Is New Zealand really anti-intellectual?

It’s common in New Zealand to hear claims that we are “anti-intellectual” as a country. You don’t have to go far for evidence of these comments.  In Wikipedia’s entry on “Culture of New Zealand”, of all the cultural attributes that might be chosen to describe the country, Wikipedia picks out “anti-intellectualism” as worthy of an extended paragraph.  The paragraph talks of a “prevailing mood of anti-intellectualism” and says that “New Zealanders do not have a particularly high regard for intellectual activity”.   Perhaps Wikipedia is not the most authoritative source on these issues.  But you’ll find similar statements in more reputable places.  For example, the leading book on public intellectuals in New Zealand, Laurence Simmons’ Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand – a thoughtful account of the past and present situation of intellectuals in the country – makes this claim at length.  The renowned thinker Bruce Jesson has spoken eloquently of New Zealand’s “flight from thought”.  And the “anti-intellectual” claim is regularly dropped in newspaper articles reacting to public controversies.

I’m not so sure these claims are right.  I want to suggest that, while we should be careful in making sweeping statements about Aotearoa New Zealand as a nation, there are some good arguments supporting the view that we are not anti-intellectual – that is, that we are not hostile towards ideas, or theory, or scholarly work.  In fact, I think there is some evidence that we are the opposite – a nation of ideas, willing to embrace opinion and thought about deeper issues.  And I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we deny this.  After clarifying what I am saying and what I am not saying, I want to end by thinking through some of the implications of rejecting the “anti-intellectual” label.  Affirming our willingness to explore ideas may free up our ability to deal with big questions that face us, like the current constitutional review.  It also changes the way we see ourselves as a nation.

*

Any grand claims about who “we” are as a nation, such as the final sentence in the section above, should be treated with a degree of skepticism.  New Zealand is a diverse place, and it is getting even more diverse – and so it is difficult to speak of shared values or national characteristics.  The question of what we are like, or the values we hold dear, is also an empirical question, which can only be answered through surveys, and we do not have all the data that would help us to give a firm answer on our views on intellectualism (though there are some sources that are worth looking at for clues – including the surveys done for the 1986 Royal Commission on Social Policy, and the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey done by Auckland psychologist Chris Sibley).  As well, it’s important to question who the “we” is, when answers are given about what “we” are like.  Too often it’s easy for writers to project their own views about what we should be like as a nation onto what we are (and so you’ll hear, for instance, from a lot of liberal writers that New Zealanders are egalitarian).  And sometimes those of a more critical or radical bent will perhaps overstate negative characteristics in order to highlight the gap between our views (for instance, on race) and where we ought to be.  The upshot of all is that we should take care in saying, definitively, that New Zealanders are anti-intellectual – or even in arguing the opposite.  And we need to recognize our own perspective and positioning in coming to conclusions about this.  I acknowledge my own slanted perspective as a relatively privileged Pakeha male, whose opinion has been mostly formed within a narrow university environment.

Even with these words of caution, though, I think we are right to think harder and more carefully about whether New Zealand is anti-intellectual as is often said.  To start out, I think we need to question whether this outlook is unique to Aotearoa.  It’s often said that New Zealanders are anti-intellectual, as if this is a characteristic unique to our country.  The implication is that we are particularly anti-intellectual.  It’s implicit in the Wikipedia entry.  And it’s implicit in other comments made about us as a country.  But I think we should challenge this assumption.  It’s often said elsewhere, by academics especially, that particular cultures are sadly anti-intellectual.  In the United Kingdom, where I’ve been living since September last year, the claim is often made.  So to put this issue in context, we should recognize that the “anti-intellectual” label is attached to many cultures across the world.  We may not be unique in having this point of view.

I would go further, though.  Putting aside for one moment whether it’s a uniquely New Zealand “problem”, I would say that anti-intellectualism may not even be a New Zealand problem at all.  I’d point to three interlocking bits of evidence for this.  First, we have produced a number of brilliant intellectuals and academics – a number disproportionate to our size.  In the field of political philosophy, Jeremy Waldron – who holds the prestigious Chichele Chair in Social and Political Theory at Oxford University – is a New Zealander.  In the international law area, leading thinker Benedict Kingsbury holds a distinguished position at New York University.  The list of New Zealand academics, across other disciplines as well, who have been looked upon as leading lights in their fields in recent times, could go on: Linda Tuhiwai Smith (in postcolonial studies), James Belich (in history), J.G. Pocock (in the history of ideas), Annette Baier (in philosophy), Robert Wade (in political economy) and others.  It could be said that a number of these figures are overseas, and that this says something about New Zealand: it doesn’t support academics, so they feel a pressure to move elsewhere.  But this is a bit simplistic.  These individuals have moved elsewhere for a variety of reasons: to be closer to intellectual giants in their fields, or for personal reasons, for instance.  And we haven’t even considered historical figures here, like Nobel Prize winner Ernest Rutherford.

