On Elitism

There is a lot of anger these days being directed towards a group known as “the elites”. I’m not sure who they are. Sometimes I am part of them. Sometimes I’m not, but standing apart from a crowd, with their torches, storming toward the castle gates which protect “the elites”.

The elites are the rich.

The elites are liberals.

The elites are the well-educated.

The elites are neo-conservatives.

The elites are the well-connected and entitled.

I keep hearing this term: the elites. And when I step back I think of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge movement, and how they ultimately targeted people who wore glasses. And when I say targeted, I mean murdered.

When I hear, in that angry, spittle-on-the-microphone voice – elites – I think of the ease with which we can take a non-specific swath of individuals from various classes, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, and clump them together almost by magic. And they suddenly become something standing in the way of common sense, progress, Providence. Those fucking elitists.

I can take everything that makes your life hard – the year-to-year complexities of living in a society with others – and compel you to believe that if it wasn’t for some small band of conniving intellectuals things would be better, simpler.

I can blame the elites.

Doris Lessing:

There is a certain social process that is known and very visible, but perhaps not acknowledged as much as it should be. It is that one where a new idea (or an old one in new form) is accepted by a minority, while the majority are shouting treason, rubbish, kook, Communist, capitalist, or whatever is the valued term of abuse in that society. The minority develop this idea, at first probably in secrecy, or semi-secrecy, and then more and more visibly, with more and more support until…guess what? This seditious, impossible, wrong-headed idea becomes what is known as “received opinion” and is loved and valued by the majority. Meanwhile, of course, a new idea, still seditious etc. and so forth, has been born somewhere else, and is being cultivated and worked out by a minority. Suppose we redefine the word elite, for our present purposes, to mean any group of people who for any reason are in the possession of ideas that put them ahead of the majority?

If holding certain beliefs or regarding some aspects of life as being too complex to reduce to unconditional conclusions sets me apart from the crowd, and if this standing apart-ness is sedition, and if this is what it means to be an elitist, then I am an unrepentant elitist.


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