This work deals with the highly topical issue of multiculturalism and, as such, a warning is necessary. It is written for those who are, or aspire to be, members of the intellectual elite. These are the people who believe that knowledge is the product of hard labour; the people who believe that you need to do a great deal of time-consuming research, read a lot of books and reflect on many difficult philosophical, empirical and theoretical issues to produce intelligent knowledge.
In John HoWARd’s Australia, there seem to be many individuals who feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’ in talking about issues about which they haven’t bothered to read a single researched article, let alone a book. Apparently, ‘life taught them’. In fact, such people are so ‘relaxed and comfortable’ that they believe that the more someone works at trying to learn about an issue, the more they become part of an ignorant and arrogant lot: the intellectual elite. The role of this elite is apparently simply to put down naturally intelligent people and find ways to stop them from expressing the truth they capture so effortlessly by merely living.
When I used to visit my grandmother in Bathurst in the late 1970s, she would often make comments such as ‘You’ve been reading too much’ or, even more explicitly, ‘People who go to university become mad.’ Although such comments helped me reflect on how and why university knowledge clashed with everyday knowledge, I resented pronouncements such as ‘You have read books, but life has taught me.’ I used to say, ‘But Granny, I have a life as well you know, and it teaches me too. Can’t you see that books and research provide me with extra knowledge.’ I was naive even to try.
The so-called ‘intelligentsia’ always looks down with a really limitless condescension on anyone who has not been dragged through the obligatory schools and had the necessary knowledge pumped into him. The question has never been: ‘What are the man’s abilities?’ but ‘what has he learned?’ To these ‘educated’ people the biggest empty-head, if he is wrapped in enough diplomas, is worth more than the brightest boy who happens to lack these costly envelopes.
This is neither my granny, nor any of Australia’s anti-intellectual populists speaking, but Adolf Hitler. And I cannot help thinking of him when people start abusing intellectuals. Hitler was the classic anti-intellectual: a man who had enough intellect to be a mediocre intellectual and enough also to realise that he wasn’t a member of the intellectual elite. Like many mediocre intellectuals, he thought he had a natural talent for knowledge, rather than realising how much hard work is put into whatever knowledge people end up gathering.
Hitler was not, however, the sort of person who would just sit there and take it. He was too motivated by dreams of social, political and intellectual mobility to allow himself to just sulk and do nothing. So, he found the time-honoured way to ‘beat’ the intellectual elite. This is the road often chosen by people who want to be recognised as intellectuals, but who are either not socially equipped to be so or feel they have better things to do than putting in the hard labour necessary to achieve such a status. These people compensate for their lack of knowledge by speaking in the name of ‘the people’. ‘The people’ becomes such a formula of success for mediocre intellectuals that they make themselves — and some others, too — believe that they actually are ‘the people’.
The mechanism is very simple: 1) ‘The people’ already know everything there is to know: ‘life taught them’. 2) Consequently, anything that the ‘intellectual elite’ says which is not known by the people is superfluous knowledge, if not actively against the people. 3) Therefore, any attack on the knowledge of the intellectual elite is a defence of the knowledge of the people. And who else is better at defending the instinctive knowledge of the people if not the instinctively intelligent, mediocre intellectual? In reality, ‘the people’ are too busy living. In addition, one can be certain that anyone who uses the concept of ‘the people’ is already someone who distinguishes himself or herself from them…
Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White supremacy in a multicultural society, Pluto Press, 1998, Preface, pp.7–9.