What’s up with the smart-shaming?

Shakira Sison

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What’s up with the smart-shaming?
We ostracize those who think outside the box and say, 'Ikaw na ang magaling!'

Sige na, matalino ka na.” (“Fine, you’re the smart one.”)

Heard this before? It’s a common response to an original thought in the middle of a typical conversation. All of a sudden, what was supposed to be a casual exchange of ideas is halted, where one person puts up a figurative hand that signals, “No more thinking.”

Instead of engaging a person who has something interesting to say, their ideas are perceived as a threat, as if the person were hurling insults instead of stating facts. The offended party feels that the person with a unique thought is making them feel stupid, so if the conversation goes on, they will even say:

“Bobo na ako, sige na.” (“So I’m the idiot, okay?”)

Why is a meaningful conversation suddenly considered offensive? Why are some people slighted when they don’t understand or are unfamiliar with the topic at hand?

Why is it that when we encounter atypical opinions or articles that question the status quo, its comments frequently contain comments that the author is elitist, over-educated, or too analytical? 

Why do we mock critical thought?

Why do we say, “Ang dami mong alam! (You’re a know-it-all!)” when we hear someone share a deep thought or provocative question? Why not engage the person and learn? Why do we avoid discussions that require us to think, do our own research, or question beliefs we’ve long held?

Why do we say, “Nosebleed!” when we hear someone speaking English? Even if English is considered a status symbol, it is still taught in all three levels of education. Why we are proud of our difficulty in understanding or speaking it? Why not just ask the other person to speak Filipino if they can? Why not learn the language if we want to be better at it?

The rise of anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism is defined as the hostility and mistrust of intellectual pursuits. Those who present an atypical way of thinking are othered (perceived as different), deemed a danger to normality, and are considered outsiders with little empathy for the rest of the population.  This is the origin of the idea that those who have alternative opinions or are part of a counterculture are elitist, arrogant, matapobre (anti-poor) and aloof.  

There is a growing trend of shaming those who take the time to learn more and share their knowledge with others. As if intelligence is now a liability and scratching beneath the surface is a negative, invalidating ideas that go against the grain seems to be more common than being intrigued enough to look further. We ostracize those who think outside the box and say, “Ikaw na ang magaling!” (“Aren’t you the great one?”)

Instead of mocking someone for using a word we don’t know or for asking a question we never thought of, why not look up concepts that are foreign to us, instead of dismissing them as unnecessary and saying, “Wow, deep!”  Why not ask about a new concept that leaves us stumped instead of mocking its origin or sarcastically saying, “Eh di wow!” 

No limit to information

Regardless of one’s financial background, there is no better time than the present to learn about any topic or skill. With free and open access to unlimited information online, there is hardly any excuse to remain complacent about knowledge. But instead this time is spent on putting down the person who is actually curious enough to learn.

I understand the lack of hope that furthering one’s knowledge will actually lead anywhere. It is easy to accept that only the powerful have access to the wisdom of the world and that it’s better to not want more than what is attainable.

But that would be acting as if only the elite have the right to speak, think, discuss, question, or use a foreign tongue. This kind of thinking relegates those who perceive their social status as lower to a state of apathy and complacency. It conditions them to believe that the use of the English language, critical thought, and intellectual discussions are only for those who are rich. How scary is that?

Dangerous sentiment

It’s a dangerous sentiment to leave the thinking and philosophizing to those who have economic power. It’s detrimental to society to be complacent in our contentment and to think that resisting, protesting, or even questioning long-held beliefs and rules is not every person’s duty. 

Instead we say, “Oo na, edukada ka na!” (Fine! You’re the educated one!),” as if speaking wisely were the same as showing off, that those who do have unconventional ideas only seek to rub it in other people’s faces, and that education is the enemy, instead of the savior.

In history, anti-intellectualism has been used as a tool by extreme dictatorships to establish themselves and to paint educated people as a threat because they question social norms and question established opinion. In the 1970s, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge executed civilians with more than an elementary education, particularly those who wore glasses because it suggested literacy.

Locally, the rounding up of thinkers and those who presented alternative ideas was done en masse during martial law – a common practice in authoritarian political movements where intellectuals are deemed unpatriotic and subversive and must be removed.

The sentiment that to be wise, curious, and analytical is somehow elitist and harmful causes entire populations to become easy to lead. When intelligence is considered shameful, it favors a blind follower’s mindset where being part of a pack that doesn’t question motives is preferred.

Intellectual freedom is scary 

Freedom – especially intellectual freedom – is scary. Those who are frustrated in democracies like ours may find that it is easier to be told what to think and feel and do, instead of deliberating within ourselves who our leaders should be and what we want for our nation. 

It is easy to think that any kind of intelligent discourse is elitist and unnecessary so we won’t have to question things we might blindly adhere to, lest we determine that the truths we hold on to are false. 

If not for the thinkers – those who are in a state of constant curiosity, the seeking of knowledge, information, and answers – we would not be here. All of our heroes, from Ninoy to Rizal, were men who loved books and sought knowledge. They were both ostracized and killed for their thoughts. In both instances these great thinkers were murdered by those who are only too happy when majority of the population views intelligence as a fault.

Foster curiosity, don’t discourage it

When independent thought is extinguished, we are much easier to lead as a pack and we are quick to follow a leader we trust knows better, but may not have our best interests in mind.

Aside from fostering our own curiosity, we need to expect more from our children. We need to teach them to always be inquisitive, and to not be satisfied until they come up with answers of their own. Don’t allow them to believe that things are so “just because.” Don’t stop their search for answers by saying, “Basta, ang kulit mo ha.” (That’s it, you’re annoying.), but instead find the answers with them. Be excited to learn as well.

Children follow what they see, and if they notice you are threatened by knowledge or discouraged to learn, they will feel the same way and not seek it for themselves. 

Let’s quit the smart-shaming and instead encourage intelligent conversation. If it makes us insecure to be unfamiliar with topics and concepts, remember that it’s as easy looking them up online and asking questions to enlighten ourselves, instead of believing that knowledge is this scary thing meant for other people. It truly is there for everyone’s taking.

Thomas Edison once said, “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress.” If we are always content with what we are given and refuse to ask questions – and if we condemn those who actually do –  then we accept our step backward while everyone else leaves us behind. Our failure then becomes no one’s fault but our own. – Rappler.com


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