Maureen Dowd, in a NYTimes OpEd, decries the raising of ignorance as laudable, reflecting the present crop of political ignoramuses in Marilyn Monroe’s mirror; Ms. Dowd, uncharacteristically, almost completely misses the salient issue. Palin, et al, may be ignorant and dismissive of the set of learnings and experiences that Dowd finds important for societies leaders, but Palin and her acolytes have requirements for what to know about, what to believe and how to act that are just as demanding as Dowd’s expectations of familiarity with intellectual classics or established constitutional intention and letter.
The standards for the Palinestas, since they don’t have a standardized history, are more intuitive – more like the Mean Girl Chic; you know them when you see them. But, you really do; know them when you see them. It is in the style of making fun of the expectations of another, expectations that you do not share. It is in the form of the diminishing attitude toward things that don’t seem important to you personally.
These behavioral affectations are what are being approved and copied. It is these affectations that are the source of momentary power over people who come to contest ideas only to find that they have joined a pillow fight with the occasional brick slipped in.
If the people who do not know and have not read the Bill of Rights were a solid voting block, it would win every election. If added to those were people who have read the Bill of Rights and perhaps the whole constitution (all ‘one’ page of it), but who don’t remember it in detail – and who don’t understand that almost all of those who claim to know it reread, every time, the sections that they are going to discuss so as to be sure and to reaffirm their understanding – if we add these people, then would be included almost every person except for the most ardent constitutional scholars.
Anti-intellectualism is the natural product of the use of complexity of ideas to confuse and control people. But this cannot be simply about not knowing or refusing to know; it must also be about challenging intellectual knowledge with other systems of process and experience – challenging not on playing fields familiar and comfortable to the intellectual experience, rather the creation of fields of play that weaken the power of ‘knowing the answers’ and enhance the power of a particular physical and emotional style.
Palin is pure style: the bouncy step, the sexually healthy look, the beauty queen intonations, and the cheerleader expression of ideas. She has the moves of a great wide receiver. And she understands these things with a depth complementary to Stephan Breyer's understanding of the constitution. She is not trying to bring people to an understanding of law, economics, political process; she is going to the people’s understanding of being on a winning or losing team, of the far more common experience of high school sports – she even wears the present version of a cheerleader outfit.
If she wants more than the job of head cheerleader, she is taking a real gamble; Cheerleaders are not let to play quarterback. Of course, national politics is not high school football, but it is for Palin and her supporters. I don’t say this to diminish her or them; the high school sports experience has a much wider and deeper resonance for most Americans than constitutional law and must be considered as part of the political process. Its rules can be complex and nuanced, and not everyone can bring them under full and competent control.
If the full variety of the human condition is added to this mix (for example: xenophobia, social dominance drives, sexuality, general fearfulness of the unknown, the limited range of interest to the more or less immediate in time and space), then the power of playing to all these human aspects becomes more clear; and clearly more dangerous.
Rather than claiming the superiority of intellectual elitism, the argument can be made that people truly need to know about the forces that influence and control their lives. But, the education required to be even minimally competent in biology, electronics, psychology, economics, history, political science and practical politics, chemistry, physics, math, literature – on and on – is so time consuming and demanding of societal intention that it is not going to happen; and it certainly, even if moved toward, will not happen quickly.
That people need to know about these things, at least to a level of self-protection in a world that creates all of its “pointy sticks” from them, seems obvious. And yet it is our nature to leave much needful responsibility and action to others. In much of the past the process of selection of leaders has been marginally satisfactory; an up and down process to be sure, but perhaps tending more up than down. Some great thinkers have thought so anyway. Looking at today’s world, I suspect that selective forces were at work in the past that have dissipated in the present time of peak population, peak energy, peak economic development and peak biodiversity.
Unless or until people, in general, take on the challenges of learning enough to be effective and powerful forces in their own lives, then the Palins of the world will have, using their own form of elite skills, a ready audience to cheerlead for. And I would not be happy in a world run by elite cheerleading; it would be too much like high school.