Elite[s] and elitists, Cooper and others

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Nov 3 12:59:05 EST 2003


I have been thinking about this on and off for days, and have comments,
which I shall try to make in such a way that they steer clear of Deborah's
ukase.

In the strict (dictionary) sense of the word the Dark are elitists, in that
they believe in rule by an elite (self-styled; themselves).  The Light are
not, because it is quite clear they don't want to rule, elite or not; they
do their job and then go away and leave humanity to get on with ruling
themselves.

It also seems clear that whether they want to be or not, the Old Ones are
an elite.  I don't have any problem with their being so: it's simply a fact
of the situation as presented, and they (and we) would have to be stupid
not to know that they are.  The Dark too are an elite: they unlike the norm
of humanity in that they are magical practitioners -- if they weren't they
wouldn't be in any way a threat -- and again, they'd be fools not to know
this.  Similarly an elite corps de ballet are an elite and would be silly
not to admit it.

The person who acts against the thuggish bullies in *Silver on the Tree* is
not one of the elite Old Ones (Will takes no action); he's an Ordinary
Mortal, though I suppose being in the Royal Navy might make him part of
another, different elite, of people who have been trained to act when
action is needed rather than simply look on thinking "that ain't right".

If "elitism" is used simply about anyone aspiring to become part of an
elite whose behaviour and abilities one admires, I would see it as being a
positive thing.  Charlie and I might both aspire to become part of that
elite who habitually evaluate our actions in the light of Quaker
upbringing, for instance; someone who wants to be considered an expert on
the use of English might re-read and proof-read and generally tidy up his
or her own prose before he publishes it; small children might work away at
boring exercises for their feet and legs because they want to glide about a
stage on their points pretending to be swans; anyone might wish to be
someone who acts against thuggery rather than just deploring it from a safe
distance.  All these things seem to me to be laudible not loathesome.

The example Deborah has asked us not to go on about has been termed an
elitist, but it seems clear to me from the samples Melissa gave us that one
can be called "elitist" in this context without actually being part of the
elite one is talking about; that is, one may be being "elitist" not by
being the thing, nor even by extolling the elite, but only by denigrating
people one considers not to be part of the elite one is talking about.
(That seems a little strange, somehow.  I can think of other words to
describe someone who is putting somebody else down in a scornful manner,
ones which might better suit the case.  "you don' have to dis to show
respec'!".  But I suppose if one believes in rule by an elite, one might
want to define the elite one believes in being ruled by, and to exclude
from it people one feels do not measure up.)

I conclude that in general (ignoring the dictionary definition) reference
to "elitism", or saying that someone is an "elitist", are accusation rather
than accolade because they are applied only to those who in the opinion of
the accuser fail to demonstrate that they actually *are* members of what
the accuser is prepared to accept as being actually an *elite*.

So if what I mean is "toffee-nosed git" and what I say is "elitist", I'm
saying, in effect, "I do not regard having a posh accent as making someone
superior" -- and this may have nothing whatever to do with whether the
person with the accent is at that time saying or doing anything that might
lead me to think he or she feels that the possession of that accent makes
him or her somehow "better" than me or anyone else.  It's an expression of
resentment, pure and simple, of the idea that anyone *might* think
themselves to be better than anyone else just because of the way they were
brought up to speak.

But....  Here's the crunch.  What if some people simply *are* better?  The
corps de ballet can do things I couldn't if I tried for fifty years; they
are simply better than I am, at that thing.  *I* can't light a candle by
thinking at it.  And so on.  Is it elitist for me to point out excellence,
any more than it is elitist to point out a lack of excellence, in someone
else?

I'd say for instance that DWJ is a member of an elite, in that she writes
excellent books and most people don't; does my saying so make her an
elitist, or me an elitist, or is it simply a statement of what looks like a
fairly obvious fact?  (A parallel would be that I can point out that the
monarchy exists without necessarily being a monarchist, I suppose.)

I don't see that an elite is in and of itself a bad thing; it seems to me
that the only reason for thinking so in a blanket fashion would be if one
seriously felt that excellence was a bad thing.  And the objectionable
nature of an elite, for me, would only exist if the members of that elite
asserted their superiority in an objectionable way.

So the elite magic users of the Dark are objectionable not because they are
an elite or even because they are elitist, but because of the ways they use
the things that make them an elite, and their attitude to anyone not of
their number.  They despise; those of the Light feel compassion, and that
does make quite a difference, as Charlie says elsewhere (and I see his
point even if I felt obliged to disagree on particulars of
dentistry/medical practice).

Minnow


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