Secondly, we have a history in policy and politics of being committed to experimenting with innovative ideas.  The policies of the Liberal Government in the 1890s (through setting up old-age pensions, giving women the vote, and introducing workplace arbitration schemes) led to New Zealand being dubbed a “social laboratory”.  The government of Michael Joseph Savage stole the march on the British Labour government of Clement Attlee in setting up carefully thought-through systems of public service provision.  And in the early 1970s, we developed an accident compensation scheme in ACC that is still regarded internationally, in many circles, as an ingenious approach to avoiding litigation for accidents.  This experimentation and inspiration from ideas may not have always had positive results – as with the ideologically driven Rogernomics reforms of the 1980s – but the continual history of experimentation says something about our commitment to ideas.  Some might quibble, again, with this account and say that a lot of these changes were effected in an ad hoc manner.  Michael Bassett famously has written a history of New Zealand politics entitled Socialism Without Doctrines (borrowing the title from Albert Metin, a French visitor to the Antipodes in the nineteenth century).  But to say that there were no ideas, no doctrines, behind these policy changes seems to me to be unfair to the architects of schemes like ACC.  A lot of these policies were complex and creative, which required significant intellectual thought.  At any rate, avoiding doctrine isn’t quite the same as avoiding ideas.

Thirdly and lastly, when people talk of anti-intellectualism, they often ignore the major contribution of Maori thinkers, many of whom have offered a public commitment to the need to think through ideas underpinning our nation.  Moana Jackson has recently provided one example, in his insistence on the need for “constitutional transformation” in the discussion of constitutional change.  But there are numerous other Maori thinkers in recent times who have brought a very erudite and thoughtful approach to questions of culture and society: amongst them are Mason Durie, Ranginui Walker, the already-mentioned Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Joe Williams.  The emphasis in Maori culture on discussion, learning, and ideas is reflected in a number of whakatauki, such as the oft-invoked “Ko te kai a te rangatira, he korero” (“Talk is the food of chiefs”), or the even more directly relevant “Whaia te matauranga hei orange mo koutou” (“Seek after learning for the sake of your well-being”).

All of this suggests that we are a country more committed to ideas than most would assume.  There is a surprising possible explanation for why we have persisted with viewing ourselves as anti-intellectual for so long.  We often call ourselves “pragmatic” and say that New Zealanders are not too caught up with grand theory.  But the notion of “pragmatism” in policy is also a common trope in the United Kingdom.  Thinkers often say that the United Kingdom has a history of disavowing big ideas, and working more incrementally.  Take, for example, the work of legal scholar Patrick Atiyah, who suggests that the English common law system has encouraged a case-by-case approach to issues in society at large (there’s a taste of his views here).  So – and here I accept I’m putting forward a slightly controversial view – could it be that we’ve inherited the view of ourselves as “anti-intellectual” from the UK? Is it possible that we parrot the idea of “anti-intellectualism” in our society because the UK is (or has been, in the past) anti-intellectual, and because we have somewhat quickly adopted this label in our own society?

*

Let me at this point clarify what I am saying, and consider a possible objection to all of this.  I am saying that we are not as anti-intellectual as we think we are.  It may be, however, that when we call ourselves “anti-intellectual”, we are actually grasping after another description of ourselves – perhaps we really mean that we are conservative, in shooting down ideas.  I am not going as far as rejecting the view that we are conservative as a nation.  Or perhaps when we say all this we are gesturing at “tall poppies syndrome”.  That said, “tall poppies syndrome” also has a number of equivalents in other countries – and I have always been of the view that “tall poppies syndrome” is nothing more than an approach that values humility, and that encourages successful people to acknowledge the role that others have played in their success.  So I think we should challenge this myth about ourselves, as well.

