07 October 2008

Anti-Intellectualism in America - The Fundamentalist Mind

Hofstadter's 1964 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, is proving to be a provocative but dense read. Here is my translation of a major point about religion and politics:

One reason that political intelligence is so incredulous and uncomprehending of the right-wing mind is that it misses the theological concern that underlies right-wing views of the world.

Political intelligence accepts conflict as enduring and compromise as on-going. It is sensitive to nuance and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical.

The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities.

Political intelligence begins with the world as it is and assesses the degree to which it is possible to move towards a certain set of goals. By contrast, the fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of an absolute right and sees politics as an arena for fighting for that right.

The issues of the actual world are hence transformed into a spiritual Armageddon, an ultimate reality, in which any reference to day-by-day actualities has the character of an allegorical illustration, and not of the empirical evidence that ordinary men offer for ordinary conclusions.


Pinky said...

Hi Ron. I came here via Holly's blog. I've enjoyed your writing!

Your summary of Hofstadter's book is quite interesting. I consider myself a "crunchy-con". I think for myself, and I find it funny (or hypocritical) that so many liberals call themselves progressive when, in fact, they are the first to either a) pigeon hole me for disagreeing with them
or b) refuse to talk to me at all.
Where's the intellectual progressiveness there? There's no relativeism at all, from my experience.
I truly love talking to people with all kinds of political ideas, but I find it particularly difficult leading up to this election. The anger seems to be at an all-time high.

Any thoughts?

Oh, and, nice to meet you! :-)

ThomasLB said...

I think any book on anti-intellectualism is going to be a "dense read." There's no way the author will dumb down that one!

I think your summary nailed one of the biggest problems America will have moving forward as a nation. When there's only one way to be- and any deviation from that way is not just wrong, it's sinful- then I don't see us ever coming together on anything.

Jennifer H said...

Not to attach this explanation to the current political arena,(don't all roads lead to it right now?) but perhaps this explains why McCain can envision us in Iraq for 100 years?

I may be oversimplifying and, if so, I hope you will explain why I shouldn't.

Ron Davison said...

It does seem as though minds made up are generally closed for business. But really, has anyone ever been won over by debate or persuasion? I don't think that I've ever seen it.

Good point. And yes, once what we disagree with becomes evil, it is pretty hard to reach a compromise.

Oversimplification is good - if it follows complex analysis. (You did precede this by complex analysis, didn't you?)

Lifehiker said...

I like your translation because it jives with my own experience of myself and others.

Many years ago I sympathized with strict Calvinistic religious fundamentalism, but my brain rebelled against the anger and condemnation. I slowly morphed into a simple Christian (love God, love neighbor, that's it).

Now I see Obama stand up and say, unequivocally, "I won't take your long guns, I won't take your handguns. I accept your interpretation of the second amendment." Fundamentalists then say, "Obama's going to take our guns!"

Obama's gone way past "compromise" to capitulation on this point. What's interesting is that the fundamentalists would rather savor the battle than accept victory. Shades of Steven Crane's poetry!

David said...

Now would you like to hear why political intelligence is so incredulous and uncomprehending of the left-wing? Let's start with Paul Krugman getting the Nobel Prize. Then let's talk about proposed spending, tax credits (welfare), redistribution of money from the rich to the poor and lots of other "goals" you don't have to believe in Jesus or Allah to find incomprehensible.

Ron Davison said...

it is amazing how Obama will say "x" and the hard core right says, "see, that is proof that he is against x." Odd. Good news is, it doesn't seem like those voters are the swing voters this time.

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize! That is so cool. I met him, you know. He was predicting financial crisis about 2 years ago when I saw him give a talk. He really is a nut - wrong about Bush's policies being bad and wrong to have predicted a financial crisis. What were those Swedes thinking this time?