Way back in July Nick Osbaldiston wrote a piece called “Anti-Intellectualism – Does Australia Really Hate Thinkers?*" and ever since I read it, I have wanted to respond, but, couldn’t. For some reason, it has floated in the back of my head, like an insatiable itch. I would make notes, start a response, but never finish it.
Now, to be quite frank, I didn’t understand a lot of the references Nick made in his piece, in fact, if I am to be honest, it rather intimidated me, hence why I didn’t comment on piece, who wants to look stupid? Then, being the way I am, I felt annoyed that I was intimidated, conversely thought, well none of my business I am not an academic, but the itch was still there... Since July have tried to respond to that itch many times on YaThink.com.au yet just could not articulate my response & I suppose if I am being honest, was too scared to look stupid, felt too inadequate, liked Nick & didn't want him to look down on me. Intellectually I know that is stupid, you are a decent person or you are not, I know Nick is a nice bloke, the problem was mine.
Then it dawned on me, chatting with Nick, Paul & Jan one night when Thinkyness was born on Twitter. That is the issue, I am not an academic, I don’t have the skills to return serve with the same level of articulation.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I am not a stupid woman. I didn’t finish Uni, though I am curious, I am well read, some would say I ask too many questions, I also run a well respected small business, yet, in the face of an academic piece I went to jelly? Interested, curious, wanting to discuss but just not feeling adequate. So, as the much loved childhood science guru, Julius Sumner Miller would say, "Why is it so?"
I have a few ideas and as #thinkyness is a place to blurt out thoughts, I will give it a red hot go...
I know Nick will be horrified, being the researcher that he is, though, I am not, so my conclusions are from chatting to various punters since July 2013 & just life experience as a Jill Dill member of the public. Yes Nick, the birds having drinks on the balcony, the randoms after a performance at Noosa Arts Theatre, hell, even the family at the Rellie Christmas party. I have no shame, I love to ask people ‘stuff’ and get their thoughts, so yes, I realise it is anecdotal, but there is a recurring theme from teenagers to those over 70 and it is all about ‘relating’ & ‘communication’.
See, sport, we can relate to. Ever since we were kids, there was some form of sport that we have all played, we may not be good at it, but in general the average punter understands the rules, the lingo and can feel we are included in the sport, may not be as a player, just a fan, but we relate. The Arts is pretty similar, be it movies, dance, music, art, etc., again, we may not excel at it, though we have ‘touched’ it at some stage in our lives, whether it be playdough at kindy or just buying a CD. There are no expectations on the punter to an expert at any of the above. If someone knows more about a particular cricketer or ballet dancer, we don’t feel intimidated; we tend to feel that they obviously have a bigger interest then us, no biggy?
When it comes to Academia that is a whole different ballgame.
No-one likes to feel stupid. Adults in general, feel it is an admission of ignorance to actually ask someone to explain themselves because they did not understand what was being said. Too many big words, concepts that are foreign to Joe Blow or Jill Dill are confrontational. Now, Joe Blow & Jill Dill may not necessarily be stupid, they just may not have the same level of education, they may just be so busy just ‘living’, paying the mortgage, working, looking after the kids etc, that they just have never had the time to educate themselves further?
So when confronted with an Academic assessment of something, full of ‘big’ words & references to people or concepts that are inferred to be common place – yet could be Russian for all the punter knows – they are automatically alienated. This can go a few ways, the most common are: Not interested I am too busy living a ‘real’ life or a backed in the corner belligerent response of “you have no idea, another bloody Uni educated smart-arse”. How often have you been at a BBQ and someone brings a new friend and they are some form of ‘specialist’? Now, most go, Oh, nice to meet you, flitter around, show curiosity as their friend has introduced. One of the first questions is, “and what do you do John?” Now, John says, “I have a doctorate in ... & consult at... “, everyone goes... OK, looks at each other, no idea what that means, next... “So... how are the Ashes going mate?”.
