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By GENE H. McINTYRE
Elitism. It is a powerful word. Recently that word has been brought up in a nationally-syndicated opinion column with disparaging comment that it should be drummed out of Americans and all things American. Defined, it refers to a group that is considered superior to the remaining members of the group in terms of ability and qualities, and is also used to identify those in the group having the greatest power and influence within a society due to their wealth and privilege.
My reading of the U.S. Constitution, its companion document, the Bill of Rights, and our nation’s laws and related applications, is that there has been an effort from the beginning to drive a stake through the heart of elitism even though those persons responsible for getting the United States underway in the late 18th century could be viewed as the elites in Colonial America, those who led the Revolutionary War and the ultimate break from England’s rule. Incidentally, in every person’s inimitable way he’s an elitist: it’s the human nature in all of us that’s inclined to judge other persons as below us or inferior.
Recorded history of the world could be described as people—back to the Egyptians—and even earlier, surrendering their lives to elites by permitting themselves to be ruled by the elites. These would have been the pharaohs, the emperors, the czars, the kings and queens and the rulers back to the birth of civilizations. In fact, world history suggests that the human species has items in its DNA, resulting in surrender of freedom, and the right of every member to protect himself in return for control by the most wealthy and powerful in their midst.
In North America and throughout the world of yesteryear, humans struck out on their own to escape control as one can learn by reading about those who ventured away from civilizations east of Polynesia and settled the Pacific Ocean, the tribes that used the once-solid bridge of land between Asia and what is now Alaska, and the pilgrims of Europe, England, and the Netherlands, that sailed away to religious freedom in what became colonial America. People, virtually forever, have wanted freedom but sooner or later have surrendered to controls by the elites in their societies, those richest in goods and greatest in power.
We bring our loss of freedom and self-determination on ourselves because we want a measure of safety and security we are not able to provide for ourselves. If we do as we please and, in doing so, break the law then we face the consequence of fine or imprisonment. If we set out into hinterlands to establish our own little fiefdom, we soon are held responsible for what we do by a force more powerful than ourselves that comes to us because all of America, deep in the woods and out in deserts, is owned or controlled by the most wealthy and powerful among us.
We cannot therefore avoid or escape elitism. These elitists dictate whether we like it or not because these are the people among us who have managed—by inheritance, hard work, mental ability—to accumulate the most wealth and power. Although we argue we are a nation of laws, not men, we end up in daily life by subtle or direct control, or simply surrender, to those, we choose by voting in America, often with the most wealth and power. Reminder: We recognize, too, it is in the nature of most all of us to view virtually everyone else as, by subjective judgment, lesser than ourselves.
The average American can do little about his plight of powerlessness except by pen, voice and vote. If I’d been granted what’s required to stand tall among those with wealth and power, I might have had more power and privilege other than effort at persuasion by columns. I am not wealthy and thereby not powerful but appreciate the fact that I can openly express my ideas in a nation that generally respects its Constitution enough to allow me to do it. Elsewhere, I could be incarcerated or murdered, although the level of intolerance for expressions “too contrary” or “blasphemous” can get a person “in deep trouble” here.
Elitism is here and here to stay and has been since the “beginning of time.” There’s no way in modern times to rid ourselves of it because our planet has been “civilized” from stem to stern. And there’s no way to escape, not even by death, as the authorities will do with my body as law dictates. But not to despair! As is true of all Americans, the nationally syndicated writer who disparages those he views as elitists has the freedom to criticize “them,” as do we all. Meanwhile and always, the American freedom of speech is preciously powerful and must be protected at all cost from those who would demagogue or dictate.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)