Elitism deconstructed

There was this recent article in ST about elitism in schools, sparked off by the case of Wee Shu Min (y’all know who she is). Some of the qns asked in the article were – what is the cause of such elite envy? Can there be elites without elitism?

Well, the ST article is not publicly viewable and I won’t comment on it (though faithful readers will know what I’m thinking already)

But if you read it and found your queries unanswered, AHA! Here’s my freely available opinion…coming from someone who studied for 12 years in an elite school but was never part of the elite strata!

Firstly, elitism can be largely categorised as follows:

  1. Intellectual elitism and
  2. “I’m born rich so what’s your bloody problem” elitism.
  3. Cultural elitism (no, not racism or cultural superiority, I’ll explain later. I’m making this up as I go along you know.)

Intellectual elitism

What you get with certain academics who basically don’t face pressures of PnL, bottomlines, economic pressures and other real-world factors. They get holed up in their own research genres, come up with research papers that only undergrads read to get their grades and so on. The result is that they get so steeped in a certain mindset, they won’t listen to anything else without trying to hypothesise about your stupidity.

Are all academics like that? Of course not. Are you?

There are also certain writers who write with such mindsets. They don’t frigging care what you think of their highfalutin vocabulary. If you don’t understand it, it’s because you don’t deserve to.

Born-rich elitism

Otherwise known as “silver spoon in the mouth”, these are usually people whom you read about on how they are so happy because they can finally open their boutique shop selling exclusive leather shoes so they can share their hobbies with others.

At the age of 22-30, that is.

Obviously, they aren’t selling $1.99 stuff alright. Others are naturally excluded from this sort of elite circle unless they become noveau-rich or happen to be in jobs which force them to meet such Richie Riches all the time. Eg. domestic workers, high-society gatecrashers, and so on. But it’s about “you can see, but please don’t touch it okay, darling?”

Cultural elitism

This sort of elitism is available to all, but inaccessible by most.

Eg. “Why this woman look so classy but the other looks like she got no class?”

I call it cultural elitism because it’s about having a certain level of taste within the context of one’s culture. Some people, no matter how you educate them, will not be able to acquire that level of taste which provides them an avenue of sophistication.

You can be poor and have taste still. For example, there’s no stopping a poor person from having a well-coordinated wardrobe.

(matinee break here)

Honestly, what is there to envy about any of these elitism categories? Nothing much right?

But what pisses off the general proletariat (yes, that’s you, dear reader, and me too) are…

Stupid elitists

In other words, people who may fall into any of the above three categories but don’t know how to keep their mouths shut.

Do you think the uber-rich got to their status by firing from the hip at the have-nots? The whole idea of elitism is to generate a veil of untouchability with certain aspects of intellectual/moral/financial advantages as a tool for social advancement…BUT with the ability to make it appear to people as if such blessings were incidental or due to the inevitable march of Fate.  

That is the fundamental technique of many people appearing like a wise sage or philanthropist – you may not live the life of the lower strata but you appear to want to help them or share your endowed wealth/knowledge with them. Of course, there are arty-farty intellectuals who do build their reputation on criticising everyone, but that’s part of their image machinery and they use language most people don’t fathom anyway.

The whole phrasing of “elite envy” is thus probably better deconstructed and rebuilt as “the breakdown of the elite impression management machinery”. In other words, if you happen to be richer/smarter/more classy than another person, it can be lethal to boast about it. Because you need other people in your sphere of existence in order to justify your superiority.

The only way they’ll stay there is when they can accept the image you project of your role within your social strata without having an excuse to bitch about you. After all, there are a few rich people that I’m in awe of, and many that I can’t stand, but what separates them apart from a measure of humility and empathy? If it is anything old money teaches people, it is how to keep mum where it counts.

Disagree? Leave an elitist comment lah.

One Reply to “Elitism deconstructed”

  1. Just as there are stupid elites, there are stupid mere mortals who are unable to face up to the fact that there elites and elitism will always exist no matter what. There’s certainly no way of eradicating it in sg and how could you, when kids as young as 9 are streamlined into various categories and constantly told they are special on account of their test grades.

    In any case, no matter the sort of elites (and the govt is made up of ALL of them) we have here (in sg), I think the consensus is, so long as those at the top continue to generate $ for the economy, ensure the availability of jobs so that we need not export our grads to be domestic help elsewhere, in short, continue to give Sporeans opportunities to advance up the middle class ladder, I’m sure most sporeans wouldn’t mind having to kowtow to elites in our midst. If its the superiority they want, they’ll get, so long as the economic trade-off remains.

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