Misplaced anti-intellectualism

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THIS is the season when it is so easy to fault people for using their academic credentials to establish credibility and legitimacy.

This is the effect of social media, when access to the production, reproduction and transformation of public discourse has been democratized, that academic credentials are no longer necessary to become a political analyst, or even an investigative journalist.

And in a polarized political environment, the partisanship of academia has not helped at all. The natural tendency of universities and scholars to gravitate towards liberal ideas has necessarily pushed them to bear oppositional discourses vis-à-vis strong states and leaders, such as President Rodrigo Duterte.

Thus, the inherent intellectual elitism of universities, which in fact is deeply embedded in their very nature since time immemorial, has been unfairly associated with the exclusionary and predatory elitist politics associated with oligarchic privilege.

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They are now confronted by ordinary citizens who populate social media, are overwhelmingly supportive of the President, and are led by opinion leaders who are not constrained by academic credentials. These leaders are not lawyers yet they articulate their opinions on legal issues such as the Marcos burial and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao; are not political scientists yet they discourse on political issues as complex as constitutional reform; and are not investigative journalists yet they are as good in exposing the real identities of anonymous bloggers.

These social media enablers of President Duterte are antagonistic towards the journalists in mainstream media, and the so-called thought leaders who,because most hold academic credentials in their own disciplines, are perceived as elitist intellectuals.

However, it is totally wrong to dismiss the relevance of intellectualism in the shaping of the national narrative, as what many pro-Duterte social media bloggers readily do.

The university is also a fertile domain for political contestations. It is not entirely correct to perceive the academia as having only one political color. There are as many other voices in any academic institution, some of whom may in fact be supportive of the President. It is most unfortunate that many of them are silent and would rather focus on their teaching and research. For some, this silence is not even a product of choice, but is an outcome of peer pressure, or even of career survival. In a university setting where the political biases of administrators, owners and tenured peers are so palpable, it could be risky to one’s tenure and promotion to take an opposite view.

Thus, what this people need is for the pro-Duterte social media community to establish an enabling environment to harness the voices of these silent, and in some cases, intimidated and silenced, allies.

After all, any academic, regardless of political color, comes to the table not as amateurs. Many of them have gone up the academic ladder with their robust records in teaching and research. They live and breathe the theories, concepts and principles of their disciplines that they become experts to a point that these become inherent parts of their very nature, like their second skin. Well-versed academics do not need any further preparation to render their opinions on issues pertinent to their disciplines.

For example, political scientists who have gained academic credentials because of their published bodies of work that have been vetted by peers, are walking and talking political resources that just need to be tapped. They can give robust political analysis on any issue thrown their way even on an instant that they no longer have to even prepare for it.

Academics who are experts in their own disciplines would be much-valued additions to the arsenal of support for the President. It is just a matter of bringing them into the fold to harness their voices that are otherwise not noticed.

And this could not be done if the social-media enablers that dominate the President’s coterie of supporters will not consciously exert effort to also enable these pro-Duterte academics. Worse, if they continue this dismissive anti-intellectualism that generalizes all academics as wearing only one political color, or that they are useless armchair theorists.

Academics have been accused of “credentialism,” as if there is something wrong with it. On the contrary, calling attention to academic credentials is a necessary practice to establish legitimacy, as the basis from where one is speaking from. It is only wrong when it is done to flaunt and gloat, and to diminish the right of others without the academic credentials to speak.

It is utterly problematic to find fault in “credentialism” particularly when this comes from a misplaced kind of anti-intellectualism, one that feeds either from envy for not having such credentials, or from a feeling of hubris of being better despite not having the necessary academic credentials.

It is easy to dismiss the role of academics and intellectuals in a world where just anyone with a social media account can become instant experts. And universities will have to do a lot of stock-taking to correct the image of detached, arrogant, useless academics. For one, universities have to now go beyond the rubric of publication citations as the be-all and end-all of their existence. It’s about time they measure their worth not in terms of subjective reputations, number of foreign students and faculty, and number of grants, but in terms of their real impact on society.

But it is equally problematic to dismiss the role that academics perform, and the value that they can contribute.

For the pro-Duterte camp, what is needed is not to dismiss the academic intellectuals and stereotype them as useless, or generalize them as antagonistic yellows.

There is a need to transform them into a potent force by making it safer for them to speak. It may be news to many who have become used to the fact that 82 percent of the population support the President. But the power structures and internal politics in universities may not necessarily reflect this.

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  1. I often encounter people who flaunt their personal achievements in life without having any academic credential. While some have become wealthy despite having not graduated from college or earning a high school diploma, academic credentials are sure ground to establish credibility and integrity in one’s own field of discipline. Having said that, I knew many academics who refuse to be boxed into a single university political color. I would like to paraphrase and echo UP Professor Clarita Carlos’ words that we should let our students finish their sentences, meaning the purpose of educating people is to let the form their own judgments after being presented with facts. Professor Carlos just like Professor Contreras may have their own preferences or opinions but they exercise their profession without necessarily forcing their ideas down the throats of their students. People invite them to public discourse events because their academic credentials and experiences are proofs that they have mastered their own areas of discipline. They are real gurus.

    We cannot totally dismiss the role of academics and intellectuals as they form the backbone of other professionals and experts that we have today. To cap it, an ongoing survey of my graduate school asked me why I rather study my proposed module in the university than in associations or organizations. I give importance to the ideas and expertise of the academics who themselves have the actual experiences and knowledge to discuss theories and future directions. In the same grain that academics are parts of the public discourse of our political environment.

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