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Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Elites are on my mind today: cultural, economic and those who, at first glance, appear to belong to both but, on closer inspection, still by and large act as members of the cultural elite. The (Paul) Newman family looks like a good example of this to me: Paul was, and Joanne Woodward and their family are, unquestioned members of both the cultural and economic elite. However, they still behave much more like members of the cultural elite than the purely economic elite: so far as I know Newman's Own still donates all its profits to charities and I imagine they pay their taxes pretty scrupulously too. Their primary class ties appear to be, still, with the community of media artists--that is, with those that follow the same professions by which the Newmans made their money in the first place. They don't seem to have ties with 'money' per se.
And this is true, by and large, of most members of the cultural elite. It is also true that most members of the cultural elite liberally defined as such are not among the economic elite. But those who become part of the economic elite as well (such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra, Oprah, etc.) still define themselves as members primarily of the cultural elite. Thankfully, they correctly see themselves as not having common political interests with the crooked three-card monte dealers now running the banks and Wall Street nor with the earth-rippers of the fossil fuel businesses but with fellow artists, educators and conservers. In this they are joined by some business builders (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind) and a healthy share of inventors, scientists and other technogeeks. I say if someone builds a business doing what they know and love, they will usually continue to identify themselves as that particular 'occupation' rather than as someone who got rich, regardless of how rich they actually become--and, hence, their politics will not change with growing wealth. And it is the cultural elite which shows, by far, many more of the traits which we in the West associate with an authentic elite: the traits covered by the wonderful phrase noblesse oblige, the anchoring and other strengthening of the ladders by which they themselves climbed so that an increasing number of talented and hardworking people can follow them up, arising from the understanding that as more real talent arises and as we increase our renewable resources--we all become richer, and not just monetarily either!
If a business person becomes an honest success doing something they can respect and enjoy, they too can become members of the authentic elite. Uncle Warren looks like that to me. Another part of the authentic elite is what's called 'old gold'--here, families such as the Adamses, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Kennedys, etc. I would also include public servants who actually seek to serve all their constituents in this designation.
To me, the counterfeit elite are those who did what they did only, or even mostly, in order to get rich. Then they flaunt their ill-gotten gains even as they seek to pull up the ladders by which they climbed because, whether they admit it or not, they are consumed by fear of those who might climb after them and devour them in turn! Those who know or suspect they're really 'nothing special' except for their money (hey, Trumpty Dumpty!) are the worst in this respect--Trump, Romney, Ryan, Stossel, Hannity, Limbaugh, Koch, etc. Fred Trump was a more authentic member of the elite than his son is!
I have no problem with anyone wanting to improve their monetary lot by honest hard work and/or real talent. I have lots of problems with those who seek to do so by means of legal theft and then claim elite status by virtue of their ill-gotten gains and then seek to pull up the ladders behind them and try to buy our government and convert it into their scapegoat as they increasingly impoverish the rest of us!
Every human society has, and will always have, an elite. The question is and should always be: what does the elite add to (or take from) the general well-being of society? To sum up (I hope!): an authentic elite cares for more than fattening its pockets and, when the society which enriches them in the first place may require it, is prepared to forgo such fattening for a time--because their status as elite members relies only secondarily on their wealth. The primary staff of their elite membership is their ability to continue to exercise, and exercise well, those strengths or talents which brought them into the elite in the first place. And that's also why the counterfeit elite must continually, unremittingly, fatten its pockets (and increasingly to society's detriment) or lose its elite standing altogether. The authentic elite may advise those lower down to make do at need, but not to the point of 'want of necessaries', to use an appropriately Dickensian phrase. The counterfeit elite will say even to children, 'thou shalt starve ere I starve'--and they always, or nearly always, fancy themselves a few steps away from starvation themselves!
Last point, I promise: the authentic elite remembers the struggle of early days and seeks to mitigate it for those that come after as they look and listen for real talent and a real variety of voices. The counterfeits seek to do the opposite and seek to convert our country into their country club and comfy echo chamber. I hope and believe our authentic elite mirrors our desire and our spirit far better than the counterfeit elite!

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