Letter: Dumbing down?

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith (Comment, 15 March) quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury as saying that "we live in a society with something of an allergy to religion, and even to serious thought". He calls the last phrase ridiculous and petulant. As an American living in England, I must applaud the Archbishop for his astute observation.

America is plagued by anti-intellectualism. As a former politician there, I can attest to an active disdain for higher education except among the committed few, who are often chided for their privilege and elitism. In most political circles, campaigning for funds for higher education was seen as a waste of money that could be better spent on roads or tax breaks for businesses. I even know of one person who ran for office on the platform that there were too many "educated" people in government, making it unrepresentative of the public at large.

This anti-intellectualism reduces political discourse to personal jabs, and limits policy to short-term, simplistic, populist proposals. The evangelists of the religious right fare well in a society with few analytic, evaluative skills.

I have been endlessly impressed with the level of debate and discourse in England. There is a much higher level of awareness of world events, history, and culture. This is as true of taxi drivers as it is of my colleagues. America often serves as a warning for cultural trends to avoid.


London NW3