[FoRK] why is "elite" a dirty word?

zuzu < sean.zuzu at gmail.com > on > Thu Mar 16 08:29:48 PST 2006

On 3/16/06, Corinna <corinna.schultz at gmail.com> wrote:
> OK, I understand why "liberal" is an epithet, as in "tax and spend liberal".

(as opposed to, "inflate and spend conservative"; sorry, had to get a
little jab in there. ;-)  )

> And "liberal
>  can connote permissiveness, looseness, etc.

...assuming a contextual belief in "moral clarity", perhaps...  (e.g.
"I didn't think I need your permission in the first place.")  I'm
trying to emphasize _context_ (or "ecology of mind" as Gregory Bateson
would say), which I would think becomes a necessary cornerstone for
any discussion of "why do others not see the world as I do?"...

>  But why the word "elite"?
> I've always had positive connotations with that word -- such as success,
> competence, being in 1st place -- and I find it jarring when it is used in a
> demeaning manner.  Who are they referring to when they say "elite" in this
> way?  Here's an example:
> "I'm waiting to hear the words 'I was wrong' from some of the world's most
> elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types...."
> -Corinna

I would wager it's closely related to two ideas:

1.)  Inequity aversion, from the behavioral finance arena of economic thought.

2.) "Slave morality", particularly in the sense that Friedrich
Nietzsche defined it as "creatively opposing the traits and values of
those beings which are dominating you".

Generally, those people seeking to uncover the nature of social
evolution, seem to find that inequity aversion is a defining trait of
socialization -- i.e. maintain the "greater good" of the collective at
the expense of the individual.  So, it's not just a problem contained
to modern human collectives / societies, but most mammal societies
even.  However, with socialization giving birth to individualized
consciousness -- (Julian Jaynes was quite passionate on this point,
though many of his peers disagree with his model as too radical) --
the latest question from a behavioral ecology perspective is how
individuals may revalue and reframe _concepts_ such as "elite" in a
more favorable (or useful) vein.

I would agree that "natural elites" are a very good and necessary part
of life and growth in the universe.  Though, if "elites" were
designated by some authoritarian means, I would take issue with the
authority itself, and consider classist distinctions of "elites" as a
red herring.


More information about the FoRK mailing list