Who are they? Part IV

In a column titled "Hard to define, harder to shake," Inquirer columnist Karen Heller slams the blogosphere as a "courtesy free sewer," while taking issue with the word "elite":

Connecticut is elite. New Jersey, with the highest median income in the country, is not.

All these designations change when viewed from a national perspective. Then the entire East Coast is elite, although not the South, including Hilton Head.

Everything west of Chester County is not elite - except Minnesota and every Chicago ward Obama ever visited - until you get to the mighty arugula-and-latte states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Then you might as well be in France.

Republicans, defying their long history, are not elite, voters and politicians alike. Blue-collar, working-class, union-member Democrats are not elite either. Except, improbably, Michael Moore.

However, every Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton is elite, except for his wife - but only when Hillary is compared to Obama and only when it became clear she couldn't win.

Today, there are only two parties: Republican and elitecrat.

Smarty pants

Throughout time, elitism has been associated with birthright, breeding and wealth. Now it refers to education.

Scratch that. Bush the Sequel turns the notion on its head. He went to elite schools. He just chose to ignore what they offered.

Now, it's being smart or, heaven forbid, appearing smart that's elite.

Reading challenging books, even ones borrowed from the library, is elite, as is watching PBS's NewsHour, though both cost nothing. Improving the mind, instead of the biceps or the property (by clearing brush), is elite.

Any challenge to bad policy, poor governance or faulty reasoning is now dismissed with charges of elitism. People don't want to debate intelligently, consider divergent opinions and experiences, or listen and learn. Instead, they respond with closed ears and name-calling. Being labeled elite is akin to being told to shut up. How can you respond to that?

First of all, I doubt any response from me would be taken seriously by Ms. Heller, because I am part of what she calls "the courtesy-free sewer that passes for the blogosphere."

Forgive me for not liking generalizations, but just as I have a problem being dismissed as a courtesy-free sewer dweller, I also have a problem with the use of the word "elite" as a label -- especially to castigate people. That's because it is not easy to pin down what it means. Bush and Kerry came from similar educational backgrounds, and while Bush was not seen as "elite," Kerry was. Similarly, (as Ms. Heller reminds in no uncertain terms), Obama is being seen as the elitist, while McCain is not. McCain hailed from the most militarily elite background possible, and Obama's roots were for the most part middle class. One thing becomes clear: money alone does not an elitist make. It's a state of mind. Guys who worked their asses off and built small businesses into thriving mini-empires would not be called "elite," but the people who want to take away their money and give it to the non-productive classes would be -- even if they draw only modest government, academic or non-profit salaries.

Perhaps this explains the Republican preference for the term "elite" and the Democrat preference for the more generic term "the rich."

But I don't like inaccurate terms, nor do I like generalizations. (Hence my need to float long-winded blog posts in the courtesy-free sewer.) I don't need the term "elite" any more than I need "the rich" -- because I try to keep an open mind so I can better navigate the sewers of the elite and the rich. (But hey, I can remember that back in the old days, "sewer" was used in a sexual, often anti-gay context. Times change and so do words. Go figure.)

The reason this intrigues me is that I have devoted several posts to grappling with the definition of what many regular sewer bloggers would call "the elite" -- and frankly I'm a little jealous that they can get away with using one word as code language for what I've been unable to pin down despite so many posts. Might it be easier to just say "elite" and accept my assigned role in the courtesy-free sewer?

I don't know. But as I pondered Karen Heller's thoughts, I recalled Glenn Reynolds' recent quote from Jerry Pournelle which "EXPLAINS THE WORLD." I liked it so much that I'm tempted to substitute "word" for "world" and offer it as as definition of "the elite" but I won't. I'll just quote it to supplement my ongoing effort at defining the elusive "they" who believe they have a right to rule:

The purpose of modern government is to take money from the folks who save and pay their bills and live within their means, and use that to hire government workers; and to keep their power by using the money to buy votes from those who do not save and pay their bills and live within their means. And of course the money comes from those who work and save and pay their bills and live within their means -- who else will have any money for the government to take?

Or am I unduly cynical? But you ain't seen nothing yet.

That covers a lot of ground, and I think that in general, embattled taxpayers, free market believers, fed-up libertarians and conservatives, as well as a whole host of outraged sewer-bloggers would tend to characterize true believers and advocates of the above system as the backbone of what they mean when they use the expression "the elite."

Without advocating the expression, I decided to revisit my ongoing struggle to come up with a definition of whatever this difficult to define group is to be called.

The following were compiled from three ponderous posts.

