Sean Moncrieff: ‘Being part of the elite isn’t as elite as it used to be’

The ‘elite’ accusation is all too often a rhetorical trick, the main purpose of which is to get other people to shut up

Donald Trump: Elite? Me? Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Donald Trump: Elite? Me? Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

 

When people are trying to flog you stuff, they think carefully about what socio-economic group you are in. And right at the top of this is the ABC1 category.

They have the best education, the best-paid jobs and the nicest houses. They drink wine and read books and go to plays. They’ve probably had their photograph taken with someone famous, like Brian O’Driscoll or Anne Enright.

You could say they are the elite; yet they make up 41 per cent of adults in this country.

Being part of the elite isn’t as elite as it used to be. You’ve got the Political Elite, the Wealthy Elite, the Secular Elite, the Cultural Elite, the Educated Elite, the Urban Elite and the Bureaucratic Elite.

If I have omitted your version of elitism, my apologies but there’s such an abundance of it now. Elitism is also so varied. All we can say for sure is that being part of the elite is a bad thing. Anyone with a political view different to yours is almost certainly in one of those elites. Or you are.

Inevitably, there are (elitist) pedants who claim that this makes the word more subjective and difficult to define. It depends less on objective indicators and more on what others think of you; even if they know little or nothing about you. Especially if they know little or nothing about you. The elite can just be other people you don’t like.

Elitists can even charge each other with being part of the elite.

Not too long ago the former British prime minister John Major was accused of being part of the “European elite” – but the accusation came from the Eton and Oxford-educated Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Earlier this year The Beano sent a letter to Rees-Mogg claiming he had violated the copyright of their character Walter The Softy, mostly through aping Walter’s snootiness. 

There was once a time when “elite” referred to a clearly defined ruling stratum of society. Now it seems to refer to anyone whose circumstances have insulated them from “real” life; the accusers defining both the nature of that reality and the insulation.

Of course there are obscenely wealthy and powerful people who may live in narcissistic bubbles. The one per cent. But for the remaining 99 per cent – even for those who went to private school or grew up in wealthy homes – it’s increasingly difficult to live in a balkanised society; there’s too much available information about other people. 

Gold tower

Lived experience is of course important, but you don’t have to be poor to have some sense of what poverty is like, or be an immigrant to know that racism is vile. You just need information, imagination and empathy.

You didn’t need to be gay to vote for same-sex marriage or be in a crisis pregnancy to want to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Even the out-of-touch political elite accusation is often bogus, especially in Ireland where our clientalist system demands that politicians entertain every slight change of mood from constituents. 

The “elite” accusation is all too often a rhetorical trick, the main purpose of which is to get other people to shut up. It’s the new reverse-snowflakiness, where “ordinary” people might be offended if the “elite”, including the “media-elite” (many of whom are also members of the more military-sounding PC-Brigade) say what they think. 

But there is some good news here.

Unsurprisingly, the world champion of anti-elitism is Donald Trump. President Trump valiantly battles the out-of-touch “Washington elite”, no doubt fuelled by his in-depth knowledge of what life is like for ordinary people. As you know, he’s a billionaire who prior to living in the White House resided in a gold tower with his name on it.

If that’s not elitist, there’s hope for all of us.

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