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Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism? (larrysanger.org)
166 points by DanielRibeiro on June 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments



I always find it somewhat ironic that these discussion about anti-intellectualism always seem to lack any knowledge of how old this very discussion is. Plato's Phaedrus spends plenty of time discussing the effects of new technology (writing) on current intellectual practice (memory), and yet I rarely see it even touched on when people write on the topic, so much for those old books. More important: the real anti-intellectualism to look out for is the 'trial of Socrates' kind, not disregarding one form of transmitting knowledge because of your own intellectual curiosity. Certain classes of 'geeks' feeling they have found a better model of knowledge transmission, even if they are wrong, than the academic model is not anti-intellectualism.


Beautiful comment. There might be some parallels between the entrepreneurial culture of the Valley (drop out of school to go conquer the universe, etc.) and the warrior culture of Sparta and Athens. The spirited youth that Socrates seduced were bent on fame and fortune on the battlefield, and had little time for long-haired hippie freak philosophers.


Socrates recommends in the Republic that youth spend time in military service and business, and hold off on doing philosophy until they are around 40 and know a bit more about how the world works.


Actually, Plato paints a very conservative society in the Republic, and even more so in the Laws. However the general picture from the Socratic dialogues isn't so clear cut; Socrates' interlocutors are mostly young people (Phaedrus, Alcibiades, and the likes), and for a part stubborn older people, rhetors, politicians, etc. not really as eager to learn as the young :)


Quite true. Socrates is often saving young people from either being practicality oriented people who can't think like Cephalus, or philosophers who don't matter or are evil like the sophists.


Yet he takes two aspiring young warriors, and converts them to philosophy. Socrates' philosophy was not at all dependent on knowing anything about how the world works: in fact, those shadows were considered harmful.


That's true that he convinces the youth of the value of philosophy. But, that doesn't mean there wasn't any value to the rest of life. In fact, it may give the rest of life more value, since the rest of life can be lived in light of the importance of philosophy. Socrates himself served in combat, and was noted for his bravery (recounted in Symposium). If memory serves, he attributed this bravery to his interest in philosophy.


I don't think Athens was known for its "warrior culture".


From antique on and indeed today. Any civilization worth mentioning in history had a warrior culture. Indeed a man that was not a trained warrior was deemed unfit to perform any kind of public service.

Some cultures being known as more war like, in my opinion only signals their relative cultural poverty on other areas.


What about about the Peloponnesian wars? They went on for decades! Of course, the Athenians were known for other things too.


They defeated the Persians in one of the most important battles in the history of western civilisation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Salamis


geeks aren't opposed to knowledge or the life of the mind

we're opposed to large organizations that empty out our pockets before we start our career and that old out the empty promise of the life of the mind, finally revealing that it only exists for people whose parents are professors.

the modern criticisms of higher ed are similar to those that came up in the 1960s but pecuniary issues are much more important now because higher ed has moved away from being subsidized by the government towards being financed by private loans.


I don't even think it's primarily a problem of subsidization. The costs have skyrocketed due to factors unrelated to education -- massive increases in administrative staff, new buildings, more luxurious buildings, vastly improved housing options etc. These come with a cost, and unfortunately it seems that we've over purchased/overbuilt thus making college unaffordable.

It's just like every hotel moving up to the 5 star level, it's unnecessary and expensive.


If it hadn't been for student loans, the money wouldn't have been there to support the increase in costs. It's a problem similar to health care: some people, at the end of their lives, will spend $500,000 on treatments that give them another 6 months of suffering. If it was your own money, you wouldn't do it. If it is somebody else's money, you will.


I completely agree.


I resent and disagree with the distinction that is being drawn up here.

The notion of disruption is not inherently anti-intellectual. The notion that whatever society or structure under discussion has reached a local maximum, and must be torn down somewhat to be built back up is not to say that a society is worthless, or wrong at it's fundament, but rather that sometimes, change is not possible from within.

It is the opposite of conservatism (with the little "c").

Additionally in the world of the internet, where a thousand flowers bloom, and theories and movements are spawned and die every day, i put relatively little stock in each of the common wisdoms that spring up for their 15 minutes of fame, and then fade into the abyss. Fads like the notion of experts being unnecessary are ridiculous, and largely have no legs. And even to the extent that they do reflect some deep seated feeling, i would more likely attribute them to an antipathy to credentialism, rather than the notion that expertise is worthless.

And if you want to put a political spin on this, posts like these are exactly the sort of false equivalences which make moral argumentation impossible. Sure geekdom has its share of charlatans and know-nothings pretending to be masters of insight, but this is different from demands of faith and fanaticism, and that if you disagree with orthodoxy, not only are you wrong but that you are forever damned, and in some cases, shunned by your friends and family.

I've listened to David Barton (The "Historian", and yes, the scare quotes should indicate to you that he's not an actual historian.) make the claim that the Bible lays out specific prescriptions on tax policy, and that if you vote for a party that raises taxes, you are not on the right side with God.

These are not the same caliber of argument, and i am extremely frustrated to hear them equated.


>The notion of disruption is not inherently anti-intellectual. The notion that whatever society or structure under discussion has reached a local maximum, and must be torn down somewhat to be built back up is not to say that a society is worthless, or wrong at it's fundament, but rather that sometimes, change is not possible from within.

I'm not really sure what you mean here. Tearing down what--books? Schools of thought?


I could be wrong, and I certainly don't want to speak for anyone else really, but I think he's talking more in general principle. That you can't assume that more improvement isn't possible, that sometimes it takes a radical change of direction which can't be seen from a position of orthodoxy. I don't think he was suggesting the death of books or similar, more a reflex towards an open mind.

For what it's worth, the conflation of some extreme "post-modern" views such as "Experts do not deserve any special role in declaring what is known. Knowledge is now democratically determined, as it should be.", with some quite distinct and by no means dependent views questioning the value of forms of rote memorization was to me quite insulting. There is a world of possible nuances between views like these.

I am aware that the intention of that particular section was to (in my opinion clumsily) provoke. However to avoid engaging with the issues with intellectual honesty seems to me to be as anti-enlightenment as anything he ascribes to the anti-intellectual movement he apparently sees.


Sure, i mean all of these things are about the process which produces stuff. So i mean the institution of the book. For example, that the majority of academic publishing be measured in books (some fields definitely do this). Or that the "great" works of literature are inaccessible to the vast majority of the public and that there are more worthwhile things that could be done with one's time than reading "War and Peace".

That is not to say that reading "War and Peace" is wrong, or that it has no value, but that we should reassess whether reading "War and Peace" is somehow a metric of serious thought. This is the same sort of bullshit that people doing pop culture research have had to deal with for years. Whether it's research into comic art (and yes there are research libraries for cartoons – i spent 3 years working in one), contemporary art, or journalists using twitter, their existence is not (inherently) a zero-sum game with the old order. It is a threat to orthodoxy, but it is not a threat to academic inquiry or knowledge.

It'd be like claiming that Martin Luther was a great threat to religion and faith, because he sparked the reformation.


