Pseudo-Intellectual: The Insult of the Anti-Intellectual
Dissecting the go-to slander of the cognitively mediocre.
If you spend any time on the internet, which I would highly discourage if you can help it, you have probably seen an angry echo chamber lob accusations of being a pseudo-intellectual at some individual who dared to defy the pre-approved perspectives, positions and talking points. Since the person defying the circle jerk’s back-patting groupthink is articulate, they cannot just call them stupid, so they careen right towards labeling the offending critical thinker a pseudo-intellectual with embarrassing predictability.
Since the insult is just a reactive talking point, it is bereft of meaning. A learned response, copypasta’d from similarly programmed human chatbots. But for the sake of this examination, let’s look at definitions, and unpack what would be meant if the name-caller had actually bothered to understand the word they were using.
“A person exhibiting intellectual pretensions that have no basis in sound scholarship.”
‘Intellectual pretensions’ suggests that the individual falsely believes they are intelligent. The question then becomes, how can you determine someone’s intelligence based only on a brief interaction on the internet? Answer — you cannot. Those who are quick to judge the intellectual capabilities of people who they have had minimal interactions with, based solely on the fact that the person disagrees with them, are actively engaging in the pretension of being a qualified cognitive assessor. I can almost guarantee you that anybody on the internet calling others a pseudo-intellectual is, in fact, not an actual psychologist or cognitive scientist who is qualified to make a determination of intellectual aptitude.
‘No basis in sound scholarship’ is also problematic. Scholarship refers to academic achievement. This is troubling, as it suggests that the only intellectual pursuits which matter are those done within the confines of academic power structures, and firmly places intelligence behind a paywall. The history of human beings is full of people who defied academic and ideological structures and formed their own intellectual prowess by independent means. Humanity has benefited greatly from those who chose to forge the path of their own studies, and offered new perspectives unlikely to be considered in formal education systems. Defying the structured biases of institutionalized learning is often how progress is achieved. If we disregarded all thought that did not originate in ivory towers, what we would be left with is intellectual stagnation. In the final analysis, the slur of pseudo-intellectual is really chastisement for failing to conform to the normative perspectives and opinions ordained by academic power structures. Therefore the accusation of being a pseudo-intellectual is really a backwards brag of, obedience to and faith in, ideas and beliefs that rule by the coercion of power.
“A person who pretends an interest in intellectual matters for reasons of status.”
‘Pretends’ is problematic because, again, the person lobbing the term is probably not at all qualified to assess the intellectual capacity of the person at which it is being lobbed.
‘For reasons of status’ makes a wholly unknowable assumption of motivation. Unless the person explicitly states their intent as such, their internal reasoning cannot be known by outsiders. Such assumptions are themselves defiant of the empirical methods employed by academia, which leads to the insulting party ironically perpetrating the very slight they are accusing their target of committing.
‘Fraudulent intellectuality’ just sounds like barely veiled paranoia. Is this intellectuality not of a quality brand name? Not recommended by experts? Is it trying to trick you? On that note, here is part of a related comedy bit I wrote awhile back:
Have you ever had someone online tell you that you use big words just to cover up how dumb you are? What goes into that kind of thinking? … Yeah, I spent many years expanding my vocabulary just so I could trick you into thinking I know other stuff.
Then they will accuse you of using a dictionary or a thesaurus, because that is something dumb people spend a whole lot of time doing. As though morons are notorious for their usage of reference materials.
Next comes my favorite one — you’re just a pseudo-intellectual. Now let me ask you, how paranoid do you have to be before you start wondering if people are just faking intelligence to pull one over on you? … You got me, buddy. I am part of Project IQ Cloak. I am armed with a thesaurus so that I might use big words to trick you into getting chemtrail vaccinations. Foiled again!
If anybody here would like to be part of the conspiracy we meet at the library on Tuesdays. All you will need is an ID, proof of below average intelligence, and four synonyms for the word ‘obfuscation’ that are at least seven letters long.
So the next time some basic internet fool calls you a pseudo-intellectual — forgive them. Chances are they are not very intelligent, and are just parroting the other fools in their echo chamber. It has nothing to do with you. Just walk away and go find people willing to engage in genuine intellectual discourse without resorting to nonsensical, dehumanizing labels that indicate an unwillingness to participate in anything but a feedback loop of bias confirmation.