On “Elitism”

This is a nice image that’s going around, but I would like to repeat Chris’ point here. Clever as the image may be, it’s completely wrong.

Only Liberals see unfettered wealth as elitist. For Conservatives, wealth is the ultimate in non-elitism. As far as they’re concerned, everyone admires wealthy people, and everyone aspires to be wealthy. Owning seven houses isn’t elitist to them; it’s a goal to work towards.

Never forget the two Great Lies that run this country, as twinned and inseparable as Drizzt Do’Urden‘s magic scimitars.

1) Anyone can become rich and successful if they just put their mind to it. (Amended from becoming President because let’s face it, most people don’t want the grief of the office. It doesn’t pay; we just happen to always elect millionaires.)

Since this statement is demonstrably false, it has a companion Great Lie:

2) Money doesn’t buy you happiness. All those rich people you admire would trade it all in a heartbeat for the simple pleasures you now enjoy. They don’t, and they could, but trust me, they would. In a heartbeat.

So no, it’s not wealth that makes one elitist. Not for Republicans and those who would likely be swayed by the use of such a term.

It’s knowledge.

The fact that Barack Obama is intelligent is what makes him “elitist”. See, he’s not like you and me, who never went to no fancy-pants college or if we did we got our General Studies degree and then that’s it. Elitists read books other than the Bible. Elitists listen to music what ain’t on the radio. Elitists drink coffee other than whatever their mama made. Elitists, in short, are curious — they explore the world, looking for ideas and experiences instead of just taking whatever is handed to them.

John McCain, with all his houses and cars and jet isn’t elitist because he’s not a big ol’ intellectual like our last great elitist, Al Gore. And God knows Sarah Palin isn’t curious about anything other than the Power and the Glory and Jesus.

So yeah, don’t worry about how wealthy McCain is. Americans LOVE money. They just hate intelligence. We take pride in lack of knowledge. We feel completely comfortable dismissing science and learning in favor of “heart” and “soul” which mean nothing except “I already know everything I need to know, thank you.” We create schools designed to make kids feel okay about not knowing things instead of trying to help them learn. (Well, except for those “elitist” Montessori schools, of course.)

There’s a reason that the Republicans will fan themselves and clutch their pearls if anyone suggests there may be a “class war” in America, but will happily talk about a “culture war”. A class war implies that there might be something about wealth that needs to be looked into. A culture war lets people be rich and instead poses intellectuals as the enemy. The other day I was thinking to myself, what is the one thing I would love for Democrats to be able to do, if nothing else, the one thing that they could concentrate on that would produce the most benefit and I decided on this: To bring the existing class war into sharp focus and quit letting the Republicans put the kibosh on any discussions around it. If we could talk about this realistically, then I think a lot of good would follow from it. And one of the benefits, I think, would be that we could move away from smart people being bad for our country.

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8 Responses to On “Elitism”

  1. April says:

    I read recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education that there is empirical evidence of a cultural push to dumb down the office of President: “Using the Flesch Readability Formula, which measures sentence and word length, and software that analyzes content, [Elvin T.] Lim [assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University] demonstrates that presidential rhetoric has become linguistically more simple, moving in 80 years from a college level to an eighth-grade level. Moreover, as he notes in his recent book, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric From George Washington to George W. Bush (Oxford University Press), presidents and candidates with overtly active intellects, demonstrable expertise, and scholarly credentials are increasingly regarded with suspicion.” (Oct. 3, 2008)

  2. Blasterhappy says:

    Hi, I’m John McCain I own a Mansion and a Yacht Huhuhuhuhuhhuh! (in my best Elmer Fudd)

  3. Crowded House says:

    Elitists eat arugula and drink tea and work out three times a day. Elitists don’t eagerly wolf down Philly cheesesteaks when they are offered one. Elitists ask for help on foreign policy from someone other than Jesus. Elitists blame America for problems America herself created/made worse instead of blaming evil foreigners. Elitists try to negotiate peace with foreign countries instead of bombing them into oblivion. Elitists don’t acknowledge Christianity as the greatest religion ever, even those who claim to practice it. Elitists give answers that aim for nuance instead of being easily digestable soundbites. Elitists don’t think that oil will always be there like some great underground nectar given to us by God himself. Elitists want to save the environment of an earth that’s only a few thousand years old and is probably going to die when the Apocalypse hits us like it will real soon anyhow.

    I could do this all day. Really, I could.

  4. Lanf says:

    This cultural mistrust of education is probably the root of my recurring complaint about the American view on talent vs. hard work. We consistently value raw talent much more than hard work, to the point where with enough talent the work gets deemed unnecessary. Case in point: any of the reality shows where people sing. Why do we view with suspicion people who work to enrich themselves? (As opposed to people who work to make themselves rich, who are regarded as people to emulate?)

  5. Ken Lowery says:

    Because we sure do love our “it could happen to you” stories, Lanf.

  6. Shawn Fumo says:

    That’s one interesting cultural difference you see between the USA and Japan. Quite a lot of the TV shows, anime and manga in Japan for kids have a big emphasis on improving yourself through hard work. Even in popular things like DBZ or Naruto, while the hero may have some inborn talent that puts them over the top, hard work is always involved. I remember one moment in DBZ where some evil bad guy came around and the heroes needed to get a lot stronger fast. The solution was to go to an alternate dimension where they could train for a year, but only took minutes in the regular dimension.

    I’ve read some things on how it’s important for parents to emphasize how proud they are of their kids’ hard work, instead of just talking about how “smart” they are. Focusing more on “smarts” can cause a real fear of failure, in that instead of thinking they just need to try harder, they can feel that they’ll be thought of as stupid.