Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An Anti-Intellectual Dog Whistle?

Wheaton Universiy's Allan Jacobs quotes this Claes Ryn piece:
Official professions to the contrary, many self-described American intellectual conservatives have a thinly veiled disdain for philosophy and the arts. Even among academics indifference to what lies beyond broad ideas and popular culture is common. The ruling assumption of the now dominant strains of intellectual conservatism seems to be that the crux of social well-being is politics: bad politicians ruin society; good politicians set it right. . . .
Many supposedly intellectual conservatives seem to consider ideas and culture from afar, as it were, feeling no deep personal need for or intimate connection with them. Some are in a way attracted to the arts or even to philosophical speculation, but see no significant and immediate connection between these and the life of practice. Ideas and the arts are mainly pleasant diversions. Many others have only slight interest in philosophy and culture for their own sake. More or less consciously, they tend to assess either thought or imagination from the point of view of whether it advances or undermines the political cause that they assume to be incontestable. Does the book, lecture, play, movie, or song help or hinder the cause? Although such works may enlighten or entertain, they do not strike these individuals as having intrinsic and independent authority. Works of thought and imagination are for them not intriguing and potentially unsettling forces that might trigger painful self-examination and unpredictably reconstitute one’s own accustomed views; making sense of them is not so much a matter of soul searching as of locating them on the political spectrum.
At the outset, let's stipulate that liberal politicians are not immune to seeing art or ideas as tools to further or hinder the cause. Still disdain for the pointy-headed intellectual seems to be a view held by more on the right than the left.

It does, therefore, make me curious if this Dakota War College post is an anti-intellectual dog whistle. Pat Powers takes after Matt Varilek ostensibly for being a an environmental zealot. The only quotation Powers uses, however, begins with a discussion of Varilek's two post-graduate degrees:
Matt will be pursuing a M.Phil degree in Environment and Development at Queens College where he will investigate how market mechanisms for environmental regulation, such as emissions trading, can be applied effectively in developing countries. This is not the first M.Phil that Matt has gotten. After spending a year as an environmental policy research assistant at the Biosphere 2 Center in Arizona, Matt studied at the University of Glasgow under a Rotary Scholarship. At Glasgow Matt did a dissertation on how to maximize developing country’s benefits from Clean Development Mechanism investment under the Kyoto Protocol in the Economic Development Program.
There are numerous ways to engage in the war of ideas. Dr. Blanchard does it well in this post on a series of Matt Ridley articles. Peter Heck does it poorly. In his post, Powers seems unwillingly to deal with the substance of the ideas; instead, he seems more concerned that Varilek has advanced degrees.

Varilek and Representative Noem have vastly different political views on environmental issues. Her supporters should engage the ideas instead of using dog whistles which are easy and cheap. For example, one could argue that Representative Noem's major environmental accomplishments have been her work on pine beetles and her efforts to carry water for Speaker Boehner, he of the orange face and inopportune weeping.

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