I don't think reading "War and Peace" is in itself a metric of serious thought so much as it is a test of literacy and of attention span.


Or sheer bloody mindedness. If you read "War and Peace" to improve your mind, more power to you. If you read it because you think it will make you better that someone else, you're just engaging in more social signaling.


I don't think people ever do that. Not with War and Peace, anyhows.


An odd thing about Larry Sanger in this regard is that he is actually a pretty good positive (in some ways) example of what he claims to decry! Here is what his bio on that page says:

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, and WatchKnow.org, among others. Now I am lucky enough to be able to work full-time on creating free materials for early education, which I am using with my two little boys and sharing with you.

Now, that all sounds pretty interesting. But does it sound like traditional academia? What are his formal credentials in Internet Knowledge Organization? What are his formal credentials in early childhood education? What does he publish in peer-reviewed journals in those areas? It sounds almost as if, despite no formal training in sociology, new media, online communities, pedagogy, etc. (all of which do have established academic fields, which he could've studied if he wished), he just brazenly went out there and started some projects. As far as I can tell, he didn't even read what had been written about those areas. That's cool, but why is he then all negative on the idea in general? If we wanted to apply some strict standard of expertise, Larry Sanger should be publishing in philosophy journals (an area he has formal training in), and staying out of online communities, education, and other areas in which he lacks academic expertise.

In any case, I'm a computer science academic, and in our field I don't see it as a new sentiment: the idea that you can be a brilliant garage hacker with no degree is decades old. I don't think it's overall that negative a relationship, either. It's not necessarily idyllic, but plenty of non-academics are interested in the work of academic research (algorithms, PLs, operating systems, AI). Even in industry, researchy stuff, like what comes out of Google Research and MSR, gets a lot of interest. It might help that some respect is given in the opposite direction as well-- plenty of academics' heroes include non-degree-holding garage hackers.


"An odd thing about Larry Sanger in this regard is that he is actually a pretty good positive (in some ways) example of what he claims to decry!"

His premise isn't that making knowledge more accessible is bad. It is that the growing attitude that is comprised of (among other things) "If it's on wikipedia, I don't actually need to know it"


Geeks I know value skill and creativity over knowledge. Getting things done instead of getting stuck in pointless intellectual and political considerations. There is a growing contempt for the old academic intelligentsia more concerned with 'clan politics' than actual knowledge creation. The system looks like it is meritocratic, but whoever dwells there long enough knows how far this is from meritocracy.

What seems to be the consensus is that academia has not brought in any revolutionary innovation for decades. Whenever practical innovation came, it came from characters as far from the 'standard intellectual stereotype' as could possibly be. As a result there is a haughty "keep debating while we get the job done" attitude, which may be mistaken for anti-intellectualism. In reality it is not that geeks dislike experts and intellectuals - it is that they've met too many would-be-experts who failed their most trivial relevancy tests, so the term 'expert' raises a BullshitIncomingException almost immediately in any geek's mind.


There is a growing contempt for the old academic intelligentsia more concerned with 'clan politics' than actual knowledge creation.

But lets be clear, this is the case everywhere. Geeks have the same clan politics. The difference is rarely the politics, but where you sit in the pecking order, that changes your perspective.

I actually think the problem with academia in CS today is it's too applied. They should NOT be focused on today's problems. The Cloud is not something one should do research on in academia. Industry will tackle the cloud from a million different angles. But what's after the cloud? What after touch and Kinect? Precise mind control and HUD in glasses/contacts really should be the mainstream in academic research today, but it's actually a fringe.

I think academia should be way out there more than it is. The geeks will protest that they do nothing of relevance, but that's how it should be. :-)


I don't think that "mind control" is the most PR-friendly term for the tech in question.


Those geeks you know (and I really wish you wouldn't generalize here) are being extremely shallow, since those practical innovations almost always build on decades of academic and industrial research. Yeah, the people who put in the last piece of the puzzle needed to commercialize those innovations (which is a great accomplishment in itself, don't get me wrong) tend to be more practically oriented, big surprise there.


Yes, but it is more romantic to attribute everything to one man cough Steve Jobs cough than to the decades of development that went before.

Generally folks who have seen far recognize the shoulders upon which they stand, but those who idolize them seem to see them floating in air.


Do you know how crazy that sounds, typed in a medium invented by a theoretical physicist? Of course I am referring to Tim Berners-Lee.

What counts as "innovation" these days is what, LOLcats?


What's worse is that if you ask, you'll be given a long list of "innovations" created by people who "get things done"... only that they started as research projects in academia before that. The thing is, anti-intellectuals don't look at history to see if their claims are valid.

Very convenient. Also not far from the same-styled groups in the political spheres these days.


Of course they don't, history is just intellectual propaganda :P


Tim Berners-Lee created something practical to solve a problem he and many other people actually had.

What most geeks are against in terms of 'anti-intellectualism' is the difference between X.400 and SMTP. You can build a somewhat functioning SMTP server/client in a day, try doing that with X.400.


And lets not forget hardware... high brow physics, snooty maths, prima dona chemistry, diva material science all go into the design and fabrication of IC's. These are not 'Learn X in a weekend' and show someone my weekend project.

Those spouting anti-intellectual dribble often forget the well worn, time tested shoulders they are standing on.


I think you missed my point. It is not against theoretical science. It is against scientific politics that seem to dominate academia.

Regarding Tim Berners Lee, he is imho all but an 'average theoretical physicist' - which further proves my point.


An average physicist in an international particle physics institution and collaboration, supported by grants, developing for the sake of sharing science, especially experts so they could collaborate with other experts.


Being against "politics" in anything always seems to be shorthand for being against having one's world view challenged. This old meme gets trotted out by corpratists all the time: "X process has become so politicised, if only it were more efficient". It's becoming quite tiring and doesn't actually help advance anyone's argument forward - which I guess is the point.


"Politics" seems to be an excuse for giving up these days. I think baby boomer parenting techniques have left a generation with very little resolve in the face of adversity.


Except "geeks" often live in their own little warped world where trivial relevancy tests might be something like meme recognition, something I'd be more proud of failing than passing half the time.


Traditional "Great Books" academia, or even the liberal arts, has never made the claim to produce innovation. It's quite the opposite. They produce students.


sounds like a depth vs. breadth issue...only in this issue, both sides are being validated.


I think Sanger has conflated multiple streams of argument here.

The first is marxist and postmodernist critiques of the classics. "Dead White Men" and all that jazz.

The second is the demoticism (not the democratisation) of the internet.

These are unrelated, in my view. The PoMx/PoMo criticism is more political, in my view, than what it purports to critique. The change in demoticism is itself not a fundamental change but a rhyming riff on what has happened in the past.

Today the classics have never been more accessible. But just as when Penguin Classics was introduced, most people want penny dreadfuls, potboilers, comic books and a generous helping of porn.


