The OF Blog: The key to being an "elitist"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The key to being an "elitist"

Just as I was falling asleep earlier, I had a thought occur to me that was related to the past few posts. What is it about the "elitists" that sets them out from the presumed hoi polloi? Is it merely quantifiable measures such as erudition, education, or the élan with which they approach matters? I think those are but symptoms. I would argue that the root cause that leads to one eventually being labeled as an "elitist" (regardless of that person's own personal attitudes) is but one little thing.


It is easy to be certain about a whole host of things, but much more difficult to be doubtful. It is a point that Scott Bakker has brought up many times in the past 4 years in interviews and within his books, but it usually ends up being something brushed aside, often because there often isn't an effective response. Let's look at some of the ways doubt can be used to make someone an "elitist."

1. Doubt drives one to reconsider "truths." Ever tried to question long-held beliefs with anyone and take note of the immediate reaction afterward? Doesn't matter if the doubter is "right" or "wrong," more often than not, there's going to be resentment and the belief that the doubter is putting him/herself "above" others.

2. Doubt pushes one to ask more questions. This is pretty much a corollary to #1. The more questions asked, the more some are going to feel uncomfortable, since it forces them to have to consider possible holes in their cherished beliefs.

3. Doubt leads to explorations of things that are "outside the Pale." For example, one might end up doubting that Tolkien-influenced fantasy is the best/only type of fantasy around. But for some who are convinced that it is, those questioning that assumption might end up being viewed as "Other."

4. Doubt causes the occasional shift in perspective. If, as Grace Slick once sang, "truths become lies," then how does one attitude towards those things change? And if there is fundamental change, then how does that person end up viewing other things?

5. Doubt makes one less confident of "right" and "wrong" without evidence. It pretty much is the antithesis of the bandwagon effect. And when one ends up going, willy-nilly, against the tide of popular opinion...

6. Doubt leads to more questions, more shifts. Pretty self-explanatory in light of the comments above.

7. Doubt creates a more critical attitude. And who really likes anyone who has a critical, questioning attitude, anyways?

I probably could think of more characteristics, but these will do for now. So if one is led to separate him/herself from a commonly-held position, to question if things are as they should be (whatever that "should be" might mean), and to explore other possibilities that lie beyond the general realm of expectations and that person expresses those opinions, just how quickly do you think there might be that bandying about of the term "elitist," with the connotation that such characteristics that I've listed above are "bad"?

PDQ, I'd imagine.


Mike said...

I always felt that calling anyone an elitist was a self-defense mechanism. Anyone who can argue their view and look like a professional in doing so will invariably come off as too intelligent for the discussion. You can't play in the NHL and show up on a frozen pond expecting everyone to love you for it. 'Elitist' gets tossed about when someone feels they can't hold their own. It's not that they're not good enough, just you'd (apparently) rather beat down the kids on the pond than face professionals in the rink.

So basically yeah, my take is it's self-doubt in the face of superior ability.

Larry said...

I think that's part of it and I think sometimes it's used as an attempt to bully another into submitting to an argument that isn't presented as well. One thing I noted about university (and especially graduate school) discussions compared to most others is that when someone made a superior case, usually the other person would take notes and work to improve. It certainly was a competitive environment, but yet very civil as well.

Mike said...

All arguments/discussions are valuable for self-reference in gauging ability and competence. The only time I'd consider calling someone elitist is when they tell you you're not wise enough, not good enough to understand.

Taking a tone, a stance or an approach doesn't merit namecalling. I watch a certain presidential candidate get called elitist and it just comes off as an inferiority complex with a bullhorn.

If only we all lived our lives feeling like we weren't good enough...=P

Neth said...

Larry, I agree with the post....but (you knew there was a but didn't you?)

There are some instances where the person tagged with the label of elitist earns the tag due to their being condescending and arrogant in their thoughts/beliefs. It's not always a case of a defensive reality - sometimes the person really is an elitist prick.

Of course this all utilizing the connotative reaction of the word 'elitist' as a negative thing. If you were take the true definiton of the word 'elitist', it would be quite a compliment to be referred to as elitist.

Larry said...


I agree that there are times that there are those who brazenly attempt to separate themselves from others not because of necessity, but from a sense of self-consciousness on their own part. But yes, I was writing about the positive aspects, thinking especially about that Mamatas post I highlighted. Did you read that part of the comments section that I mentioned in the edit? :P

Neth said...

naw...I really wasn't interested in reading that trainwreck.

Jonathan M said...

I think this is merely a reflection of the current US political climate.

Kerry was depicted as a french-speaking metrosexual elitist and the same people tried to chuck the same kind of mud at Obama.

Result? People over there have a) gotten used to thinking that elitism is a bad thing and b) people have gotten used to using it as a stick with which to beat people.

I fail to see the problem with being an elitist. Some people simply are more thoughtful,educated and more refined in their tastes and practices.

There's no nobilitiy in being poorly educated, projne to not asking yourself too many questions and jumping on the band-wagon of whatever taste is popular at a given minute, so why should wanting to rise above such things be considered wrong?

If Kerry and Obama were shoe-less yokels the Republican party and the media would be asking whether they're too unsophisticated to be President and they'd be playing up the fact that Bush went to an ivy league college.

It's a randomly demonised trait based upon the vaguaries of politics and psychology. I would not worry about it.

Larry, anyone who calls you an elitist and considers it a bad thing is a moron twice over as they're not only attacking someone for a perfectly defensible trait, they're also attacking someone for possessing a trait that is currently being used as a stick in the media. They're dullards. Ignore them.

Larry said...


While I agree that this attitude is very prevalent in the US, I think it is a more global issue, one that I suspect is a bastard child of the Red Scares of the 20th century in Western Europe and the US, with the Americans adding more of a religious fervor to it ;)

As for myself being called that, I'm not worried, mostly just bemused. I wrote this post after thinking more about the arguments presented in Mamatas' thread on canned responses. I personally like being challenged, even if on occasion it gets frustrating.

etrangere said...

I see snobbishness/elitism as the opposite of doubt. It's pretending to know with authoritative affirmation what is good from what is bad. It's derivating this authority from well entrenched institutions of domination.

Of course there's also a culture of anti-intellectualism, especially in the US but present in other places in a less forceful way, which biased things.

Finding the balance between the elitism that's about saying "shud up talking about things in an intellectual way, ewww intellectual cooties" and the "stop being a patronizing bastard" is understandably not that easy.

Doubt. I do like doubt.

Larry said...

Yeah, that's why I put "elitist" in quotation marks, to indicate how one might be called that without intending to do anything else but to question why things are the way they are. It is very difficult, I agree, to navigate between the two streams that you talk about there.

etrangere said...

You can do it without intending it. Lots of people use and abuse their white privilege, for example, without intending to be racist.

Which is why doubt is good.

Larry said...

Point taken. It is indeed something that I'm aware of enough as being pervasive, especially where I lived most of my life.

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