Saturday, April 26, 2008
Is it just me or has there been an uptick in the "elitism" meme since the release of Expelled? Anti-science advocates have always played that card, going back at least as far as William Jennings Bryan, "The Great Commoner," and his crusade against "Darwinism."
Now the term is even being used by those who might be expected to aspire to being a little "elite" themselves. A recent article from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary uses terms like "academic elitism" and "elite scientists" frequently, including by a "professor of worldview and culture." A Ph.D. complains of a "powerful elite among scientific organizations, academies, foundations and government agencies" suppressing Intelligent Design. Nor is the trope restricted to anti-evolutionists. Recently, Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican, when confronted with a massive amount of evidence from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the US Institute of Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychological Association that abstinence-only sex education does not work, replied that it was "rather elitist" that people with academic degrees in health think they know better than parents what type of sex education is appropriate.
The ironic thing, of course, is that these supposed "elitists," instead of trying to keep their position secure by excluding the "masses" from their ranks, are mostly being excoriated for their attempts to educate those masses so they can join the "elite."
But of all the people humping this supposed cultural divide, the strangest (in all senses of the word) is the "Isaac Newton of information theory," William Dembski. As Mark Perakh has pointed out, Dembski is quick to waive his degrees in the face of critics (those who have fewer than he does, at least) but, in a recent article in the Florida Baptist Witness, Dembski had this to say about Expelled:
The unwashed masses, in which I place myself, will love the film. Ordinary people, who often pay the Darwinists' salaries through their tax dollars, will rightly be incensed.He goes even further in a piece in the Baptist Press, "'Expelled' sets off fireworks":
Our society separates sharply between elite and popular culture. Elite culture regards Darwinian evolution as the greatest idea ever conceived and as an ideological weapon for keeping in check a popular culture that overwhelmingly believes in God.Amusingly, he tries to support that line as follows:
... popular reviews of the film are overwhelmingly positive (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee loved the film) whereas high-culture reviews are overwhelmingly negative (e.g., The New York Times and the Village Voice).Quite apart from identifying himself and his "popular culture" with blowhards and politicians (they are different things, right?), he ignores such "high-culture" outlets as Beliefnet, TV Guide, The Baltimore Sun, The Pioneer Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Seattle Times and, in his own back yard, The Waco Tribune-Herald, among many others, that found Expelled wanting.
So what is with this obsession with painting anyone who values science as an "elitist"? Perhaps the answer lies in Michael Hirsh's article in Newsweek, "How the South Won (This) Civil War." Musing on the "Southernization of our national politics at the hands of the GOP and its evangelical base," he cites:
Anatol Lieven, in his 2005 book "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism," [who] describes how the "radical nationalism" that has so dominated the nation's discourse since 9/11 traces its origins to the demographic makeup and mores of the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest -- in other words, what we know today as Red State America. This region was heavily settled by Scots-Irish immigrants -- the same ethnic mix King James I sent to Northern Ireland to clear out the native Celtic Catholics. After succeeding at that, they then settled the American Frontier, suffering Indian raids and fighting for their lives every step of the way. And the Southern frontiersmen never got over their hatred of the East Coast elites and a belief in the morality and nobility of defying them.When what you are peddling is ersatz morality and resistance to learning, what better strategy could there be than pandering to ancient cultural resentments?
I just checked on the web pages of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he's not just a professor, he's an "Associate Dean of Worldview and Culture".
Considering that for some of these folks a brown paper bag would qualify as "elite," I'm not so sure I'm flattered to be among said elite in their opinion...
Good one, Dana.
The Rev. Ray Mummert's quote will keep coming to mind.