David Newquist thinks hard and writes big. His latest analysis of anti-intellectualism and the decline of progressivism in South Dakota deserves your attention. Permit me to focus on just one interesting element of his essay, an example of how our intolerance for real scholarship drives away economic and cultural opportunities.

Dr. Newquist says that after the 2004 election, a group wanted to establish a think tank to study political and cultural issues on the Northern Plains. Aberdeen made the short list and drew scrutiny from researchers seeking a good location for the project. Our visitors did not like what they found:

Aberdeen fit many of the requirements that had been established for the the successful operation of the unit, and the people who generated the funding leaned toward it as a good location. However, the market researchers also noted some detractions. The one that surprised and puzzled me was how they interpreted the discussion board on the local newspaper's website. The discussion board was notorious for being frequented, often dominated, by trolls, and most readers dismissed it and ignored it. The researchers did not, but cited it as the symptom of a serious problem. I commented that although the postings by the trolls were repulsive and offensive, they were the work of a very small minority and certainly did not represent the community at large. One of the team members said that the fact that the major news medium in the community allows commenters to publish insult, abuse, and often libels under the guise of freedom of speech signals an attitude toward intellectual work. He pointed out that many news organizations invite critical comment, but exercise their Fourth Estate right to edit out the malicious, the salacious, and the libelous. But beyond that, the offensive comments are a part of the community, and what organization would, in effect, elect to build its headquarters near a sewage lagoon? However, the state of South Dakota was characterized as having social and political attitudes that were not compatible with an intellectual enterprise and Aberdeen fully demonstrated those attitudes. In the end, the northern plains states did not get a think tank devoted to their study and development. Some of the funding and materials went to a university library, and some went to universities to the east that had projects underway to examine the great plains. Serious consideration of the Buffalo Commons is not done by anyone who lives there [David Newquist, "The Land of Infinite WTF," Northern Valley Beacon, 2012.11.17].

Social and political attitudes... not compatible with an intellectual enterprise... uff da. That's not the text we want on our Chamber of Commerce flyers. But it's what outsiders see when they survey our civic-scape.

Impolite language in the blogosphere is a symptom, not the cause, of South Dakota's off-putting anti-intellectualism. But Newquist reminds us that our words matter. We must speak in ways that educate, not denigrate. There are some people who need to be knocked down a peg (maybe even me on occasion!), but we must critique each other and our actions with the aim of making South Dakota better, not excluding or wrecking certain individuals. We must speak in pursuit of the greater good.