There are a lot of good reasons to read "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", but one thing I got out of it that I think is applicable to this discussion relates to our concept of "the classics". In fields of knowledge where they is progress the classics are often respected, but seldom read. Nobody learning about physics reads the original Newton[1] because there are better ways to phrase the same insights that are easier for students to digest. So we have fields that make progress like the sciences where students read modern textbooks, and fields that don't the original works of their discipline.

The classics have their place as art and as sources of prestige, but if you're looking to learn things there are usually better places to look.

Not that I disagree with everything Mr. Sanger said, but the truth is a complicated beast.

[1] Some people studying the history of science read the originals, but thats different.


"Nobody learning about physics reads the original Newton[1] because there are better ways to phrase the same insights that are easier for students to digest."

I would take issue with that. The way kids are taught calculus in high school ignores everything Newton did because it's not the most efficient way to teach kids how to solve AP problems. But without going back and learning about the questions that Newton was trying to answer, you don't actually understand how calculus works even if you can do it by rote. So at best kids learn it for the test and then forget it because they don't actually understand how it works, and more likely they never really gain any ability to begin with.

Sanger's essay is in praise of school and formal education, but in fact what's taught in school is more often than not just a showy pretense of false economy. It's only when you leave the classroom and have time to really engage with the classics and other substantive works on your own that you can actually start to understand how the world actually works. Don't get me wrong, some form of formal education would be the best way to learn if it actually delivered what people said it did, but it doesn't. This whole essay is intellectually dishonest because high schools and colleges don't even deliver anything remotely close to what Sanger is pretending, at least not for the vast majority of people who go through them. But then again, Sanger has been pretty much full of shit for the better part of the decade. If you actually go through and read his original writing on this topic, it's clear that what he really wants isn't a more intellectual culture, but rather a free pass on being able to make up facts without citing any sources because he has a Ph.D.: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/12/30/142458/25


The classics have their place as art and as sources of prestige, but if you're looking to learn things there are usually better places to look.

It depends, of course, on what kinds of things you are trying to learn. And that is precisely what is at stake here.

You definitely don't go to the classics to learn science or technology. But is that all there is that is worth knowing?

And don't be too hasty in your division of "fields that make progress" and "fields that don't." Our knowledge of Ancient Greece, for example, has grown substantially in the past century, and there has definitely been progress in historiography--but that does not eliminate the need (or, more to the point, the desirability) to read the primary texts.


While I agree that the division between «fields that make progress» and «fields that don't» is hasty, there is a division, in all fields, between research and the object of study, and research tends to change while the object of study doesn't; the Pythagorean Theorem, for example, is still widely taught, even if it's not necessarily taught from Euclid's Elements. Similarly, while, say, Jane Eyre(I hated that book, but it's a good example) persists, today's criticism of the book is far different from that which was written when the Brontës were still alive.


Newton is not a classical author. "Classics" basically refers to philosophy, theology, literature and history from 600BC to 600AD. Humanities in Greece and Rome.


Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren include him in the canon in How To Read a Book. That seems to be as authoritative a list as any.

http://www.interleaves.org/~rteeter/greatbks.html


Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren were, by the way, strong supporters of the reader conversing, even arguing, with the author. I don't the Sanger is on the same page with them, and I don't believe they would agree with his essay.


OK, yes--if, for instance, you go to get a degree in "Classics", you are studying things that were written in ancient Greek and Latin. That's not to say that contemporary philosophers, theologians, historians, and students of literature restrict themselves to that era, though, or that that era is particularly important to them.


I'm reading Anna Karenina right now. It's enjoyable. I think many people would get something out of it if they read it. But most people never did. The majority has never been "well-read". And so, if we can make the majority well-equipped with information (by destroying impenetrable silos and distributing their grain), who cares if that doesn't have any other effect? The person who is well-informed will not necessarily be the same person who has received an excellent liberal arts education any more, but at least ze'll be well-informed.

Edit: clarity. I never intended to say anything about the classics' value, only their past and future popularity.

(in hindsight, the former could easily have been an interpretation of the post)


I can read a wikipedia article on Libertarianism, or I can read "Stranger in a Strange Land". I can read about the dangers of absolute power and lack of free will, or I can read "1984".

The lessons learned from classics are constantly quoted, and it's beneficial for people to read and learn.


Stranger in a Strange Land was about libertarianism? I think you might mean The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, perhaps.


Jubal Harshaw seems to be a libertarian.

Also I need to hit him up for some pick-up advice.


SPOILER maybe

they both have a wise man (Prof/Jubal),

someone with ridiculous power to get them what they need (Mike PC and the Frenchman/Jubal and Mike Smith),

someone rallying to the cause (Wyoh/Ben)

and someone who is central to the cause but is initially reluctant (Manuel/Jill)

and it's a fight for rights of the powerless over the incumbent rulers. They both have a rebellious feel, though "Moon" is more blunt about its political statement (anti-war, small government).


I absolutely agree that reading some classics would be valuable for anyone, but I think it would be hard to learn anything concrete from a lot of what is considered "art".

My argument was that we aren't destroying the silos because we hate the information, we're destroying them because we hate the silos. And if that's beneficial, who cares if most people, who wouldn't have otherwise read Russian literature or listened to Mozart, still don't?


Who cares if other people, who most likely wouldn't have read the manual for their computer, still don't?

I mean, Google is obviously supplanting the manual for a lot of things, but the point is much the same. If people read the fucking manual, they'll have a lot fewer problems. And a lot of the classics are pretty damn good manuals for life.


I'd venture that someone could spend a lifetime attempting to read/listen to the 'classics' and still not fully accomplish that goal. So does this mean that we should all dwell in the past and eschew the future? Or that we should eschew the past and focus on the future?


The future is often the past repeating itself, but most aren't aware of this.


That one is trotted out a little too often. I much prefer Twain's "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

It's important to know of the past, but many who use this argument are simply afraid of the present, and are attempting to denigrate new ideas and discoveries.


I said often, not always. Also, it tends to be an amalgam of different pasts. Like right now what the US is doing in the Middle East looks a whole lot like Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and what we're doing financially looks like what Japan did.

So, I do think it is an accurate phrase, but misunderstood.


You're not going to find out about 'what Japan did' by reading 'the classics' though. The past is encompassed in more than just classic literature.


Quite true, but classics focus on distilling principles. If the authors' thinking was valid then, there isn't any reason it shouldn't be valid now, as I've been arguing that at least parts of the past repeat.


I think that in a lot of cases, if you're looking to learn something "concrete" from a piece of art, or art in general, you might be looking at it the wrong way. A lot of the best art is instructive in some way, but not the same way that a wikipedia article or a technical how-to is.


Perhaps not all knowledge is concrete.


I think this essay's definition of anti-intellectualism is incoherent -- must I disrespect knowledge itself, disrespect all education beyond grade school, disrespect War and Peace, or merely disrespect Nicholas Carr, in order to be labeled an anti-intellectual? -- so it's hard to make a definitive response.

But here's a partial response, focused strictly on the phenomenon of college education:

It would be easier to embrace academia if the inflation-adjusted cost of going to school were stable or decreasing, rather than growing at 6.8% per year between 1987 and 2009:

http://seekingalpha.com/article/144835-college-tuition-expla...

