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to resent accusations of elitism or "looking down" on people in the face of aggressive anti-intellectualism?

(128 Posts)
grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 13:49:19

I find myself a bit in despair after yesterday's thread on people who "don't watch the news" where a load of posters turned up aggressively declaring that it is their right to focus on their own families and that anyone who tells them otherwise is a snob. I think the UK is now at a stage where a lack of outward-looking curiosity about the world has turned us into a nation of selfish individuals. More dangerously, it has allowed us to drift blindly into the clutches of ruthless multi-nationals and an aggressively right wing government.

Choosing to actively remain ignorant of "depressing news" means many people are barely noticing the deliberate dismantling of the welfare state and the NHS. I fear that when many people who are currently drifting comfortably along hit a life crisis and find that they suddenly need legal aid/housing/mental health care they will be in for a rude awakening.

The education on offer in state schools these days is generally better than it has ever been, but so many parents seem to be colluding with their offspring to treat it with disdain or (at best) something you need in order to get a certificate. Why not support teachers' efforts, read fiction and non-fiction books yourself, have books in your house, use the libraries we still have, surf the net with your kids to teach them about source reliability and bias, volunteer for something you care about, watch films and documentaries and discuss them. Do something with content that isn't just about your daily consumerist concerns!

This isn't about time and money. Lots of these things are free and there are very few people who couldn't replace one reality show a week with something else or retune to Radio 4 on their commute or read a book for half an hour instead of surfing.

It's not just a matter of "pub quiz" trivia or being a grammar pedant either. The more you know, the more connections you will make about cause and effect in the workings of the world and the better able we will all be to make sensible decisions as a nation. You are not just a family member, you are also a citizen!

Calling people out on this is not elitist.

Flossyfloof Fri 02-Sep-16 13:50:44

Ok then.

pauldacreshairlessnutsack Fri 02-Sep-16 13:53:03

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Flossyfloof Fri 02-Sep-16 13:55:20

But you won't change people, they are what they are.

saoirse31 Fri 02-Sep-16 13:56:20

Yep you live in the world, I think you've, as an adult, a responsibility to be informed. Think its awful parenting also to raise uninformed children, I may be v unreasonable tho.

shovetheholly Fri 02-Sep-16 13:56:34

I find this a difficult one.

On the one hand, there's a lot of intellectual snobbery, not all of it very justified. Some people act as though watching 30 minutes of news and reading a few crappy novels makes you a world-beating intellectual. There is something holier than thou about it, something that makes distinctions that are inflected with all kinds of class prejudice.

On the other hand, I do think we live in a world that is inevitably interconnected. The impact of our actions doesn't stop at the front door - it's truly global. So there is a moral responsibility on all of us to understand the consequences of the choices we are making - something as simple as a consumer decision has implications for people on the other side of the world. Not caring or having time are no excuse. We're on the same planet as mothers whose kids are dying of preventable diseases, and some of our actions may well be contributing to their misery. We can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend we just don't know or understand.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 13:59:08

Surely you don't mean that people are not capable of learning anything Flossyfloof? That's patently untrue. Nor has British society always been like this. We have a long history of working class auto-didacts.

Carrying your ignorance as a badge of pride and mocking those who dare to show an interest in anything you don't understand need not be a fixed state.

VikingLady Fri 02-Sep-16 13:59:12

Yup. But it's not a popular view. The most irritating thing I hear is "of course, I'm not clever like you" in a sneery voice. Well fucking read something then. Or ask questions. Or watch the odd documentary. It's not hard to become at least slightly informed!

shovetheholly Fri 02-Sep-16 13:59:17

(I should add: my second point is also class-inflected. It may well be true that those who are middle class 'ethical' consumers still consume so much more of their fair share in terms of resources that their impact is more negative than someone who consumes less because they are just unfairly poor. So it's not just about agonizing over what cotton knickers you buy).

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 14:01:55

Good point shovetheholly, but I do wonder whether "intellectual snobbery" is often in the eyes of the beholder. It's natural to feel a bit uncomfortable if someone is talking about something you don't understand, but why not ask them to explain it to you instead of resenting them? (I don't mean "you" by the way, but more generally)

When a poster a couple of days ago was complaining about snobbish, well-dressed Mums in expensive cars at the school gate, lots of people told her it was her problem and that she should get on with it. Couldn't this be the same thing?

I like meeting people who are cleverer/know more than me. I might learn something.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 14:04:13

Exactly VikingLady. It's the aggression that gets me, as if you have access to something they couldn't possibly have. Which is b8llox.

thecatfromjapan Fri 02-Sep-16 14:44:31

I think that the notion that people who are not overtly engaging in news/intellectual ideas/whatever are 'doing nothing' needs to be confronted and undone.

