The Unpretentious Elitist

Posted on June 22, 2012

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Much has been written and discussed in the public venue over the years concerning the decline in our moral and ethical values, our education levels, and the quality of our national culture.  We’re getting fatter, stupider, shallower, louder, ruder, sloppier, and more in debt with each passing year, no one is responsible for their own decisions any more, we are addicted to instant gratification, and we all “deserve” the very best in life no matter how little we actually earn or contribute to society.

Enter “the unpretentious elitist.”  An old Army friend coined the phrase at lunch yesterday, as we glanced around the restaurant.  Have you ever seen the “People of Wal-Mart” slide show that gets emailed around?   There is a reason that resonates so deeply, a reason that it is so funny.  A reason that it has its own website.  When something is so sad but so true, sometimes all you can do is laugh about it.  And there is a lot of sad truth to the “People of Wal-Mart.”  It reflects a sort of symptom of our cultural decline.  As Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

So back to my lunch partner:  “What the heck is an ‘unpretentious elitist?'” I asked.  “You know,” he said, “I’m not into all that hoity-toity high-society stuff, I enjoy ordinary things, but I don’t want to do so next to… those kinds of people.”  By this he meant people who wear stretched-out, stained sweatsuits into decent restaurants, or who huff around in cutoff shorts and flip-flops with unkempt and undisciplined children in tow, perhaps cuffing one and cursing every now and then.  The discourteous people who text in the movie theater, get drunk and start fights, or have unruly lawn parties that leave garbage strewn in the neighbors’ yards come morning.  In short, the dregs who make life less pleasant for everyone except… well, other dregs.  That is an elitist way of thinking.  How dare we classify some people as “dregs?”

Elitism has become a dirty word of late, especially in politics where every politician wants the electorate to buy the message that “aw-shucks-I’m-just-reg’ler-folk.”  It is somehow unacceptable – or perhaps threatening –  to seem too smart, too educated, too polished, too well-dressed, because that is seen as pretentious, whereas it used to be seen as desirable.  We have confused the concept of human equality with the concept of personal merit, and pretty much thrown out much of our sense of responsibility, propriety and manners in the process.

The word “deserves” implies earning a thing through one’s own effort or merit.  Somewhere along the way, we have slipped from placing a high value on being the best through our own hard work, to simply having the best for no particular effort on our own part.  So naturally, effort fell by the wayside, and so went real accomplishment, good etiquette, presentable attire, and even common courtesy.

I found myself agreeing with my friend, the “unpretentious elitist.”  And I suspect there are quite a few more out there, who would never admit to being any kind of elitist, but… secretly, hasn’t nearly everyone silently wished to avoid being seated next to certain “types” in a restaurant or airplane?  The loud drunk, the unwashed hippie, the chatty ignoramus?  And – if you’re not into all that hoity-toity high-society stuff, but you would rather enjoy your ordinary pleasures out of sight and mind of these folks – doesn’t that make you an unpretentious elitist, too?

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