My cat, spooky, has gone missing. He's been gone for 5 days now, and while I am quite worried he may have been hurt, or worse, killed or caught by the cat-catcher, I still hold hope that he's about, and that he will return soon. He's done this before, but never for so many days, and I suspect he may have another home out there somewhere. Damn cats and their curiosity! It never comes to any good! Whenever he goes missing, I can't help but think of the saying "Curiosity killed the cat."
While the origins of this phrase date back to the 16th Century, people still use this phrase today as a warning against getting involved needlessly in situations, where surely the only outcome can be bad. I have seen this idea also used to discredit science, learning and knowledge, with the premise being, "Curiosity killed the cat, so don't ask too many questions."
The quest for knowledge for the sake of knowing is unique among the animal kingdom to humans, in that we won't be satisfied to just have the information presented to us, but will seek more knowledge. Our curiosity is essential to the progress of humanity, for without it, and without asking how something came about, we stagnate. And there are those who would prefer we do just that. Religions, mainly Christianity and Islam (which is ironic since much of the progress introduced into Europe in the 7th Century came from the Islmaic Moors), rely upon a strict discipline of unquestioning faith, and even go so far as to discredit knowledge as evil or sinful. The bible, in its opening chapter discredits knowledge as a curse bestowed upon mankind for going against the word of God, and again in later chapters, where we are told to not trust knowledge, and not trust the teachings of man.
It is in the interest of religious groups to not question the authoritative stance of the Bible and Koran, for if one is to trust wholeheartedly in the religious texts, then they are predictable and easier to control. The more one questions religious tenets the less viable they become, and the smaller the possibility of God becomes. But this anti-intellectualism is not coming strictly from religion, and the anti-intellectualists are raising up their placards and screaming "Grow a brain Morans!" at the top of their voices.
In Charles P. Pierce's 2005 Esquire piece titled "Greetings from Idiot America" (later adapted and expanded into his novel "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free"), he outlines some of the examples where education, knowledge and expertise are under fire as being elitist, and therefore not relevant to the majority of Americans. Not only that, but those without knowledge and expertise see it as a "showing -off", where smart people flaunt their smarts in front of those less educated as if to say "You wouldn't understand." The rise of Sarah Palin as the voice of Idiot America, with her anti-intellectual stance is but a symptom of this trend which is becoming all to apparent in the USA.
The Tea Party in the USA is spreading to other countries, with groups appearing in Australia and the UK, spreading their half-assed messages of fear and disenfranchisement around the globe. Again, they prey upon people's fears and uncertainties, and they speak loudly.
This trend has extended to Australia also, where it seems the education system is geared toward mediocrity, where everyone wins, rather than one of competition and striving for betterment. The disenfranchised minorities are rising up and claiming political statuses, forming political parties such as Bob Katter's "The Australian Party", which preys upon people's fears of being controlled too much by government actions, to Pastor Danny Nalliah's "Rise Up Australia Party", focusing on media spurred fears of multiculturalism and the supposed rise of Islam in Australia. And of course we can't forget Pauline Hanson, and while I'm never really sure what she's talking about and where it comes from, all we know is she's frustrated and sick of it. And for every rational, reasonable and thinking journalist or blogger, there is an equally irrational, emotional and "from-the-gut" writer out there trying to discredit progress in the name of this anti-intellectual spirit. They seem to be getting louder too!
The anti-intellectual movement has had some other more insidious side-effects here in Australia also, in the guise of The Australian Vaccination Network. This network claims to be an authority on the supposed dangers of vaccination, and the incredibly tenuous link to the development of autism in children. They cite a "peer-reviewed" paper by the discredited Doctor Andrew Wakefield on their website, and use the fears of new mothers to spread their messages, claiming that the science of vaccination is wrong. While we can shake our heads at some anti-intellectual movements and feel sorry for them, this one has proven to be quite harmful. Because so many people have chosen to opt-out of vaccination of their children, we are now in the grip of an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) and the even more alarmingly, a resurgence of rubella. Mark my words, if we don't get onto this soon, we will also see the return of polio in mainstream Western society also. Please read this media release about the AVN and the damage they are doing.
While the anti-intellectual spirit of politics preys on the fears of minorities, such as having a fair-go, whether petrol prices are going up, whether Islam will take over from Christianity as the main religion in Australia (and the USA), and whether people's voices are being heard, the anti-intellectual spirit of religion stems from a need to control. Control of people by disallowing their nature need for knowledge is the one most powerful tool that religion has, and given the state of technology these days, where information is found at your fingertips, it's no wonder these religious groups are making so much noise.
Earlier this week I tweeted "Curiosity didn't kill the cat. Curiosity led us to discover the universe!" Curiosity has allowed humanity to make some of the most momentous discoveries about the universe and ourselves, to cure diseases, to fly to the moon and to feed whole populations. We need to continue to be curious about nature, about science, about culture and humanity, and we need to continue to question everything. We must not become complacent with pseudo-knowledge, or settling on our fears as facts just because someone else feels the same way. We need to use our heads, not our gut, to think, after all that is what it's there for. And we need to break down this anti-intellectual spirit that is showing its face in politics and being bolstered by the blind faith of religion.
I hope my cat comes back. Curiosity may have gotten the better of him this time, but I praise him for his pioneering spirit.