In 399 B.C.E, fearing the rise of intellectuals and the threat they posed to traditional power politics, the elite of Athens sentenced one of their own to death. Socrates, a notable philosopher in Athens, drank Hemlock because he had radical ideas about the world. In fear and ignorance of the knowledge Socrates possessed, the elite decided that they would do away with him. Even though this was 2000 years ago, the persecution of intellectuals continues today. The origins of this persecution? In schools, teens shun the so-called “Nerd” from friend circles, encouraging bookish kids to give up on their knowledge and pursue popularity instead. Also, the persecution is reflected in politics. Today, people are appealing to the lowest common denominator. The lowest common denominator is the most basic human being. Instead of appealing to a high intellectual, politicians are appealing to a person whom everyone can relate to. This lowers the expression on intellect to a point where no one can understand intellect. Finally, the decline is revealed in government, where intellectuals, whose ideas expand into the future, are replaced by populists. Populists tell citizens what they want to hear, but avoid doing what needs to be done for the future. Intellects, however, do what needs to be done for the future, not what citizens necessarily want to hear. Both of these causes lead to the decline of intellectualism.
This leads us to the question: how might the decline of intellectualism impact our lives? More and more populists are being elected to government around the world. In the US, we elected Donald J. Trump, whose actions with coal miners, the Chinese trade war, cutting taxes for big business, and Mexican immigration appeal to the short-sighted wants of the population now, but will not benefit America in the future. In the Muslim world, the Arab Spring was a push in populism that ended in total disaster, with the civil war in Syria and Yemen, the rise of the Islamic State, authoritarian government in Egypt, and the collapse of central government in Libya. Both are examples of populist movements that have had large, negative impacts on people’s lives. Yet beneath those examples of populism is a deeper, yet more horrifying consequence. The rise of populism stunts advancement. Because peer pressure presses kids into giving up intellectualism for becoming popular, fewer intellectuals rise out of secondary education, even less out of tertiary education. This loss of intellects leaves very little of them when we reach adulthood, further aggravating the problem. The difficulties that face the earth today need intellectuals because they need long-term investment. For example, climate change is affecting people all over the world. In a populist view, they would do away with climate change and decide to increase spending in mining, buying, and selling fossil fuels, because that would create jobs, increase profit in big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil, and benefit the economy. On the other hand, an intellect would tax fossil fuels, invest in renewable energy sources, and encourage eco-friendly actions, like riding a bike. Taxation on fossil fuels may hurt oil companies, investment in renewable energy sources may cause a rise in taxes, but in the long run when fossil fuels run out, or when the earth becomes heavily polluted, America will thrive, while other countries will be hurt. Populists will not invest in such loss, because they will avoid anything that may put them on poor terms with citizens. These populists will make our world seem comfortable so they will be reelected by a happy population. Therefore both the everyday person and the government leaders will stop trying to work hard and push the limits. We will stop trying to evolve and adapt to our world. When we stop adapting, we will then be going extinct, slowly and quietly.
What can we do about this problem? We must first start at the beginnings of the decline in intellectuals. Adolescence is where the line between jock and nerd are first drawn. The jock is raised to popularity, while the nerd is forced into the bottom of the middle school social hierarchy. When this happens, people will do anything to be above the bar, even when this means abandoning intellectualism in favor of populism. This continues as age rises, more and more people desert intellectualism, eventually leading up through college, where a once even group of populists and intellects in middle school may end in a heavily unbalanced scale, tilting dangerously towards populistic views. The only way is to support intellectuals, to raise them below that bar into an equal level with populists. Programs for high intellects will give them the drive to pursue knowledge. School assemblies dedicated to explaining the benefits of intellectuals will help encourage teens to seek intellectualism as a path for success later in life. Even this program, speech writing competitions, compels kids to explore their world in a scholarly way, imparting a lifelong idea of knowledge in their hearts. The rise of academia in schools will propel others to become intellects, balancing the amounts of populists and intellects. With more enlightened students rising out of tertiary education, more intellects will be elected to government posts, creating reforms to benefit future generations, liberating kids from the grasps of peer pressure, and saving the human population from extinction.