Elitism

November 19, 2009 at 12:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

What makes a person elitist?

Who decides?

Is it wrong?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few weeks.  I’ve been writing about it.  I’ve shot some arrows over the bow that struck where I didn’t intend.  I want to get some sleep tonight so I thought I would write a little apologia pro vita sua.

I was born to teen parents and raised in poverty, violence, filth, hunger, and ignorance.  I didn’t like it.  Fortunately, both my parents are readers and the city library relocated two blocks from our leaky-roof, firetrap apartment shortly after I learned to read.  Books literally saved my life and taught me to live like a person.  There is nothing that matters more to me than the transformative power of literacy.

Several books I read in my teens and twenties taught me about the idea of intentional living.  Every day should count as your last.  You should feel like you are making the most of every minute.  My passion for self improvement spills over onto others.  It’s cost me some friendships, but it’s made me others.  A few months ago, a casual acquaintance thanked me for a conversation about money management that convinced her she wouldn’t have to take a second job.  My husband says I saved his life.  Being in my circle is probably at least half annoying, but I hope that the rewarding half makes up for it.

I am and am not an elitist.  I work hard to live my beliefs and keep pushing myself to be as authentic as possible, and I feel this dedication is rewarding, though sometimes austere.  I feel sick and empty when I do things that later feel trivial or less valuable than other things I knew I could have been doing.  I believe in my heart that there’s no point to doing certain things, because that time is irreplaceable.  This makes me an elitist, sure.  Yet I like to think I appreciate the privileges in my life, having traveled so far to reach them.  I could never look another being in the eye and think, You are worth less than me.  It’s my religion.  My elitism is about a belief in absolute standards of quality – it is not about relative worth of individual people.  It is my hope that I can help others learn to enjoy the things I have and suck out as much value from them as I have.

Advertisements

11 Comments »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Interesting post, what prompted you to choose the subject?

    • I wrote a post a couple of days ago on adults who read young adult books and got a lot of negative feedback.

  2. You’ve made many great points here, two of which really resonate with me. If we’re going to apply this concept to books (which I assume is where this whole concern about elitism came up most recently), I wholeheartedly agree that because our time is necessarily limited, it’s just not worth wasting that time on some books when you could be reading other (re: better) ones.

    Additionally, it’s important to distinguish between being elitist (or having high standards) for something like books and being elitist toward people. Sure, I think some books are better/more valuable/worthier than others, but that does not mean I believe the people who read other books are less valuable.

    • Right, that’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t think *anyone* is “less valuable” for any reason.

  3. This is something I think about all the time. I think this is a touchy subject in our country right now. I think we must have lost sight of things back in the 80s, when someone (child psychologists? parents? politicians?) decided that everything had to be fair and equal for everyone all the time. Suddenly, teachers could no longer give a student a failing grade without filling out reams of paperwork and going before a committee to defend the act. The grades of D and F were eliminated, because we wouldn’t want kids to feel like they had failed. The problem is, nobody bothered to make the distinction you have made so well here. People are not worthless as people because they fail to produce quality work, but they must be made to keep trying.

    As for books: my book club thinks I am an elitist, and that’s fine with me. I am. I like all the women in the book club, but I cannot always abide their taste in books.

    • Yes! What happens when we all feel good about ourselves all the time, no matter what we do? It seems to me that all progress and creative work comes from a sense of dissatisfaction: something needs to be changed, or I cannot rest until I have produced this work. Would van Gogh have painted if he’d gotten happily married?

  4. I’ll be honest that this apology kind of bothers me. In the previous post that caused people to get so riled up, you never said that people were terrible for reading, say, YA or chick lit. You never attacked anyone. You merely encouraged people to not disregard great literature. You encouraged people to not be gluttons when it comes to books, not to partake SOLELY of the quick, easy, and not-so-healthy for you books. If people get their feelings hurt because you suggested they not eat junk food all day, well, frankly, I just don’t know what to say.

    • “Apologia pro vita sua” is translated “a defense of one’s life.” It’s not really an apology – as many “apologies” aren’t! People say, “I’m sorry if your feelings got hurt” rather than “I was wrong.” What I wrote is more of a “try to see it my way” than an apology.

      Of course I didn’t attack anyone. But clearly at least a few people felt really hurt and I felt absolutely sick about it afterward. In fact I still feel sick about it, but the discussion is generating so much debate that in good conscience I must let it stand.

      I still want people to try harder to read a better quality of books, but if the backlash is that people feel self-conscious and negative about reading instead of resolutely going out and choosing a few different titles, well, that’s the exact opposite of what I intended.

      • I do think that’s often the result of such discussions. How often do people apologize for what they read? i.e. apologizing for reading chick lit or whatnot. all the time. There is a sense of shame attached to it.

        That’s not to say that I don’t think you can’t encourage them to read other things. and a great way to do that, I think is to keep a blog where you write glowing reviews of books you wish others would read. 😉

      • I don’t see where the shame comes in – usually we call it “guilty pleasures” in an affectionate way. For instance, I get a lot of teasing for reading self-help books and I’m not ashamed a bit. Though I don’t usually read them at the cafeteria at work! 😉

        I don’t necessarily wish others would read particular books, especially if they share the same library with me. I want them first! 🙂

  5. First, of all, I enjoyed your post.

    I may think some genres are ick, but if fans of those genres can articulate thoughtfully about what they read and why, they have my admiration.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: