knowledge. Poincare nailed it long ago: “Science is built of facts the way a house is built of bricks; but an accumulation of facts is no more science than a pile of bricks is a house.”

    The person that alluded to Watson’s performance on Jeopardy proved the point (but not the one he intended). Watson displayed what passes for intelligence now: the ability to fetch facts on demand. I don’t think anyone would claim, however, that Watson understands its answers. Without understanding, there is very little intelligence or intellect.

  75. Reply Endless Fun June 7, 2011 21:42 pm

    Have you checked out the Wikipedia page for Paul Revere, specifically the talk page? What’s interesting to me is that the Palinistas can be as serious and intellectual as the anti-palinists, they simply have different standards for what constitutes a reliable source, what constitutes a reasonable inference, and consequently what truth and history are.

    e.g. Obviously Sarah Palin as a prominent Politician, widely quoted, former governor and presidential candidate constitutes a particularly reliable source.

    You may (and no doubt will;) argue that that is misunderstanding of what the words mean, but that is an argument you cannot successfully put forward in a modern university. Theirs is simply a different epistemology, no reason to privilege yours. You might check out the book Higher Superstition.

    I’m not suggesting that the geeks you lambaste are right to reject Academia out of hand (they’d need the ability to reason to be capable of “right”), but rather that there is not really any way for them to be exposed to the habit of intelligent thought any more. Do you think your essay is really all that well constructed? This is the age of shoddiness. Innumerable hurried utterances.

    I should respond directly to your five points and your manifesto:

    1) Authorities can give you pointers as to where to look, but you can’t rely on them for knowledge. They lie, just like anyone else. They have hidden motivations, ground axen, all the usual baggage. Revisit the Autism/Vaccine scandal. Was Dr. Wakefield no expert? Look what terrible price children paid because their parents subscribed to your world view. Please no special pleading. Reread Robert Kennedy’s highly influential essay.

    2) Physical books that collate information on a topic are pretty damn obsolete, even fresh ones by the time they’re published. I will always go to the internet, usually starting with Wikipedia, if I want to get started on a topic. I understand that my government pays thousands of people to slant wikipedia articles in favor of its fascist interpretation of history; but my cost-benefit analysis says that payoff in speed of access is worth it. Books were never immune to the influence of power, and both books and wikipedia are mere authorities. They do not propagate “knowledge”, only gossip, and we must learn to find the knowledge that we need despite them.

    3) Narrative fiction can be loosely divided into internal and external; external narration is probably nigh-obsolete replaced with multi-sensory narrative (e.g. movies); internal narrative is still best done in text. You couldn’t pay me to read War & Peace; Tolstoy is a crap writer and the translations don’t help, and it’s long and boring except for the dancing bears. Strike that, Tolstoy can even make dancing bears boring. But I’ve read The Idiot and the Possessed (the Devils) and quite a few books from that era. It’s about other times and places and no doubt as irrelevant as Austen; there’s no accounting for tastes. I certainly wouldn’t require it of someone and expect them to be happy. The physical version of text narrative is rapidly obsoleting itself; physicality raises my cost of acquisition and maintaining inventory (shelf space).

    4) Well duh? I mean, what were dictionaries for? Thesauri? Annotated Shakespeare? I’m completely unclear whence your outrage. My wife can recite almost any classic Start Trek script verbatim; me, I need to look them up. In the 15th century, her feats of memory would have been almost ordinary…for the educated classes. There’s always going to be something you remember and something you don’t remember. What you miss saying here is that without a basic grounding in both fact and reasoning the person has no way to sanity-check what they find when they consult Wikipedia. For my part, I’m pretty sure Paul Revere did not wear a bicycle helmet. He was after all a patriot and no liberal.

    5) Certainly a type of success is a lengthy NFL career, so if you’re good at football in high-school you don’t need to study. Quite similarly, yes a few thousand people out of millions have dropped out of college (apparently you need to GO to college, but not stay) and become wealthy. If there is an error in this reasoning it is probably not in the “it’s possible to be successful without college” part. Where would Google be if Page & Brin had waited to finish their graduate degrees?

    Your manifesto is pretty much a run-on block of text which is weirdly in the second person instead of the more usual first. It’s TL;DNR to all sensible people and makes me suspect you’re a fan of Ayn Rand. Still:

    I’m not sure what it means to be a fan of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, as opposed to say a fan of insight or understanding or a fan of accomplishment. It’s pretty much inarguable that those chumps who master facts without mastering the application of facts to real world problems or mastering the social dance will end up working for those who have mastered the basic building block skills of management. Why on earth would someone who derides people skills expect to be put in charge of people?

    Just because I feel derision for people who point to their credentials when questioned about their conclusions doesn’t mean I necessarily feel derision for all experts. I merely feel derision for anyone who tells me that they are an expert. Why would I care about that? Do you have insight into the problem at hand? Can you justify your conclusions? It’s perfectly all right if you can’t; that’s just a data point. Lacking firmer arguments it may have to do.

    Similarly I have absolutely no interest in knowing that someone is brilliant. I’m interested in whether what they say can be made to make sense, whether it can be used to shed light on a problem.

    You seem to have an obsession with recognition and respect. I propose to you that these are the concerns of an older person who fears his or her faculties are failing. (Alternatively: someone suffering from impostor syndrome)

    Let me tell you a little anecdote from my workplace:

    The CTO is in my cubicle and we’re discussing something and he gets frustrated and says that I’m not making my proposed solution particularly attractive. I tell him that I have not the slightest interest in persuading him to take my advice. He says, “Then why am I talking to you?” and stalks off.

    After a short while he comes back. I tell him that he’s talking to me because that’s part of getting his problem fixed.

    “Listen to me, I’m the expert” sounds sort of pathetic. Respect is not something you demand, Larry, it’s something you can’t escape.

  76. Reply Marko June 7, 2011 22:39 pm

    Just because people dislike experts and books and intellectuals does not mean they are against knowledge. Wiki, free for all students to read, is the future of knowledge. Books cost too much for poor children, and are always out of date before they are printed- even e-books. Someone who has a car and thinks horses and buggies are silly, that person is not “anti-transportation”. In fact, the person who clings to the book is the one who is against knowledge. What good is a book that only rich people can read? Worthless. If you want to give knowledge to the world the only way is wiki.

    • Reply Gio Cielo June 7, 2011 23:45 pm

      @Marko June I’m sure you understand that not all books can be represented through Wikis. Instead the Wikis are an evolved form of Encyclopaedias that stemmed from Vannevar Bush’s idea of the memex (Atlantic 1944?). Wikis help people search for ideas faster than the traditional Index Pages or tabs that have been replaced with searching algorithms.

      In the Computer Science, we learn that algorithms are used to determine the efficiency of a certain implementation. In this scenario of Wikis versus Encyclopaedias, Wikis win because of their efficient search and online dictionaries could also be favourable. Efficient searching, however, should not be confused with efficient learning. A wiki most often shows the tip of the iceberg but will not yield its depth.

      Books aren’t the sole answer to this article because Larry does not propose a full solution. Instead, he introduces the problem and its growing importance. Although printed works is dying, there should be alternative answers that inhibit learning.

      Personally though, I’m currently 17 and I love both my books and my e-books. Books are worth more to me because they can physically encapsulate my knowledge and I can use my natural senses to perceive that: I can see its size, I can feel its weight, I can smell its age. Printed books allow me to give a physical estimation of how much knowledge the book may provide me. Although I’m a programmer with many math achievements that follow, I cannot look at an e-book and say that 4MB of data is worth something. It’s the combination of skills and effort put into the book ranging from typography, van de graaf canons, and mechanical printing that allow me appreciate their existence.

  77. Reply Shawn Levasseur June 7, 2011 23:12 pm

    The depth and breadth of the counter arguments to the article within these comments serve to highlight the failings of that article.

  78. Reply Michael Jeffcott June 7, 2011 23:36 pm

    IMHO, your essay attacks the weakest form of “anti-intellectualism.” The issue is not that learning and knowledge are outdated. The issue is that the 20th century credentialing system is outdated and far too expensive in the digital age. It was surprising to me that neither you nor the comments mention Bill Gates said last year that the best education in the world will be online within 5 years. Which isn’t surprising, because all you need to learn (and signal that you’ve mastered) a discipline are:

    1.) An expert-crafted syllabus
    2.) Internet access, so you can access all the books, videos, lectures, etc. which can be created at zero marginal cost.
    3.) A healthy diet so your brain can function
    4.) Time for your brain to organize itself
    5.) Discipline/motivation, so you actually learn
    6.) Hands-on experience to the extent that it is necessary (though this is often obtained after credentialing)
    7.) As close to an objective assessment mechanism as you can find, for feedback and ultimately credentialing

    Those 7 things can be provided far more cheaply than academia currently cares to admit. The sad reality is that the credential goes to the person who can afford to pay the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for it, when the expertise can be acquired more cheaply (both in time and money) outside of academic institutions.

    So is it surprising that many people, including techno-geeks, are opposed to extortion by monopolistic, overpriced credentialing institutions? Knowledge should be treated as a public good, not as a good whose value derives from its artificial scarcity.

    • Reply perromuerto June 8, 2011 00:54 am

      Do you really believe that you can educate an engineer,
      a medical doctor or a scientist whitout laboratories?

      • Reply Michael Jeffcott June 8, 2011 14:16 pm

        I direct you to point #6. “6.) Hands-on experience to the extent that it is necessary (though this is often obtained after credentialing)”

        Also, the link I posted answers the same question. Do I believe we can educate doctors, engineers, or scientists without labs? Obviously not. But if my doctor had completed an accredited online program, had done well on her medical board certification exams, and had successfully completed her residency, then I would have no problem whatsoever with taking my child to that doctor.

        Apprenticeships, internships, residencies, labs, etc. are still very necessary, but to the extent that the dissemination of knowledge/expertise can be made significantly cheaper through the use of digital technology, then credentialing should also be made significantly cheaper.

        • Reply Markus Pfister June 21, 2011 20:27 pm

          For what it’s worth, by way of background, I am a recent convert to the value of formal learning.

          I think with Point 6 (6. Hands-on experience to the extent that it is necessary (though this is often obtained after credentialing)) we come close to the nub of the issue.

          My previous ‘anti-academicism’ was based in large part on my criticism of the lack of practical experience inherent in learning as I experienced it. A valid criticism, but I, like the anti-intellectual geeks of this article, made the mistake of therefore rejecting the entire thing on the basis of a single weakness.

          In fact, hands-on experience is absolutely vital for contextualising the information learnt formally. I am both a (not very successful) student and (very successful) teacher, and I am convinced by my own experience that contextualisation is not an airy-fairy trendy catchphrase but provides the relevance that is essential for motivation and learning.

          One thing I miss, though, as brilliant as I am in my chosen field, is not only the credentials, but also the completeness of having studied the subject formally, as boring as that can sometimes be. Formal study is the cheatbook that lets you solve the puzzle when you get stuck; it alerts you to areas you would have missed on your own; it speeds up the process of putting two and two together; and it saves you from having to reinvent the wheel.

  79. Reply Gilles Ratbits June 7, 2011 23:50 pm

    Replace “classics” with “Pokemon” and you’ll see how pointless this argument is.

  80. Reply sopor June 8, 2011 00:27 am

    Many years ago I went through a phase where I considered methods and processes to be the essence of an educated mind, and mere facts to be best looked up when needed. Why bother having a clue what number Pi is when you know how to derive and calculate it? I took this to the extreme of even scorning technical terminology as mere jargon. Why waste precious memory on all these esoteric terms that are really just conglomerations of description in simpler, purer, more orthogonal and universal language?

    A mentor once pointed out to me, “You have to know the jargon in order to *communicate*”. Humans have a pathetic amount of working memory. Memorized jargon lets us build concepts too complex to hold in our minds if thought of only in terms of first principles. Likewise, memorized constants and equations are crucial for quick mental calculations that will let you accomplish things in a reasonable amount of time. Nobody is going to wait for you to derive pi when all you need to do is figure out how much a manhole weighs!

    Computers are fantastic collectors and collators of information, but the human mind still excels at synthesizing new knowledge by combining and extending seemingly unrelated pieces of knowledge. When a person devotes enough time to moving “mere facts” from records into his working memory, we call him or her an expert. If he sees one problem, he can use the facts in his memory to solve that problem in a way no computer has proven any more capable of doing than a human who knows nothing at all.

    This is the heart of the problem as I see it. The best ideas, when explained by a genius, force one to smack his own forehead and say, “Of course!”. Great ideas are almost always obvious when viewed in the right light. A+B=C. Simple! So why is it that experts still come up with most of them? Most possible A’s and B’s don’t add up to C. Only somebody who knows a lot of seemingly unrelated A’s and B’s is going to be able to conceive of C.

    The attitude that education is pointless and facts are best looked up only when needed is not an attitude any self-respecting geek should hold.

    • Reply mike3 January 9, 2012 21:01 pm

      @sopor: very GOOD

  81. Reply Candidus June 8, 2011 00:33 am

    Thanks for the provocative question.

    You entertain the idea that you are erecting a straw man, but stick to your guns. I’m not particularly familiar with the geek movement, however, while I recognize that you have identified popular targets of criticism, I don’t recognize all the reasons you identify, or associate those arguments with geeks.

    Replying directly to your points:

    1. Expert knowledge vs. democratic knowledge. It’s important to see these arguments in context. It isn’t anti-intellectual to argue that expert knowledge should be subject to interrogation. (As to your argument, if one believes knowledge flourishes in open discussions between people equally empowered to question and to think, then one is not against knowledge in all its manifestations.)

    2. I haven’t seen the critique of the book married to the critique of the author in quite that way, though I don’t doubt you have. I have a sentimental attachment to authors, but I’m willing to put it up for discussion. There are systems of knowledge that put less value on individual authors (see the Upanishads or the Diamond Sutra, for example). To establish the anti-intellectual bona fides of a critic of authorial privilege, you would need to probe their views of schools, circles or anonymous traditions of thought.

    3. The classics. Any canon of literature should always be open to debate. Personally I’ve never enjoyed reading Tolstoy, so I’ve never finished War and Peace. I’ve enjoyed Dostoyevsky, so I’ve read lots of his books. I much prefer Chekhov to Turgenev, and I have a modest appreciation of Gogol. It doesn’t follow from the criticism of one particular author or novel as boring and irrelevant that the critic disdains all novels, or is attacking the work from a position of total ignorance. If anybody ever forced me to read War and Peace on the grounds that it belonged to a canon, I might come out forcefully against its canonization–but of course I reserve the right to actually read it someday and make up my mind then. Also, there are intelligent criticisms to be made of canonization itself, not all of which can be reduced to a position against canonization in general.

    4. Of course we all recognize the argument here from Phaedrus, and Derrida’s critique springs immediately to mind.

    5. If somebody explicitly values brightness and creativity, that’s not a strong indicator of an anti-intellectual attitude. It’s unfortunate that for many college is not associated with brightness and creativity. If we are honest, though, we should recognize that many students take a utilitarian view of college, and many colleges aim to meet the needs of those students. As a result, many bright, creative people are ill-served by college, not because they disdain knowledge for its own sake, but because they value it.

    In summation, there is something of a tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life, which, being more attuned to rugged individualism than foreign anti-intellectualisms, is neither wholly negative nor positive. It sometimes gets on my nerves, but so does the veneration of intellectuals, so it often feels like a necessary corrective to excesses which are, when boiled down to their essence, stupid.

  82. Reply Peter Welch June 8, 2011 00:33 am

    This is definitely tl, dnr if attntn spn is shrt.

    As someone who went to college, has read the classics, has no memory, and is a software engineer who has a writer, I have this to say:

    The classics per se (per se, per se) have less bearing on modern culture than they did in their own time. The self-righteousness of the technorati is disappointing, but no more or less than the self-righteousness or every other up and coming generation learning in a new way. I and most of my kind could not make a living at our ludicrously overpaid occupations without standing on the underpaid shoulders of everyone who came before us, and knowing that probably creates some defensiveness over how we learned our trade and how we continue to profit by it, but the fact remains that it is now possible to do an insanely difficult job with google and the occasional handbook. In my interviews and my work, I find myself becoming defensive when people ask me obscure computer theory questions because I think they should just love me because I can get the job done, which many people who do know the names of a thousand algorithms and design patterns can’t, so why should I have to know the name of what I can do?

    On the other hand, I learned how to get the job done through a combination of college and waiting tables.

    So I think you and your detractors are both wrong. Memory is nice, but not knowledge. The ability to find a fact is more important than knowing it, says my boy Einstein. That finding a fact (or at least, hopefully, given the state of most online discourse) is so easy you don’t need an education or access to anything more than a computer has given the pseudo-intellectuals a run for their money, but this in no way endangers people actually capable of putting facts together in a meaningful way.

    College is pointless for some. I treasure the insane amount of drugs, sex, and booze I encountered in college: it was an education par excellence, as I would not have had the breadth of experience that let me put together facts and figures in the sensible and lucrative way I do now.

    Memorization is not a particularly useful talent. It’s also shooting yourself in the nose to not expose yourself to things you don’t think you’re interested in. The knowledge that can be gained in a lifetime of study pales in comparison to the knowledge available on a wireless connection, and it’s easier to summon at a moment’s notice; the ability to put that knowledge to use comes from a desire to have and use knowledge, and that is the potential of higher education. Sadly, that potential has been squandered throughout history, but it’s always accessible to people willing to fight for it.

    The anti-intellectualism you illustrate is more a reaction to the failure of the institution of education to incite some kind of love of learning, combined with the best tools humans have ever known for stimulating the autodidactic. I prefer my own age group (ancient at 30) of autodidacts because we remember having to fight for it back in the day, but I understand why the whippersnappers of the last couple of decades get snippy about anything relating to the old ways. They lose by not looking into the past, checking their sources, and crossing their T’s, but they have a right to be angry about an educational system that consistently failed a dozen generations.

    To be sure I don’t take any observable side, they absolutely make asses of themselves by attacking experts or people devoted to study, because the particular facts searchable through google wouldn’t be available without them.

    Also, I’m crazy drunk, excuse the language.

  83. Reply Anti-intellectualism? Yes! But only among poser geeks… | Michael John Slater June 8, 2011 00:41 am

    […] Anti-intellectualism? Yes! But only among poser geeks… TweetIf you haven’t read it already, you need to take a quick side step over to Larry Sanger’s blog and read Geek Anti-intellectualism. […]

  84. Reply perromuerto June 8, 2011 00:50 am

    I want to see those anti-intellectuals trying crowd wisdom
    for a real disease, instead of a qualified, university
    trained medical doctor.
    And I also want to see someone who never had any formal
    education in an engineering school, technology institute
    or university, designing, building and/or managing a power
    generation facility, electric power system, communication
    infrastructure, oil refinery, etc.
    This looks like a classical populist attitude.

    • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 08:56 am

      ….. one great computer scientist I ever met, didn’t finished College, but he is invited to many important computer labs around the world.

  85. Reply Becky June 8, 2011 00:56 am

    brevity is the soul of wit

  86. Reply watson June 8, 2011 02:08 am

    1. a. Of or relating to the intellect.
    b. Rational rather than emotional.
    2. Appealing to or engaging the intellect: an intellectual book; an intellectual problem.
    3. a. Having or showing intellect, especially to a high degree.
    b. Given to activities or pursuits that require exercise of the intellect.

    anti-intellectual – a person who is uninterested in intellectual pursuits lowbrow, philistine
    pleb, plebeian – one of the common people
    anti-intellectualanti-intellectual – smug and ignorant and indifferent or hostile to artistic and cultural values

  87. Reply glen stark June 8, 2011 02:30 am

    I agree that there is a tendency to anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in our society. I also agree that this has spread to so-called “geek culture”. While I agree with most of your basic assumptions, and many of your conclusions, I have some issues with many of the specifics in your article.

    First, your post equates intellectualism with university education. You conflate dislike, distrust, and/or contempt for traditional educational systems with anti-intellectualism. It is entirely possible to admire intellectual thought, strive for intellectual rigor, and apply a curious and analytical nature to the world at large without attending university. Particularly in America, where universities have become commercial institutions, bound tightly to our corporate masters and elite power structures, it easy to imagine losing interest a formal education. As a noteworthy example, I encourage you to read Noam Chomsky’s thoughts on his educational experience (see for example “Chomsky for Beginners” if you want a lightweight, easy overview). Chomsky, widely considered the “worlds leading intellectual”, professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, himself felt disgust and a lack of interest with formal education, and only landed in his academic career by having the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a professor who recognized his intellect, provided him a way around the traditional academic path, and provided him with the intellectual stimulation he was craving.

    Secondly, memorizing facts is not a measure of intellectual achievement. Certainly a certain store of knowledge is required to make useful connections, but being able to process and analyze information analytically and sceptically is a far better measure of intellectual achievement than the ability to recall reams of facts. I consider this point to be self evident, but if you disagree, please contact me and I will go to some effort to argue the point.

    Thirdly, a certain contempt for “experts” in a field does not constitute anti-intellectualism. Human progress (and not just scientific) requires us to question assumptions and accepted beliefs, even if these are those held by “experts”. One of the statement Galileo made that most upset the Catholic church, was his opinion that the opinions of all of the experts of the world had not the worth of one man’s reason and observation. Let me ask you, who do you consider more of an intellectual: Galilleo Gallilee, or the most advanced and esteemed experts of his age, those who had risen to the highest ranks of the Academe of the time?

    There is something to be said about trusting the opinion of an expert when you don’t have the capacity, time, energy or information to investigate a subject yourself. Knowing ones own limitations is both intellectually and emotionally challenging. But beyond this element of self-knowledge, trusting an expert is not the same as exercising your intellect.

    While I fault the intellectual rigor of your observations, I agree the basic conclusion. I consider it small wonder however. “Geekdom” seems to be a kind of tribalism, with loosely defined membership criteria which seems to consist of an enjoyment of science-fiction and/or fantasy, being better than average with computers, and having an inflated estimation of one’s own intelligence. I think back in the seventies, before Corporations and their marketing departments started twisting the culture of the programming world, there was a certain amount of intellectualism prevalent in the computing world. Now however, the computing world is dominated by business. They require people who can program and develop software, which requires a certain amount of intellect and skill. They are however, fundamentally, destructive hierarchical social structures which weight obeisance over intellect. So our jobs, and the corporate owned media (entertainment and news) teach us cultural values of anti-intellectualism. We are encouraged not to make connections.

    Of course, confusing intellect with memorizing the opinions and claims of academic experts doesn’t help either.

  88. Reply Kyle Wild June 8, 2011 02:55 am

    It seems your article repeatedly conflates intellectualism with academia and education with formal education.

  89. Reply motivium June 8, 2011 03:16 am

    Most people shouldn’t go to college, this is because they are not motivated enough to really stick with it and further themselves. A lot of people fail or get mediocre results leaving them confused and lost. College and intelligence is changing to support these unfortunate-as-it-is-to-say , but, halfwits. However, it must be said that much of what contributes to individual intellectualism and intelligence is out of the control of the person. Too much games consoles and TV kills more braincells and alcohol and dope!

  90. Reply Stinger June 8, 2011 05:37 am

    Thank you for writing this article.

    Obviously, the problem is of the new attitude which disregards the possibility that a person who has spent considerable time on a subject can know more about it than ten people who have barely spent any time at all.

    I will share my personal story here. After a good 8 – 10 years of staying away from books and spending all my life on the internet, i came to realize something: that while a lot of learning IS possible on the internet, personality and character building is not. I found that internet blurs your focus and drags your focus towards stuff which you may not be interested in at all.

    We – the geeks – make decisions with much less deliberation and are prone to more mistakes.

  91. Reply wai June 8, 2011 06:45 am

    merciless in its evaluation

  92. Reply Scott R June 8, 2011 07:26 am

    I think perhaps the new ‘anti-intellectualism’ could be summed up as a lack of skepticism. I really pity the person who goes to wikipedia to read all about Paul Revere, for example, who does not have an ounce of skepticism about what they are reading. That applies to both before and after Sarah Palin’s recent comments.

