Monday, May 05, 2008

In Defense of the Elite

I've been seeing a lot of criticism of "elites" lately. And it seems to me like there is some sort of concerted effort to redefine the word. Its current definition is this...

1.(often used with a plural verb) the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.
2.(used with a plural verb) persons of the highest class: Only the elite were there.
3.a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party.
4.a type, approximately 10-point in printing-type size, widely used in typewriters and having 12 characters to the inch. Compare pica1.
5.representing the most choice or select; best: an elite group of authors.

So by definition Green Berets, Navy Seals, Pulitzer prize winners, and Nobel Prize winners are all elite in that they are the best in their field. By definition two the Rockerfellers, the Kennedys, and the Vanderbilts are elite due to their wealth and social class. By definition three Howard Dean and Mike Duncan are elite. We'll skip four.By definition five The Travelling Wilbury's, The Union of Concerned Scientists, MENSA members, and all of Denise Richards' current and ex boyfriends and husbands are elite.

At first I thought there was some confusion between the word elites and the term elitist But over the course of time the current working definition of elite in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and political sound bytes seems to be:
A person that has access to a public forum who has a either a title or an uncommon job, possesses four or more years of education, who wrote or did something that I don't like, and happens to be of a different political persuasion than I.
This definition is meant to be a slur to infer that the person accused is disconnected from the American public and thus foolish. But here is the rub, the vast majority of those who truly excel in their field are disconnected from the general public either by their talent, skill, vision, or dedication. In fact without the true elite this country would have never gotten off of the ground. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe were far from being Joe Schmoe. They were highly educated, wealthy, and influential. Most of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were the colonial cream of the crop. Conversely most of those being branded as elite today seem to be the chaff in the process of seperating themselves from the wheat.

In my opinion the current anti-elite screed seems to have more to do with partisanship and a resentment of those who were fortunate enough to be afforded better educations than most than it has to do with any rational and objective view of their overall contribution to society. And if the many continue to villainize those who exceed how can we hope to compete in an increasingly competitive global market in which our competitors strive to produce as many true elites as possible?