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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
George Orwell’s 1984 was far more prescient than most people would like to admit. Although a thorough analysis of his benchmark novel is beyond the scope of this post, the notion of doublespeak is tragically all too relevant in the era of corporate-controlled media. One of the most fundamental reasons why the nation continues to be dragged further into the abyss of the Right is that the media has successfully redefined a number of terms which are crucial to engaging in meaningful debate. Shifting definitions is just one tactic used by the corporate media to narrow the parameters of our national dialogue, but it effectively prevents a significant percentage of Americans from ever even realizing that a world exists beyond those painfully restricted boundaries.
And so I would like to introduce a new feature of Failed Empire: Adventures in Doublespeak. Today we will be examining a word that has become the bane of liberals nationwide – the dreaded slur, “Elitist.”
Elitist is a prime example a word that has been grossly misdefined by our ultra-conservative press. The term is constantly bandied about in right-wing circles, and is generally considered to be synonymous with “pompous, prissy, liberal jerk.” But what does Elitist actually mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:
1. leadership or rule by an elite
2. consciousness of being or belonging to an elite
Now, think about all of the times you’ve heard this term “elitist” being applied to supposed Leftists – either elected officials or otherwise. Usually it’s something along the lines of, “That Obama is such an elitist, trying to spread the wealth around,” or, “John Kerry is friggin’ elitist for protesting the war in Vietnam, while McCain spent years in a prison camp.” According to the traditional definition, elitist really doesn’t make much sense here. So what precisely do wingnuts mean when they hurl this term at us in a derogatory manner?
The definition that makes the most sense, rather than anything to do with elitism, is educated. Right-wingers typically use the term “elitist” to refer to someone who is knowledgeable about national and world affairs, and approaches such issues with a view towards critical thinking and evidence-based problem solving. This is not to say that there are no intelligent people on the Right (although they are apparently few and far between), but it seems that in general right-wingers – or at least elected officials – tend to mask this penchant for rationality and knowledge in an attempt to be perceived as “one of the guys.” So we have people like George W. Bush walking around talkin’ ’bout smokin’ terr’ists outta ther holes, while Barack Obama (not a liberal, but he pretends to be one publicly) speaks with proper grammar and standard middle-class pronunciation. Subsequently, a Bush or a Reagan is seen as an ordinary person with interests in common with the average citizen, while an Obama or a Kerry is blacklisted as a filthy liberal “elitist.”
But let’s delve a little deeper, as the issue involves more than just education. It is not enough for a person to simply be well-educated; he/she must also have a professed interest in bettering society and contributing to the progress of the human race. If any knowledgeable, thoughtful, well-spoken individual mentions the prospect of creating government services or functions which actually contribute to the betterment of the nation – universal health care or free college education, for example – he or she is immediately branded an elitist. In obvious fact, such a person is the very antithesis of an elitist; he/she seeks to improve everyone’s lot, inspired by a carefully considered personal code of ethics.
Meanwhile, the genuine elitists in our society – the corporate elite and their representatives in both the Democratic and Republican parties – laugh heartily as their subjects claw and scratch amongst themselves, wholly blinded to the fact that they are merely following a carefully crafted script.