    Classics are great reading and may even contribute towards what I believe would be a healthy society, however it is not really getting at the problem directly. The real problem is anti-intellectualism is lazy thinking. No where is this more obvious than in political discourse however this has leaked on over into general discourse, especially on the internet.

    Political opponents (on both sides, however, IMHO the right generally do this more than the left these days) deride each others policies emotionally and rarely bring facts to the table. When they do bring facts to the table it is often a single fact (or factoid) presented in isolation and is then used to support a complicated ideology. I would mention supporting evidence, but space is limited – you see the problems of discourse on the internet in comment spaces already, right? Anyway, life is just not this simple, and yet in our sound-bite world this is the level of political discourse we have grown accustom to. I suspect the youth of today have come to expect this and assume this is what constitutes intellectual argument. It is so often paraded as such in all forms of media. This is even more striking in internet media like blogs and youtube where amateur ideologues (yes, I’m aware of how self-referential I am being right now) chime in with their 3 lines of emotional comments. People mostly act like this on internet boards – if you agree with the commenter, you go away happy, believing you are smart. If you don’t, you reply with 3 angry lines (far from intellectual) but you go away believing you are right (maybe you are) but you also go away thinking you are smart (you will find other commenters who agree with you so obviously you are smart).

    This constitutes peoples intellectualism these days. None of this displays any skepticism about either your own views or the views of other people. There is no rational debate. There is no acceptance that things are hard. After all, isn’t the answer just on wikipedia? Surely my url that points to a blog post by some moron with an internet connection is proof I’m right and you are a douche bag???… this is how it is today. People are lazy – especially on the internet – and they are arrogant. Gen Y will kill us all (see even I can be emotional, but if you agree with me, you probably cheered that sentence).

    To sum up, if there is solution I think it is that we should be teaching people (and I mean from the age of 3 months or younger) to be skeptical. We should be teaching people to think for themselves and teach them the value of thinking hard. We can start by doing this in universities with 18 year olds. Yes, when we teach them that CO2 is a green house gas, we should also be teaching them _how_ to ask, why is it? How bad is it? Where does it mostly come from? We should not be telling them the answer is in your text book or worse still, the internet. The answer is complex and documented in many hundreds of scientific articles. If you have a strong opinion of it, you have better read a lot of those articles. Also, I think we have to kill off the postmodernist philosophy that truth is relative. Now this is really lazy thinking. It makes me sick to my guts how stupid all postmodernists are.

  93. Reply A McKenzie June 8, 2011 08:03 am

    While I don’t overall disagree that there are a lot of anti-intellectuals in society, I disagree with two main points.

    1) Most of the geeks — defined for these purposes as IT people, programmers, and so on — that I know are readers, and interested in broad ranges of subjects. I think you’re being unfair to the majority simply because of what you see in a very vocal minority. Then again, my friends are weird, so they may be non-standard geeks.

    2) “The classics.” Dear God are most of those books boring. I’m a reader. I generally read five to ten books a week. These days a lot of them are re-reads, because my library has run out of stuff I haven’t read and still want to, and I can’t afford to keep buying more books, but still… at least one or two a week are something new. I primarily read sci-fi and fantasy, but I also read biographies, philosophy, historical fiction, and whatever else catches my eye. “War and Peace”? I never got into it. And how about all those “classics” they wanted me to read in grade school? “Ethan Frome”? “Johnny Tremane”? “Tale of Two Cities”? The only things they had me read that I actually enjoyed were the Odyssey and pretty much everything by Shakespeare. And, in point of fact, if I’d read the Odyssey first in class, I would have hated it — they gave us a dumbed down and sanitized version rather than, say, the Fitzgerald translation, which is my personal favorite.

    I think a lot of the reason people don’t bother reading the classics is that they just plain aren’t very good. It’s nothing to do with the length, necessarily — look at how popular Robert Jordan’s books are, or J.K. Rowling’s — it’s that they aren’t actually interesting or fun to read. That’s not anti-intellectualism, it’s an acknowledgement that I don’t like those books, and I’d rather spend my time reading something interesting.

  94. Reply Duane Moody June 8, 2011 08:21 am

    This blog post is sensationalistic, has a predetermined conclusion with citations either cherrypicked or force-fit to appear to support it, and does not carry a sense of authenticity or plausibility. It is entirely consistent with the undergraduate’s tendency to beg for attention and validation by making an outrageous supposition and glue spurious proofs to it, trolling with a pedigree.

    Your blog is bad and you should feel bad.

    • Reply Thomas June 8, 2011 08:56 am

      Thanks for the insightful armchair psychoanalysis Dr. Autism.

      Allow me to clue you in; an essay does not have to be balanced or fair in the least. It’s an opinion piece, not a news article or scientific publication; of course it has a predetermined conclusion! Exactly like your worthless comment.

      Why do you claim he’s begging for attention? Because he wrote an essay on his own website expressing his own opinions? What kind of small mind perceives every stance in terms of a popularity contest? The kind of mind that projects a bit too much, methinks.

      I’m not sure if there is a group of people more conceited and pretentious than white 20-something loser geeks, but I’m sure they’re up there.

      And something clearly went wrong during your aesthetic development, if you think a quotation from Futurama is a good putdown.

  95. Reply Matt June 8, 2011 08:55 am

    With memorisation being so passe, a brief trip to Google might have helped you learn (temporarily) that despite inhabiting the same small island within the same large city, the New York Review of Books has nothing to do with the New York Times.

    Perhaps garnering 131 responses without a correction might give subtle support to your argument.

    Sorry to be facetious.

  96. Reply Scott June 8, 2011 09:34 am

    Fiction isn’t getting any more interesting; non fiction is.
    Wikipedia utterly trumps reference books e.g. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Physician’s Desk Reference, et cetera.
    Important fields of study are changing too fast for universities to keep up especially at the undergraduate level e.g. least-angle regression analysis is six years old.
    Books are outmoded because they’re bulky and hard to search, edit, annotate, share, et cetera; books can be collaborative e.g. encyclopedias and websites can be one-person creations, your statement that “Books are an outmoded medium because they involve a single person speaking from authority.” is clearly wrong. Your statement that “crowds” were wiser than people who had devoted their lives to knowledge ignores the fact that the crowd includes those devotees.
    “Anyone who claims that we do not need to read and memorize some facts is saying that we do not need to learn those facts. Reading and indeed memorizing are the first, necessary steps in learning anything.”
    Imprimus: illiterates learn too.
    Secundus: reading is done on the internet; obviously, right? Reading on the internet does not preclude memorizing, though it certainly reduces the cost of not bothering to do so.
    There are roughly 500 characters in War and Peace, how many can *you* name off-hand?
    Does the Gutenberg Project – online classics – make your head explode?
    Ideas are frequently not book-sized; a medium that permits them to be elegantly expressed at suitable length is *better* than a printing press.
    Conflating disdain with academe and obsolete technology with disdain for learning is disingenuous, tut.

  97. Reply Is Wikipedia anti-intellectual? June 8, 2011 09:40 am

    […] st_type='wordpress3.0.1';Is Wikipedia anti-intellectual?Sander recently posted a provocative piece where he argues that geeks suffer from anti-intellectualism. To some extend, his stance is that […]

  98. Reply Nillerz June 8, 2011 09:58 am

    This is a very interesting post because it brought to the forefront of my mind something that I surely must have subconsciously known, however never really been aware of. Now that I think about myself, I am very much less inclined to read _any_ book, let alone a classic, now, as opposed to when I was 15 or 16. The only major difference between me from then and the me from now in regard to this essay is that the me from now has managed many websites and has worked in the web industry for a few years. The free/easy access to lots of information seems to be a tempting escape from the rigors of actually learning something, however I am curious as to how and why the human mind is prone to such shortcuts when they are offered.

  99. Reply Bob Lewis June 8, 2011 10:19 am

    Many of these comments make me sad – they’re so carefully constructed to miss the point.

    Larry’s point isn’t about intellectuals, the value of college and so on. Those are cited as symptoms.

    The point is the growing disrespect of expertise. Other symptoms: How many people figure the scientists who spend their lives researching climate change should be ignored specifically because they are experts in the subject (and so, supposedly, have lost their objectivity).

    Likewise the number of people who don’t accept the theory of natural selection and propose that all biologists can be safely ignored … for the exact same reason.

    What’s sad about technical professionals who practice this disrespect is their hypocrisy. When people outside their trade question their engineering judgment, they sneer at the ignorati instead of understanding they’re being hoist on their own petard.

  100. Reply anonymous June 8, 2011 10:52 am

    Step 1. Goto MIT’s/Stanford’s website, watch their courses for free.
    Step 2. ???
    Step 3. Profit.

    Please recognize that the free distribution of knowledge is a paradigm shift. Yes, change is scary. No, we don’t need to go to a traditional university to acquire the skills and tools necessary to compete in today’s marketplace. Yes, most people are stupid, unmotivated, and lazy. No, a university isn’t going to change that.

    Stop blaming technology and recognize that an individual’s actions and mentality have a much greater effect on their ‘worth’. If I don’t ‘know’ something, I look it up on my phone, using google. I can cross reference that with hundreds of sources to obtain a more objective viewpoint on the subject. How is that detrimental?

    [sarcasm]Maybe we should just go back to memorizing the multiplication tables and throw away the calculators.
    We’d get so much more done… heck, these computers are just a fad anyways…[/sarcasm]

    • Reply cperez June 19, 2011 09:02 am

      anonymous, I completely agree with you 🙂

  101. Reply ubo June 8, 2011 11:11 am

    I really don’t agree with the attitudes you’re perceiving, in that I don’t agree that they exist at all. There are of course people who think this way, there are people who think ANY given way. You cite people with the same thoughts; just because somebody is loud enough to be ‘published’ on the internet doesn’t mean they represent any type of majority view: you should know this. The “books are done” view is a very small minority of people on the internet, and the rest of us just shake our collective heads at most things they say.

    However, they are unfortunately right in a few ways. First off, college is changing. The degree means less and less that you actually learned something and more than you hung out with the right crowd. I say this as someone with a “right crowd” degree. I learned more from my first 2 months on my current job than I did in 5 years at college (through 3 majors). The other thing is, rote memorization does not equal intelligence. At all. In any conceivable way. Somebody who can tell me as you say, the date of the battle of Hastings, is much less intelligent than someone who can’t tell me the date, but can argue the impact of that battle in specific ways. Somebody who can memorize the entire C language specification can be an absolutely useless programmer.

    Finally, and this might lump me in with the crazies, I think that “higher level” books are in fact written in an obfuscated, difficult-to-read way, either intentionally or accidentally. Intentionally would be like old-style Catholicism; the Bibles being in Latin, the services being in Latin, so that the common-folk could not have access to that knowledge. Accidentally would be because the types of person to write a super-scientific book or paper is most often than not, going to not be the most effective communicator. Flowery language and unnecessary phrasing only gets in the way of the expression of knowledge.

    PS – No book or paper is ever the project of one single person. If it wasn’t for collaboration, we wouldn’t have gotten past “fire hot.” The internet has caused collaboration, humanity’s most powerful tool, to explode and evolve into something new. Education will soon follow as will all aspects of our lives.

  102. Reply Who Speaks for Geek Culture? June 8, 2011 11:23 am

    […] Who Speaks for Geek Culture? (function() { var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0], rdb = document.createElement('script'); rdb.type = 'text/javascript'; rdb.async = true; rdb.src = document.location.protocol + '//'; s.parentNode.insertBefore(rdb, s); })(); Yesterday an essay by Wikipedia and Citizendium co-founder Larry Sanger made rounds: Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?. […]

  103. Reply Colin June 8, 2011 11:28 am

    One critical issue regarding the new anti-intellectualism, and indeed one which has appeared in the comments already, is the delusion that reading is enough and a formal education is just a waste of time. For instance, I have a masters degree in archaeology. I cannot count the number of times that someone has told me that they love archaeology and read as much material as they can get their hands on. Which is fantastic. Unfortunately, I am also unable to count the number of times that those same individuals have proceeded to rattle off a disturbingly long list of books and theories that are crackbrained at best and outright lies or frauds at worst. Books and theories that these individuals give credence to merely by dint of having seen them in print at a bookstore or library. Books and theories that would be self-evident nonsense after just one freshman Intro to Archaeology or history course.