With a few exceptions -- gods bless MIT Open Courseware and the Khan Academy -- the academy does not scale, nor does it even try very hard. The Internet gets more inclusive every year. The academy does not. As economies grow around the world and the web gets built out, we add more and more people to our public discourse, and the percentage of those people who've gone to Harvard just gets smaller and smaller.

It would be easier to embrace academia if a young academic had more than a snowball's chance in hell of finding an academic job. Nostalgic baby boomers can look back at a time when new colleges were going up at a great rate and they were all hiring staff. Not so much anymore. I know lots and lots of people who would love to do laboratory research, for example... in a world where it didn't involve an enormous pay cut, enormous career risk, incredible devotion, high stress, difficult politics, and potentially the sacrifice of one's family life.

It would be easier to embrace academia if academic research, much of which is paid for with public funds, was published in open journals that all taxpayers could read for free, instead of in expensive private journals that only other academics can access for "free" via their university libraries.

And a lot more people would be touting the virtues of college degrees if the unemployment rate for college graduates weren't at its highest point since 1970:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2010-12-06-...

It may not be entirely the intellectuals' fault that college education costs more than before and can take longer than ever to pay off [1], but you can't expect people not to complain about it.

---

[1] AFAIK college education does pay off, handsomely, even now. Although if tuition keeps growing and wages do not, shouldn't we feel free to wonder, out loud, how much longer this can remain true? Isn't that what a numerate intellectual might wonder?


> It would be easier to embrace academia if academic research, much of which is paid for with public funds, was published in open journals that all taxpayers could read for free, instead of in expensive private journals that only other academics can access for "free" via their university libraries.

In principle I agree with this point, in practice it is moot. Any member of the public can visit a local university or large public library and get access to any book or journal article they desire. No, they can't read the articles without leaving their office, but, yes, they can get all of the research articles and other scholarly publications for free. Libraries exist for a reason, they still provide the service they advertise. This is a false criticism of the flawed and broken publishing system.

> I think this essay's definition of anti-intellectualism is incoherent -- must I disrespect knowledge itself, disrespect all education beyond grade school, disrespect War and Peace, or merely disrespect Nicholas Carr, in order to be labeled an anti-intellectual? -- so it's hard to make a definitive response.

As in a discussion on religion it depends entirely on how you scope the word "intellectual." It could and does mean a variety of things. I believe the author of the original article was leaving it open to many meanings. This is not good writing. He should have said what he meant, instead of the feeling of what he meant.

> in a world where it didn't involve an enormous pay cut, enormous career risk, incredible devotion, high stress, difficult politics, and potentially the sacrifice of one's family life.

Those are all fair statements on the cost of pursuing a life in academic research. However, only the pay cut really differentiates academia from any other competitive field. People engage in academia because they love it not because they get rich.

> As economies grow around the world and the web gets built out, we add more and more people to our public discourse

Interesting factoid, the amount of academic publishing has pretty much only gone up in last century. So even discounting the Internet public discourse (and I do believe academic publications are public) has been growing.


Any member of the public can visit a local university or large public library and get access to any book or journal article they desire.

I think it's a bit sad that I have to drive all the way from Buenos Aires to Texas if I want to read a journal from an university in the US, even if it wasn't my tax money that paid for it. Specially considering how positive and easy it would be to make this knowledge publicly available.


There's often creative ways around this. For one, emailing the authors of an article and asking for a copy, checking arxiv, emailing a journal and asking for a copy (yes, sometimes they will give you a copy for free) and a bunch of other things.

When I was doing more research I did this occasionally and it worked out good, especially for newer papers.


The original point still stands - it's 50 times easier to click on a wikipedia link. At least.


It's easier to take a shit on a sidewalk when you are outside instead of using a toilet too.


Except in this case, thanks to DRM, obfuscation, "secret-club-ism" and some generally really ugly examples of rent-seeking, you're the sidewalk.


Note to self: Stop posting on websites drunk


At Cornell anybody can walk into the library and find books in the stacks. Go to Harvard or Yale and you'll find armed guards in their way.

Cornell's libraries are gradually disappearing; they quit buying CS conference proceedings in 2008 and 95% of the books in physical sciences and engineering will be going into long term storage where you can only get them with a library card.

Recent literature will only be available by using a computer connected to the internal internet of the school, and there may be a time when all of those computers are behind a locked door and need a password.

As for "people engage in academia because they love it" I've seen at elite schools that 80%+ of the researchers are people whose parents were also researchers who started drilling into them with a young age that their life would be complete failures if they did anything else. Often they'd run so ragged publishing and perishing that it's hard to believe that they enjoy anything at all.


> Any member of the public can visit a local university or large public library and get access to any book or journal article they desire.

This has not been entirely my experience. Unfortunately, I only have a half-remembered anecdote rather than data, but what I've found is that journals in some university libraries are becoming less accessible in paper form. Instead, one is directed to a JSTOR subscription or such. Of course, in order to access the electronic version, one must authenticate to the network with a university ID. This erodes the effect you describe.

Can anyone else confirm or refute this trend? Am I merely imagining it?


Let's not get into estimating the actual percentage of humanity that lives within, say, thirty minutes of a publicly accessible library with a Nature subscription. (I do, but I pay big-city rent for a reason.) Instead, let's talk about modern information technology.

Have you ever visited tvtropes.org? Don't go if you don't have the rest of the day to waste. It is seriously addictive, mostly because it's a sterling example of hypertext in action, maybe even better than Wikipedia. Every article is linked to the others. Every citation has a link. You want to check a reference, you click. You want to surf a chain of references N generations back, you click N times. You can't not follow the links on tvtropes.org, unless you simply hate all pop culture.

It is the height of irony that HTTP was originally invented to link up academic publications, because when last I surfed academic journals, six years or so ago, it didn't work that way. You would click a journal article, maybe click through a couple of crappy login screens, maybe navigate up and down some menus on some journal's CMS, and finally find the article after a bunch of surfing. It would have footnotes. The footnotes were almost never links. Instead you had to manually type their key information into your local library's website in some other window, and then hope that your local library had the journal, then surf through some more screens and up and down some more delightful CMS cruft before you found the article.

Smart folks would download PDFs of everything as they went and then file them in some personal database like Endnote. But they still wouldn't be cross-linked. You had to spend time organizing them, or use the search a lot.

I assume that this workflow has improved at least a bit since then. Maybe Endnote or its competitor is smarter, maybe journals have finally started publishing hyperlinks. Maybe it has even improved to the point that academic literature is half as easy to surf as, say, tvtropes.org. In which case I take back much of what I said, and we can go back to estimating how many people can actually be expected to access the blessed terminal where all of this can happen. But I bet it hasn't improved that much. I bet it's still impossible to construct a hyperlink from Nature directly to Science, mostly because they've got different and incompatible DRM.