There is no such thing as 'non-engagement'. What looks like non-engagement is either a more or less conscious reproduction of hegemonic ideas or a more or less conscious act of resistance (for a multiplicity of reasons).

I'm a Bourdieu fan. I love his work on the hidden work (less hidden now, in these post-Bourdieu times) of power and value in cultural artefacts (including various forms of information eg. celebrity gossip versus The News). However, I think acts of resistance - even by those with less power - can be both reactionary and progressive and that needs to be attacked head on. So, in short, I think it needs to be OK to say: 'Power inequalities notwithstanding, stop calling me a snob for suggesting that you might want to pay more attention to the shit that is being done in our name and to us."

BoneyBackJefferson Fri 02-Sep-16 14:56:53


"But I am biased; I hate that all polls have an "undecided" category and I take that to mean the people who remain militantly ignorant on issues that affect them directly like you describe."

I believe that all polls should have "undecided" or "non of the above", I am not ignorant of the issues and in order to have a fully democratic poll you should be able to disagree with the options.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 14:59:06

Thanks cat and I agree. I admit that my heart sank when you mentioned Bourdieu, because I have heard him used/misused SO often recently to justify cultural relativism - let the people stick to the stuff they like and not have elite culture imposed upon them.

But that kind of simplistic thinking (besides not being what Bourdieu even meant) has enabled powerful forces to occupy the public space and shape it in a way that benefits the elites rather than for the wider public good. And there are a lot of 'useful idiots' on the political left as well as the wider population who have sat back and allowed that to happen.

thecatfromjapan Fri 02-Sep-16 15:05:34

Have you been on the Westminenders threads, grimupnorthlondon? If yes <wave>, if not, I think you'll find a happy home there.

(And, yes, we need to tuck Bourdieu under our arm and develop a way of getting past the irksome - and extraordinarliy counter-productive - silent, cringing acceptance of power-inequalities in discursive engagements. They exist; now communicate through it. It's the irony of ironies that Bourdieu's insights now seem to have led to a weird inertia among (some) progressives in the face of quite a reactionary tactical deployment of his observations. <angry face>)

Pettywoman Fri 02-Sep-16 15:10:36

It is very tempting to switch the news off in favour of Celebrity Love Island or whatever. The news is a depressing and frightening at the moment. I do watch the news and I like to keep myself informed about current affairs. These days I don't really think it is enough to read a paper or watch the headlines. The papers are so blatantly pedalling biassed fuck wittery and the news programs are half arsed soundbites with questionable nods to balanced reporting. You need to read into the headlines and almost require degree level evaluation and analysis skills in order to see a semblance of the truth.

I get sick of newspapers and their opinion pieces being treated as fact. Then you get the comments sections encouraging people to believe their own uninformed opinion is valid because they're 'entitled to their opinion'. They just turn into bunfights of polarised views clashing without considered debate. You may as well watch Love Island instead.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 15:10:53

No, I should definitely have a look at those threads - thanks cat!

MaudlinNamechange Fri 02-Sep-16 15:12:38

I think there is a kind of defeatism, or cynicism. People don't have the experience of seeing what they do making any difference. We're like toddlers who are permanently on the naughty step, left out, never offered any positive reinforcement, who have just wandered off and accepted that The Authorities are making daily decisions to punish us, and we're excluded from the process, and that's how it is.

In 2003, a million people marched in London against the war in Iraq. It went ahead anyway. The report that came out recently confirmed that the bases for the war were seriously flawed. Many of the "findings" of the report were what people were saying back then. But the war went ahead, and now nothing is going to happen to Blair.

That's just an example.

I am not arguing that defeatism is ok. Or cynicism. but I do think that a feeling of powerlessness - they're all the same, anyway - can be understood.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 15:14:19

I agree that comments threads and many columnists are not particularly edifying Pettywoman. I try to get a mixed diet of news in order to balance out the different biases you describe - so a bit of channel 4 news on TV, the odd dip into political talk shows, links to broadsheet articles on twitter - but the best stuff to read are the longer, more analytical pieces. Last year I invested in a subscription to the London Review of Books and it's an amazing resource on the background to current stories.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 15:19:53

oh I agree that it is deeply depressing and frustrating Maudlin - I was on that march and still angry about that. And I try not to wallow in miserable news as that is just counterproductive for everyone.