    One of the most fundamental assets of the college experience is exposure to experts who know their field and know what you need to know to start understanding that part of the world. Reading on your own is great, but when a theoretical context for what you’re reading is lacking or missing altogether, it’s very easy to be conned by pseudo-academia and come out the other side with a very faulty understanding of a field of study.

    And I suppose now a self-important, self-educated, Vine Deloria clone of a Luddite will tell me that colleges only teach what the “establishment” wants you to think is true…

  104. Reply Rob Vaughan June 8, 2011 11:52 am

    One thing that is being confused here is that many of the self proclaimed geeks are nothing of the sort. Being able to program and use a computer doesn’t make one a geek. Once upon a time that would almost perfectly define a geek but not anymore, those guys were geeks then because they trudged forward pioneering a new field of KNOWLEDGE. They weren’t using something that was in almost every home in America. They were creating a new field of knowledge as they went forward and pioneered it.

    These anti-intellectual *geeks* are actually hipsters and fakes, they just want to be considered geeks because in our digital society these days Geek is Sheik. These guys are nothing more than technicians, operators, and end users.

    Real Geeks love Knowledge.
    Real Nerds love Books.

  105. Reply ReverendJoe June 8, 2011 11:58 am

    To answer your question: Is there a *NEW* geek anti-intellectualism? No, there is not.

    Anti-intellectualism of most any variety is nothing new, and geeks, being no more special than any other segment of society, are 99.999% anti-intellectual, just like ALL OF THE OTHER various segmented groups of human populations that have ever lived on Earth, except for some VERY small, VERY specialized, exceptional groups (think, “Ancient Greek Scholars”, for example).

    The main other point that makes your screed so wrong-headed is one so many others have already made: being anti-, does not make one anti-intellectual, or most especially anti-knowledge.

    Just because it makes more sense to use digital tech to help your brain doesn’t mean you stop using your brain. In fact, barring extraordinary measures, it’s really not possible for us humans to stop using our brains … we’re literally ALWAYS thinking. You’re not going to stop learning because you read something from an LCD instead of from paper, and using Google to look up things that no longer need to be memorized frees your brain up for thinking about more interesting things than remembering the specific year some historical event took place.

    I’d argue that learning how Google helps you be smarter is, in fact, one of the most important intellectual lessons one can learn today …

  106. Reply Louis Bertrand Shalako June 8, 2011 12:07 pm

    Truth does not derive from authority. Whoever controls the flow of information controls the high ground of the game-space, and therefore your life and destiny. When virtually every ‘fact’ reported as news is a self-serving and often self-delusional opinion, you can hardly blame time-pressed taxpayers, barely able to make ends meet, for distrusting the ‘intellectuals’ who have brought us to political polarization. The intellectuals bring us a ‘free-market economy’ which any economist, the same people who use the term, knows not to be true, but is merely a ‘necesary fiction’ to ensure further corporate welfare and subsidies at the expense of citizens, many of whom are frankly hurting.
    We have broken the monopoly on knowledge, and upon teaching, and maybe even of truth itself.

    • Reply Colin June 8, 2011 15:31 pm

      Louis Bertrand Shalako’s comment is an excellent example of the anti-authoritarian, vaguely marxist anti-intellectualism that’s now running rampant in the social sciences and humanities at many universities (ironically). The key is to equate all people in position of authority with one another so that professors suddenly become synonymous with senators and no clear rhetorical distinction remains between a literature post-doc and a prime minister. Then one can easily write off notions like fact and truth as “lies The Man is using to keep you down”.

      It sounds great when you’re trying to pick up bohemians at the not-a-Starbucks, it lets you quote all the right people (Marx, Focault, etc.), and it’s absolute drivel.

  107. Reply Adam McCormick June 8, 2011 12:12 pm

    I think that there is an anti-intellectualism problem with internet culture, but I don’t the the specific statements you have are at issue. The problem is the memorization-centric learning has created a system where people equate facts and knowledge. For example: know that a particular battle occurred on a particular date doesn’t do anyone any good, it’s knowing why the battle occurred and what it changed that is valuable.

    The system has to move toward teaching process and technique rather than fact to really foster innovation and creativity, and the movement toward that state is really what causes this anti-intellectualism. The problem is that what’s taught in schools (facts and memorization, traditionally) and what’s learned out on the world (technique, style, efficiency) are fundamentally different and they should not be.

  108. Reply Anonymous June 8, 2011 12:12 pm

    Ultimately, it is not knowledge that is the be all to end all. Books are great, having read some of the ‘classics’ myself (The Art Of War, Il Principe, The Odyssey, War and Peace, Ulysses, Huckleberry Finn, 1984 etcetera) I absolutely agree that these are very important texts. History should be cherished, not ignored. It should be learned and enjoyed within it’s individual context, not broken down into the ‘important’ pieces, summarized and paraphrased, and distributed en masse.

    You learn from books like these. Learning is the key word – information is all good and well, but it means nothing without experience. Personally I rate information as ‘important’ when you can actually apply it to the real world, whether that be through morals (Aesop’s Fables), critical thinking (1984) or theory of applied skills (The Art of War). The fact is that there are several patterns that humans imprint on everything we touch, and to learn to read these patterns can enable somebody to apply factual knowledge in the correct context.

    These patterns can be found everywhere, from the Art of War to Aesop’s Fables to the politicking in War and Peace – even ‘naive’ literature such as Harry Potter can contain useful information, when read between the lines (again, something learned through experience, not knowledge).

    The argument that many talented and successful people will put forward is that true intelligence is not gained from reading about skills and ideas, but applying skills and ideas that are derived from ones that are already there, or cross-applying skills to different fields. You can, for example, apply the Art of War to sections of your own life with the correct adaptations.

    In these days of instant access to information, with encyclopaedias available to anybody at the touch of a button, information is in abundance – the skill to apply that information requires humans, as always. I feel no disdain to those who pursue pure knowledge, just as I have no disdain to those who pursue pure experience – I am of the belief, however, that a balance is the best way to succeed in life in general (one route being a high-stake gamble, the other leading into a boring life).

    I’m not religious, but if you want to read classics, try reading the Vedas, the Tripitaka, the Qu’ran, the Bibles, the I Ching, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Torah. There, you will find millenia of wisdom from all around the world. As before, by reading between the lines you learn the patterns of life, of love and of humanity. You will learn lessons that you can apply in every field, because in every field you work with humans or products of humans. One of the major lessons is ‘live and let live’, let people choose their own path and don’t criticize them for choosing different to you. Success, in the end, is about understanding.

  109. Reply marc pietrzykowski » Two articles June 8, 2011 12:39 pm

    […] Larry Sanger […]

  110. Reply anechoic June 8, 2011 12:42 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more! read long difficult books, go to University and get an education but never ever stop educating yourself – like my mother told me: ‘read everything you can get your hands on and always remain curious!’

    the Interwebz is mosdef making people stoopit – I see it mostly among 20+30-somethings

  111. Reply joe User June 8, 2011 14:06 pm

    Damn Kid! GET OFF MY LAWN!

    I find that every argument I’ve ever heard about people complaining about anti-intellectualism usually boils down to “people don’t respect the things that I think are important”. I think it’s dangerous to believe that the conditions that made certain knowledge important even 5 years ago are still relevant today.

    There are certain foundational things that are essential, but what’s interesting is that much of the behavior that can be seen as anti-intellectual is often just behavior that is fighting against established beliefs, something that is seen with *every* *new* *generation*.

    If you study science history, a common theme that happens over, and over again, is that certain scientific progress doesn’t happen until the old guard dies off, and the ideas of the younger scientists can actually gain traction.

    What makes a classic a classic is that it continues to speak to people throughout the ages. I find it telling that you mention War and Peace. Russian novels were written by/for people who had to live through soul crushing winters. To expect the same novel to be relevant at all to modern societies who can banish darkness with the flick of a switch.

  112. Reply Oracle June 8, 2011 14:47 pm

    Ugh. Please die off or get out of the way. Despite all our supposed “anti-intellectualism,” technology and progress are accelerating at unprecedented speeds. English profs in tweed jackets spouting Chaucer are not to be thanked for that. Sorry, I need to get back to creating a new prosthetic heart for you. Take it easy on the scotch.

  113. Reply David Piepgrass June 8, 2011 15:12 pm

    It’s funny seeing some of the comments matching up with the description of the very type of person you’re worried about (michael!) The author speaks in a verbose style in order to be precise about what he means; I’ve found that it is necessary to use a style like this in many cases, to avoid misunderstanding or to explain subtle points. Basically, this is how smart people talk. Get used to it.

    Unfortunately, this style does indeed alienate the mainstream. When I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, is was very interesting and fun to read, in part because it was very conversational, imprecise, and probably inaccurate. I suspect some loss of precision and even accuracy is needed in order to achieve that fun, conversational style that keeps the average reader engaged.

    I think this geek anti-intellectualism you speak of is of some concern, particularly the idea that “Experts do not deserve any special role in declaring what is known. Knowledge is now democratically determined” — isn’t that more of an American thing than a geek thing? It seems like some people are choosing their own facts, and then uniting with others of like belief: birthers, people that believed in Iraq WMDs years after the war started, extreme libertarians, people that stand behind everything Obama does, people that stood behind everything Bush did, etc. It’s not even really democratic, since any minority can form a group, within which certain beliefs (that are “factually incorrect” according to mainstream society) are protected.

    It’s a very dangerous trend and geeks are not immune to it, I mean, why should they be? Geeks have knowledge in a particular area: computer geeks, automotive geeks, etc. But outside their area of expertise aren’t they pretty much like everybody else who does not identify as a geek?

  114. Reply Matt Hovey June 8, 2011 15:49 pm

    I think it comes down to whether you want to be educated or merely trained. Maybe programming is or never was a truly intellectual pursuit in the first place, so all the programmers can now go to some computer training school instead of college. When I studied computers in college, including programming them, I also studied cognitive science, psychology, and engineering – all of which helped me be a better problem solver and designer of robust systems.

    I suppose if you only ever build web apps (“startups!”) that never hit the big time anyway, a similar education would not be required. I’m not saying an education is required for truly exceptional (and if we’re honest, somewhat socio-economically positioned) individuals to start things like Facebook. However, this new attitude reminds me of the early to mid 20th century mode of thinking that created the hordes of uneducated, unemployed and unemployable factory workers that are struggling in this post-NAFTA and post-outsourced economy.

  115. Reply Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? « Nelson Biagio Jr June 8, 2011 16:40 pm

    […] Read the full article here! […]

  116. Reply Haig June 8, 2011 17:11 pm

    Let me, firstly, echo Mark Twain in saying, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” Just because one is anti-college does not necessarily make one anti-intellectual. On the contrary, the geeks who make up this ‘anti-intellectual’ vanguard care so much about their education that they are unwilling to leave it in the hands of decrepit bureaucratic institutions. Why should we have to amass a debt that will take half our productive lives to pay back in order to subject ourselves to antiquated systems of learning?
    No, we do not want to eliminate higher education, we want to free it from its medieval stupor. Current models of radical innovation (ie Clayton Christensen) show us that such changes rarely, if ever, occur from within. The only recourse left is to bypass the system of higher-education entirely in order to build a newer, better, system.

  117. Reply Diamond Age - YLIP June 8, 2011 17:25 pm

    “Nell,” the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, “the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.”

  118. Reply Geek Media Round-Up: June 9, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind June 8, 2011 18:54 pm

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? […]

  119. Reply Thulium June 8, 2011 20:19 pm

    What you are calling “anti-intellectualism” is more accurately described as antiestablishmentarianism. Simply because some intellectuals reject the notions that establishment institutions are not the only (or best?) bastion of intelligence. Referring to geeks who shrug off the need for a college degree as “anti-intellectual” is like referring to a non-union worker as “anti-labor”.

