Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Why I am an anti-intellectual
I am most certainly an anti-intellectual. . .Being anti-intellectual is not the same as being anti-intellect. My beef is with a particular social class -- the "intelligentsia" -- and not with the practice of using one's intellect to reflect on experience. In my experience, intellectuals (as a class) are ideologically intolerant, easily offended by ordinary humor, and pretentious in their prejudices, which they disguise as universal truths.

I link only to make two distinct points: 1) Beware of the overuse of jargon as it's often just used to dress up mundane arguments in (un-)attractive multisyllabic garments; and 2) Conversely, accept that some jargon is necessary.

#1 gets a lot of use in the archy literature, especially in the 1970s and '80s when the New Archaeology was attempting to be really science-y. Part of the problem was a lack of formal theory, so a lot of times people would take a fairly trivial bit of empirical generalizing -- "People tend to live near fresh water" -- and dress it up in the language of systems theory or whatever other exciting! new! theory! was in vogue at the time -- "Interdependent groups of regularly socially interacting humans, whether by kin-based associations or through mutual trade/exchange networks, spend a high proportion of their temporal existence congregating for both habitation and central-place-based accumulation of both comestibles and non-food resources near, or at least in reasonable proximity to, sources of non-salinated water."

I suppose technically the same thing continues into the modern era, what with post-modernist advocates employing their own form of hyper-syllabated (to join the crowd) prose. I try not to read that stuff though.

HOWEVER, don't dismiss stuff just because it's got some jargon in it. Sometimes you just can't string together a bunch of normal-English words to get a complex and unintuitive idea across easily and on a regular basis. Dunnell used to call this stuff a 'metalanguage', meaning a sort of shorthand set of terms used to convey more complicated ideas. Of course, to understand it, you have to be keen to the metalanguage. Physics wouldn't have gotten very far if you had to explain longhand what a "subatomic particle" was all the time.

I think Popular Science or Popular Mechanics used to do a column on interpreting journal prose. They'd take a paragraph out of some paper and then deconstruct it in more user-friendly terms. Always thought that was a good idea.

Via Insty.