One possible challenge to all of this is that the claim that we are not anti-intellectual is itself an elite perspective.  Sure, we’ve got a few political philosophers and scientists, famous in their own worlds.  But are we really favourable to ideas on the ground in New Zealand? Don’t talkback radio and the comments pages on popular websites (like Stuff and Kiwiblog) suggest that we can be crude, reductive, and very hostile to ideas? There may be a grain of truth in some of this.  I certainly think there’s a strain of nastiness in comments pages on websites.  But I think this strain of nastiness is a problem that arises out of the Internet, not New Zealand as a country: it arises because with online comments, you don’t have to look people in the face, and be sensitive to their reactions and feelings.  It’s not quite the same as anti-intellectualism.  I’ve listened to my fair share of talkback radio.  I grew up, like many young New Zealanders, addicted to Radio Sport and listening to sports talkback – and have, over time, moved to listen to more political talkback.  My impression (and this is just a rough impression) is that talkback shows that we have ideas in New Zealand, that we all have opinions, and that we are willing to speak up to express them.  I am not comfortable with all aspects of talkback.  But I don’t think it’s a knock-down argument against the claims I’ve made above.

*

So what, you might say (if you’ve made it this far)? I actually think that recognizing that we are a country that isn’t anti-intellectual – and that we are a nation of ideas – is a really liberating fact.  It frees us up to see our own traditions and histories in a new light.  It also frees us up to face up to big challenges we face in the present, such as the constitutional review, issues around climate change and incarceration, and the Treaty of Waitangi.  A number of people use our anti-intellectualism as an excuse not to raise big ideas.  But maybe they’re wrong in being so fearful.

As well, and perhaps most importantly, it frees us up to see ourselves in the mirror in a new way.  Perhaps we’ve been selling ourselves short this whole time – underestimating who we are, and who we can be, in claiming that we are anti-intellectual.  Perhaps we’ve been doing ourselves a disservice.  Understanding Aotearoa New Zealand as a nation of ideas might give us a bit more pride in who we are, and what we’ve done.  And if that means more New Zealanders choosing to stay in New Zealand when thinking of going overseas, or just feeling more optimistic about our future, isn’t that a good thing?

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14 Responses to Is New Zealand really anti-intellectual?

  1. Simon Connell says:

    This made me think. I’m sure I’m among the people who have asserted that New Zealand is anti-intellectual, but I’m not so sure any more that that statement is really justified. Here are some random thoughts:
    I suppose that being anti-intellectual means:
    (i) Thinking that there are people who are “intellectuals”; and
    (ii) Being hostile or mistrustful of them and their ideas/work.
    Coming up with a definition of “intellectual” can be problematic. We could take a “straw intellectual” position where intellectuals are people who exist only in the ivory tower of academic, without any practical experience of the real world. Being somewhat skeptical of what such a person had to say about the real world doesn’t seem that unreasonable. We could also play some “no true intellectual” definitional games. For example, I could argue that the Maori thinkers you mention aren’t really intellectuals – that they lack some essential academic quality of otherness – but that doesn’t get us anywhere, and there must be something horribly wrong with a definition of intellectual that is quick to exclude Maori. So, I think we end up needing to adopt an inescapably vague and circular definition about intellectuals being people who are keen on learning and intellectual pursuits.
    Turning to the question of whether New Zealanders are hostile to intellectuals, one way to test this is to see how “intellectuals” do in the political area. I think the evidence here is equivocal. Many of our politicians have postgraduate qualifications, but don’t generally promote their intellectual achievements. Perhaps this means they are fearful of some anti-intellectual sentiment? I’m not sure if it would be possible to get universal agreement on which politicians are “intellectual” and which aren’t. Some example that spring to mind for me as probably belonging in the “intellectual” pile are Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Geoffrey Palmer and Don Brash. I’d suggest, for example, Robert Muldoon and John Key as not-intellectual politicians. If New Zealand was strongly anti-intellectual, we’d expect to see few “intellectual” politicians, and even fewer successful ones. Rating the success of politicians is also tricky, but I think it would be difficult to argue that Helen Clark wasn’t successful despite being intellectual.
    We could also look at who are our popular and celebrated heroes. There are a number of brilliant New Zealand intellectuals, but Jeremy Waldron is hardly a household name.
    One possible explanation for anti-intellectualism in New Zealand is that it’s rooted in our rejection of the class system. New Zealanders are, I suspect, deeply suspicious of the idea that there could be a separate “intellectual” class of people to whom everyone else should defer on in certain matters. I don’t think that suspicion is unreasonable. On the other hand, I don’t really think there actually is an intellectual/political/academic/politically correct elite claiming sovereignty over all sorts of issues. So again to some extent we have people afraid of our straw academic who want to run the world from their ivory tower.
    That’s not to say there isn’t a role for deference to academia. When it comes to questions like whether or not climate change is happening, we should defer a scientific consensus if there is one. Not liking what that consensus is isn’t a reason to reject it. If anti-intellectualism means being able to reject science because we don’t like it, there’s a problem.

