Friday, March 3, 2017

The Creation And Perpetuation Of An Elite

     It would be like him to do that; that was the sort of thing he thought about. Martingales, Chiffney bits, boots; where you got the best soap, the best brandy, the name of the chap who rode a plater down the Khyber cliffs; the spreading power of number three shot before a charge of number four powder...by heavens, I hardly ever heard him talk of anything else. Not in all the years that I knew him did I hear him talk of anything but these subjects. Oh, yes, once he told me that I could buy my special shade of blue ties cheaper from a firm in Burlington Arcade than from my own people in New York. And I have bought my ties from that firm ever since. [Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier]

     The nature of an elite is plain from the attitude of those who claim to belong to one: We’re superior to you. It doesn’t matter how elaborately an elitist dresses his snobbery in noblesse oblige. The snobbery – the air of elevation over others – is the meat of the matter.

     The snobbery is a required element. It contributes to the perception of an elite by “outsiders.” Superiors must act superior, whether blatantly or subtly. It’s also indispensable to the perpetuation of the elite veneer. If elitists were to refrain from lording it over others, they would soon forfeit all claims to elite status.

     And it must extend to the smallest, least consequential of matters.


     Dystopic, who’s getting to be a power in the Blogosphere, has posted a humorous and penetrating article on a key aspect of elitism. An indicative snippet:

     Food virtue signalling, or more aptly, food snobbery has been a thing for a very long time. And like political virtue signalling, it is all about display one’s superiority over another based on some irrelevant metric. “Look at me,” says the narcissist, “I’m superior because I like my steak rare.”

     Of course, it is not merely steak that has suffered this effect. Wine has traditionally been a strong bastion of snobbery, but the practice has moved to craft beer. Now, again, don’t get me wrong, I like craft beer. For the longest time, I thought I didn’t like beer, because I found Bud, Coors, and Miller Lite to be foul-tasting beverage abominations. But therein lies the point: I found them foul. Another man might like them. Indeed, even today these beers sell like hotcakes. Obviously somebody likes them.

     If the President wants a Bud Lite, get him a damned Bud Lite. And just because you drink Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA (which I also find foul, by the way, as it’s a totally overrated beer in my opinion) doesn’t mean you are a better man, or have a more “elevated” palette, or anything of the sort.

     Please read it all.

     Snobbery of the palate is one of the most common components to elitism. It’s been around for a long time. Note the dishes supposedly elite chefs concoct on cooking-contest shows. Note the bizarre ingredients they frequently incorporate. Note the incomprehensible foreign-language names attached to the resulting dishes. Note the still more incomprehensible comments the “judges” make about those dishes. Note – and ponder.

     The “judges” supposedly have “cosmopolitan tastes” and “educated palates.” They muse and declaim over the dubious plates nervously set before them like Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer. But how often do they take more than a tentative bite from what’s set before them? How often would you, Gentle Reader, willingly partake of those...creations?

     I submit to you that if it isn’t 100% pretense, it comes damned close...and that there’s a lot of upchucking being done and antacid being consumed behind the scenes.


     A personal note: I’m particularly exercised by wine snobs: the elitists who specialize in telling us from their oh-so-overflowing founts of knowledge and experience which wines we “should” prefer. I can’t stand the wines they advocate. I can’t stand them.

     Wine is a luxury beverage; the more expensive, the more extreme the luxury. A luxury is pointless if it isn’t enjoyable. Shriekingly expensive wine that tastes unpleasant and is difficult to swallow is the antithesis of enjoyable, and therefore the antithesis of luxury. “Pointless” is the mildest of the adjectives applicable to it.

     I submit that the evidence that wine elitism is pure pose is available at any of their much-promoted “tastings.” Here’s a humorous take on it:

     Beneath the obvious humor, there’s a lot of truth in that commercial. Wine snobs often fulsomely praise wines that fight being swallowed: they’re so astringent and acidic that the throat struggles to reject them. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of wine snobs at a wine tasting, of the sniffing, staring, swirling, delicate sip, and the spitting-out, the last part is the only bit that was sincere.

     I’ve been there, Gentle Reader. I’ve actually been there. The miasma of assumed superiority, the pretense of refinement and erudition that eclipses the tawdry tastes and preferences of us grubby groundlings, is thick enough to sculpt.


     “Of tastes there is nothing written,” says the Talmud. That grates on those desperate to consider themselves superior and to advertise their superiority. They do it to exalt themselves over us of the Fish Sticks and Tater Tots with a White Zinfandel set, of course, but just as imperatively to signal their membership in “the better sort” to others who share their aspirations and pretenses. The signaling is what matters.

     Dystopic has applied the phrase “virtue signaling” to elitism of the palate. This is indeed part of the syndrome, for an elitist wants to be taken as superior to others in all ways, but most emphatically in virtue. Yet just as there’s no virtue involved, there’s also no true superiority. Their pretenses are merely emblems to imply superiority via membership in a difficult-to-join group.

     In truth, the emblems – the difficult, expensive, unpleasant practices they embrace and promote as badges of membership in their set – are all elitists have. It’s almost a reason to pity them.

     Almost. Not quite.

5 comments:

  1. The white zin should come in a box, of course. Once the price hovered around $22,000 a ton. Now it's up in nose bleed territory -- a whopping $38,000 a ton.

    Righhhtt. "Modest inflation."

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  2. Working in the corporate world, my pet snobbery remains "management jargon". Unlike technical jargon, which serves a useful purpose, MBA-speak serves only as virtue signalling for PC corporate goblins.

    Once I grew relatively fluent in that black tongue, I realized that the key to spotting such useless jargon is if it can be translated straight into regular English with no increase in word count. Also, the misuse of nouns as verbs.

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  3. OMG Hammer, how right you are. I've been retired two years now and I still wake up sweating when I dream of some of the meetings I had to attend and the doubletalk I had to endure...and I was a very senior figure who for the last fourteen years of my career largely did whatever I damned well pleased!

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  4. A friend of mine who resides in Aspen was invited to a dinner party of a well known CEO(both are Tiffany collectors) He obligingly brought a $20 bottle of wine. The CEO served wine that cost $3,000/bottle. He had a dozen cases of it delivered earlier in the day.

    And hell, I'm trying to think of the last time I spent $20 on a bottle myself.

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  5. http://pages.uoregon.edu/ocomment/ocarchive/oc98_99/oc14_15_98_10.html

    A "serious" review of bottom shelf wines. Content is *definitely* apropos.

    ReplyDelete

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