Here's Herman Kahn:

In becoming a mass profession, they open themselves to sharper criticism as a group because their average standards necessarily decline, their contacts with outsiders wither, they become less self-conscious as a stratum but more actively self-serving, and they make clear their belief that they should wield social power.
And my personal observation:
They are everywhere, and you really don't want to get in trouble with them. Not if you want to avoid being hassled at your job, go about unmolested, not get targeted or audited by bureaucrats, or scolded at the local church groups, PTA meetings, or (for the wealthier and snobbier) even humiliation at smug cocktail parties and country clubs.

The social people take note of deviations, and even silence at the wrong time. You can get on their shit list by saying that there are still glaciers in Alaska after returning from a trip there and seeing them.

The social people want endless government reaching everywhere. Anything that is good for government (meaning anything that generates the need for more government bureaucracy) is considered good -- regardless of whether it solves the underlying problems. In fact, if it aggravates the problem, so much the better, as aggravating the problems leads to cycles of government-grown, government-aggravated growth!

Not one to mince words, British blogger Sean Gabb used another "e word" for them -- "the Enemy Class":
What I will call the Enemy Class exists in and around the public sector. It comprises the great majority of those administrators, lawyers, experts, educators and media people whose living is connected with the State. Its leading members are people like Anthony Giddens, Greg Dyke, Elspeth Howe, Mary Warnock, Polly Toynbee, Peter Mandelson, and others. They articulate and advance the interests of perhaps a million other people--from television producers and heads of executive agencies, down through the university lecturers and social workers and white collar bureaucrats, to the lowest grades of civil servant and local government officer. Add to the list all the racism awareness and anti-aids consultants and the workers in those non-government organisations that receive money and status from or via the State.

These are the people who really govern the country. They are the ones who decide what statistics to gather and how and when to publish them. They decide what problems can be identified and what solutions can be discussed. They advise on policy and implement policy. Because of their numbers and education and beliefs, and the formal and informal bonds that hold them to each other, and because of their ability and willingness to give and withhold benefits, they set the tone of society. They can require not only external conformity to their will, but can even to some extent shape the public mind so that conformity seems right and natural. They provide the boundaries and language of debate. They define the heretics and schismatics, and arrange for them to be persecuted. They are the modern equivalent of an established church. More precisely, they are what Coleridge called the Clerisy.

I also think they are part of what Robert James Bidinotto called "the Excuse Making Industry":
....consists primarily of intellectuals in the social science establishment: the philosophers, psychological theorists, political scientists, legal scholars, sociologists, criminologists, economists and historians whose theories have shaped our modern legal system. It also consists of an activist wing of fellow-travelers: social workers, counselors, therapists, legal-aid and civilliberties lawyers, "inmate rights" advocates, "progressive" politicians and activists, and so on...

It's a sprawling intellectual consensus...united in a single premise: that the criminal isn't responsible for his behavior... Forces and circumstances outside his control "cause" him to behave as he does. He should be forgiven, or treated therapeutically, or placed in a better environment, or counseled to "cope" with his uncontrollable inner demons. But he must not be held accountable for his actions-- and, under no circumstances, punished for what he "couldn't help."

Above all, money has to be spent on him. Lots of money, which generally comes from the embattled work-your-ass-off types who use words like "elitist" because they don't have the time it takes to thresh these things out in laborious blog posts which ferment in the courtesy-free sewer. It's one of the reasons the public schools have failed so badly. The lion's share of the money goes to the least gifted, least deserving, most violent, most disruptive students, who predictably hold the rest back. Any guy who's made a small business work can see the problem, but those with the Ph.D.s who advocate the policies that cause and/or aggravate the problem can't.

Dr. Helen, went so far as to suggest that the latter class might learn something from the former:

...rather than a bunch of "fat cats," most millionaires are just the opposite: people who worked, lived below their means and saved a lot of money. Or as one politician put it, people who "worked hard and played by the rules." All of us could learn from them. Jealous that they have not achieved this level of wealth, now many controlling types of people are scheming to take money from others through high tax rates that penalize the "shy millionaire" as much as the real "fat cats," whatever that means. Instead of scheming like a bunch of thugs, perhaps the government and those that approve of their thuggery should learn to be more like the shy millionaires by spending below their means, saving, and showing some class.
As to why I spend so much time on this, who knows? It might it be guilt.

After all, I was once on the fast track to being one of them:

...it helps to know who they are.

There but for the grace of the unknown went I.

