Musings on Elitism
Charges of elitism are being thrown right and left (well mostly at the left).
“Elitism” is when someone believes in an ‘elite’ or special group of people. It is also believing that one belongs to such a group. As a synonym for “snobbery” it refers to the attitude of those belonging to the elite.
This word is often used with the wrong connotation- it does not just refer to someone who is rich or who is from the upper-crust.
Down-home people who believe they are the “Salt of the Earth” are , by definition, just as elitist as “The Toast of Manhattan”. People who think that redneck, camouflage wearing, pork-nibbling, gun-toting people are better than anyone else are elitists- just like the arugula-munching, latte-guzzling tie wearers who also think they are superior.
Using the phrase “The Real America” is expressing an elitist belief, because it means there is a special group of people who are the only ones worthy of the ideals of freedom & rights. It’s a silly notion and I hate the phrase in particular because I suspect that I am not included in the whole “Real America” thing- nor are any other blacks or any Jews, Pagans, Muslims, Hispanics, Native Americans (ironically), women who are more than somebody’s mother, maid or wife; Asians, Atheists and gays (who does the home makeovers in The Real America?).
Because, you see, “The Real America” looks much like Mayberry and the Beav runs in its streets. In “The Real America”, people eat Bluebell ice cream and jovially express admiration for people who “ain’t got much book learnin’.”
Which ticks me off more than the feeling that I am not considered “a Real American”.
You can go to all 12 years of school (private or public) and graduate from a prestigious University and still have no book learnin’ because it’s a passion. A love for history, literature, science, philosophy and art will always serve you better than memorization by rote or flat-out ignorance.
To me, the down-turn in American education can be traced right back to embracing the idea of the inferiority of “book learnin’” to “street-smarts” or conformity to religion. I’d rather be “bad” with books than well-behaved without them.
People who have no book learnin’ are not good at conversation and they tend to have silly superstitions and prejudices. I prefer people who know stuff. I don’t think that someone who can’t find Iran on a map can say anything valuable about that country for a very simple reason: they don’t know where the heck they’re talking about.
Many of the Founding Fathers were upper class intellectuals who knew philosophy & history. My favorite quote of all time is from Thomas Jefferson who said “I cannot live without books.” And this bibliophile broke the bank buying books and fine wine.
I hope to marry a man like that. Only…less wine. A little bit less.
If he were around today, Jefferson would surely be called an elitist by people who believe that shopping at Wal Mart is a virtue. It’s not bad to shop at Wal Mart- it’s just not that great either. I mean, yeah, a can of tomatoes for fifty cents and a throw blanket for eight dollars- it’s good.
But they don’t carry the best book selections and I have a hard time picking out matching foundation under those harsh white lights.
America began with the arrival of elitist groups of Puritans, who believed themselves to be a “city on a hill” and then founded Harvard. Manifest Destiny was certainly an elitist idea. Of course, elitism was also why we slaughtered the native Americans and why blacks were enslaved and why we even enacted eugenics laws to keep Jewish, Russian, Irish and Italian immigrants out. We did it cause we’re special (insert smiley face).
The three biggest religions on Earth are extremely elitist because they believe things like: we are the chosen people, we’ll be raptured, you’ll spend eternity burning in hellfire while I’m playing croquet and sipping daiquiris with Jesus (or 70 virgins, depending on your point of view).
Then, there is regional elitism. People from the North tend to think Southerners are cousin-kissing jug blowers and people from the South often express the suspicion that Northerners are all grouchy, godless criminals. Having a parent from both regions, I have always played Devil’s Advocate- they’re both right and eternal happiness can only be found right on the Mason-Dixon Line.
The greatest feats in history were not accomplished by “ordinary” people, but by ordinary people who decided to be extraordinary. They decided to study law by the light of a single candle. They sought new skills, a new ideas, new ways and then they met the world head on.
Harriet Tubman was just another illiterate slave, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was another housewife. If I had a dollar for every farm boy who spent his life milking and mending fences, I’d be a millionaire.
But I’d trade all that money for a meeting with one farm boy who didn’t stay: Abraham Lincoln.
So, is elitism good or bad?
It’s neither- it’s just a word and a concept. We use either one to enflame people and that’s where the trouble starts.
This veneration for people who are just worried about “where their next meal is coming from”, or how to “keep a roof over their family’s head” is misplaced. Because if food and shelter are all that you’re thinking about , what’s the difference between you and an animal?
Does this thinking make me an elitist? Some might say ‘yes’. I really don’t care.
Where is my latte?