Mind you, things are heaven compared to when I was in grad school, when following references from a paper meant going into the stacks, laboriously collecting one heavy paper volume per footnote, physically hauling them back to a photocopier, and copying the articles two pages at a time. Oh, the hours I spent. Life is much better now. But, you know, young people don't know or care about how hard I had it. All they can see is that it's fifty times easier to research the plot of any episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion than it is to follow a chain of citations from a Nobel-winning publication back two generations, and that a popular article about a videogame from 1980 can link to its sources but a popular article about a publication from last Wednesday's Nature can only link to a paywall.

Science is always going to be a hard sell compared to the rest of our culture, so why do we make it even harder?


> Maybe it has even improved to the point that academic literature is half as easy to surf as, say, tvtropes.org.

It is. try google scholar, pub med, or academic.research.microsoft.com for starters and Mendeley for building a personal "library" (note Mendeley isn't perfect but it is a lot better than not using a paper manager.) Things aren't great but they are better.

> I bet it's still impossible to construct a hyperlink from Nature directly to Science, mostly because they've got different and incompatible DRM.

I have no idea I don't read Nature or Science. The Computer Science literature I read is all easily searchable these days.

> Mind you, things are heaven compared to when I was in grad school, when following references from a paper meant going into the stacks, laboriously collecting one heavy paper volume per footnote, physically hauling them back to a photocopier, and copying the articles two pages at a time.

I still do this (but for Religious Studies research in my spare time) and don't really mind it, although I try to avoid photocopying when possible as it is a pain.

> All they can see is that it's fifty times easier to research the plot of any episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion than it is to follow a chain of citations from a Nobel-winning publication back two generations, and that a popular article about a videogame from 1980 can link to its sources but a popular article about a publication from last Wednesday's Nature can only link to a paywall.

I am usually against the idea of progress, but in this instance I do believe this will not be the case forever. Already we are starting to see changes in the publishing industry. Search tools are improving, archiving tool are improving, library collection tools are improving. Yes it is slow, but the problems they are solving a much harder than the problem of generating new content. New content can be put the days leading format (papyrus, scrolls, codex, books, pamphlets/newspaper/magazine, websites/blogs/wikis) at zero extra cost. Old content however costs a lot to update. Libraries and academic journals have a lot of content that existed before the web, before the pdf, and before the wiki. It takes sometime of the format transition but if the past is any guide the old formats eventually become historical curiosities rather than knowledge repositories.


Oh, I'm not surprised to find the CS literature leading the way to our hyperlinked future. CS folks are the first to know the score when it comes to online publishing.

Unfortunately, I was never a CS guy, I was a cancer researcher. And if you can't read the Nature journals you're not going to keep up with medical or genetic research -- everyone in the field openly lusts after Nature publications; Nature gets first crack at every manuscript -- and Nature sits firmly behind a paywall.

Let's try your helpful suggestions on the legendary paper, Viable offspring derived from fetal and mammalian cells, a.k.a. "the Dolly-the-sheep paper", Nature 385, 810-813 (27 February 1997). Surely I can write a blog post in which I link directly to the methods section of this famous work, which contains the first-ever working recipe for cloning an entire mammal? I mean, this is from 1997. We even had the web in 1997. Don't try to tell me that this has to be painstakingly transcribed from some faded papyrus.

Pubmed has the abstract, of course -- they have abstracts for everything:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9039911

And Microsoft provides lots of cute metadata about this paper, but no actual contents:

http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Publication/4066302/v...

...so if I want to talk about the methods section, it looks like I'll have to tell my blog readers to click through to, e.g., the Nature Publishing Group and pay thirty-two dollars for the privilege [1]:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v385/n6619/pdf/385810a0...

Or will I? Google Scholar to the rescue:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=Viable+offspring+derived...

The first link is to a reprint of most of the article, in a book. And they've managed to include every page. Today, anyway. For me, this time. (Other pages of the book are "not included" in the preview, so maybe others won't be so lucky?)

Oops, except the figures and tables aren't there. Sure hope there wasn't any data in those figures and tables.

So I'm saved, sort of, thanks to Google's big scanning budget and even bigger legal budget, provided I want to cite the words of Wilmut et al, and not their data. Or their slightly-more-obscure references, or any of their many citations -- for those, I will have to repeat this dance, and hope I still get lucky.

I know I've got a bit of an idee fixe here, but I cannot get over how utterly lame this is. My god, it is lame. Much of the best work of modern civilization, the pinnacle of hundreds of years of scientific advance, work which our society invests billions of dollars in, is hidden inside this pitifully obsolete rent-seeking system while we use state-of-the-art infotech to exchange pop-music lyrics and annotate famous games of Magic: The Gathering.

---

[1] No, that is not thirty-two dollars per year, or even per month. That's one paper. You're probably better off springing for a subscription ($199) although that only gets you Nature: all the other journals in the Nature family, like Nature Medicine, are extra, and of course every other journal is also extra.


And even in CS you are mostly out of luck if it has been published by any of the usual anti-progress rackets like the ACM or IEEE or the other usual suspects (Springer , Elsevier and their ilk). Sometimes authors are allowed to publish a copy on their homepages, and sometimes they even do, but you still have to find it. Just yesterday I tried to find a description and current assesment of an algorithm from the late 60ies (arc labeling for shortest paths with turn penalties), and most references I found were north of $35 for twelve pages.


I completely agree about Springer and Elsevier, but the ACM and IEEE both offer "Digital Library" subscriptions that give you complete access to the entire archives of all of their publications for a couple of hundred bucks a year (including their membership fee.) That's a small price to pay for the quantity and quality of material available, at least in my opinion-- and I'd be ecstatic if Elsevier or Springer offered a similar option. (I've probably paid more than that to Springer this year alone just to get a half-dozen individual articles.)


There has been some improvement: namely, if you copy and paste an article's title from the bibliography into Google Scholar, you can usually get to a PDF without clicking through much CMS cruft. That's about it, though.


Assuming your sitting in front of a terminal that has the subscription. I'm still loathing my university's vpn solution for being soooo dog-slow, but it was the only way to read intersting papers from home or gather all the references for a bit of research. Now that I'm out of my studies I'm totally deprived of that pleasure. Yeah, you could go to the library. Hell will freeze over when I do that just to scroll over an interesting paper on a slow day.

And the most infuriating thing: I'm already paying for most of the public research with my taxes.


Any member of the public can visit a local university or large public library and get access to any book or journal article they desire.

At my local university library the online journal databases are only available to students and faculty. Members of the public can only read the paper journals.


How does the author equate: "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.” "

To: "Experts do not deserve any special role in declaring what is known"?

I recently attended a paid training course run by the authors of some well known toolkit. They are, without discussion, the experts on their own software.

Nobody in the course got to 'hello world' before 2PM, the instructors constantly bickered between each other what tools the students should be using, and further discussion was limited to 'check our kitchen sink app for more demo code'. Everyone on the course

This is because having knowledge of a topic, and being able to teach others, are separate skills. Both are required, however academics - people who spend their live in academia and are used to learning things for the purpose of learning, whereas most others are goal oriented - tend to lack the latter skill, despite their expertise in the former.