  120. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Geek anti-intellectualism: replies June 8, 2011 20:32 pm

    […] My essay on “geek anti-intellectualism” hit a nerve. […]

  121. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? | Sound and Complete June 9, 2011 01:45 am

    […] via Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?. […]

  122. Reply Fulea Stefan June 9, 2011 04:56 am

    This might be all about labeling. You label a package of attributes under a label and force someone to agree only to fit more or less under that label, according to the number of attributes met by a given subject case. There is like no debate if your chosen attributes are appropriate or not. At least that is the feeling that I got reading your article. Is like denying the censorship of premises that ultimately are leading to a conclusion. And that is a bad thing. …and especially that part is a relic of the traditional “old way”. That way was created and preserved by technical limitations, where knowledge was an expensive thing to pursuit and maintain, where there had to exist entire (organized) orders dedicated to that and immense amount of dedicated resources, where someone had to swallow almost everything to taste a particular something. That had good and bad sides altogether. But things changes. And I trust change. If there is something good in the old ways, I have the hope that it will surface eventually. Have faith, Mr. Sanger, it will do you good.

    • Reply Fulea Stefan June 9, 2011 05:12 am

      “You PUT a package of attributes…”
      “Is like denying the censorship OVER premises that…”

  123. Reply Arepee June 9, 2011 07:11 am

    I think it’s an error to confuse anti-intellectualism with a repudiation of academic red tape. Like a previous poster alludes to, geeks by-and-large have an engineer’s mindset and they’re very much focused on doing and problem-solving.

    I believe that most geeks do, in fact, appreciate things like literature, art, and learning for the sake of learning. But at the end of the day, geeks, like engineers and many scientists, are problem solvers. And it’s pretty likely that one need not understand Tolstoy to solve a technology problem. That’s not to say I think Tolstoy shouldn’t be understood, but I don’t think that studies in the humanities is imperative.

    I like geek culture because it actually values knowledge more than academic credentials. You don’t need a degree or letters to be a geek. All you need is a desire to acquire knowledge and then apply that knowledge to practical problems.

  124. Reply Evolving Media « Gently Hew Stone June 9, 2011 07:34 am

    […] of writing, though, is just how many technology boosters themselves are alarmed by it.  Consider these gloomy paragraphs from a recent article, summarizing some of the benchmarks in the backlash against the dumbing down […]

  125. Reply Brian Boyko June 9, 2011 10:51 am

    Certainly, you have some interesting points. But this is not anti-intellectualism, but rather, an evaluation of value which finds certain forms to have less value than the effort that they require. This is not that geeks are lazy – far from it – but that there are far more efficient ways to get an education.

    If there is a geek anti-elitism, it stems not from a non-appreciation of intellectual works but from an anti-authoritarianism that produces questioning minds – one that has been mislead for years by the experts and gatekeepers of society. This is why geeks are more apt to believe what they read on, say, Wikipedia or Reddit, than they are in the New York Times; the latter is less thoroughly vetted and has a single point of failure – the editor.

    But anti-intellectualism is far more than not accepting expert testimony at face value and accepting, instead, the wisdom of the crowd. Anti-intellectualism is a pride in ignorance and a condemnation of education.

    The geek may not read books because he doesn’t find them to be relevant enough to pressing issues, or worth the time to digest the information. He is not saying the book has no value; he is saying that the books value is less than the effort he would have to expend, presenting a *negative return on investment*.

    The anti-intellectual doesn’t read books because he doesn’t believe that the book has *any* value. Indeed, the anti-intellectual may even take pride in the fact that he doesn’t read books, condemning them not as a waste of time, but even, perhaps that they’re worthless because expertise itself is worthless.

    This is the key point. The anti-intellectual believes that information and knowledge doesn’t have *any* value. The difference is that the geek is still out there questioning, and learning, and improving. They do find value in learning about the world around them and thinking about what they have learned. But they want to do so in the most efficient and effective ways. Books – especially the paper kind – are especially inefficient compared to some of the newer offerings which are more portable, more accessible, more organized, more searchable, and more efficient.

    This is especially true of the college argument. I don’t think any geek thinks college education is a waste. My college education and M.A. has presented enormous non-tangible value to my life. What they do believe is that the tangible value – the amount of money you spend vs. the amount of extra income you will make over the course of your career – simply doesn’t add up. (And it doesn’t – the cost of a college education has outstripped inflation while wages have diminished and the number of jobs requiring a college degree have declined.) I would not have gone to graduate school had I not gotten a full fellowship; I am one of the lucky ones.

    It is the idea of college as a financial investment, rather than as a life-enriching experience, that geeks want to challenge. In 1970, a four year education at the University of Pennsylvania (a public school!) cost $14155.92, adjusted for inflation using today’s dollars. Today, that cost is $42,098.

    In the meantime, a good, average wage for a college grad would be $48,000 in 1970 dollars – that’s $266464.34 in today’s dollars. $266k!!! That is a DREAM for most college graduates today – I don’t expect to earn anywhere NEAR that in my life. Yet, most college graduates would be happy to get *less* in 2010 dollars what our parents in the 1970s were getting in 1970s dollars! Most college graduates start out stuck at jobs where they earn much less – my first job out of college, in 2001, was for $33k. ($41k in 2011 dollars.) Most new college grads are still working for about $33k/yr today.

    My point is this. In 1970, you would have give back **three weeks worth of labor** to pay back the investment in your public college education. In 2011, it takes **one year, three months, a week, and two days.**

    That’s practically indentured servitude.

    Do you really think geeks would be railing against college education if a four-year degree only cost about three weeks of labor to pay off? Hell no.

    That is what geeks rail against when they rail against college education. It’s not that education isn’t valuable. It’s just not valuable *enough* to justify the cost. This is especially true in technical fields where practical experience does matter more to the bottom line.

  126. Reply Dougwithau June 9, 2011 11:21 am

    ATTENTION all who found this via slashdot. Please file this article with all the others with headlines like: Books are dead, Newspapers are dead, and email is dead.
    We can assume Larry is an intellectual. He feels a put persecuted by what he sees as a threat to his way of life. The net is making it harder for him to hold his hard won knowledge close and parse it out for money. Put yourself in his shoes. As knowledge becomes freely available, easy to access and curated, the role of intellectual writer is less valuable to society.
    Just like a newspaper editor who claims people don’t read anymore, he is wrong. People read, just not the thing that is paying his bills.

    Larry, I think you made a mistake by not trying to see the world though a geek’s glasses.
    I throw out books on obsolete technology twice a year. The things I learned in college give me a good basis for learning, but the specifics have changed. The truth for geeks, technologists and most of the world that has to build real things is that knowledge is transient. What I know today will not pay my mortgage in five years. I have to pick up and discard learning at an accelerated pace.
    I am sorry this threatens your world view. I wish the world did not spin so fast, but it does. You are pasting a label of anti-intellectualism on something you don’t understand, and pining for the good old days, that really were not all that good.
    Please, don’t slap a label on someone. Try to see the world through our eyes. Yes, geeks have blind spots, but really it is a wonderful future we see, and seek.

  127. Reply willowesque June 9, 2011 14:15 pm

    I am irritated (but not surprised) by the number of comments lumping “liberal arts” into some category or other that is in some way bad. Elitist, stupid, pointless,etc, whereas “practical knowledge,” presumably math, science, engineering, is held up as some golden god. Again, not surprising. Geeks, not nerds, are the intended audience. But geeks and nerds should learn to stick together, I should think. Learning, truly learning, in the liberal arts is valuable in more ways than I can count. Think you’re a critical reader? If you haven’t had much education in the liberal arts (either institutionalized or not), then you probably aren’t as critical as you think. Think stories are just nice ways to pass the time? Then when is the last time you read one and what are you reading? If you do read stories and still think that, then you’re reading them incorrectly. I am continuously flummoxed by smart people de-privileging that which is not their forte. I am a woman of words, not numbers, but I am not so blind as to think numbers are useless. Obviously, math, science, engineering, etc have a very crucial role to play in society. Why can’t people see that so too does all the myriad of things lumped under the heading liberal arts? Perhaps because with the sciences, it is easy to see the results: bridges get built (so do bombs), problems get solved (some just get further problematized), facts get uncovered (for a while, until someone comes along and proves it wrong). The liberal arts live in those parenthetical spaces, they give the lie to the unassailability of the sciences. They keep science honest (though its getting harder to do, what with lack of funding). But it is far easier to just poke fun at those of us who make our living, such as it is, doing and teaching the liberal arts.

  128. Reply ml June 9, 2011 14:26 pm

    – Being critical of the current educational system is different from being critical of intellectualism. The current system is useful but flawed and can be improved.

    – For non-fiction books, making the books shorter and easier to read is very much pro-intellectualism. It helps spread knowledge faster and more accurately. If technology can help with this, it’s great. There’s nothing great about making books more complicated than necessary.

    – Knowledge is important but extremely vast, and technology can allow us to spend more time on the more important knowledge. For example, in math, we can spend more time asking the right questions and translate those questions into mathematical models, and let computers handle the computation of those models. To me, learning to model the world is much much more important than remembering trivial facts, so being critical of the education of triviality isn’t anti intellectualism. (Memorization of facts is of course important to modeling the world, but the current system is over emphasizing it and much less on the modeling part).

    – I don’t have problems with experts, but I have problems with being over dependent on experts, whose knowledge is deep but narrow. This is very much pro-intellectualism. We need to assign the correct weight to certain pieces of knowledge and have to see how they all fit together. For too long, we tend to look down at knowledge that are not mathematically formalized, and this is the wrong way to go. Our understanding and capacities with math is too small and narrow to explain the world. The financial crisis is an example of this. Financial derivatives are extremely sophisticated mathematically, but compared to the complexity of the real world, derivatives’ sophistication is nothing.

    – I think the criticism has been about how education is conducted, not education itself. Education can be better and broader, and technology can help us with this.

  129. Reply William Raillant-Clark June 9, 2011 15:02 pm


  130. Reply Geek Anti-intellectualism « Brainbiter June 9, 2011 16:36 pm

    […] Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? Is there a new anti-intellectualism? I mean one that is advocated by Internet geeks and some of the digerati. I think so: more and more mavens of the Internet are coming out firmly against academic knowledge in all its forms. […]

  131. Reply How internet is affecting our life | Learner Weblog June 9, 2011 20:54 pm

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? […]

  132. Reply links for 2011-06-09 « innovations in higher education June 9, 2011 22:02 pm

    […] Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? Facebook, social media, the Web & anti-intellectualism: – ColleenBrennan-Barry (ColB) (tags: […]

  133. Reply Jurn June 10, 2011 00:36 am

    My first reaction would be that that expressions of anti-intellectualism are possibly being elided and confused with calls for radical education reform. God knows we need the latter in much of the English-speaking world. I’ve said myself that education needs wholesale ground-up structural reform, from primary to university level, to make it for fit for the digital era rather than for the old industrial era that it still panders to and the ancient agricultural-year/church-year calendar that it still broadly sticks to. I’m also very cautious about intellectuals attempting to pontificate about matters that lie far beyond their field of expertise (see Thomas Sowell for an excellent dissection of this very dangerous phenomena). But neither of these sentiments means that I’m anti-intellectual.

  134. Reply Andrew June 10, 2011 04:20 am

    Providing someone with a university education, a technology oriented career and then labelling this increasingly large group ‘geek’ does not turn them into intellectuals.

    The fact is that while the proportion of university educated individuals has increased, the proportion of intellectuals has not. The reason is that intellectualism requires intellectual giftedness.

    TLDR version: Geeks used to be rare and highly intelligent. Today they are far more common and have intelligence levels much closer to the mean.