    • mxharris says:

      Simon, thanks for being more rigorous in defining the “intellectualism” or “anti-intellectualism” than I was! That’s helpful – though I agree with you that we should be very careful with any attempt to define the terms in a way that excludes the Maori figures I mentioned (many of whom held or still hold very senior academic positions, too).

      Your point about intellectual politicians is a fascinating one. I have thought about this a bit before – academic-minded politicians don’t seem to do well anywhere (see, for instance, Michael Ignatieff’s performance in Canada’s recent election), so relatively speaking, New Zealand appears to do decently.

      As for national heroes, I think this is a useful line of reasoning – we do seem to celebrate a certain brand of people, and academics are often ignored (though I would say that when academics are willing to take up a responsibility to use their expertise to contribute to public debate in New Zealand, they are generally respected – the late Sir Paul Callaghan being an example that comes to mind).

      Your point linking class and intellectualism is a really interesting one, too – the idea that we don’t like anything in New Zealand that involves a group separating itself from the “egalitarian” public. It might be a reason why there’s some hostility to some intellectuals: but I guess I don’t think it grounds an anti-intellectualism more generally.

  2. A couple of brief thoughts. I would love to hear Maori perspective on this. Linda and Graham are a couple of ‘big hitters’ in international Indigenous higher education circles. But what is the interface like between Maori academics and their Iwi? Or with Pākehā? How are Maori intellectuals considered in the public NZ imagination? And are there some reflections on pre-European intellectual traditions of Maori that might offer NZ intellectuals some ways of doing things differently – ‘place-based’ epistemological approaches that could be valued for more than just their ability to contribute to global academe.
    My other thought is to reflect on the situation in Tasmania and wonder whether ‘islandness’ is also a relevant consideration. Jonathan West wrote recently in The Conversation that education is seen to ‘undermine many Tasmanians’ sense of identity. Although his argument is predominantly an economic one, it has been read in Tasmania to point to consequences of scale and boundedness – not just in markets and monetary growth prospects, but in social aspirational horizons and imagination. Islands do not have to be archipelagic. They occur in any socio-geographic bounded existence. Remote rural communities in Australia are good examples. Or relic communities in post-industrial wastelands. So part of the popular discourse is often defensive in nature. But is this only because people feel threatened by something that they don’t feel well-equipped to engage with? That they know has been responsible for change that has been destructive of who they are? Is there perhaps a profound ‘allgemeine Alltäglichkeit’ that seeks to assert itself in the face of imposition from movements that are intuitively ‘other’ to the placedness of people’s lives. (see Lorraine Code ‘Ecological Thinking: the politics of epistemic location. OUP, 2006). If this is so then we need to invest strongly in ensuring that intellectual culture is suffused with the local, the indigenous; and is not a vector for the infection of small, bounded communities with global forces that are inherently exploitative and erosive of these communities. People’s identities are built on what they (collectively) have been. Intellectualism is predominately associated with change/growth in the Western setting. So perhaps it is a form of conservatism. But a well-founded one.

    • mxharris says:

      Greg, thanks for these thoughtful questions. I’d also be keen to hear in reply a Maori perspective and a perspective of someone with a bit more expertise on this than me. But my tentative thought would be that some of the Maori intellectual figures I mentioned are regarded pretty warmly in the public imagination in New Zealand (if they are known). I’ll never forget walking out of a talk by Moana Jackson and being told by someone (here I am paraphrasing): “I am not usually that sympathetic to the kind of things he was saying about different treatment for Maori, but he just sounded like he was speaking such common-sense.” That’s anecdotal, I know, but I think Moana Jackson does have more of a following now than he did in the 1980s (when he was criticized by some for suggesting that the criminal justice system be redesigned to take into account aspects of tikanga Maori).

      As for the “islandness” point, it’s an interesting thought that I really hadn’t considered. The only thing I’d add is that I think intellectualism can be both a parochial outgrowth of local indigenous ideas, and an international/Western construct. So I think the relationship between intellectualism and bounded communities is a complex one. Thanks for raising this.

