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On “Elitism”

I realized that, in my post yesterday On Idiots, I tipped my hand before I managed to finish the first sentence.

I said that not only do I like to play a game involving words when I wake up in the morning, but, I do it on the internet.  Moreover, I do so in the Washington Post!

Oh dear.  I… am… an elitist.

To tell you the truth, when the leaves fall off the trees, I can see “The Beltway” from my bedroom window.

I can’t hear it though, thank god.  (Not that the cars on it ever move fast enough to make noise.)

Adding insult to injury, I hold an “advanced” degree − “terminal”, in more ways than one.  My degrees are in a field that is outdone in defining impracticality only by the study of said field’s history.  I have also held two jobs with the word “Professor” in the title.

Furthermore, I think arugula is delicious.


Funny story:  A year, two years(?) ago, I took an online NYT survey on class, and was surprised to discover that I was reaching the upper rungs of the middle class.  It surprised me quite a bit, actually.  Because, although I was a “Professor”, those words were preceded by “Visiting” and “Assistant”.  I drove a 13 year old car that stalled around turns, had only had health insurance for a couple of months, was married to someone who couldn’t find work, was not making enough money to buy a house, at least not in an industrialized nation, and even at that was employed on a contract set to expire after nine months with no assurance that said position would exist the following year.


I do make my morning coffee in a press pot − a French Press − no less.  But, it was a Christmas gift.  And, the truth is that I broke the carafe for my $20 coffee maker and I’m too cheap to buy another one so long as I have some means of brewing coffee.

It seems there are a lot of contradictions afoot.

Because, while I’m a former “Professor”, in a Yu-nee-vers-a-tee at that, I also have some pretty solid non-profit street cred.

I am the son of a bricklayer who paid my own way through a top-tier art school by carrying concrete blocks and waiting tables.

So here I am.  I know dozens of people who’s personal histories attest that mine is not so unique.  We have all lived in several places, understand multiple regional cultures, are formed out of multiple regional cultures, have traversed and associated and continue to associate with multiple economic brackets.  We are educated and don’t think that makes us better than other people.  We do, however, think being educated makes us more educated than uneducated people.  But, somehow, in political and increasingly popular discourse, that statement is not seen as a tautology.  We are elitists, typecast as the final word.

Another funny thing though, I’m often ill at ease around a lot of born-moneyed people.  I see contradictions and rationalizations where they see consonance and logic.  I may not “belong” there.  But, truth of the matter, the places where I’ve been made to feel the least welcome are only and exactly those that would most like to disparage the educated and coast-dwelling.  It has been in the places that are the least wealthy and educated.  In the region where I’m from, among people of my own income bracket, who’s skin is the same color as mine, I’ve eaten in restaurants that have different menus for “locals” and “foreigners” (people who they’ve never seen before).

So, who’s “elitist”?

I’m not uncomfortable spending time with people who are less educated or who know less than I do.  Fortunately, many people who know more than I do have felt the same way about associating with me.

I am uncomfortable spending time with people who don’t see the value in knowledge, who don’t make an effort to see other people’s point of view, who have no qualms about finalizing their opinions without seeking information, with those who readily type and disclude “the other”.  Because, that’s what defines elitism.

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