So, I mean it when I say that I don't want to castigate people with generalizations or simplistic labels. However, I don't like being ruled by this unelected class of people who are possessed with a belief that they have a right to run people's lives -- as if by divine right.

I'm not saying they believe in rule by divine right, mind you.

That anachronistic mindset countenanced a certain form of accountability....

posted by Eric on 07.21.08 at 09:36 AM


I call then the Arts & Humanities Clan (or Tribe), though they do indeed include the social sciences. They excel at social signalling, which they believe is intellect-signalling. I grew up among them and identified with them well into adulthood. (A&H credentials available upon request. Heh.) Many of them are indeed intelligent, and more of them are well-educated, but the threshold IQ for belonging is actually nowhere near as high as they would think.

Karen Heller's column suggests that she does still believe that this group really is smarter, more intellectually flexible and curious, and deserving of extra attention (and status). Rubbish. Their flexibility, curiosity, and intelligence are tightly bounded. They are wildly flexible and curious along certain lines (restaurants, for example), and see this as evidence of a general trait.

They are well-described in Flatland.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  July 21, 2008 11:11 AM

I've said this before, but Thomas Sowell's "the anointed" works well as a description of this group.

notaclue   ·  July 21, 2008 11:40 AM

Ho hum. Just add Heller to the lengthening list of mediacrats terrified at the ground shifting beneath their feet. Their once exclusive ability to control the discussion, monitor the information flow, and establish the definitions is eroding, and they panic.

Even here, she strives desperately to cast the definition of "elite" in a manner to validate her own side and deny the other any legitimacy. Sadly for her, fewer people (at least outside her narrow conclave) are granting her the authority she is used to accepting as her due. It appears that she does believe there is an elite (actually hard to dispute that particular thesis), that she and her ilk comprise it, that it is entitled to set the pace, and that some uppity outsiders have misappropriated the term. She wants it back, damn it. Peasants.

Her obligatory slam at Bush is telling - by birth, upbringing and education he could be part of the elite, but he isn't because he's refused the requisite core beliefs. He could be a member, if he only renounced his wrong ideas. I think the real reason nobody would class Bush as a member of the elite is that he himself doesn't assume such status.

Steve Skubinna   ·  July 21, 2008 12:11 PM

I like the term "Mind F*ck Class." The elites get their way by talking other people into believing that their interests are the same and that other people will be better off following the MF Class' direction.

Before the day of mass media, there was a lot less of this.

Whitehall   ·  July 21, 2008 2:56 PM

Thomas Sowell also defined them as "third parties - armed with the power of government and exempted from paying the costs that these collective plans impose on others."

dre   ·  July 21, 2008 5:00 PM

Here, let me make it easier for you.
If one is to pose with the continance of elite,
then one is, by definition, a member of the vast minority, therefore, their position on matters concerning the Democratic Republic are as potent as the absolute opposite end of the bell curve.
Just ask anyone who's actually graduated from an elite school-with other than an A&H "Degree" or similarly accredited "Gentlemans C".
Just sayin'

CaptDMO   ·  July 21, 2008 5:44 PM

"courtesy free sewer"

Karen Heller, like so many of the chattering classes, studiously misrepresents or ignores the reasons why we express our resentment of elitist arrogance. This persistent dishonesty is a discourtesy far worse than any mere rude language which may have stung Heller's ears.

pst314   ·  July 21, 2008 9:56 PM

"The purpose of modern government is to take money from the folks who save...and use that to hire government workers; and to keep their power by using the money to buy votes from those who do not save..."

I would add: "...and to require that we all thank them for the lording over us."

pst314   ·  July 21, 2008 10:00 PM

Various authors have also used the terms "New Class" (Milovan Djilas and others) and "Cognitive Elite" (Murray and Herrnstein) to describe these folks.

Daniel Pipes also discussed the use of the term "intelligentsia" in Russia under the Old Regime: his point being that it was insufficient to have the proper attributes, whether of birth, intelligence, or education--one also needed to have the proper oppositional frame of mind vis-a-vis the monarchy and the state.

Of course here in this country, the intelligentsia have taken over, as observed by David Gelernter in an important essay later incorporated into his post-Unabomber-attack book, "Drawing Life".

David Hecht   ·  July 22, 2008 9:39 AM

Bullies and tyrants are both excellent descriptors of those who beat the citizenry with the stick of government force. They are the Governing Classes.

Many of them are not greedy for money--hence the modest government salaries, but they love power over their fellow citizens. Multiply by a million those modest salaries and modest mandates of authority, and you have a nation where liberty is only a slogan.

Brett   ·  July 25, 2008 8:05 AM

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