This is not anti intellectualism. This is about requiring teachers to have the ability to teach.


(pardon the missing fragment above)

"Everyone on the course...." later revealed they were either glad they didn't pay for it themselves or regretted that they did.


I think at its core this issue is all about ease and speed vs. the classical idea of gaining knowledge through a long, pondering struggle of the mind, equally involving pouring over ponderous texts and memorizing facts.

As far as the lightning speed of modern information technology, I must admit to be alarmed at that- I feel that my attention span has become so deteriorated in recent years that I find it very difficult to complete reading books. I haven't even finished reading this article (though I shall do so later). Certainly shortened attention spans + greater access to information -> absorption and retention of only a shallow subset of knowledge would be a great danger.

Frankly, I'd like to see lifehacker-type articles that propose ideas to rebuild attention spans and teach memory techniques. Sort of blunting the anti-intellectual effects of prolonged exposure to the internet. I'd like to think that proper guidance, discipline, and training is the cure to anti-intellectualism. Perhaps that is something that Confucius would have approved of.


Years ago I read about a study with college students. They had one group read a book each night until they no longer wanted to read. The other group was told to do the same, but then to make themselves read just one more page. The latter group reported that they read more and more each night, and found their attention span increased significantly.


What's the line between anti-intellectualism and being able to recognise an argument from authority fallacy? Sanger does not seem to be able to draw it.


I've learned more reading Dostoevsky than I ever have writing code. One is practical knowledge that might lead to a paycheck, the other is depth of knowledge that (for me) leads to a fulfilling and well-rounded life. The value is not mutually exclusive.


It's more that geeks oppose old institutions having a monopoly on knowledge than that they oppose any sort of knowledge at all. Maybe there's some resistance to the rigid, hierarchical structure of "intellectualism" as well.


The idea that institutions have a monopoly on knowledge is starting to become preposterous. The closest thing to a monopoly is a few journals, but their days are numbered. The monopoly doesn't exist. There is absolutely nothing stopping anyone from buying any textbook and learning what they want to learn, from buying all the tools they need and teaching themselves. At the end of the day, you can learn anything anyone else learned going to college. If you are upset because you can't get a job because you don't have a degree to prove what you know, then that's something you need to take up with the companies that are doing the hiring.

How can there be a monopoly when there are hundreds to thousands of individual institutions competing for each other? Of course, college isn't free or unencumbered by some silly rules, but neither is buying an iPhone.


Institutions are merely hubs of knowledge, a natural enough occurrence. Maybe information does want to be free, but free birds of a feather flock together.

I personally feel the image that they are or are trying to cultivate a monopoly is a misguided perception based on jealousy, resentment, etc


What I've observed is that to really get to the deep learning, the deep knowledge, requires moving into the 'elite', and learning from them.

Think of it as applied Pareto: find the top 20 who do 80% of the work, and learn from them so you can move into them.

One of the most absolutely valuable pieces of 'research' I have done as part of my Master's is learning about systems that were designed and built before 1980. Then, learning about how many of those ideas were recycled and or forgotten in the trash heap behind Unix's house.


Definitely agree with you, most of the value in a the school system comes on the day they hand you a piece of paper. The school system is not intellectual, it's elitist.

It's the whole idea that someone thinks their answer is right because someone dropped two hundred grand on an education they could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late fees at the public library.

I hear it all the time, "is he good engineer?" "yeah, he went to <who fucking cares>"

If that kind of thinking is anti-intellectual than sign me up for the anti-intellectual camp.


"Most of the value in a the school system comes on the day they hand you a piece of paper."

Then you're doing it wrong. Like many things in life, what you get out is proportional to what you put in.


I want to really emphasize what the parent post says.

I'm currently an undergraduate and I am having an exceptional experience. Two summers ago, I worked with a professor one-on-one to build a compiler for a subset of Scheme. From last summer through to the fall of 2010, I was working at Intuit which is by no means the epitome of excellent software engineering, but I got to live in San Diego, experience a whole new culture, learn to sail, and experience software engineering in the "real world".

Finally, this summer and fall, I get to work with Olin Shivers (yes, him[1]) and some erudite, poignant grad students.

Even in classes, you can take advantage of having an expert to ask questions of, and believe me, I take full advantage of it. I've spent hours inquiring about the LHC, Mandarin idioms, and the history behind and intricacies of English grammar rules during my time here.

The school system is an opt-in, opportunity machine.

carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

[1] http://www.scsh.net/docu/html/man.html


In my experience this is all good and well until you're bombarded with homework and exams. Sure, university would be a great and magical place without them, but when you're given assignments that could easily fill a week's "free" (read: not in classes) time, each week, then the fun and games stop.

You might say that this is a learning experience on its own - how to cope with heavy workload. But:

a) when I look at myself and at others it definitely means that at some point you start to study for the sake of studying, not understanding

b) I could (arguably) create more value for my life and possibly the world, as well as learning to cope with pressure, by investing so much energy in other endeavors


While I am of mixed opinion on the article, the one part that really stands out for me is his insistence of the necessity of long, difficult texts. I am one of the people that seldom reads a book these days. It's not that I find it too challenging, or too long. I certainly read fast enough, and my background is sufficiently wide. However, I do find it far too repetitive and rife with personal opinion that does not aid my quest for more knowledge.

Why would I read a book about a programming language when there is a set of APIs, tutorials, and articles that can convey the information in 1/10th the time? Why should I read a dozen chapters about the history leading to a new mathematical concept when I can just quickly read the research paper about that specific concept? Why do I have to read a hundred asides about what the author does on his days off, how he loves his wife and his dog, of what sort of stupid questions his students asked of him? I'm just here for information, and unfortunately books are rarely the most ideal way of getting it.

Not to say that all books are bad, and should be deprecated as a medium. I have, and will always find good books enjoyable. However, to insist that they are an irreplaceable feature of the quest for knowledge is ignoring the reality of how the quest for knowledge has changed. In the end it's not about long, difficult texts; just difficult texts will often suffice.


As others have generally pointed out, 'intellectualism' isn't the problem. Instead, it's a particular brand of intellectualism that economically benefits from maintaining its established system. These intellectuals have little incentive to change their established position from which they profit. and they profit a lot. Generally, the traditional intellectual world can't keep up with the pace of the rest of the culture. We consumers and participants of intellectualism want cheaper, faster, more variety and niche. The current intellectual establishment benefits from the opposite.

Intellectualism is alive and well on the Internet. In fact this blog post and reaction to it is evidence. It's just that the traditional expert model doesn't scale into real economies. Many forces continue to work against it. As with other capital, intellectual capital will flow, like liquid, through the least resistant path. If one seeks influence and participation over intellectual topics, why would they spend many years going through the motions of attaining credibility and standing, when they can establish their presence much quicker along other routes?

All of the objects and roles referenced in the article (e.g. books, experts, etc.) have continued value, and they won't disappear, they will just be augmented by technology.


Recently there seems to be an increasing hate towards academia in particular, usually ranting about how it is too theoretical and how it doesn't prepare you for the "real world".

