Susan Cooper

minnow at minnow at
Mon Nov 3 12:59:03 EST 2003

Deborah wrote:

> It *is* elitist to feel
That's the keyword.  I was being determinedly distinct that as far as I am
concerned the position *is* morally superior, and if someone holding it is
to be called elitist, then that would be a reason for thinking that being
elitist, in this instance, is not a boo-word but something to aspire to.
An actual elite is surely not in and of itself evil wicked bad non-PC and
so on; it's only when it wickedly starts to think of itself as being in all
ways superior to people who aren't part of it, and entitled to boss them
around, that it's objectionable.

> morally superior in the matter of not attacking
> a small and defenceless child, mob-handed, simply because of the
> skin-colour of the child, and to find such attack indefensible, *if*,
> as Robyn suggests, there is no reflection on methods (or, I would add,
> continual self-reflection about the reality of moral superiority).
> It *isn't* elitist -- and, as Minnow suggests, is moral necessary under
> many moral codes (mine!) -- to act morally as above, and to educate as
> above, *if continual self-reflection occurs*.

There's just one problem there.  In the event, there often isn't time to
stop and indulge in a quick bout of ethical and moral self-examination, and
one uses the method that comes to hand.  In an almost exactly parallel
situation to that in Cooper's story (small child with a darkish skin, four
larger dirty-pink male adolescent persons with very short hair-cuts and Doc
Martin boots, early seventies) I had no time whatever for careful
evaluations: I was on the rear platform of a moving bus as as it came round
a corner and I realised what was being done and might be about to happen.
If I had made any sort of evaluation other than "Four skin-heads onto one
kid, that's not fair", I certainly could not have done what I did, which
was shout "Germolino!" at the top of my lungs (well, I was a Perishers
fan), let go of the bus and arrive in the middle of the scrum at about
twenty miles an hour at chest height yelling like a banshee and flailing
about me with my school satchel.

In retrospect and with all sorts of evaluation, I conclude [1] that I must
have been temporarily insane to do anything so stupid and potentially
self-destructive and [2] that I wish I could believe that I would do
exactly the same again, but I fear greatly that my nerve might not stand up
for a second time, particularly having thought about it first.

>Any sense of superiority that is not borne out by continual
>re-examination ends up (ObDWJ) like Gair's people vs. Dorig in Power of
>Three, as bigotry against people you made judgement against long ago,
>when you and they were different people in a different environment.

To be honest, I'm not that fussed about superiority or moral high ground or
whatever else.  Enough careful consideration of all possible factors is a
good idea if one wants to be able to argue one's case, but it is somehow
likely to leave one not *doing* anything in case further examination might
reveal some aspect of a situation, which one had missed and which alters
things in some manner.  (Those skin-heads *might* have been trying to save
the child from a poisonous snake that was crawling up his trouser-leg, a
possibility which at the time simply didn't occur to me.)  To wish not to
be a bigot seems to me natural; to allow that wish to be one's sole guiding
light perpetually is no doubt good for one's own feeling of being a good
and open-minded person, but it doesn't do anyone else much good.  My
adolescent bigotry against skinheads ganging up on a "Packie" was an
example of discrimination on my part -- and depending on which meaning of
that word is used, either a good or a bad thing.

When did "to discriminate" come to mean only "to display bias against, with
no discrimination at all", anyhow?  And I wish there were a better word
than "elitist" to use in this argument, because I think it is simply the
wrong word.  It doesn't say anything precisely enough; it's just another
vague word of general disapproval, really, with overtones of "thinks he's
better than other people mutter mutter elitist mutter mutter"...  Woolly.
It doesn't even have the snappy charm of "cheese-eating surrender-monkey"
as an insult.


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