  3. Ngā mihi mahana ki a koe, Max. Welcome to the blogosphere!

    I’m not an expert on Maori and intellectualism, but I can speak in semi-informed generalities:

    Intellectualism in Maori society is complex. 19th century Maori thinkers were recognised – if underrated – for repurposing Christian doctrines. Rua Kenana, Te Ua Haumene and Te Whiti o Rongomai developed coherent doctrines that appealed to and worked for Maori in their rapidly changing circumstances. Political thinkers like Te Wherowhero and King Tawhiao were also recognised for their contribution to the Maori economy and Maori politics. The Kingitanga – formed as a response to Pakeha political and economic power – survives entact and is a testament to their thinking.

    Maori intellectualism in the early and mid-20th century was, to put it politely, less storied. The New Zealand Wars, disease and structural oppression (read racism) had dealt a near death blow to Maori thinking, tikanga and most other aspects of Maori society. Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck and a handful of others were the standout thinkers of that generation. In my opinion, the thinkers of that time occupied nothing more than a tokenistic place in New Zealand’s intellectual culture. Accepted (in Buck’s case) because of their mixed ancestry, success in respectable professions (Ngata in law, Buck in medicine) and non-threatening ideas (Ngata advocated heavily for Maori to embrace almost all things European).

    Maori intellectualism reignited with the Maori renaissance. Sir Paul Reeves in religion, Dr Hone Kaa in religion and social justice, Annette Sykes and Moana Jackson in law and Ranginui Walker on society and other topics (not to mention many others). These intellectuals and others enjoy a respected place in Maori society, but enjoy an uneasy relationship with New Zealand society in general. More often than not, their ideas are not easily accommodated in a western framework and that has meant that they have become and still are marginalised to a certain extent. They’re intellectuals, but seem to stand apart from New Zealand’s intellectual culture. That, though, is a great thing. The best intellectuals in Maori society are those that have not being co-opted into western academia. Academia – and the law is particularly strict in this respect – demands that Maori ideas, doctrines and so on are refashioned to fit certain criteria. For example, the New Zealand common law demands that, before an aspect of tikanga will be recognised and enforced, that aspect must meet a legal test.* Although tikanga is part of the New Zealand common law in name, the Courts have erected barriers to enforcement. It’s cultural and legal imperialism, imho.

    Anywho, in general terms Maori society places a premium on intellectualism. Whaikorero, wananga and so on are integral and celebrated parts of Maori society. The Marae is, in practice, a petri dish of ideas and debate. This usually isn’t true in the urban Maori context (i.e. where tikanga is largely lost), but it holds true among the parts of Maori society where tikanga is strong or on the resurgence.

    I wish I had more time to devote to this, but that’s my broad, broad outline on the issue.

    *(You could probably cast more light on this, Max)

    • mxharris says:

      Morgan, thanks for your welcome to the blogosphere and this characteristically thoughtful response to the point. You’re right to reach back into history (with references to people like Rua Kenana, Te Ua Haumene, and Te Whiti o Rongomai) to show that Maori emphasis on ideas has a rich heritage. I also think you’re right to say that there have often been attempts to force these ideas into a Western framework. It’s a challenge to all of us to avoid this kind of imperialism in the years ahead.

      As for whether this same tendency (of intellectual assimilation into Western modes of thinking) exists in the law, the law will often reflect these social trends – so I guess it’s no surprise that there are similar trends in the New Zealand common law. I know you also might have more to say about this, Morgan. I certainly think the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Takamore v Clarke could be characterized as requiring tikanga Maori to be assimilated in this way. Whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Takamore, which left the point a little more open, falls into the same trap is certainly a matter for debate.

      What I am sure about is that this forced accommodation, of Maori ideas into Western ways of thinking, is something that must be avoided if possible. We need to try to think of models of political leadership that will allow Maori and Western ideas to be aired without those pressures. Perhaps the current constitutional review provides an opportunity to think through some of those models.

  4. harry r says:

    Kia ora
    There are of course different types of engagement with specific communities. Some of these – the academic mode – are known as intellectual, and that includes some premier thinkers no doubt. More important though is the manner in which people share ideas. Maori intellectuals share ideas on the marae, through song, words, and not least their example. Maori thinkers are generally known in their communities, as that’s who they represent. Because of that, the issues that concern them are also localised. That’s why Maori media is important, they broaden discourse from its base on the marae. With a largely urban population Maori often rely on media to learn about their home communities. Anyway I’m rambling.