Funny enough, this seems to come more often from people who either never went through college, or failed at it for whatever reason. Which can be fine, for people who are dedicated enough to actually learn on the job, instead of just acquiring habits and repeating them over and over.

What isn't fine is this praise for superficial knowledge. What irks me the most is people praising their ignorance of what academic knowledge really offers, and how it can change some of your solutions (many times unknowingly) in the "real world".

Practice does not replace fundamental knowledge. Practice only teaches you the solutions for the problems you encounter, not the solutions to the problems other people have encounterer over time, and the underlying reasons for the solutions you are using.

It this particular case there isn't so much "anti-intellectualism", but a justification for ignorance.


Should people read a classic book because it is important or because it is a good book?

I firmly reject the notion that a book should be read because it is "classic". But any book that's good should be read for it's intrinsic quality as exemplary writing.

To that end, Ethan Frome can get fucked, Moby Dick is gonna (minus the incredibly inaccurate whale biology chapters) will be around forever.


«A classic is a book that everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read.»

Guess which «geek anti-intellectual» said that. Mark Twain.


This article is shallow trollbait. For example, this list summing up the beliefs of the anti-intellectual geek:

> 1. Experts do not deserve any special role in declaring what is known. Knowledge is now democratically determined, as it should be.

Who said that, and where? "Experts" are not excluded from Wikipedia or, in fact, any other online community. In a way, Quora, StackOverflow and friends recognize the value of the expert. The only difference is that now you don't have to pay thousands of dollars and travel to another country to ask these experts questions. You don't even have to attend university! It's about inclusion, not exclusion. Is the OP bitter about the fact that any teenager with a web browser can now learn how to write a radix sort whereas he had to go to university to learn it? Or is he bitter about the fact that said teenager has already learned a good chunk of important CompSci material even before graduating from high school and thus feels that a formal CS degree might be overkill? Sure, you can't learn philosophy at home, and you sure as hell can't build a particle accelerator at home, but anything that does not require special infrastructure that only a university can provide is up for grabs. Think maths, compsci, even design.

> 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.

Once again, I don't know where he's getting this from. Does he know about the Kindle? Or iBooks? People still buy books when they need in-depth knowledge. The only time I look at Wikipedia instead of a book is when I'm doing initial research on a topic or when I feel I only need surface knowledge of the topic at hand. Sometimes I will buy a book because it was cited on Wikipedia. Does the OP know about the books people publish online? Real World Haskell, Dive Into Python, The Architecture of Open Source Applications, Clever Algorithms to mention a few CS-related books. Then there are a bunch of books on analog and digital electronics, math and statistics, all published on the web. A book does not have to be in the form of printed pages to convey knowledge. And remember: the people writing these books are still "experts", they still speak from "authority", they still have an "individual voice". Social media merely aggregates the work of individuals.

> 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.

What "classics" are we talking about here? Are we talking about philosophical texts? If yes, I don't think any geek questions the value of the work of Socrates. OTOH, the value of fiction is debatable. I personally love reading classics because I want to learn about people from another era. Some people prefer to read contemporary authors, and I don't think they're any worse off. David Foster Wallace has as much to say as Tolstoy.

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.

This is an age-old debate. What is more important: understanding why the Roman empire fell or knowing when it fell? Besides, if something is worth memorizing, you almost always end up memorizing it involuntarily. For example, many developers know regex syntax by heart. Same goes for human language: after looking up the same thing 20 times, you end up remembering it. The argument geeks are making is: why remember inconsequential data when you can be analyzing it instead?

> 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.

So going to college is the paragon of success? I'm sorry, but building and running a business is a far more difficult task than getting through college. IMO, of course. I do not judge people by the degrees they have. My opinions might be a bit jaded, though; college in India produces graduates who are pretty much unemployable.

Looks like the OP met a crackpot on IRC and painted every geek with the same broad brush.


Your rejoinder to #1 is spot-on. Seeing Peter Shor comment on complexity theory or Peter Norvig talk about AI has made Stack Exchange one of my favorite knowledge sources.


He did mention that his manifesto is meant to be provocative.

1) The difference is that the experts' opinions are not being amplified anymore,as there is no reliable "authority index" on the web yet. Should we trust wikipedia to build, say, LHC?

2) People actually read less books http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071... . I guess he's referring to works of fiction and philosophy that require long linear reading, not reference material.

3) Classics are called "classics" because they convey fundamental ideas that shape our society. I would argue, though, that the problem is that "classics", as in "seminal books" are not being written anymore. Btw, Socrates never wrote anything.

4) True, i dont see what's bad about foregoing memorization of facts that are not relevant to one's pursuit.

5) Getting through college is just the start for academics. Making a profound discovery is the goal and it's much more difficult than making a moderately successful business. [My theory is that the role of luck is much bigger in entrepreneurship than in academia]


>Classics are called "classics" because they convey fundamental ideas that shape our society. I would argue, though, that the problem is that "classics", as in "seminal books" are not being written anymore.

Classics are only classic in retrospect. It's not easy to say exactly what will be remembered from the last 30 years, but I'll bet the answer isn't "nothing".


I question number 5. Don't most PhD students succeed in making a peer reviewed thesis? The same cannot be said for businesses.


A PhD thesis with little other impact would be the equivalent of a business that barely breaks even. My point is that the luck/work ratio of , say, the 10 greatest websites is much higher than the equivalent of , say, the laws of quantum mechanics.


The problem seems to be with the explosion of knowledge around us. Very often, beyond basic principles, what we are being taught in school is failing us in real life by being too general, too generic, and too broad to solve the problems we face. Given this, and given the lengths to which one must dig by oneself to solve a problem, a self reflecting geek tends to look back and see that his education has not been of much help. This is more so among information technology professionals and maybe among some in fundamental research.

This doesn't make education unnecessary, just that there needs to be a way of making it more relevant to people, problems and choices.


I don't think this article has much, or at least enough, to offer to stimulate a high quality debate on the subject. It conflates anti-intellectualism with skepticism about academia and authority, these are very different things though.


The ongoing attacks on academia have little to do with geek culture in particular. Academia is under attack primarily for cynical political purposes. Specifically, because the political right wing sees institutions of higher learning as bastions of left wing political ideology and because the employees of these institutions are largely unionized. What is happening is fundamentally a political battle dressed up in the guise of "concern" about tuition costs and the value of a college education.


New? No. Just the latest fad of rationalizations.


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.

I think this is the core of the article.

Firstly, geeks are not opposed to knowledge, as such. There's knowledge, and the ability to apply it, and geeks value both. We don't all value both equally, there's a bit of diversity here, but "put up or shut up" is seen as a valid call. You can't just claim to know better.