  135. Reply Michael Bastos June 10, 2011 07:49 am

    The kind of intellectualism that you talk about is a bit disingenuous, It requires someone spend their entire life pursuit of knowledge of a specific nature and requires that society pay the burden of caring for that individual simply because they’re knowledgeable. That is a bit unfair to the rest of us who are both knowledgeable and hard working. Implying that practical application is not knowledge and that one must spend an entire life time in a specialized field robs individual of choice. Though I disagree with the idea that you should skip college, some of us have not started 1,000,000,000 dollar companies when does not have the luxury to do so or to tell others too. Yet I do not see my college degree as experiential learning but rather as a means to an end. I think you both have valid points, Theil in his wanting to disrupt the system and you wanting to preserve what’s good about it. Yet I believe you both are wrong, societies have never last that long when they take on extreme notions of change rabbit to understanding of that change they balance ideas. You cannot expect current system in place to say the same, in any intellectual circle that would be foolish. Yet we cannot remove system either because the world would only we run by the most brilliant among us that is more of a recipe for disaster then we can ever fathom. Balance is the key here, not necessarily 1 way or the other.

    • Reply David June 11, 2011 14:28 pm

      I was under the impression that people specialize and dedicate themselves to a single field of knowledge because that is the only way to advance knowledge. I’m sure farmers 2000 years ago where quite happy with learning how to live a good life based on current knowledge, but that doesn’t get you to where we are today, or where we might be in 2000 years.

      Personally, my opinion is that people should never forget that they are not wrenches for other people to utilize. You can make whatever you like out of that opinion.

  136. Reply The Friday Morning Listen: Ghost Train Orchestra – Hothouse Stomp (2011) June 10, 2011 08:29 am

    […] twenty years from now, will the word “tweet” still make sense?) about the phenomenon of anti-intellectualism in the geek world. Sanger’s article was quite interesting (if depressing), touching on the recent popular topic […]

  137. Reply James Corny June 10, 2011 10:03 am

    I agree and am seeing this happen, quick-fixes instead of thinking holistically.
    For the reading averse – watch a short movie “Idiocracy”.

  138. Reply Is the Internet making us anti-intellectual? | June 10, 2011 11:14 am

    […] flow along with the digital current and do not take the time to read extended, difficult texts. –Larry Sanger, Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism? (ht: […]

  139. Reply Weekend miscellany — The Endeavour June 11, 2011 07:43 am

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? […]

  140. Reply Dan Daly June 12, 2011 07:41 am

    Reading books, or anything from Google, or any other place does not make any one an intellectual. That is equivalent to storing more data in memory, regardless if the memory is biologic or electro-mechanical. Data does not make any one/thing “smart.” The purpose of study to become intellectual is a multi-step process in which two of the steps are: 1) Inputing data, whether by reading or downloading, and 2) relating the new data with old data for the purpose of developing wisdom. That is, the relationship building process is the part in which the intellectual determines what the new data means and its importance to everyday life and to whatever project is at hand. At the same time, that process may well begin a re-evaluation of the meaning and importance of the old data. The importance of the second step, relative to the first step, in the achieving of some degree of wisdom is as one hundred is to one.

    The Anti-intellectuals don’t understand the importance of wisdom, relative to simple data gathering. If wisdom were obtained by simply reading books, there would be no difference in the qualities of education provided by the top rated universities and the lowest rated diploma mills – given that they both can start with identical reading lists. The difference in the qualities of the educations obtained is determined by how effectively the professors of each make their students analyze what they have read and what they learn from it.

    There is no doubt that some people are capable of towering intellectual achievement through self-education. In fact, one of the goals of a good university education is to equip the students to be able to self-educate themselves for the rest of their lives, i.e. to go forth to do research, make discoveries and develop inventions. Generally, most people have neither the ambition nor self-discipline to effectively become intellectual through self-education. Such an effort requires that books and digital sites presenting contrary arguments to favored beliefs must be studied and carefully evaluated. Most people dismiss contrary arguments as wrong, worthless, and things to be ridiculed without any attention being given to the rationale of those arguments.

    The world, at least the portion occupied by the United States of America, has become politically polarized with wild and blatantly nonsensical statements being bandied about to be accepted as true and the basis for further decisions and actions. This habit of accepting unexamined nonsense as the basis of political actions will ultimately lead to disaster. Once that happens, thinking historians will look back on the disaster to try to determine how it happened. They will have a difficult time trying to believe that people had united under such loudly proclaimed slogans of self-contradictory nonsense without the slightest urge to think about what was truly being proclaimed by those slogans. Nevertheless, they will conclude that such events will always occur in an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism.

  141. Reply גיקים אנטי אינטלקטואלים, מודעות עצמית בכדורסל והאמנות האבודה של קרטוגרפיה במשחקי מחשב | הציווי החדש June 12, 2011 13:27 pm

    […] אינטלקטואלית שצומחת דווקא מתוך התת-תרבות הגיקית ברשת? לארי סאנגר טוען שכן ומנסה להראות כיצד באופן אירוני דווקא הגיקים שמאז […]

  142. Reply TDM June 12, 2011 15:04 pm

    This warning seems particularly startling, coming from a co-founder of Wikipedia. It kind of reminds me of General Eisenhower’s warning about the Military-Industrial Complex as he ended his presidency.

    In the end, it’s less about the truth of who owns wisdom, and more just another class/political struggle.

    I am from an family of education. One thing my momma taught me is that when the totalitarians move in, the first thing they do is wipe-out the intellectuals.

    Sometimes it feels like we are repeating what happened that led to the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria and the destruction of the library- the final end of classical antiquity.

  143. Reply Kevin June 13, 2011 16:22 pm

    This isn’t an “anti-intellectualism” in the same spirit that oppressive regimes have used this term, and it’s unfair to even use that term to characterize it that way.

    The truth is “geeks” are supplanting academics in brick and ivy institutions. We are undermining and replacing a slow, outmoded, expensive, and ineffective academia with something sleeker and more effective.

    • Reply Larry Sanger June 13, 2011 16:32 pm

      Well, that’s a new one. Never heard anybody say that geeks are replacing academia. And how, exactly, are geeks doing that? Is there, say, research or teaching involved (one hopes)?

  144. Reply AC Grayling, New College of the Humanities, and Thoughts on Higher Education « Timothy Nunan June 14, 2011 12:26 pm

    […] profit rather than cultural or pedagogical motives. (I might only add that this analysis touches on a separate debate in digital land about anti-intellectualism in the tech space.) Nice tux, check … intellectual arm candy, check … actually doing something for public […]

  145. Reply Geek Anti-Intellectualism — The Laudun Log June 16, 2011 08:01 am

    […] the link to Sanger’s post. Go read it, and the comments, for […]

  146. Reply Matières Vivantes » Blog Archive » Les geeks sont-ils anti “intellectuels”? June 18, 2011 09:45 am

    […] la question posée par Larry Sanger (via Pablo). Le constat de Sanger est le suivant […]

  147. Reply 418 / I'm a teapot » It’s all about age June 19, 2011 05:06 am

    […] Few months ago Peter Thiel of PayPal relaunched the topic of an “education bubble”, topic that would be more seriously considered if he didn’t prefer to kill the debate with an “indecent proposal” of $100,000 to twenty smart guys to leave the university and join his company (two-years contract). This drew a lot of attention on it, but, again, I think it killed the debate at the same time. Larry Sanger kept it alive with a post titled “Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?”. […]

  148. Reply Ron June 19, 2011 07:56 am

    Two remarks:

    First, I miss a definition of how you define intellectualism, because that would be helpful to understand how the “anti-” came along. If I take your four points on anti-intellectualism, “intellectualism” would be:

    1) Intellectuals are experts who define what is known.
    2) They like to write books alone.
    3) They like to read old books.
    4) They like to memorise stuff.
    5) They come out of colleges and they don’t care for success.

    I doubt that this is what intellectualism is or was about, except in its caricature.

    Second, what you describe as “geek anti-intellectualism” actually sounds like a 21st century stereotype of what used to be the negative type of intellectualism, just with a focus on web issues instead of books.

    So in total, I don’t get your point, because you use a caricature of “old” intellectualism to caricature “new” intellectualism (geekish people), which neither is helpful for understanding the first nor for getting the second.

  149. Reply A.Ron.Hubbard June 20, 2011 13:47 pm

    Very interesting article. It ended up generating 20 minutes worth of debate on our weekly podcast. It starts at the 31 minute mark at if you want to hear our take on it. I’d say we’re mostly on the Sanger side of the issue, with a few quibbles here and there.

  150. Reply mossar June 20, 2011 17:12 pm

    I was a professional student while at the university. I hopped from one school on to another, Literature, Law, Medicine, Engineering and Architecture. When I came to this country, I was hired in the aerospace/space industry but disappointed by the profiling and polarizing existing, I opted to work for the government. Big mistake both, I should’ve stayed with the space part (at least I had fun creating things). However, having 3 master degrees have not helped me since. Government does not care if you are an intellectual; I have seen ‘burger flipping’ people being hired and soon are in mgmt. Good for them, but these institutions render education useless. In today’s world, an education seems to be a waste of resources: time and money. Tuitions are prohibitive, can’t afford and one never pays it or get you money back. Institutions (K – 12) are a joke and produce a fool’s clump; if you don’t agree, offer a burger flipper other than the exact change, one can get rich by confusing them, they can’t figure it out. Need to say more? I vote for getting some practical knowledge, forgo the lengthy education and keep your money in your pocket.

  151. Reply Matthew Joseff June 21, 2011 14:34 pm

    I believe Google isn’t making us stupid, rather it’s freeing up brain power to be used elsewhere. Instead of having to memorize facts, we have extended our capacity to “remember” (virtually) things by using the vast amount of data available to us through our workstations, tablets, and “smart phones”.

    Not having to store that data in our minds frees us to think about new ideas, concepts, and the future of mankind.

    • Reply GPC June 27, 2011 16:48 pm


      The brain cannot automatically make sense of every new piece of information it is exposed to. You have to have a base of knowledge to make sense of what you are finding on the Internet. The more factual knowledge you have in your brain, the more you can make sense of what you find on the Internet. I read an article that pointed out that most Americans could read the following but most would not actually understand it:

      “Another two-hour rain delay again seemed to work in England’s favour as a refreshed Tremlett removed Mahela Jayawardene with a snorting delivery which moved away off the seam and took the outside edge.”

      Understanding requires knowledge. The less knowledge you have the less you can understand. The more knowledge you have the more you can understand. Have you ever heard of Functional Illiteracy? Functionally illiterate people can read and write. But they typically lack knowledge and have small vocabularies, so they are often unable to make use of the information that they read. You are making a case for increased functional illiteracy. All the Internet can do is provide easy access to information. Whether we can understand and make use of it or not depends on how much we already know.

    • Reply NWM July 24, 2011 03:16 am

      “Not having to store that data in our minds frees us to think about new ideas, concepts, and the future of mankind.”

      How can one be so sure that these new ideas and concepts are actually new or pertinent in any way? And when talking about nothing less than the future of mankind, can we be so sure these “new” ideas are not deeply flawed in some way? We need only look back one century to see that many new and compelling ideas (at the time) about the future and how to run our societies had disastrous results. Know-nothing-so-you-can-think-a-lot is simply a recipe for rediscovering everything the hard way. A rather arrogant assumption that all these facts to be memorized are all just things thought up in the middle of the night by folks with adequately “freed up” brains and a can-do attitude… and not borne out of several thousand years of deep investigation and trial.

  152. Reply steffi G June 21, 2011 17:05 pm

    The internet can’t think for itself. It can’t combine two facts and find a new idea or invention. That takes time, dedication, discipline, and creativity.
    This reminds me of a talk about “X-people” (=the disciplined) and “Y-people” (=the creative); can’t we be both?
    We have to be both if we want to continue our progress in the sciences and in culture as before.
    And since when does a crowd know more about a subject than a person who has studied it for years?
    (There’s a flowchart that shows very well how a thesis extends beyond the boundaries of human knowledge. Problem is, I can’t find it right now, or I’d add a link. *lol)

  153. Reply Les geeks sont-ils anti “intellectuels”? » OWNI, News, Augmented June 25, 2011 03:33 am

    […] la question posée par Larry Sanger [en] (via […]

  154. Reply Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? », News, Augmented June 29, 2011 10:24 am

    […] This post was originally published on Larry Sanger’s blog […]

  155. Reply nathan jurgenson July 1, 2011 14:14 pm

    i wrote a full critique of Sanger’s essay here:

    i mostly agree with Sanger, but feel that taking another look at Hofstadter’s book (which he does cite) would improve the conceptualization. Sanger is convincing on the populist/anti-intellectual stuff, but misses the full scope of what anti-intellectualism means.

    further, Hofstadter makes an essential distinction between intelligence and intellect, and Sanger conflates the two. Sanger’s critique of the geeks on memorization shows them to be anti-intelligence, not anti-intellectual.

    that’s just a summary, see the link above for the full argument.

