Elites and elitism

– Abbé Boulah, what is making you roll your eyes again so early in the morning — your coffee hasn’t even gotten cold yet?
– Ah my friend Bog-Hubert: It’s this silly controversy about elite and elitism.
– What’s the problem with that?
– It seems that in the current campaigns some people are basing their criticism of a candidate on their supposed ‘elitism’, referring mainly to having been educated in high-faluting universities, and therefore not being able to relate to ordinary folks. And others countering that with the notion that ‘elite’ means ‘ having been chosen from the best, so it shouldn’t really be a derogatory term.
– Aha. I know you have a thing about all kinds of ‘isms’, so elitism must be something bad, in your esteemed opinion. But what about ‘elite’ — I always thought that’s something good and admirable? What does it really mean, anyway?
– Well, the word comes from the latin ‘selecting’; ‘choosing’. So an elite is a group of chosen ones.
– Then: if the elite, the chosen ones are chosen from the best: that’s good, right?
– Stands to reason, but only if the ones doing the choosing are using good judgment and good criteria… If they’re not, perhaps not so good.
– I get it: It all depends. On who’s choosing, and how they’re doing it. As usual.
– Now, elitism, that would mean one of several things.

– Ah. I see troubles and combobulations coming up already.

– Quite. One is the belief that people in important positions should be chosen from the best.

– Sounds good. Except: who’s doing the choosing, and how?
– Yes. Two: The belief of the choosers that they should be the ones doing the choosing?
– Well, again, it depends, see above, on their criteria and judgment.
– You got it. Three: The belief and insistence of the chosen ones that they should be in their exalted positions — e.g. of making important decisions — because they have been chosen from the best?
– Makes sense, as long as the choosers and critieria are OK, but they probably shouldn’t let it go to their head… And I see where people could have their daily disagreements about that.
– Right again. Four: could it be that sometimes the choosers are just choosing someone from their own group, not necessarily from the best?
– Nah… couldn’t be, not in this great…
– And five: What if the chosen ones believe they are the best just because they have been chosen — regardless of the abovementioned judgment and criteria, or because they believe their own group just IS the best?
– Oh boy. I see the trouble.
– Good. For all the good that does. The problem, as is often the case, boils down to: how do we tell the difference? Which becomes a real problem when some people believe that they are chosen to denounce other people for being elitist.

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