    • mxharris says:

      No, I think this is a great point – perhaps some Maori communities in New Zealand do better than Pakeha communities in making the airing of ideas something that is normal and natural, through for instances practices on marae. I also like what you say about Maori thinkers’ connections to their communities. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Philip McKibbin says:

    I found this really interesting, Max. New Zealand does have a reputation for being ‘anti-intellectual’ – and I (still) believe that it is. But I think you do an excellent job in examining the problems with this label, and – significantly – in showing where we succeed intellectually.

    New Zealand performs very well academically, as many of your examples illustrate. I guess I think that, although there are obviously problems in doing so, to answer the question, Is New Zealand anti-intellectual?, we need to ask and answer another one: How do New Zealanders, generally, engage with ideas, and with those who ‘generate’ them? My suspicion – based partly on experience – is that the answer to this will be: not very well.

    Most of our ‘intellectualism’ is, and has been, confined to academia. This, I think, says something about the willingness of New Zealanders to engage with ideas. If we do have ‘public intellectuals’, they are (also) academics. If New Zealand was really ‘a nation of ideas’, wouldn’t we expect some writers, for example, to be embraced (or, at least, engaged with) as intellectuals? (I find myself thinking of Nicky Hager – a writer, obviously, and, perhaps, an ‘intellectual’… I wonder what he would say about New Zealanders’ attitude toward him and his work?)

    One more thought. I wonder if our lack of intellectualism as a nation is a by-product of our humility as ‘a people’? You mention ‘tall poppies syndrome’ – it might be that this conception of ourselves works against intellectualism in a more subtle way: by discouraging potential intellectuals from expressing their ideas, for fear of being ‘cut down’…

    Again, I really enjoyed this piece. I will be looking forward to the next one!

    • mxharris says:

      Thanks, Phil – always interested in your thoughts on these issues. I think you’re right that we don’t have a lot of spaces for intellectual thought outside of academia: we have a shallow pool of thinktanks in New Zealand, for instance. That said, there are a few journalists and academics (Tapu Misa and Ann Salmond come to mind) who are trying to reach out beyond universities, to spark debate in communities at large, through writing in the media and talks in communities. I also don’t think we do too badly in appreciating intellectuals. Nicky Hager was interviewed in the Laurence Simmonds book that I referred to, and I seem to remember (but should go back and check this) that he wasn’t too negative about New Zealanders’ attitude towards his work. I think he emphasized that New Zealanders have views and opinions, but maybe just too few outlets to express these opinions. He also did say that New Zealand isn’t great at dealing with dissent, and I think that New Zealand may be naturally conservative. But I think this isn’t quite the same as being anti-intellectual. Look forward to more conversations with you about this.

  6. DW's pseudonym says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article.
    I have one though, coming from a country where the government regularly speaks out against intellectuals, “euro-centric thinking”, or my favourite “un-African clever blacks”. It seems that your situation is much more complex. Am I right in assuming there is no anti-intellectual sentiments being expressed by political leaders? What would happen to them if they were to go out on a podium and speak out against intellectuals? It seems to me – who has no idea of the cultural, social, and political life in New Zealand, that this anti-intellectualism, if it exists, is somewhat of an underground movement? In the sense that we are having a discussion of its existence. In South Africa, it is clear cut: if the government wants to discredit a leader, they portray him/her as being an intellectual, therefore not to be trusted! That to me is an indication that, at least in political circles, we are without a doubt anti-intellectualism. Though this may sound like it, I do not want to have a my-country-is-more-anti-intellectualism-than-yours debate, I am just interested to hear what it is like, for I have never regarded New Zealand as being anti-intellectualism. Are there any leaders who speak out against it?

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  8. kenwestmoreland says:

    Yes it is. It’s rabidly anti-intellectual, an attitude encouraged by the ridiculously over-the-top free market ideologues who think that in order for something to be profitable it can’t be highbrow. If New Zealand weren’t anti-intellectual, TVNZ wouldn’t be the ratings-driven cash cow it’s become. Not even the libertarian right in the UK or Australia would want the same thing to happen to the BBC, ABC or SBS.

    • mxharris says:

      I guess we agree to disagree! I did say in the article that NZ might be seen as anti-intellectual in some respects. But when we reframe the question, and ask whether NZ is any more anti-intellectual than similarly situated countries, and when we separate out Tall Poppy’s Syndrome (which I see as a push for humility), I think the answer is no. Interesting to hear your thoughts, though – thanks for commenting.

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