An article I wrote back in March of 2010 (“I’ll Show You Stupid”) is getting a lot of steam, it seems. Nice to see new visitors. It’s nice to look back at something I’ve written in the past – the good stuff at least – and see that my instincts were well targeted. In the case of this particular article, it was about the dangers of denigrating (political) others on the basis of how intelligent they come across; the danger was that such actions back-fire more often than not. It mentioned a certain former governor of Alaska.
I’ve been thinking and discussing the subject of elitism quite a bit lately. There are many subtleties in the way we use the word “elite”, but when used in its current populist political form, what people are particularly referring to are those who are educated. Plain and simple. I’ve spent many an hour, day, year, working with and speaking to people who are very educated and worldly, and I must say that they desperately need to get organized if they are to live up to the hype of being the human whippets they are made out to be.
This last October, Toronto voted for a populist mayor – a champion of the surrounding suburbs – who played the “elite” card quite a bit. Regardless that the man is a millionaire from a millionaire family, that he went to Carlton University, he was able to parlay the us-versus-them thing quite well. Helps that he coaches football and is built like a linebacker and probably looks exactly as he did in high school. Thing is, by all rights, he is an elite. Meanwhile, the target of his vitriol, the downtown intellectuals that I hang with (I swear I don’t do it for this reason) – the people who think bike lanes are safe and that public transit is important – are positively victimized by the very thing they are accused of. You see, I think the intelligentsia failed Toronto, just as they typically do most civilizations: where were they (hell, we) during the ten months of the pre-election hype? Where were they when a candidate capable of beating Ford needed to be picked (I don’t think anyone really supported Smitherman – for *’s sake, he adopted a child six months before the election, how responsible is that?). Well, the “elites” were chattering amongst themselves, refuting Ford’s populist bullshit as just that. What everyone forgot is that elections are competitions and without a competitor we ended up with the bully from high school as our hall monitor for the next four years.
The point I’m trying to make (casually, and without credentials because this is a blog and I’m not a journalist) is that the so-called elitists are too busy looking at subtlety, too busy drawing examples from the history of civilization to actually stick their necks out and actually pick a candidate. In short, intellectuals hate making decisions and would rather prefer to show off how much they know about things. That’s how we end up with Rob Ford as mayor. That’s how we ended up with Stéphane Dion leading the Liberal party, or allowing members of the Reform Party to vote twice (if they belonged to both parties) in the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Reform Alliance parties. The intellectuals – the so-called elites – were busy sitting on the sidelines trading notes, impressing each other with witty barbs.
And this is why I have a stake in the whole “elite” argument. In a sense, yes, they are the enemy. Not because they want anything, or that they are organized enough to have an agenda in the first place, but rather because they don’t know what they want for anyone other than themselves and most of them are too afraid of being politically active. In other words, they should know better, should do better, but they don’t. And as a result they doom the viability of the very life they live.