I write, at a time of personal pain, national distress, and worldwide chaos.
I believe pain originates from the known, whilst fear from the unknown. And for the past three days, much of the despair felt around America, as well as the world, are to me a combination of both. Following a day that seemed to have rejected and negated, with a crude mathematical certainty, everything for which and by which many exist, pain and fear may only be a beginning to all the coping mechanisms we need to go on.
The thoughts that have crossed my mind since then amount to many. And it is with them when I can temporarily shelf the pain and shield the fear. Thinking can be exhausting, and leaves one little energy left for helplessness. Yet despite having been thinking, I seemed to be going nowhere with my thoughts, which have been struggling to break free – from the nerve-wracking restlessness that pervades.
Restlessness pervades, among those who suffer, and among those who gloat. I watch photos and videos of protests that are erupting around the country, by those who cannot stand the President-Elect and all that which his victory signifies. I read news on and comments from those who eagerly anticipate the dawn of “a new age”, who, on the other hand, cannot stand those marching on the streets. I have never witnessed, in my own lifetime, a more glaring and malignant division in society.
Out of this division, born much depravity. From each’s dedicated effort, since the beginning of the Election, to not only obliterate but also dehumanize the other, we have amassed enough rhetoric and reasoning to justify life-long rejection and even eternal hatred. No matter whether we are capable of committing to either – for humans can have conveniently short memory spans – we are bolstered in our parochialism today by the sentiment that we can and we will.
This parochialism is indulged in on both sides of the gulf, I do not deny. This parochialism provided comfort for me, in the immediate after hours of the Election, I do not lie. Yet, today I refuse to accept that what we strive to be, all of us, are only cowards who seek to hide in bubbles secured by narrowness of minds.
I may not continue to presume stupidity and moral debauchery as sole reasons behind the support for President-Elect Trump, for that is reductionism and parochialism against which I champion. Then in the same token, I cannot accept the simplistic allegations of smugness, condescension, and false intelligence levied against the other side, on which I stand, and for which I fight.
If a dialogue begins with stating each party’s position, then I now begin with mine.
Elitism, as I don it, is not a morally arbitrary belief in the inherent superiority of those who by morally arbitrary standards are categorized as “elites”.
Elitism is first and foremost a commitment to expertise. It is a deep respect for ability, for substance, and for diligence.
Elitism is meritocracy. It believes in assigning responsibilities according to capacities. It believes that greater capacities should be rewarded, but all such rewards presuppose duty to do for others what others may not be able to do for you.
Elitism is a demand for doing what is hard and achieving what is great. It is a faith in breaking boundaries, in shattering ceilings, in exploring the unchartered, and in creating the unthinkable. It is a refusal to be content with current states of things.
Elitism is a mandate for continuous improvement, within each person, to challenge his or her own truths and dogmas, to reach beyond his or her own potential.
Elitism, most importantly, is a skepticism, of boasts too full, promises too grand, realities too content, and ideologies too sweeping. It is for introspective reflections on limits and dangers in the best and brightest moments. It is a call for an attribute that distinguishes humans from animals: the habit of thinking.
Does a society not need expertise to continuously improve the conditions of its citizens? Does a society not benefit from citizens who strive for better rather than for worse? Does a society not require constant examinations of its own virtues and vices to remain just and fair? Should not a society reward talent and diligence and encourage more?
Is not everyone of us, to varying extents, a beneficiary of this kind of Elitism – a dedication to better versions of oneself, of society – in his or her life? As our world is drastically different from when it was first conceived thousands of years ago, is not everything we have and cherish today, in parts, built on this basic dedication and understanding?
Certainly, there are also things of today, many perhaps the results of certain Elitism, which we do not like, which we despise. As is the nature of any human system or ideology, Elitism is flawed and can become vicious. And when Elitism becomes an ideology against the public, against every citizen’s right and dignity, it must be fought against.
Yet, to fight against the problematic derivatives of Elitism, is not to fight against the values that it champions, values which are the bedrock of all great societies, no matter to which ism they are attributed.
When well-reasoned arguments fall to deaf ears, or worse, attacked for abiding logic; when intelligence is belittled and facts deemed secondary; when projects for truth and discovery, from medical researches to outer space explorations, are derided as elitists’ apathy to commoners’ concerns; when aspirations for higher, harder, and worthier are laughed at not only for being impractical, but also for being rude to all who do not aspire as such; when appeals to civic duty and empathetic caring are responded with ridicule – is not that the beginning to our end?
We are only humans, and humans are forever imperfect. In my appeal to the highest and noblest, I by no means declare possession of all those virtues, nor claim that only “elitists” may be their guardians. Yet, I believe that the Elitism I’ve described, is one to which we may all subscribe – as a state of mind and a discipline of character.
Great thinkers, in both the Western and Eastern canon, since time immemorial, have all cared deeply for and written extensively on social issues that concern not the most privileged strata, but more so the ordinary public. Yet, most of them, without exception, have written in the most esoteric and inaccessible ways – not just for average readers, but even for professional readers as well. If one reads their works, one is often overwhelmed by smugness and suffocated by arrogance.
However, if one continued beyond mere rhetoric, eventually, one can almost never deny, the profound respect and empathy these authors in fact have for their fellow citizens – rich and poor, young and old, fair and plain.
They were and are the true elitists.
The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused; deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”
For everyone, on both sides of the gulf, frustrated or content, joyful or angry, in denial or in anticipation: we are witnessing consequential history in the making, and whatever is consequential is never attained without a price. May we all pass through, changed but unwavering, hurt but courageous, and continue to contribute a little something along the way, toward the kind of future we would wish for us, but also for others.