I had a debate about anti-intellectualism with a colleague yesterday and boy was it heated. My colleague said that the downfall of the United States will be its increasing environment of anti-intellectualism - this is a pretty heavy pronouncement! I told him that I agreed that there is an increasing sense of anti-intellectualism - that is, people against academic elitism and the low emphasis we generally put on intellectual accomplishment in our school systems. However, I also told him it wouldn't be the downfall of the United States, like he claimed. Here's why:
Even if there's a prevailing sense of anti-intellectualism, the US can "make up for it" because of the almost endless opportunities offered in this country. Not only that, but the academic elites and privileged can hold up a surprising amount of people who become "anti-intellectual", which by the way is in and of itself difficult to characterize. More and more, the people "at the top" are holding up our economy - the top 1% control $17 trillion in wealth, according to a really good book I read this weekend called Richistan. Even though we often hear about the problems plaguing the middle class (thanks to incessant reporting by people like Lou Dobbs), the prevailing sense of anti-intellectualism in that group won't bring down our country.
No, it's not anti-intellectualism that will bring down this country - it's all the other problems combined that slowly erode our competitive advantage. And what worries me is that most people don't realize our country's competitive advantages are slipping away, which is why I feel education and lifelong learning are more important than ever.