When did "elitist" become a pejorative, and why?
Is it not logical to perceive excellence superior to mediocrity, an open mind superior to a closed mind, a connoisseur superior to one unable (or worse, unwilling) to discriminate aesthetically?
The common person may seek to defend a position of aesthetic insensitivity "It all tastes like chicken to me!" "My four-year-old could have painted that!" "Too many notes!" "Too many big words!" "Too many ideas!" but history judges the insignificant and they are duly erased from the collective memory of civilization.
The insignificant cling to their insensitivity like a badge of honor for they have no choice but to do so. In and of itself, who could gainsay this aspiration for self-worth?
They go too far when they fail to acknowledge their superiors, asserting lives immersed in intellectual and philosophical reflection, and enriched by aesthetic discrimination are not qualitatively superior to those devoid of such interests.
More to the point, those who revel in the creation of the sublime, like those touched by such achievement justifiably consider those incapable of such refinement inferior. They are.
"Ordinary" is self-defining. Cultures do not move forward by virtue of the ordinary. To this day I cannot understand why the extraordinary founders of this nation chose to empower the ordinary.
Armies win battles because the generals have distinguished themselves from the cannon fodder. Generals study assiduously the literature of war, abstract thought the tool of their trade. They are superior to the grunts. What is rank if not justifiable elitism?
Neither is more worthy as a human being, neither is more capable of valor or self-sacrifice. That is not the issue.
Water seeks its own level and the distinguished, whether by intellect, talent, or physical prowess, find most rewarding time spent among their own kind.
For example, the insignificant tend to dismiss philosophy as a waste of time. It is not surprising, therefore, that those who understand why the thoughts of Plato, Ibn 'Arabi, and Huangpo are representative of the heights human insight may achieve, why their writings are cherished across the millennia, deign to spend time around those who perceive such accomplishments as worthless, pointless.
Yes, the middle of the bell curve is the majority but is this relevant? How many consumers have to purchase fast food hamburgers to render the tasteless gray lumps a laudable culinary accomplishment?
Settling for such mediocrity, like the inability to discriminate between good and bad, determines the measure of a person. Cool Whip and Redi Whip are not whipped cream. Purchasing a gun is not the equivalent of spending 30 years mastering Japanese sword technique.
Elitists take the time, appreciate the difference, and consider the result well worth the effort. How should they perceive those who don't?
Politicians and religious leaders curry favor with their followers by assuring them of their significance. The elite do not have their significance assigned, they achieve and are experientially aware of the price they paid for their undeniable sense of self-worth.
The concept of universal values is bandied about by those most inclined to decry elitism. But their values are only universal in so far as the herd has always been (and will e'er continue to be) devoid of and dismissive of cultivation.
What we should be asking is what common qualities do the elite treasure? What do they celebrate throughout time, preserve above all else?
Look to our museums, our libraries, our concert halls, the ivy-covered institutions wherein brilliant minds, aggressive minds sequester themselves. The culture of the insignificant is nowhere to be found. This truth obtains for India as well as China, Scotland as well as Russia.
Look to the objects these disparate cultures have treasured and continue to treasure. Ancient Cambodia, like ancient Greece celebrated the beauty of form, intoxicating sensuality. They rightly considered themselves superior for having done so.
Louts may belittle souls weeping in response to an exquisitely performed Beethoven piano sonata, but though their voices are manifold their relevance to that which defines our species as significant is nonexistent.
Boors despise aesthetic nobility for it diminishes them, functioning as a mirror reflecting the reality of their mediocrity. The elite are hierarchical for they perceive an identical truth.
R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at email@example.com.