bourgeois idealism is enough! why think when you have liberal privilege?

Bourgeois Idealism & the Promotion of Anti-Intellectualism

I know already as I’m writing this piece that it’s not going to be a piece that’s widely read and/or shared. I know this because I’ve written a number of pieces that have been read and shared by thousands. As a result, I’ve learned that the formula for that level of popularity in literature is ensuring the topic is high on the popular culture list. This relates to what bourgeois celebrities, politicians, etc. are doing. These are the people the capitalist system validates as worthwhile. And, all of us, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not, are programmed to respond the way capitalism has programmed us to respond— so, celebrities and the issues they are concerned about. If those two things jibe with what is going on in popular culture, then you are much more likely to have a piece that gains traction if you write about those things.

Due to this phenomenon, many people who make attempts to address the issues confronting humanity feel pressured to somehow navigate through the superficial realm that capitalism has provided for us. In the ten plus years that I’ve been writing, I’ve tried my absolute best to resist that urge. What’s been most important to me is presenting an analysis and perspective that speaks truth while attempting to match truth with our material realities as human beings. And, to be able to do that while writing in a style that still manages to resonate with everyday people who are the basis of everything that exists in this world today. Also, I hear the voice of the honorable Marcus Garvey in my head when he said “What you do today can impact someone tomorrow!” Once I write each piece, it’s out in the world and it’s quite possible that I can write something that may not be widely read today, but will gain the attention of the future Assata Shakurs, Teodora Gomes, Malcolm Xs or Kwame Tures who may not even be born yet.

So, it’s in that spirit that I present this analysis rooted in addressing elements that all of us are impacted by daily, although many of us are not consciously aware of this. It is the capitalist system which is the complete reason for this confusion.

Capitalism is the dominant economic system on earth today. It’s a system which prioritizes profit over people. It is a system that gained and maintains its stronghold by physically, psychologically, and spiritually dominating the masses of people on earth. The strategy that capitalism relies on to maintain its grip is ensuring that the masses of people remain confused. The fact that the masses envision the very capitalist system that is responsible for all the suffering that exists on earth today, as the only system that can bring them peace and salvation is amazing. For capitalism, ensuring the masses believe this, and never ever question it, is essential to its survival. As a result, capitalism has spent the last five centuries consolidating lies about its origins and its day to day existence. Those lies are not just individual misspoken statements. They are systemic manifestations (white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, individualism, elitism, idealism) that are reinforced 24/7/365. In other words, since the reality of capitalism is oppression, death, and destruction, all over the world, instead of risking the masses coming to this realization, capitalism creates an illusion and perpetuates it so often and so systematically that most people cannot tell the difference. 

A major reason for the continued success of this strategy is capitalism’s devaluing of the study of ideas. Capitalists know that the struggle to understand ideas is a key skill that would permit the masses to learn how to see through their tricks. Consequently, they will never provide or endorse that type of skill development. And, anyone who suggests doing so will be discredited by them (through their massive propaganda mechanisms like mass media, schools, churches, mosques, etc.). This is why capitalist mass media has millions of people convinced that they are providing you a balanced perspective of what’s happening in the world. They tell you this, and you and many people you know believe it to some extent. This is also the reason there is no real study of our material conditions in places of worship. You do not have an atmosphere where congregants can rise up during a service and correct the lies of the pastor. There is no collective study, just rote dictation of biblical verses. That’s why people can quote biblical verses, but can rarely provide historical context. It’s also why movies, news, television shows, etc., promote the same general themes, which means most of the time you can predict the outcome without having seen the show before. 

The capitalist system really only talks to you about two or three things and they tell you only what they want you to know about those two or three things as often as they possibly can. If you think about 2020, the only things all of the bourgeois news stations told you is how they intend to frame the U.S. presidential election and coronavirus. You learned nothing about the political, economic, and social realities in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean in 2020. You didn’t even learn anything about the realities in communities across the U.S. On the elections and Covid they didn’t give you a broad perspective with critical information. You were never provided much of a glimpse into the on-the-ground mutual aid work (carried out by mass organizational efforts, not government) which has been necessary and essential to helping people exist over the past two years. They ignored that because if they provided that information people would be led to question why these efforts should even be necessary in such a rich country. They didn’t show you the disparate impacts of Covid on poor colonized communities in concrete and consistent ways that would help you understand how oppression manifests itself in this society. And, they certainly didn’t ever expose you to the efforts others have made and are making to address Covid, especially if those others are their enemies like socialist Cuba, for example. Despite these glaring contradictions, they will come before you every day with a straight face and tell you that this is democracy at work. The same democracy that harps over and over that the November 2020 U.S. presidential election was “democracy at work.”  The obvious contradiction is that they have convinced millions of this while simultaneously, the U.S. was exposed as having played a leading role in subverting democracy in Bolivia and Venezuela’s elections. This contradiction is as obvious as the sun coming up this morning, but because the so-called mass media never talks about Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, etc., except to demonize them. They have been able to create the reality where millions of people believe this one sided dishonest portrayal is a balanced view. Think of it like this: if your parents and/or your partners (and for many of us, unfortunately this is true) told you unstop that you are worthless then eventually, you would come to believe on some levels that this is a true and correct analysis about you. 

