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Experts or Elitists?

May 7, 2008

The recent redoubling of poisoning of the word “elitist” in the political discussion is disheartening to me.  I find myself trying not to sound elitist, or second guessing my thoughts, trying to determine how far out of touch with the mainstream I am.

This may be a useful exercise in self-awareness, but it is a disaster with regard to aspirations.  The accusation of “elitist” seems to be moving away from meaning wealthy, powerful and exclusive–the opposite of populist–into an ambiguous and vaguely pejorative “thinks they know stuff we don’t.”  Restating this aversion as a prescription for being accepted by society gives “don’t try to know more than anyone else.” For a society and a country, that aspiration starts an ugly race to the bottom.

Bad Astronomy sums it up succinctly:

…people are generally experts in a field for a reason. They’ve studied it. They’ve experienced it. They’ve done research, published papers, looked at the results, tried to interpret them, made predictions, done further experiments. They learn from what they experience.

That’s why they’re experts.

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