Revolt of the Little Grey Cells – The Feminist Wire

Revolt of the Little Grey Cells

Art by Sue Hillock,

I’ve had it, dear readers.

The gloves are off.

Conservatives, you’d best take cover cause I’m about to verbally whup some Republican ass.

After more than two decades of being slapped with the label “liberal elite,” I’m unhinged. My Inner Bitch is precariously close to the surface, and she’s about to blow.

Here’s the thing: I am nobody’s liberal elite.

From my blue-collar, first-generation college student origins in the Midwest to my current status as full professor at one of the nation’s best public institutions, I literally embody the American dream of education as the path to upward social mobility.

The truth is, “liberal elite” is the Right’s pet phrase to hide its own narrow-minded, moneyed, power-mongering elitism. And if you think the term went out of style with the Clintons, think again. A simple Google search nets you pages and pages of it, and the label is Glenn Beck et al.’s bread and butter. Not to mention, it’s the mundane verbiage that gets tossed around when elephants (who, by the way, quite like elite goods and services) don’t know what else to say about their donkey foes.

Seriously, nothing gets me more steamed than some silver-haired, white-guy, luxury sedan-driving, golf club-wielding, hyprocisy-spouting, country club Republican with an Ivy League pedigree and an anorexic trophy wife preaching at me about how liberals are all “out of touch” with the “common man.”

What the Right really means by “liberal elite” is too smart for their own good. That’s right: Dangerously smart. Wicked smart. Intelligent enough to see through the lies and misinformation and avalanche of dumbed-down pop culture meant to distract and soothe.

You see, conservatives don’t like smart people, and they especially abhor clever women. (Obviously we’re all feminazis, like that ball-busting Hillary.)  Bottom line is, the Right is afraid of knowledge. Oh, not for themselves, of course. They want their own children to be highly educated, preferably at all the best (elite) schools. They just don’t want the children of other people to be smart, and they most certainly do not want to fund education for the masses.

The current extreme anti-intellectualism of the United States—which seems to have achieved its apogee here in Arizona, with our Tweedledee governor and Tweedledum legislators—suits this conservative agenda to a “tea.” After all, if you prevent people from learning, you can more successfully keep them down. (And if that doesn’t work, you can always arrest, beat, displace, terminate, deport, humiliate, abuse or otherwise marginalize them.)

Benjamin Franklin once famously noted that “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” Although I continue to believe we need to be more civil to each other in the United States, it turns out I can no longer stomach the kind of anti-intellectual, pro-ignorance stance that characterizes American culture in this particular historical moment. We are in the throes of a passionate love affair with stupid, from the ridiculous gaffes of Tea Party candidates to the idiotic dismissal of solid evidence of how the world works to discomfort with complex ideas and so-called “multicultural” agendas.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, let’s briefly consider the case of global warming. The oxymoronically named Republicans for Environmental Protection offers on its website “expert” documentation against the “myth” of global warming, while the number of Republicans polled in 2009 who believe in global warming had considerably declined. This was not the case with Democrats polled. Lack of belief in climate change is contrary to significant evidence of global warming and advocacy by professional groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, NGOs and governments.

So what’s the solution to our contemporary allegiance to ignorance and blind faith?

A good start would be excellent public education for all children and the relentless cultivation of an open mind. Education is a basic human right, and it should be part and parcel of being American. Call me old-fashioned, but I actually do believe in enlightenment and progress gained through knowledge. Not stuffy Enlightenment knowledge from days of yore, accessible only to the privileged, but rather a contemporary, global, rigorous education freely available to all that advances society and sustains our planet.

Clinging to “dumb and dumber,” embracing ignorance, maligning critical thought and attacking people who seek complexity are not the way forward. Playing dumb is not only brainless, it’s heartless and frankly pitiable. All progressive people, and especially those who seek a just world, need to insist on every person’s right to secure the knowledge he or she needs to move fully through life, and not merely to exist, and to adjust their circumstances toward greater freedom and happiness. We need to craft rich, abundant, complicated, true stories about the world and its inhabitants.

And we need to teach all our children well—not just the progeny of the elite.

Sure, I know what my targets will think: that I’m an out-of-touch, intellectual snob of an urban professor picking on the little people, the happy nuclear families spread out across the wholesome red states of America. They’ll view me as a poster child for the “liberal elite,” afraid of God, marriage, faith, debt reduction, war, Old Glory, country music, F-150s, guns, and beer in a can. She’s not a real American, they’ll cry, any more than that “African” in the White House.


The truth is, we need knowledge not only to survive but to thrive. This may surprise some Americans (with the exception of teachers, god bless ‘em, who know better), but human beings have brains. Sturdy, complicated, beautiful, messy brains. Together with thumbs, our exquisitely calibrated “little grey cells,” as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot called them, distinguish us from most of our animal kin.

Of course, while education can build a better brain, I’ve known plenty of senseless people with college degrees and many brilliant people without them. Heart matters, too, just as much as thumbs and brains. Compassion, grace and love reside somewhere south of the cerebral cortex.

I think we all know where the assholes lie.

In closing, I offer just two simple words for haters like Glenn Beck and Fox News and Tea Party wing-nuts who hide behind stale labels and conservative vitriol and nostalgic images of a homogeneous America that never was while celebrating ignorance:

Bring it.

We’re smart. We’re pissed-off. And we’re ready for a change.