You contemptuously dismiss experts who have it

We dismis experts who flash their "expert card". We are deeply suspicious of experts of the esoteric, unless they can show they are also proficient in the familiar.

you claim that books are outmoded, including classics, which contain the most significant knowledge generated by humankind thus far

Here is where we start deeply mistrusting experts of the esoteric. Notice how the author refuses to actually specify which old books are important? Criticize Plato and he will say he is talking about Gothe. Or Victor Hugo. Or Sun Zi. Or Spinoza.

you want to memorize as little as possible, and you want to upload what you have memorized to the net as soon as possible

I advocate memorizing as much as possible. Cognitive psychology has a lot of evidence that low level knowledge is the foundation of higher order skills. A lot of modern educationalists dismiss this, but they don't have any evidence; just credentials of esoteric expertise.

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

Accessible knowledge is a good thing - would the author have opposed the Gutenberg press? Probably.

As I've stated, I do want students to memorize as much as possible. If there are any geeks who think differently, they should read "Why Students Don't like School" - which presents a fair amount of cognitive psychology in a very easy format.

Finally, we get to the real point. Because of our virolent anti-intellectualism, we discourage students from attending university. Bullshit. We discourage some students for going to university for three reasons: Firstly, we don't think it's necessarily the best way to educate themselves, mostly because class sizes are so big you might as well just watch a better lecturer on youtube. Second, it's not necessarily worth it, from an economic point of view. Finally, universities need a bit of competition.


Is there a new jock anti-athleticism?


I understand that you're trying to say that jocks are to athleticism as geeks are to intellectualism. Your tone indicates that you believe that jocks cannot be anti-athletics. By your initial analogy, geeks cannot be anti-intellectual.

However, I disagree with at least the analogy. The word "geek", in this context, refers to a computer programmer, not an intellectual.


These kinds of discussions remind me of the people who said 20 years ago that calculators were going to make everyone math-illiterate.


I just flashed back to one of many times in the last few years that the person behind the cash register couldn't handle basic making change without the machine telling him how to count.

But then, if we're seriously talking about "the classics", then "everyone" is already classic-illiterate, aren't they? I mean, I took two semesters of Great Books and done a good bit of further reading on my own. I'd be willing to bet that puts me in the top 1% of the population. But I'm still fairly classic-illiterate by the standards of 100 years ago...


Huh? I'm trying to get my head around today being less 'classically literate' than in the early 1900s. For example, in the United States, 10% of the populate was flat-out illiterate. Only 50% of people were enrolled in primary education (reaching a middle-school level education). [1] Secondary schools (High School) just started around the 1890s. Enrollment in schools that are now mandatory was 10%. [3]

Since 1942, inflation-adjusted cost per pupil increased by 700%. [2] Some of that is surely inefficiency but most is because we spend more on education. This means better teachers and better materials.

And this is in a country with one of the largest GDP in 1900. You can pretty safely assume we've had far less drastic changes in our own education system compared to the rest of the world.

I'm sure Thomas Jefferson could destroy you in Classics knowledge. However, he was one of ten his age that had the means and passion enough to spend much of his life reading them.

But, this all adds up. This leads to people reading War and Peace, Jane Eyre and Great Gatsby before they leave mandatory secondary school. And while not every country is at this level, technology and humanism has given people a much better chance in life to explore these types of works all over the world.

[1] http://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp [2] http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-025.html [3] http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/HS-20.pdf


I think the internet is, for those who can take it in, very humbling. The anti-intellectuals are the people who react badly to this overwhelming sense of one's own smallness.

In 1900, colleges decided what it was important for an upper-middle-class person to know. One set of writers and texts was in the canon; the rest were not. Sometimes the selection was based on quality but it was often political as well. It wasn't actually possible to have "all knowledge" but one could get all the "important" knowledge in a few years of study. Any thinking person in 2011 realizes that this is no longer true (if it ever was). There's a million times more genuinely valuable knowledge out there than anyone can take in in a human life. Also, the authorities once trusted to decide what was important have been disrobed by technology; the increased power of technology has allowed us to discern that they aren't much smarter than the rest of us.

Anyway, the result is that a lot of people get really insecure and overwhelmed when they realize how much they know nothing about, and there's a tendency among some people, as a defense mechanism, simply to declare large sectors of knowledge useless, unimportant, or outmoded.

It's not just the less intelligent who have this attitude either. I've heard an esteemed computer scientist (someone with a name, but I'll withhold it here) argue that the only useful literature is science fiction because everything else is "just the seven deadly sins, over and over again".


It isn't that the elites are about as smart as the rest of us, it's that they were usually found to have their own agenda, regardless of the ideals they espoused. Just another case of someone telling you "it's for your own good", when really it was for theirs. "Intellectuals" are the ones who are reacting badly, when their "authority" is challenged.

It's not anti-intellectual to require someone back up their statements from authority, it's science.


That's not anti-intellectual. That's just being discerning about what information you take in. Everyone needs to do that, especially with regard to, e.g., news media.

Anti-intellectualism is when people start making ridiculous statements like "classical literature is boring and irrelevant" and "college is a waste of time" (rather than merely overpriced).


Taking the author's point of view, one can spot 2 underlying assumptions about the world in today's digerati:

1) The more information we consume, the more likely we are to come up with a useful theory, tool etc. Our brain is designed to process and recombine stimuli and come up with innovative things, so the more combinations we do, the more likely we are to succeed. This is sort of like a darwinian theory of science and technology. There also an anti-specialization trend among geeks.

2) People have an equal opportunity to create new and significant knowledge.

While (1) is debatable, (2) seems to be outright wrong. Some of our greatest scientists, from Newton to Einstein were "lucky" in coming up with great Ideas more than once in their lives. They also had a narrow field of focus, and it's doubtful they could keep up with Twitter today.


I think the best examples of geek anti intellectualism are the groupthink cultures of reddit and 4chan.


They're called Derp-sters.


All this article does is bash other peoples' opinions without providing and basis of its own. Why are the classics still worth reading? Why is practical knowledge not good enough? If I was supposed to be convinced by this, I wasn't. I still feel that reading "The Classics" is outdated. I see no real problem with them being considered "tl;dr". It doesn't seem unreasonable to me either to say that memorization is antiquated, I think that's true, though it certainly isn't done for all together and I do think you need to memorize things at first to learn them on some topics. I also am currently in university and feel like a lot of theory I've learned has been helpful and a lot of it has not. Frankly, the jury is still out for me on this topic and this article sure didn't put me on this guy's side of the fence.


In response to his accusations, I DO think that most classics probably ought not to be read. But that DOESN'T mean I'm anti-intellectual - rather, it means I believe that iteration is everything and we just need to upgrade our old firmware. Classics are, by and large, inefficient mediums of information. The fact that they are still around today is really just a function of the fact that they were still around yesterday. And what if every nugget of knowledge and insight that is contained in a classic could be transmitted in a much smaller package? We'd have trouble remembering and applying it all, sure, but not if they were a part of our collective consciousness - as many ideals found in the classics already are. Believe it or not, you already know most of what Kant, or Twain, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare has to tell you. They were all human, just like us, and we are more than capable of thinking what they thought without reviewing what they said first.


I properly know all that Shakespeare has to say to me, but the importance of him is how he says it, how he makes English come alive and sing.

I have never read anybody who has mastered the English language so completely has he has.




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