The Air Up There

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How to Act Like an Elitist

Although I do like to rant, I try not to “talk politics” around this space. This has to do with my fear of “alienating” people. Let’s face it, not that many people read this blog! I can’t take any chances!

But I am fired up! Read on!

Sam Harris, in Newsweek, defended the Republican-mocked concept of “elitism” in his article “When Atheists Attack” this week. How? By reminding sensible people (no you don’t have to have a Harvard degree) of its real meaning.

Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics?

There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.

Sam Harris

Despising politicians is a recent American pastime, and we “ordinary folk” do it in a partisan way by mocking the Republicans for being “simple and close-minded” and the Democrats for being “know-it-alls and elitists.” We hate them all, and, as a result, our system reflects how much we hate ourselves, the “media,” and the fact that two and a half years of our lives have been lost on planning for this “future” of ours.

Straight Talk

You know, it’s a joke, and the joke is on US! For 8 years, we’ve been buddy-buddy with a beer-drinking, oil-herding, “Aw-shucks-let’s-get-together-and-gnaw-on-a-slice-of-Freedom-Pie!” politician/president. How has that worked out for us? Currently, about 70 percent of Americans don’t want to go out for beers with Bush anymore– that would include a significant proportion of the ones who voted for him once or even twice.

Now we are faced with the possibility that the EXACT same argument that worked to convince people to vote for George W. Bush — “Look at me! I’m just like you! Let’s have a beer and swap stories about our messed up famillies!” — will work to convince those same unhappy Undecideds to vote for Palin and her running mate, The Old Maverick, McCain.

What the Elitists Can Tell You
I show cowardly colors when I try hide my passionate political convictions.

Anyway, they aren’t exactly hidden. My “politics” (and the cloud of implied snobbishness, that “don’t-I-know-better?” tone that the Right has told me is now who I am) are a part of my daily life.

My “politics” come from my experiences, living in three distinct regions of the country, with seven years of higher education, working in universities with constant interaction with young minds, researchers and professors, traveling to multiple continents — to places where Christianity isn’t the first religion and English isn’t spoken. These experiences give my world view CONTEXT, and I believe my personality allows that view to remain open-minded.

That isn’t “elite:” it is merely a state of mind, combined with life choices. It is not “better;” it just is.

Some members of my family, I am sure, view me as an “elitist,” even if they know full well I will listen to and take on reasonable arguments. But truth is, every topic I have ever ranted on here in this “neutralish” blog — from Superbowl Super hero Eli Manning’s Hybrid Escalade and our fat holidays, to Terror Sticks for Christmas gifts and the Abominable Snowman’s self-reflection on certain death — is infused with my passionate belief system, based NOT on ideas I’ve developed by watching NatGeoTV and SpongeBob, but by experiencing, first-hand, people and places in the world, reading and studying about them, and processing those ideas here, and in other writings, that I share freely for people to mock, criticize, comment and ponder upon.

I am constantly asking questions about how change is happening in our world, and how WE (meaning me and YOU) can participate in the change, and not just be taken along for a ride. Me a pansy and a sucker? Never and NO way! I decide for me! And I decide, based on knowledge and on context. All experience is relevant, no matter how limited. The difference is participation, meaning YOU take part in the America, in neighborhood, in community, in the conversation between BOTH sides.

That would be the “not taken along for a ride” part.

My Family, My Context

I love my family, and I know how they voted in the past. They all voted for Bush in 2004, but none for the same reason. I know their reasons, and I relate to them, because I relate to my family.

The fact remains, however, they all voted for Bush (or for the Green party out of desperation, so says one member).

My quest and my question is: can I change the direction of our country within my own context? As an agent of CHANGE, I have control over my part of the conversation. To change the rhetoric, I have to take action to create a new reality. If I can succeed within my own context, I can succeed anywhere.

My Family, My Country

Like America, my family has labels and ideas about who I am, for good and for bad, as I do about them. It is my job to banish their labels, starting with me.

“Elizabeth the Liberal,” “Elizabeth the Drama Queen,” and “The Know-It-All,” have to change. I rant and they know it. Liberals rant. Drama Queens rant. Know-It-Alls drone on and on and never listen. Who am I, in their political context? How can I act to alter or even bring down the idea they have about me, and, in turn, about “liberalism?”

Liberal can’t mean “I know better.” It must mean, as it does mean: “I know you, you know me, and we all know better, when we work together.”

We all have responsibility to act: to break down the grip we all cling to of “labels” — the easy rhetoric of “elitism” and the charm and ignorance of “ordinary, like me.”

For me, I must act. To remind my family and other voters that our governmental electoral process isn’t a popularity contest or a frontier for maverick sheriffs. It is a complex and broken system, that can only be healed by voting with our futures in mind.

And fearless idealism and determination are the way to break through the limited views of our political American identity, both inside these borders and in the global community.

  3 comments for “The Air Up There

  1. shakenbsis
    September 27, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Elizabeth, I like this post better than anything political I’ve seen this ‘season’. I did cry a little. The chord of humility you struck really resounded with me.

    Humility probably isn’t the best description of it, but I can’t seem to come up with a better one at the moment. Perhaps it’s more like I was sensing a moment of transparency, a moment of humanity, a moment of stepping away from the labels we have such a love/hate relationship with.

    I liked what you said about elitism in relationship with context. ‘These experiences give my world view CONTEXT, and I believe my personality allows that view to remain open-minded. That isn’t “elite:” it is merely a state of mind, combined with life choices. It is not “better;” it just is.”‘

    It just is…

    In respect of your transparency in the face of some obvious discomfort, I’ll share a little of my ‘context’ as well.

    I’m an Irish Catholic (lapsed) raised mainly in the midwest, who has been on the move since my high school graduation. I am much more comfortable ‘abroad’ than I am at home where I’ve managed to re-land after nearly 30 years. I’m less classically educated than you are, but a voracious reader and learner always. In my younger days I was much more liberal (and vocal!) than I am now. I’ve grown more conservative over the years, and oddly, more tolerant as well. One thing though has remained through out. My family (both liberals and conservatives) would still tend to describe me as Liberal, Drama-Queen and worst of all Know-it-All! (I almost laughed out loud when I read that paragraph!)

    The thing that I have discovered in my life experience is that ‘we’ (the collective) are much more alike at heart than we are different once we dare to look beyond the labels we so desperately hold out in front of us.

    Thanks Elizabeth, you really made my day and provided food for thought.

    “My quest and my question is: can I change the direction of our country within my own context? As an agent of CHANGE, I have control over my part of the conversation. To change the rhetoric, I have to take action to create a new reality. If I can succeed within my own context, I can succeed anywhere.”

    I love this paragraph! I don’t know that I agree with your conclusions, but I love your quest and I love that you voiced it. I also love that we live in a country where you are free to express and follow it!

    Thanks again,
    Betty

  2. September 30, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Betty! I loved your comment! Isn’t it true that we (everyone) are more similar than we are different? There is so much that distracts us and tries to tears us apart!

    That’s why we need to keep focused on the “local”– the 10 feet of the world we can change, and the five people we love the most who know us best, and might listen.

    Thanks for reading through my rant

  3. shakenbsis
    October 1, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Keep focused on the ‘local’.

    I’m going to rememeber that, it’s good advice for me!

    Thanks ;-)

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