  156. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Reply to Nathan Jurgenson on anti-intellectualism July 5, 2011 20:37 pm

    […] anti-intellectualism Print PDF Thanks to Nathan Jurgenson for a thoughtful critique of “Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?”  I wish I had more time to respond, especially since it is so earnestly intellectual […]

  157. Reply Larry Sanger on Geek Anti-Intellectualism: A (Kind-Of) Critique « n a t h a n j u r g e n s o n July 17, 2011 10:23 am

    […] Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia, wrote a wonderful piece on the rise of a new geek anti-intellectualism. The essay sparked much discussion and Sanger has done a terrific job responding to comments and […]

  158. Reply speedbird July 28, 2011 11:58 am

    Well, this describes my boss perfectly. 🙂

    A book presents an invitation: with study, it will be possible to learn what is described. The internet, by contrast, presents a dangerous illusion: that there is always /someone else/ out there who knows whatever-it-is.

    For many years now (since, say, the end of the Cold war) computers have been becoming less tools for /doing/ and more tools for /seeing what other people are up to/.

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 28, 2011 14:16 pm

      The last comment is very incisive. In fact, I’ve been working occasionally on really perfecting a long blog post that makes a similar point–that we really don’t get knowledge from the Internet, and that much of the activity on the Internet is driven by attention-seeking rather than knowledge-building. Of course, occasionally, these goals are in alignment…

  159. Reply Geek Anti-Intellectualism | Life August 20, 2011 17:30 pm

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? […]

  160. Reply RAR August 31, 2011 18:47 pm

    I think we can all agree the humanities and social sciences tend to attract a certain flock of students that tend to be lazier and less motivated than those that choose to study something like engineering or biochemistry. You can’t bullshit your way through biochemistry in college, but you can sure as hell bullshit your way through a humanities or social sciences major, and this is coming from someone who had such a concentration as an undergraduate. This, however, is not the fault of the disciplines themselves, but rather of how they’re taught. Mastery is required for one to successfully major in a discipline like math or engineering. If someone graduates with even just a 3.4 or 3.5 in math from Carnegie Mellon, you sure as hell can bet your ass they’ll be great at math. Conversely, a philosophy major from Williams can’t exactly be relied upon to be an expert in philosophy. The problem is the humanities and social sciences (in the U.S. at least) tend to accommodate slackers and dilettantes whereas math and the hard sciences do not. People can bullshit their way through history and philosophy because institutions allow this, and I’m sure that’s part of why many math and science academics look down upon academics in fields like philosophy. I think any sensible human being would acknowledge the importance and necessity of humanistic and technical contributions alike. They both matter, and they both play a role in the development of mankind, even if the contributions themselves can either be negative or positive. The atomic bomb would be a bad technical contribution, and Mein Kampf would be a negative humanistic contribution, just as examples, but hopefully they could be fall backs from which the world can learn. Going back to what I was saying about science professors looking down on the humanities, do you honestly think a sensible, intelligent engineering professor would profess Shakespeare doesn’t matter? Probably not. Would he question the way in which students are allowed to bullshit their way through a Shakespeare course, which would fail miserably in an engineering course? Absolutely. I think it’s a situation where fields like engineering and biochemistry are difficult to learn easy to master whereas humanities and social sciences are easy to learn difficult to master. If philosophy departments placed the same kinds of demands on their students engineering departments placed on their students Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sarte and Albert Camus would be the only three people in the history of the world to have successfully received philosophy degrees. I know that’s an exaggeration, but…

    On another note I’d also like to say technical or mathematical genius is quantifiable in a way that humanistic genius, which includes artistic genius, is not. Math and the hard sciences are seen as pragmatic and applicable in the real world, whereas the importance of humanistic genius is more abstract and is understood and experienced on a more sensory level, something pragmatists are too lazy and materialistic to understand. The fact is mathematical and scientific genius can fulfill the desires of capitalists in a way that most humanistic genius can’t. Not to contradict myself, but there tragically are people who view math and science as more important than the humanities, because it’s more practical and applicable in the ‘real world’, which I have been trying to get at since the start of this paragraph. Scientific genius is hijacked by capitalists, so their desires can be fulfilled. I don’t know if I’m making sense here. I’m having trouble putting all that’s on my mind into words. What I’ve written is just the tip of the iceberg, but this is what I’ll leave you with for now. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not saying math and science doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. The issue is they’re accepted by anti-intellectuals unlike the humanities, because they can be utilized to fulfill the selfish desires of the ‘real world’ in a way humanistic genius can’t, since humanistic genius, by virtue of the fact that it’s humanistic genius, functions in opposition to the affairs of the ‘real world’.

  161. Reply RAR August 31, 2011 20:18 pm

    Another disparate point:

    Regarding the accumulation of knowledge, an endless curiosity is good thing, and it should be commendable to want to know and learn as much as possible, but at the same time, there’s only so much one person can learn and know. If a single person took the time to read every single work of literature ever written, to learn every historical fact in existence, and to understand every mathematical equation utilized, he or she would never have the time to accomplish anything in the world, because they were to busy learning and doing nothing else. There’s a reason you have academics who respectively specialize in modern French history, American history, Russian history, Renaissance history, 19th century French literature, etc. It isn’t humanly possible for one person to have an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of all these fields, even if the person has an endless curiosity. At the end of the day you have to say to yourself, “If I want to accomplish what I plan to in life, I have to pick and choose what intellectual pursuits I engage in, or else I’ll never accomplish anything fruitful in my life.” Such an attitude is hardly anti-intellectual. It’s being realistic. I’m not saying intellectual pursuits are a waste of time, far from it, but if someone wants to write novels of philosophical treatises of his or her own, he or she can only spend so much time reading, in order to make time to write.

  162. Reply RAR August 31, 2011 20:27 pm

    For example, do we need to feel ashamed of ourselves, because we’re not familiar with the some of the specifics American Civil War or because we haven’t read either Dostoevsky’s The Idiot of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? I don’t think so. Don’t worry, these are just random examples. What I’m saying is I’m not against learning about the Civil War or reading The Idiot. I’m against being made to feel ignorant, because I’m unfamiliar with them. Maybe said person is unfamiliar with the Civil War, because he or she was busy learning about Napoleon’s Conquests or the Bolshevik Revolution and hasn’t gotten around to learning about the Civil War, or maybe The Idiot and Chaucer have gone unread because said person was reading Great Expectations and drowning him or herself in Ulysses, just as examples. Just my thoughts.

  163. Reply atthevanguard September 8, 2011 03:46 am

    You are clumping entirely different arguments into one point, the haphazard argument that people of the new generation do not value reading/thinking, more specifically, you go on to make the argument that this new generation is substituting the values of understanding for the mere act of memory retrieval, and that because of the influence of the Internet, this memory retrieval is able to be stored on a cloud; and thus people are becoming the mediums of data rather the creators of knowledge.

    you cannot be more further from the truth, to address your many faults we must first separate your oddly-clumped argument into different points

    to briefly start

    it is true that college is a waste of time
    it is true that books are a outdated medium- in such that they are no longer the most economic way to publish information
    it is not true that books are regarded as useless, if they were we would no longer be discussing them, and you would not even be blogging about them
    it is true that experts no longer have any special role in determining information, in fact, experts never had any special role in determine information, there never was a gatekeeper to information and there never will be, people will believe what they want to believe

    i have read through several of your blogs but chose to respond to this one because i felt this is at the core of your own personal philosophies, which is incorrect,
    do not confuse memory retrieval with passion, those who have passion will create knowledge by searching through their own truths, those who lack passion will do what the majority of mankind has always done, nothing.

    • Reply Larry Sanger September 8, 2011 12:33 pm

      Many people, like you, have claimed that I am “clumping entirely different arguments into one point.” This is a puzzling thing to say, because I am obviously making a single, general claim, that a lot of Internet geeks are becoming anti-intellectual. To support this point, I adduced five related facts about what many geeks now believe. Just because the various facts are not all mutually entailing, it does not follow that they, both individually and as a group, do not provide some support for the general conclusion. Take, for example, the quite commonly expressed view that books are “outmoded” because the future lies with collaborative works and much shorter forms of communication. Someone who says this is coming out against the source of a huge amount of the world’s history, philosophy, and so forth, as being “outmoded.” That is, of course, just the sort of thing that an anti-intellectual says. Now, you might want to defend each of these claims, as perfectly rational. If so, then perhaps the position you should take is that, in our brave new world, anti-intellectualism has become rational. I deeply disagree (for reasons that did not appear in this particular post), but that would be a prima facie coherent thing to say.

      This blog post, with its main idea that many Internet geeks are becoming anti-intellectual, is most certainly not “at the core of [my] personal philosophies.” (By the way, the fact that you used the word “philosophies” in reference to my beliefs indicates to me that you have never had a course in philosophy. One never refers to the “philosophies” (plural) of a person, but the “philosophy” of the person. A philosophy, generally speaking, is a whole system of ideas, not just any one idea. You could certainly use some more exposure to philosophy and no doubt the other liberal arts, as this would greatly improve your thinking and writing.)

  164. Reply Frew October 5, 2011 19:02 pm

    Intellectuals have to take some responsibility for the rise in anti-intellectualism. So many of them have abandoned the honest search for knowledge and have taken up an unabashed posture of political activism. In this role their most identifying characteristic is their arrogant attitude toward other people and their values and traditions.

    Then, too, many intellectuals are unauthentic, posers who take on what they think are the trappings of intellect without any serious effort to acquire knowledge. Often they are not that intelligent, and they are irritating in the way they parrot what they think is intellectual orthodoxy.

    And intellectuals are often messing things up. With President Obama we had a fellow who was advertised as a Brainiac with all the relevant certifications as an intellectual and yet has made a hash out of most things since being elected.

    The increasing resistance to college education comes, I think, straight out of the expense of that education and the prospect faced by many potential students of going deep in debt to get it. In the face of this there is the doubtful value of that education when it comes to trying to get a job.

    So some push-back against intellectualism and the need to spend all that money to acquire knowledge (or, more properly, the certification of having acquired knowledge) is to be expected.

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 6, 2011 10:19 am

      You make some valid points here. I never said that the push-back against college and contemporary intellectuals (not intellectualism) was not understandable. Indeed, it is. I completely agree with you regarding political activism (see my replies), and you make a fair point that arrogance has become a distinctive characteristic of academics on the radical left. This is off-putting mainly to that minority of young people who are not left-leaning themselves, however! And you’re surely the resistance to college comes in large part from the expense of college. But that isn’t what I was complaining about if you look at my essay. My complaint is about those geek anti-intellectuals who pretend that college has little of value to teach them. To say so is to show that you undervalue academic knowledge itself.

  165. Reply vladimir moshnyager's » Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? October 17, 2011 19:50 pm

    […] Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?. All content is © 2011 by vladimir moshnyager's. All rights […]

  166. Reply mediabastard October 18, 2011 00:57 am

    a generation reared to feel not think… and its the logical outcome of the ear/eye generation of mcluhan’s teaching and making the hand/eye generation of the video game.

    whatya expect? I had hoped for generation THUNK.. but all we got was a rerun of Gilligan’s Island .

