Though I've not yet actually posted the topic announcement yet (we're still dithering about which chapters to focus on), episode 40 will be on Plato's Republic, wherein Socrates states unequivocally that those controlled by reason (i.e. the philosophers like Socrates) are just plain better than the rest of the people, and a just state will put the philosophers in charge.
Though of course the political landscape here and now doesn't much resemble ancient Greece, there's still a perception (recently voiced by me), that just as in Socrates's day, conservatism amounts to rejecting contemplation in favor of the practical life. This is not to say that self-proclaimed conservatives aren't philosophical, as many obviously are, and there are long traditions of conservative philosophy, but that insofar as they are philosophical, they aren't conservative in this narrowly defined sense. It shouldn't be surprising that a word like "conservative" has multiple, mutually incompatible cultural associations.
Here's an article by a blogger ("Richard in Japan") responding to this charge that conservatives are anti-intellectual as implied by Simon Crichley's characterization of philosophy (and Socrates) in "The Stone," i.e. the philosophy forum in the New York Times.
Sir Richard egregiously characterizes Socrates thusly:
He famously went from one end of Athens to the other, asking the bakers "What is the essence of bread making?", and asking the masons "What is the secret of cutting stone?" Then, when these working-class individuals had patiently distilled their career into words, Socrates twisted those words and threw them back in their faces, maintaining that he knew more about their professions than they did. Irony indeed, for a Socrates who had never cracked an egg or held a chisel to claim that he understood it better than people who did it for a living. Socrates had no skill but talking, and Lord, could he talk. As his fellow citizen Aristophanes discovered, he could prove that up was down, that left was right … and that right was wrong. No wonder they sentenced him to death. Had I been among his jurors, I would not only have voted to convict -- I would have volunteered to feed him the hemlock myself.
And here's his conclusion:
We great unwashed have nothing against philosophers, or philosophy. We reject the false dichotomy of intellectuals vs. anti-intellectuals since ultimately each of us appreciates true wisdom when we hear it, and deep down each of us aspires to be the one who utters it. One can laugh at Descartes for oversleeping, but once he managed to pull himself out of bed, he contributed greatly to both mathematics and the science of rational thought.
So the main points here are:
1. Contemplation for contemplation's sake is self-indulgent, but if there's a practical application then it's fine.
2. You can be profound, but don't get all in my face and obnoxious about it. It doesn't make you better than me.
Do either of these points constitute being anti-intellectual or anti-philosophy? Certainly, my approach from the start with P.E.L. has been to figure out what the practical upshot is, not necessarily in designing new technologies, but more generally, how it's supposed to help us deal with our lives. Contemplation in itself can be involving, entertaining, exercise for our brain, but if we're trying to choose one thing to read over another, then it's good to figure out if a work actually answers a real and useful question or is just of historical or cultural significance, in which case we might as well just read old literature that flows down smoothly instead of a thorny piece of philosophy. I think this position is more forgiving, however, than the dreaded scientism which says that philosophy is only good insofar as it is grounding or coordinating some kind of scientifically verifiable and ultimately technologically applicable findings. But even scientism is not anti-intellectual in the "get a job, you hippie!" sense; doing and reading about science is intellectual activity, no question.
Point 2 above is more difficult to respond to, because it's a matter of a perceived and lingering slight. As I've likely said on the podcast more than once, this whole notion of a person being better than another makes no philosophic sense to me. Nonetheless, it's engraved in our history, and fumes of it linger even though we're in a society that is ostensibly classless, or rather which has uncoupled moral worth from monetary holdings (both of which, idiomatically, can still be referred to by the phrase "personal worth"). I think the resonance of this objection has less to do with any intellectual dispute than a cultural one: I was amazed some years ago seeing a PBS documentary on how "class" is still alive (this chapter is what I have in mind) in our country, and the fact that this guy equates "conservative" with "blue collar" is telling.
The root of his objection is that some people are more touchy about perceived arrogance than others. To my mind, arrogance is not a primary sin (a la the tower of Babel) but a mostly harmless foible that makes people look silly. Feeling slighted whenever someone else cops an attitude is just a recipe for increasing your own depression. I see this reactiveness and this kind of blanket judgment re. who's smarter than who as part of the same problem. As I tried to articulate on the Russell episode, the point of philosophy is to try to articulate something that's meaningful. There's nothing inherently competitive or hierarchical about that effort, though it's certainly a social and not a purely solitary undertaking (i.e. you don't know if you've actually articulated something meaningful unless you can say or write it and have someone display understanding of it, and have it still sound meaningful coming back at you), and it's perfectly possible that after you've strained to receive wisdom from someone and found it to be ill-formed, infected with bias, or otherwise repugnant, you're going to feel irritated and probably dismissive. After a couple of rounds of this, you're going to want some canon to tell you what's worth reading and what's a waste of time, and over-reliance on a standard like that means you may end up dismissing those not so chosen as crap, and voilà: elitism!
Note: The image, "Blue Collar" is a sculpture by Herb Williams.