We Do Not Live in an Anti-Intellectual World

Yesterday, I was sitting on a bus to Harvard Square from Brandeis University reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The main character Guy Montag works as a fireman, but rather than putting out fires, he starts them. Owning a book is illegal, and reading them is even worse. If a person is caught harboring a book, then that person’s house will be set on fire. The title, Fahrenheit 451, refers to the temperature at which book paper catches fire. Written during the early years of the Cold War, the book is a meditation on the changes going on in society. The main theme is the idea of censorship. The government in the book slowly changed people’s perceptions toward classic literature and art, and therefore denied its people the capability of learning or becoming intellectual.

As I am nearing the final pages of the book, an older man, maybe in his mid-fifties, gets on the bus. He wears a colorful cap, and ordinary clothing, with brown loafers. He sits down close to me and after a few minutes waves for my attention.

“Its a shame that people are so anti-intellectual these days,” he said. I looked down at my book, and back at him, and then back down, and back at him.

“You know you really missed out on something here. And its a shame that you guys are all so anti-intellectual,” he said again. He walked to the back of the bus and began chastising a young couple wearing opposing New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox jerseys. After about three minutes he went back to his seat near me. He shoved a packet into my face. It read “Music Fest 2011.”

“This is what you missed out on,” he said. “You know, I graduated from Brandeis in 1981, and then people used to talk to each other and have actual conversations. Now, you guys don’t even talk to each other. This music fest was great!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t go here, so I didn’t know this was going on.”

He asked me where I went to school. Emerson College.

“Ah, Emerson,” he said. “They are making future teachers there.”

Then he was finished with me. He glanced down at my book, then quickly at me, and turned around in his seat to start bothering another girl.

When we neared Harvard Square, he stood up and started bothering the bus driver about how we live in an “anti-intellectual city” and how schools like Lesley University were actually teaching their students. All the driver could do was nod. The man sat down again.

“I started a choir at Brandeis,” he said to me. “And now I am a music professor.”

We stopped at Harvard Square, and he leapt to his feet. He was the first one to the door and before he left he yelled “Welcome back to the city of anti-intellectuals!” into a startled student’s face. He got off the bus and started saying this to other people on the street. I just hurried down into the T station and continued to read my book when I got there.

People like him and instances like that make me wonder “What’s the point?” “What is he doing?” “Why does he think that will do anything?” Telling people that they are living in an anti-intellectual world is not going to change anything. Yelling in people’s faces is just going to make you look like a crazy person.

We don’t live in an anti-intellectual world. In Boston alone, students are learning at many of the top schools in the country, Harvard University, MIT, Boston College. We are surrounded by history and art everyday, all we have to do is notice it.

It was luck that I happened to be reading Fahrenheit 451 that day. “I know!” I wanted to yell at him. “And what you are doing is not going to help anything!”

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 18.2 million students were enrolled in college in the United States in 2007, and an additional 447,000 people were enrolled in non-degree higher institutions. People are learning and talking to each other all the time. This man just happened to wander upon a bus of students who were tired at 6:30 on a rainy Sunday evening. People who make overwhelmingly stereotypical statements about my generation bother me. There are some who would love to spend all of their time playing video games or getting drunk, but that is not the majority. People my age are reading high literature, making and analyzing films, painting, singing, running, looking, watching, and perceiving our world.

We don’t live in an anti-intellectual world. I truly believe that we don’t.

I stumbled upon a quote from an unknown source: “Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them.”

For those of you who have not read Fahrenheit 451, please do. It is a very good book.

For the plot synopsis, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fahrenheit_451#Plot_summary