Who are the elites? Is it you? Is it me?


If you fragment society far enough, then everyone is on his own. I’m not suggesting that this will happen. Indeed, I’m pointing out that politics has never been – and will never be – a one way street. We will unite again. We’re just searching for the way.

The amount of social divisions these days is enormous. Old versus young, higly educated versus poorly educated, rich versus poor, super-rich versus the others, muslim versus the others, blacks versus whites, pro-EU’s versus anti-EU’s, pro-Trumps versus anti-Trumps, those who have an instagram account versus those who don’t, those who trust science versus those who don’t, those who are tolerant of refugees versus those who aren’t… Even male versus female seems to be back on the table.

In the Netherlands, now about eight weeks from the elections, this is leading to the constant emergence of new one-man parties. I’m guessing that 5 have dissociated from bigger parties in the past few months. Some fight for Erdogan, some for black rights, some for ‘the people’,  some for ‘the Netherlands’ and some for ‘local social economies without refugees’.  But they all have one thing in common: they’re against the elites. I think it would be clearer if they’d call them ‘the aristocrats’, but then again: hey. Let’s figure out who they mean.

My first question would be: am I part of the elites? Am I the evildoer here? After all, I’ve had a good education, have quite some knowledge of and insight in science and politics, live in the capital of one of the wealthiest countries in the world and currently even have a job. I worry about climate change. Am I the evil elite? Are you?

Question two: hey! But those guys and gals who talk about the elites, aren’t they also the elite? Aren’t we drowning in the fact that all those people who show their rostrum in a video that’s watched over a million times is automatically part of the elite him or herself as well? All those writers who are read by thousands of others? Isn’t there some kind of elite there too?

Question three: hey! But if it’s always the elite talking about the elite, then aren’t we just witnessing elites accusing elites of being elites? What’s the point of that?

Here’s where I’m glad I once brought in the term smurf-intensity a bit over a year ago. A term that nobody really understands, yet everyone is talking about as if they do, has a high smurf-intensity. Elites is becoming one of them.

The word is reaching hipsterish proportions in the sence that it is becoming uncool to be part of it even if we all secretly want to. But who belongs and who does not is unclear, even if we all have a sense of ‘rich and exclusive’ when we hear the word.

I’m getting the feeling, recently that the elite is becoming a tool for division. If you don’t trust someone, you just declare that person some kind of elite, and by that suggest that you have ‘the people’ behind you. It is happening all over the place in the Netherlands. Trump does it. Zizek does it as well. Accusing an amorphous little group for the trouble we’re all causing every day.

Can we blame the elite? Maybe. Should we? Perhaps. Do we know who they are? No. Do we know how to talk to them? Even less. Can we trust people who think they do? Probably not. So how is this whole ‘elite’-discourse useful? Little.

Unless, of course, you, reader are willing to step forward and declare yourself the elite, declare yourself responsible for the course we are heading in. Unless you declare that the entire 21st century West is the elite, gnawing on the final remaining bits of our livelihoods, knowing that our clock is ticking. But perhaps you’d say we’re not to blame. That we should look for the true devils . Give them a name and a face we can behead. An account we can expropriate. The elite of the elite.

It is a curious word, this word elite. A true political trend. Probably not a one way street. It never is. But I’m afraid we’ll be hearing it for a while.


8 thoughts on “Elites”

  1. Simple, say you are an individual with your own opinion which you can express or keep to yourself.

    When people want to categorise me I say I am half a cheese-head. Why that way I insult and mock myself as I have mixed origins and confront the other person with the fact that I do not care about being politically correct. I shall stay polite but that is it.

    Elite this, elite that so what? Invent your own hand shake and go away please…

    1. Haha.

      Well yes, I agree that we are individuals, but I see that the concept of elites is popping up all over in the political discussions. I wasn’t trying to suggest that it has strong ties to reality. Not in the ways the elitary are perceived anyhow.

  2. The West has already declared itself elite by calling itself the first world. Never heard any westerner complain about that. People resting in a “so what” attitude, afraid to leave their comfort zone.

    The thought that higher education should grant you higher income. Calling higher education better education, calling high income jobs better jobs. It is the norm, it is elitist. If you do think differently, you’re probably a communist and belong in the second world, or poor and than you belong in the third world.

    But communism is pretty much dead, socialism is struggling, capitalism is the political evolutionary winner. In times of crisis sneakily fucking with nationalism. Its waiting for a political meteorite to strike. With Trump’s ego reaching out in space there’s a good chance it will get hit soon.

    But, to return to social fragmentation, I don’t think that blaming one group or the other is the way to unification. There must be ways to improve things without joining fingers to elites or Mexicans.

    1. Nice response. To continue your line of thought on the evolutionary winner called capitalism, perhaps we are at a stage where this line of thought is too successfull, in the same way as a certain animal can be too successfull. Perhaps it’s now prone to disease because of its omnipresence.

      Otherwise I fully agree with you. Nice observation, about this ‘first world’.

  3. As always, dear Gilles, it is a thought provoking writing.
    I think it is not what one has(origin, education, money)making one elites. What matters is if an individual is advancing on the cost of others or not. In whatever branch of life, if it is on the cost of others, this makes one belonging to ellite. As long there are such, the unification of all seems quite far away.
    What is the answer? I do not know. Except, to do always our best personally, not pointing fingers on others, but self, working on personal growth with hope that the number of kindred spirits in that sense will grow and eventually reach a critical mass causing establishment of other values between people, values that serve us all, not only the priveleged ones.

    1. Hey! I really like your nuance there, on what makes an elite. People who help others, create value instead of worth can be seen as people-people, whereas those who use their elbows become the elite. Very nice because it makes things more volatile. You can now more to another group by shifting your behaviour. But more importantly, it really hits the essence of the elitary vibe.

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