Intellectuals And The ‘Post-Its Culture’
Is it true that society is more ‘anti-intellectual’ than before? How are ideas encouraged or, alternatively, left disconnected and without impact? This is a question which can be asked about the situation of both ‘thinkers’ in the accepted sense, and of people who are invited to share their views in the now well-established process of ‘community consultation’.
There was a letter recently (18.Nov.05) in New Start about ‘playing with post-its’, which I happened to re-read today. In his communication Alan Leadbetter of Stoke-on-Trent commented how the “current ‘post-it-note’ culture… encourages citizens individually to ‘have a say’,” whilst not inviting them “to take part in constructing plans, or to debate alternative plans among themselves, or to vote on them.”
This view is very much about bottom-up, grounded experience – or not, as the case may be. But by one of those strange co-incidences I also today found myself reading Frank Furedi‘s essay, Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism (continuum, 2004). And yes, I was reading it in Liverpool’s very own Left Bank hangout in the city centre, the famous Everyman Bistro.
Who may produce new ideas?
Furedi’s and Leadbetter’s publications are in many ways a million miles apart; but they do have one thing in common. Both are about the formulation of new ideas, who has ‘permission’ to undertake this, and who has ownership of these ideas when they have surfaced.
Alan Leadbetter was probably thinking about people who experience significant disadvantage and rarely have an opportunity to articulate fresh ideas to any evident effect. Frank Furedi considers in his book people with wide educational and professional advantages. But the underlying connection is there.
Ideas need fertile ground
For ideas to grow, whether or not they arise from places where advantage is tangible, there must be fertile ground and space to think ‘differently’.
As yet I haven’t made my mind up whether the current perception of ‘anti-intellectualism’ is actually just that there used to be less overtly acknowledged evidence of ordinary people having important ideas at all (so that those privileged few who did ‘shine’ in this respect were more visible), or whether there is a climate now which suppresses, even more than previously, ideas which are ‘of the other’.
Either way, I do know however that fresh ideas, open to democratic interrogation, are the basis of any progressive, healthy society. There are suggestions that Philosophy become part of the general curriculm. I suppose that’s what the old ‘General Studies’, now revamped and more focused, attempted to provide. Enabling and facilitating constructive and shared ideas at every level are what it’s fundamentally about.
Maybe there’s something here we all, as community development officers, academics, teachers, politicians, media pundits, parents and citizens alike, need to think about more?