  167. Reply The Rise of the Internet (Anti)-Intellectual? », News, Augmented October 19, 2011 04:28 am

    […] title of this post is an homage to two recent essays, the first being Larry Sanger’s “Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism?” and the second Evgeny Morozov’s “The Internet Intellectual”, a recent scathing review of […]

  168. Reply The Rise of the Internet (Anti)-Intellectual? « n a t h a n j u r g e n s o n October 19, 2011 07:11 am

    […] title of this post is an homage to two recent essays, the first being Larry Sanger’s “Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism?” and the second Evgeny Morozov’s “The Internet Intellectual”, a recent scathing review of […]

  169. Reply Nandi25 October 19, 2011 11:36 am

    While reading “Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism, I began to see it’s position, and it is a position that I highly agree upon. These Scientists and thinkers and computer wizzes have all together given up on intellectualism. They believe that the Internet is the future, and the fact that they see nothing wrong with this is a whole problem in itself. These people can be called anti-intellectuals because the have lost the belief of the importance of education and the importance of reading information and retaining it. In some aspect you could say why not feel this way. In thirty seconds I can find out dates of major events on the Internet, when in a book it could take me thirty seconds to find the page. But what about the detail? Its easy to Google something, skim it and think you have the knowledge and understanding of it, but it’s a whole other experience to read something and see how an author has formed thoughts, why they decided to write something a particular way, and how this information registers in your mind. A key thing that stuck out to me and rectified my position was the comment that “the internet makes learning unnecessary.” Now this comment just strikes me as absolute madness. The ability to learn is a human trait, and how could a being that has survived and learned for thousands and thousands of years without this “internet” believe that since it has come along we can through everything else out of the window. A true intellectual never stops learning, and appreciates the authenticity of a piece of literature. Besides anything that comes to you easy and without hard work isn’t worth having.
    Now I do believe the Internet is good for some things, but it should not always be the first and last resort, especially when it comes to learning new information.

    As far as responses go, there was one of Larry’s responses that stuck out the most to me, and further validated his opinion. “Part of the anti-intellectual mindset is to assume that the only purpose of gaining knowledge is to improve one’s employability.” For many this is the number one reason on their list of reasons for pursuing higher learning. Very rarely do you hear the enjoyment of furthering my knowledge as a reason. Another remark that struck me was by a DrDork who stated “People who argue that we don’t need to /know/ or /learn/ much of anything because we can simply access the facts via some external source (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) are missing the point: if you go down that line, you lose your frame of reference and your ability to assimilate ideas and concepts.” I believe this statement sums up my entire argument. Being able to easily access information takes away from the need to know the knowledge, the desire to retain it, because you know at any time you could easily access it again, and the want to have an opinion about the information and form your own ideas and assumptions about it. My only reply would be that the fight for intellectualism is far from over, but that there are still those who appreciate knowledge and literature and understand that we as society use the “internet” as a crutch. And if we continue to use it this way, we will never reach our fullest potentials.

  170. Reply Ioan Constantin October 21, 2011 06:23 am

    Excellent thought-provoking article.

  171. Reply Ioan Constantin October 21, 2011 06:49 am

    An observation, thought currents are cyclic. Historically, the pro and anti-intellectualism/elitism movements have been consistently occurring and have shown to be interchangeable.

    A correct approach is to accept them for what they are: cultural movements.

    With each major scientific breakthrough, geo-political, religious, demographic and economic shift, there has always been a reaction to how intellectualism is perceived by the masses, highly dependable on their access to life-supporting resources.

    In my humble opinion, the internet and the geek generation are mere footnotes in the human cultural movement and evolution dynamics, and -in lack of more convincing arguments- a convenient scapegoat.

    To give some examples, the Middle age European culture vs the late Middle age Renaissance.

    The Communist cultural movement of the mid to late 20th century vs the Western culture.

    – my apologies for my limited English-

  172. Reply Ioan Constantin October 21, 2011 06:57 am

    As a final comment, I suggest -if we haven’t done so already- to re-read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

    Experts and intellectuals have always represented a limited and marginalized group of given social group, and in this sense there has always been a long debate about their merits, or the merit of their values.

    In the end, we can all die stupid and with no regard towards knowledge and ‘organized’ education , since -if I may put it this way- one does need more than one book keeper to preserve the library.

  173. Reply Ioan Constantin October 21, 2011 06:58 am

    And animals need not ‘books’ to live a happy and well fed life.

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 21, 2011 11:09 am

      “Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” -J. S. Mill

  174. Reply The politics of educational technology | Richard Hall's Space December 7, 2011 12:50 pm

    […] these issues, from governmental control/abuse of social media use and data, to feeding fears of anti-intellectualism, and through carbon emissions and the use of liquid energy. More importantly, it also fuels a myth […]

  175. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » A short manifesto for schools: time to focus on knowledge December 9, 2011 21:32 pm

    […] of anti-intellectualism. Democrats love to bash Republicans on this point. (And recently I bashed geek anti-intellectualism as well.) But anti-intellectualism in schools? This is apt to make many Democrats, and the more […]

  176. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » An example of educational anti-intellectualism December 13, 2011 17:24 pm

    […] wanted to create a parody of both kinds of anti-intellectualism I’ve mentioned recently–among geeks and among educationists–I couldn’t have invented anything better. Wheeler hits many of […]

  177. Reply My Top Ten #longform reads of 2011 « Digital Workspace of Benjamin Lainhart January 1, 2012 09:59 am

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? by Larry Sanger […]

  178. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » The future, according to Kathy Sierra January 9, 2012 14:16 pm

    […] lies, instead, in “unlearning.”  This sounds awfully like another example of the geek anti-intellectualism that I love to hate; we’ll see about that.  Since that’s how the post comes […]

  179. Reply mike3 January 9, 2012 20:26 pm

    I sure hope you don’t think ALL “geeks” are this way. Because if you do, you are simply [i]wrong[/i]. There may be SOME that are — but ALL?

    Anyway, what we need to do is find a way to make REAL education available to everyone of every socio-economic level.

    • Reply mike3 January 9, 2012 21:27 pm

      Never mind that one — I just saw your replies post.

  180. Reply Quora April 2, 2012 19:56 pm

    Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?…

    Here is my blog answer (, which kicked off a wide-ranging debate: Is there a new anti-intellectualism? I mean one that is advocated by Internet geeks and some of the digerati. I t…

  181. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » How not to use the Internet, part 1: it’s a problem that the Internet distracts us April 20, 2012 23:17 pm

    […] surely absurd notion that there is a new geek anti-intellectualism is broached in this much-discussed essay. AKPC_IDS += "1107,";Popularity: unranked […]

  182. Reply Krister May 11, 2012 02:25 am

    I think what you call anti-intellectual geeks can probably appreciate that studying and college as such are worthwhile.

    What makes them say that college is pointless is the fact that in today’s day and age it is (if you want to acquire real knowledge). The standards have lowered ridiculously and just about everyone graduates with top marks.

    In the past, I bet all the geeks were going to college… because that’s where real learning was being done. Now that only bullshitting happens at university/college, it doesn’t surprise me that they turn away from it.

    Pity, because their is no way that they can recreate on their own something as splendid as centuries of traditional education did. Perhaps they should found their own geek university, with the standards of old.

    • Reply Larry Sanger May 11, 2012 07:21 am

      Actually, I’m very sympathetic to these charges. This is one of the main reasons I’m not in academe any longer myself: in so many ways, the system of higher education is completely screwed up.

      That said, there are my other five points to consider. The overall trend is toward anti-intellectualism among Internet geeks…

  183. Reply Beware of the anti-anti-intellectualist « The dot on the ceiling July 23, 2012 05:20 am

    […] Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, has recently argued his perceived increase of anti-intellectualism among geeks. By denouncing anti-intellectualism, he turns into an anti-anti-intellectualist. However I […]

  184. Reply Are we living in a connected world? | Learner Weblog August 6, 2012 09:29 am

    […] Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? […]

  185. Reply Eric Orchard September 13, 2012 18:13 pm

    I think there’s something to this. Especially after seeing all the sneers in the comments about reading the classics or getting a higher education. I can’t understand why we’d want to build a culture that holds growing ones knowledge in contempt. In a recent BBC article they sited a study where a number of grade school children said they would be embarrassed if another child caught them reading a book.

    “A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” Oscar Wilde.

  186. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » My Greatest Hits September 22, 2012 12:09 pm

    […] I had wanted to create a parody of both kinds of anti-intellectualism I’ve mentioned recently–among geeks and among educationists–I couldn’t have invented anything better. Wheeler hits many of the […]

  187. Reply BrightestYoungThings – DC – Rise & Shine: The Internet Told Me So… November 9, 2012 15:40 pm

    […] Anti-intellecutualism: so hot (among geeks) right now. […]

  188. Reply JJones May 20, 2013 06:03 am

    I visited my mathematics professor and he lamented that students today don’t want to learn from chalk boards or going to class.. it’s too old fashioned. He also listed some stats showing they aren’t as smart.

    This reminds me of interesting short sci-fi story. It’s not wholly related but a good read none the less.

    Isaac Asimov

  189. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? | Piotr Kaźmierczak August 8, 2013 07:36 am

    […] via Larry Sanger Blog » Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?. […]

  190. Reply Star Trek Special #2 (DC Comics, 1994) – A Question of Loyalty (Review) | the m0vie blog August 22, 2013 07:01 am

    […] anti-intellectualism. Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has written about what he describes as “a new geek anti-intellectualism.” Perhaps the shifting portrayal of Vulcans in Star Trek is a reflection of that geeky […]

  191. Reply Shikha August 23, 2013 08:06 am

    I actually agree to most of the views of the writer. College is not a waste of time entirely, there are intangible but necessary aspects like discipline that you can never inculcate just by reading stuff from the internet.
    But this is a fact that Internet is a boon in a way for people who want to learn beyond the stuff written in the books. It is really great to discuss technical subjects and get your doubts cleared just by posting your opinions or questions on the technical websites. I have practically seen the wide knowledge sharing helping me.

  192. Reply A Very Belated Reply to The Debate Over Internet Anti-Intellectualism | David A Banks March 6, 2014 11:21 am

    […] Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society seems a little light on “society.”I was hoping that Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It would provide a clear rejoinder to a four-way debate between Larry Sanger, Evengy Morozov, Jeff Jarvis, and Nathan Jurgenson about “The Rise of the Internet Anti-Intellectual”. Sanger is concerned that online communities have a history of hostility toward the experts and intellectuals. Sanger Recalls: […]

  193. Reply Stanton McCandlish February 3, 2016 03:43 am

    That was very well-though-out, and hopefully “just in time”. May it be as sobering as you hope, and not as prescient as we dread.

    I would only quibble with two minor things:

    1) Geeks prize knowledge, just trivial knowledge, like how to construct a particularly gnarly perl-compatible regular expression, or which episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ featured so-and-so as a cameo-appearance zombie. It’s all a chest-beating contest (was going to say something about “-waving”, but this isn’t Facebook).

    2) University education is not-quite-hopelessly mired in ca. 1890 ideas about pedagogy and learning, even if it’s starting to adapt (not always, helpfully though – most “distance learning” is a crock). Its glacial, life-sucking pace to many intelligent people accounts for much of the “what a time-waste” attitude many have toward it, and this is an independent concern from anti-intellectualism, even if the two attitudes correlate in negative synergy. As an autodidactic polymath who can breeze through textbooks in a few days if I find the material interesting, I lament most of the time I spent in classrooms, except on the rare occasion I had a great professor – the kind filled with the genuine knowledge of which you wrote – who presented original lectures with additional information and (more importantly) unique, experienced insight, not regurgitations of the texts we were assigned.

    All the rest of the trends you identified do seem to be of-a-piece, and genuinely (if accidentally and/or subconsciously) anti-intellectual. A few months ago I broke my smartphone, and decided to spend a few months without one to recapture what some aspects of life were like only a decade ago. It was damned difficult. Our dependence on technological gadgets and databases to find our way around, remember what our friends’ interests are, even know what day of the week it is and whether we’re supposed to be somewhere, are a weakness and a high cost to pay for Mapquest, Twitter, and Google Calendar.

    I remain an active Wikipedian after over a decade. But I also own around 3,500 real, paper books. The crowd’s alleged wisdom comes from those (and journals, albeit a few are online-only now), not from some general-public “hive mind”. There is no physics, or medicine, or linguistics, or psychology or whatever, for anyone to summarize on Wikipedia or argue about on webboards, without knowledge-steeped, intellectual professionals generating and analyzing all those facts.

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