Now, they could ask John exactly what his Doctorate is about, but then would have to admit they have no idea what he is talking about. Refer to earlier comment, Adults hate to feel ignorant. Sometimes there will be a pain in the Khyber like me around who has no ego & will ask, “So, what the hell does a ... do?”. Sadly, often the likes of a John will not be helpful at all, will explain in such a convoluted academic ‘speak’ way that you inherently know that even if you ask them to explain themselves, like questioning an Endocrinologist (sorry but you people in general are awful at dealing with patients & imparting information) you will still be none the wiser. This is a lost opportunity, instead of the punters learning something new, they walk away saying, “Gee that John is a standoffish guy”, or even “Bloody Hell, how much of a tosser was that bloke ... brought to the BBQ?” :(
So I come to communication...
Let’s go back to old Sumner Miller, he was popular because even though he was a scientist, he engaged us as kids, while using ‘sciency’ words he did experiments that meant our simple brains actually connected his words with what he was doing so we ‘got it’ & thought it was cool, we were not intimidated. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is similar, he is not standing over us imparting knowledge, making us punters feel inferior, instead, he is infectious in his, “Did you know?” I am sure many scientists & academics cringe when they see me type those names, yet the fact is, they cut through to us, we can relate, they communicate in plain English, question and make us ‘ordinary, less educated’ people feel we are part of that questioning. We are not stupid, we are learning along the way with them and how cool is that?
So yeah Nick, sorry, Australians pretty much do hate Intellectuals. We are alienated when you get in your little cliques discussing something high brow that we are not included in as obviously it is a waste of time explaining. Yes, we are intimidated when you use large words or specific phrases relevant to your profession, cause guess what, we are not all walking around with a dictionary on our write. My pet hate is when you are on Twitter and you do question an ‘expert’, they automatically assume you are challenging them, when, a question is sometimes just a bloody question, they don’t need to shut you down & reinforce your lack of education compared to them. Yeah, that works NOT!
Yes, our education system & social system does not value learning enough, maybe it is our beginnings as convicts, reinforced by immigrants having to learn with English as a second language. I don’t know. What I do know is that at school, some kid who has won a science prize should be as feted and as big a legend as the kid who got a Billabong contract for Surfing Junior Development. I hope one day that will occur. BUT it goes both ways. Why the hell have all this knowledge that you can’t communicate? Back to Dr Karl... Jane Hutcheon (a journo I adore for the sort of questions she asks, though that fan girl piece is for another day) did a wonderful interview with him for One Plus One which apart from having some surprising turns (well worth watching), left you with the feeling that his purpose in life is basically just to explain shit to punters and maybe open windows they did not exist. Obviously I am paraphrasing in my own lingo here ;-)
So I guess what I am saying is that I couldn’t make a comment on Nicks piece because I could not provide references to back up how I felt or what I thought. That doesn’t make what I feel invalid. In fact, it makes me sad. As I mentioned, I am not a stupid woman, I know that, yet, even with as much front as I have with asking questions still did not want to look ‘stupid’ responding to Nick. So if I feel like that, how does the lesser curious punter feel?
Maybe we need to meet 50/50.
We need more of a respect for science, academics, experts etc in the general public, from primary schooling onwards. Though, we also need these very same Intellectuals to actually learn to communicate. What is the point in accumulating all that knowledge if you don’t use it, share it, spread it further amongst the masses to encourage learning?
I can’t affect the Intellectuals, there will always be those that feel they are above the hoi polloi, thankfully, not all are, but I can try to affect my fellow punters, I can encourage them to ask questions, educate themselves further, not to get their backs up in the face of an ‘expert’ shutting them down, inadvertently or sadly sometimes just for hubris.
So sorry Nick, yeah, pretty much us average Australian ‘punters’ don’t’ like Intellectuals, but, that doesn’t mean we can’t endeavour to change that dynamic?
*By the way, I first found Nick and his writing from AusVotes which has now morphed into AusOpinion that was the brainchild of the lovely (not the right word but I can’t think of a better one, yes showing my lack of articulation...) @Drag0nista (Paula Matthewson) who has always been happy to share her knowledge with a punter like me, never treated me like a moron for asking a question, never made me feel inadequate for not understanding what she was saying. If you are a regular on Twitter you will know that is a special feat to achieve and I know my education is better for having stumbled across her. Thank you Paula :)
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Thinkyness came about from the charming @Perorationer who often tweets Jan & Noely in the morning with a random article he has found that would make you think, could be anything from Women in the 1800's to a potential world wide wine shortage which we would then discuss, obviously this led on to us tweeting each other #Thinkyness articles [...] more
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