These capitalists’ dirty tactics are also continuously successful because they have been able to convince so many of us that studying information is a waste of time and a poor example of human behavior. Think about how seldom you see people reading comprehensive material. We are not talking about pop culture internet articles, magazines, and the like. We are talking about how often do you see people reading books on philosophy, ideology, history, etc.? And, even if you can say you have seen people doing this, that’s only on an individual level. A small finite number of you can claim you know of people collectively and consistently engaging in these practices. Practically never is going to be the consistent answer. Most of you reading this probably rarely do this. This is the reality because we have permitted them to convince us that doing so is not necessary; that we already know all we need to know to properly conduct our lives. And, we believe this because they have trained us to see the world from an idealist and individualist perspective. This means whatever we think we know, that’s all that matters, nothing else. We need not be concerned about anything outside of our individual experience, i.e. what directly impacts us in ways we understand. Once they have convinced us to believe this nonsense, then we will effectively turn off all elements of life that we do not see as directly impacting what we are doing in our individual lives. If it isn’t helping us understand how to buy a house or car, if it doesn’t help us get our hands on more money, then it’s not relevant. This is the most effective anti-intellectual campaign since Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the 1930s. 

This is why it has become so difficult to convince people of common logic. Regardless of the fact you have all the information and evidence, they still refuse to accept it because it doesn’t fit their only criteria – relevance to what they are thinking and doing. On top of that, capitalism has these systems of oppression that work day and night to convince people that regardless of how oppressed they are, they still have the chance to become a millionaire. Win the lottery. Marry a billionaire. So, they should always maintain faith in the capitalist system because if they don’t, they could miss that opportunity. Even if they have been houseless for 25 years. Even if they have been oppressed by white supremacy and/or patriarchy, still maintain that faith. And, certainly and absolutely reject any inclination that another reality could be possible. Under these dysfunctional circumstances, a houseless person will defend capitalism against you even if you drop clear evidence of greed and oppression as the reason for their suffering. I can think of no better example of anti-intellectualism.

Many people are confused and can only view this and other discussions like it through that individualistic vision. As a result, they see us talking about anti-intellectualism being a problem and to them this means we are criticizing people who do not study. If you have the means and capacity to study and you don’t, then absolutely, you are to be criticized, but that’s not the point of the argument. The point is how the capitalist system has convinced us that studying is a bad idea. What happened to “information is power” and what great minds like Malcolm X said when he told us that “history is best qualified to reward our research.”  

Don’t get us wrong, we have great faith in the masses of humanity, but we are not confused. Our people died and were savagely beaten to win our right to gain access to organized education not just in the U.S., but all over the world. All over the world. Faith in the masses cannot just mean faith in you individually, especially if you haven’t really done much to warrant that level of respect. It has to include, and even start with, respect for the sacrifices and contributions of those who fought for us to have a better life on a collective level. Our people didn’t fight for education because they wanted an individual education. They fought, without receiving the education they fought for themselves, because they knew that we as a people needed that victory. They knew we needed that victory because they understood, even if we have lost this understanding today, that education, properly organized, is a tool that we can use effectively to find solutions to liberate our people from the oppression the capitalist system continues to reap upon us.

Being anti-reading is not cool, its silly. If people have physical and/or psychological impediments that make it difficult or impossible for them to study, then we have to work to develop mechanisms to address this with/for them, but under no circumstances should we buy into this backward concept that studying is a bourgeois concept. It’s the bourgeoisie that don’t want you to study because they know you doing that would mean their downfall. What an irony! They know they can use the threat of appearing to mimic them as a tool to prevent so many of us from doing what’s needed to eliminate them. If you don’t understand the clear difference between revolutionary political education and bourgeois elitist academics, we are happy to demonstrate the difference. We want the former, not the latter, and we want and need all of us to understand and accept this reality so that we can get to work. The problems of this world require education. Not a few select people gaining it and solving the problems for everyone, but the masses of people having the tools to collectively solve our problems on a collective level. That is the most logical and clear definition of a revolutionary process that we can provide for you.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.