But I still feel that information is power, and that we are all better off keeping ourselves well informed. For example, there are some well organised local campaigns at the moment against the closure of various NHS hospitals/units and if these were more widely supported and the reasoning behind the doctors strike better understood, it might help prevent the b*stards dismantling the NHS. To my mind, reading about how the government is engineering staff shortages as a pretext for closures and writing to your MP about it is a better use of anyone's time than Love Island (and it might end up saving your life one day).

MaudlinNamechange Fri 02-Sep-16 15:26:02

I agree, GrimUp. (I was there too! I guess everyone was ;) )

But I think it is hard for people to sense any cause / effect value of engagement. There are so many ways of neutralising people's voices.

The NHS thing in particular is truly, truly heartbreaking.

thecatfromjapan Fri 02-Sep-16 15:32:04

One thing I have been thinking about:

Identities are not single-unitary: you are never only (for example) working-class. You may well be black/white & working-class heritage, middle-class mother & straight/lesbian, etc.

At different points, your mosaiced/nodal social-political identity will place you in quite complicated positions with regard to a power, particularly with regard to the power position of your interlocutor. Moreover, we all have an element of identity that is voiced/lived through the discourses we enfold/live through/espouse (even if we espouse them through silence and non-engagement).

So, it is perfectly possible to acknowledge that you are speaking with someone who has been disempowered educationally because of their social-class history, whose non-engagement with a particular source of information is both caused by very real, negative acts of power and is an ongoing act of resistance to that disabling, disempowering act of educational-cultural disempowerment BUT to point out that this ongoing non-engagement ultimately acts to reproduce a structure that is disempowering many others at this particular moment and will continue to do so unless there is some kind of intervention.

In that situation, it has to be OK to point out that the 'non-engagement' is an action, right now, in this present moment, that is serving to oppress you, and other like you. The non-engagement may be rooted in disempowerment but it is serving to disempower you, and others. It's not neutral.

I think the 'squeamishness' is rooted in false notions of unitary social and political identity (and you can trace it back to older notions of specific groups being the annointed agents of history) as well as feelings of pity and embarrassment about acknowledging one's own privilege. None of which is terribly helpful as an end-point - but probably needs to be worked through.

There is also a difficulty with finding 'the words to say it'. These are real conversations, with real people: patronising, aggressive, distantiating language is not going to work. The aim of any such discussion is essentially pragmatic: it has to have an effect, to work.

Everything I have just written is, I think, an example of slightly crap, distantiating language. I've used terms that are quite niche: they are a good short-cut to self-expression but, precisely because many of them derive from quite a niche location, they fail to communicate more widely. That's a failure, right there.

I saw a great example of communication on one of the EU Referendum threads. If I had had any sense, I would have pasted it in an email to myself.

grimupnorthLondon Fri 02-Sep-16 15:32:27

Still better to be having the discussion though Maudlin. Governments are still wary about pushing public opinion too far - look at the poll tax (or the pasty tax for that matter)....

Rockpebblestone Fri 02-Sep-16 15:37:24

The thing is, for some, myself included, 'not watching the news', is not at all about 'anti-intellectualism'. It is purely a pragmatic choice. To carry out the things I need to do, successfully, I need to have focus and clarity of mind. The news, especially rolling news or anything sensationalised, interferes with this. I find myself getting mentally bogged down with tragedies in life that I can do very little about. Yes, come voting season I make sure I am informed, but as soon as I know enough to make a decision, I stop. I sometimes will skim a broad sheet newspaper but again any whiff of sensationalism turns me right away. If I want to consider an issue I would rather do so with the depth it deserves, news programmes rarely give that - I will watch a documentary I find interesting from time to time. Funnily enough I don't feel uniformed and if someone mentions something that piques my interest I will quite happily find out more.

thecatfromjapan Fri 02-Sep-16 15:39:12

Maudlin I think there is a kind of defeatism, or cynicism. People don't have the experience of seeing what they do making any difference. We're like toddlers who are permanently on the naughty step, left out, never offered any positive reinforcement, who have just wandered off and accepted that The Authorities are making daily decisions to punish us, and we're excluded from the process, and that's how it is.

Indeed, Maudlin.

But I truly think that that has to be utterly resisted.

Firstly, there are degrees of engagement, and different spaces and locations and forms of engagement. I'm not a Momentum-ite (<grin>) but it is SO wrong to think that politics=Parliament.

Secondly, since when has it ever been a good idea to make the work of suppressing resistance easier for those who are disempowering you? It's like tying yourself up if people come to rob your house.

Thirdly, I've been thinking this week about Nietzsche's aphorism: "perfect things teach hope" and what that means (I think about this a lot). Your reflection has made me think again about the necessity of hope and the necessity of creating spaces of hopefulness as a precursor, even, for things/aims we might hope and with for.

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