Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Anti Intellectualism

I realised two things today: one, that I get a real buzz from talking about "highbrow" subjects like philosophy, science and history, and two, that I'm terrified of talking about these subjects. They're not related; it's not the same kind of excitement/fear you might get from a rollercoaster, for example. No, I get all excited to be talking about this stuff, but then from somewhere comes this fear that I don't really know what I'm talking about, and the people with whom I'm having this conversation are going to know, and it's all going to come to an embarrassing end.

This has all come up because we've got a temp in my office. Ostensibly, I'm her boss, but not only is she a bit older than me, and something in me thinks that authority and age should be proportional, but she's got a PhD and a fierce intelligence, and I feel like some kind of charlatan. She told me yesterday how she worked in shops until her late twenties, decided enough was enough and got herself a string of degrees, and that got me thinking about how I left my degree behind almost ten years ago. This then developed into a conversation about my interest in philosophy, her interest in history, and it all got a bit indulgent and BBC Fourish, but then I started worrying about just how knowledgeable and clever I was, and I clammed up.

I also became quite aware that I was having a conversation, in broad daylight, in front of a room full of people, about the political and social effects of the English Civil War, in particular the change in role for the landed classes, and it made me feel like a right pretentious twit.

So yeah, that was a good day.


  1. You'd only be a snob if you felt that whatever you say is truth and that anyone who doesn't agree with you is automatically wrong...

  2. I've never understood why people get embarrassed by their own intellect - surely it's something to be proud of (as long as you're not rubbing it in other people's faces).

    It's a very British characteristic to celebrate mediocrity and elevate laddish, anti-intellectual behaviour.

    Before my stroke I used to feel I usually able to hold my own in a good discussion or debate; sadly now I'm relegated to the sidelines more often than not, but I still enjoy listening to a "heated debate" (as Mrs Merton would say) on a subject that interests me (which doesn't have to be something I know about, but something I'm interested in learning about).

  3. I think the reason I am concerned is because I know that some people are being left out of the conversation, so I do feel like I'm rubbing it in their faces, much as I don't mean to.

  4. Excluding some from a conversation is incredibly easy... last time I felt excluded was when the guys I went to the pub with started talking about who should be cast in Discworld films...

    Were they being intellectual snobs? Hardly... I just didn't have enough knowledge to participate in a conversation...

  5. I suppose I just don't like excluding people from conversations then. ;)

  6. best way for you not to exclude anyone from a conversation is not to have conversations then!

    (I'm so brilliant!)

  7. I've long believed that the smartest people in the world are the ones who realise they're not very smart at all.