The vagueness and ambiguity of the term ‘elitism’ and the sense of charm that has been linked to the practice, has always left me in state of perpetual disturbance. The commonality of the act and, more so, the undisguised manner with which it is upheld, has often left me thinking about the existence of anti-elitist protesters and whether ‘anti-elitism’ is objectively a real concept.
I wonder whether the prevalence of the act and the ease with which it is tolerated, accepted and at times, furiously defended by a group of “snobs” with an intrinsic ‘superior’ sense of worth derived from their ancestry, intellect, wealth or other distinctive “superior-human” attributes is reminiscent of the time when discriminations like racism, patriarchy and homophobia were accepted as the standard pattern of social behaviour. Of course, distinction on the basis of these continues to exist and there remains indifference and ignorance to the most crude forms of their manifestation. However, if nothing else, these practices are now receiving mass attention and represent the most influential topics in public discourse.
The problem with elitism is that it lacks definitional clarity and an obvious target group. The acts often range from a loud sarcasm to subtle ridicule and victimizes individuals on various levels leaving a sense of shame and dilemma about why they are being targeted. The experiences of humiliation and embarrassment are most likely to be put aside as a consequence of mere rudeness or cultural prejudices. Elitism can, of course, be practised in conjunction with racism, patriarchy, prejudices against sexuality and class, to name a few, which makes it rather difficult to set apart from the rest. This explains on why it is not even recognised as a systematic form of discrimination.
However, the term is not outdated and is oftentimes used while discussing politics and referring to ‘law of the small number’ and ‘ruling minorities’ in reference to the size and cohesion of the ruling elite that remain largely out of touch with the common people. Through history, it can be observed in the movement of Marxist enthusiasts against elite perspective and their insistence on the rule of broadened classes. Elitism has also been an issue of constant debate in academia and arts. According to a government report by Social Mobility and Child Poverty commission, elitism in Britain is deeply-seated, so much that, a parallel can be drawn between “elitism” and “social engineering.” According to the report, most of the UK top positions and professions are held by people (merely 7% of the UK population) who attended private school.
The study, however, fails to reflect on the social consequences or the subtlety of everyday elitism. In my search for “more subtle forms of discriminations,” I found examples ranging from baldness, anti-goth prejudice, anti-cyclist prejudice to prejudice on the basis of teeth. While these bizarre discriminations are sensitively (and, rightly so) recognised and listed down, elitism exists only in the academic discourse and opposition theories such as anti-elitism and egalitarianism or used as a fancy term with political connotation. And thus, the social consequences of elitism are rarely mentioned.
Elitism puts one in a state of conscious humiliation of the ‘social and intellectual unacceptability’ of their behaviour along with an awareness of being perceived through ‘prejudiced stereotype.’ The most natural consequence of this act that I have observed is the use of ‘apologetic tone’ obvious in even small gestures such as ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye.’ Claude Steele and Joshua Aaronson in their 1995 experiment revealed the effects of stereotype threat (‘being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about ones group’) in a variety of domain, ranging from undermining intellectual performance to a constant feeling of perceived failure. Thus, stereotype threat, according to Steele and Aaronson, is a social-psychological predicament, as a result of, negative stereotype about a person and the existence of this stereotype means that anything one does that conforms to the negative stereotype makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy in the eyes of the others and even more in one’s own eyes.
While the severity and objective actuality of the consequences of elitism are beyond the scope of this article, as I am no specialist and my rantings are grounded in mere frustration of the number of times I have let myself be a victim to one of the most accepted and least mentioned discrimination, I know that this, of course, is not something that we as free individuals born equal in inherent dignity should be made to go through.
Photo Credit- Sinn Fein(flickr)