July 27, 2004

Honey, Vinegar and the Bitter, Bitter Elite

Some of the more cringe-worthy memories I have from my time in academia concern the attitude we self-appointed "elites" held toward the "great unwashed;" namely, the undergraduate population, and those poor benighted souls who didn't go to college (insert horrified gasp at the ignorance of the proles here). Now I get that unfounded feelings of superiority are just part of human nature, but it doesn't make those feelings appropriate. And when the "because I'm smart and I said so and you don't think like me so you suck" attitude is front and center in the making of an argument, well, maybe the smarty-pants making said argument shouldn't be surprised when his or her pearls of wisdom are trampled under the feet of the gap-toothed swine he or she is trying to "help."

Case in point. I found this review over at A&L; Daily, which often points to befuddled articles of the "but if you were only smart enough to SEE the ONE TRUE WAY and THINK EXACTLY LIKE ME then we could all live together in peace and harmony tra-la-la" type. The author is genuinely shocked and saddened (elite code for "damn those ignorant hicks to hell for not swallowing this crap") that the populace of Australia didn't respond to a racist polemic against eeeeeevillllee whitey--complete with name-calling, guilt heaping calumny and the Indisputable Truth that Civilization is Much, Much Worse Than Squatting in A Cave in Your Own Filth--by immediately donning hair shirts and kowtowing at the shrine of Oh My God You Are So Right, Brave Truth Teller! Yes, this review is in The Guardian, but enumerating what I find to be misguided (or even crazy) theories isn't what annoys me here--that's just more of the same old, same old.

The offensive part is the attitude. The hand-wringing and crocodile tears of intellectual martyrdom that barely mask contempt for the folks that both the author of the book and the reviewer so desperately want to "educate." Did neither of these people receive what we southerners refer to as "home trainin'?" You know, the whole "more flies with honey than with vinegar" thing? Seriously, Ms. Greer wrote an end-of-the-world book (and essays beforehand) basically blaming white Australians (and by extension, Britain and the US, because as you know we are the root of all ev--ooooh, shiny!) for ruining everything, damn them, and then had her delicate sensibilities shocked when said Australians took exception. Lady, if you're throwing dung-bombs at people, don't be surprised when the recipients toss 'em back. And for the love of God, don't retreat to the default "I'm just misunderstood by these hopeless idiots, I'm shocked! And saddened! And just wanted to debate the issues!" position when your original piece wasn't about debate at all.

Of course, if she followed that advice, we would miss the humor in quotes like this:

But one gets the sense in the "The Last Word" section, where Greer replies to her critics, that the sly and mean-minded nature of what they said has shocked and saddened her. "English readers will now have the opportunity to see the essay in the context of the responses it elicited," she writes, and may "understand why I choose to endure the manifold disadvantages and discomforts of life in England rather than to return to my birthplace."

This is a powerful polemic, skilfully organised, thoughtful and beautifully written. How can anyone not be moved by Greer's final plea on behalf of a country she loves? "Australia doesn't owe whitefellas (including me) a living. They should stop ripping its guts out for a pittance, and sit on the ground. Sit on the ground, damn you, and think, think about salination, desertification, dieback, deforestation, species extinction, erosion, suburbanisation, complacency, greed and stupidity. As if."

Ah, intellectual adolescent hissy fits, a sure sign of the advanced thinker. Yep, that'll help. Perhaps Ms. Greer should take her own advice and sit on the ground, dammit, and think about what happens when you're more interested in venting your spleen at the ignorant masses than fostering change. As if.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 27, 2004 09:35 AM

"English readers will now have the opportunity to ...understand why I choose to endure the manifold disadvantages and discomforts of life in England...."

Ah, yes, how to win friends and influence people. She hasn't learned, has she?

Posted by: Laura at July 27, 2004 01:26 PM

Reads like the self-absorbed angst of a spoiled teenager with no real life experience. Grow up, little girl.

Posted by: Claire at July 27, 2004 02:28 PM

The hell of it is that arrogance is self reinforcing. If you criticize them, you must not be smart enough to get it. The reinforcement is completed by surrounding yourself with people of like minds.

I speak from experience--I used to be an amateur know it all. Then I became an academic. Luckily, through it all I've had the good fortune of keeping in contact with friends that were (and are) willing to tell me when I was spreading the merde. So, there's still hope.

Posted by: Pete at July 27, 2004 03:11 PM

That great philosopher, Jerry Clower, had a saying for people like Ms. Greer. “She has been educated beyond her intelligence.”

I never trust someone who seems to believe that everyone less educated and/or of a lower socioeconomic division must be less intelligent. I also don’t believe anyone who calls herself an intellectual.
Rather bad for that.

Posted by: jim at July 27, 2004 09:18 PM

This reminds me of the plan a professor from Rutgers had several years ago for large parts of the Great Plains. He proposed to turn the Dakotas, Nebraska, etc. into a "Buffalo Commons." All people-- except Native Americans-- would be moved out, all agriculture and ranching ended, towns and cities abandoned. His reasoning was that not many people lived in those states and it was a long way between large clusters of people. It would be better for the environment and country to abandon this section of the country to the buffalo.

The professor received a lot of press, some grants and, of course, the ire of all us flyover people he was talking about relocating. He dismissed the idea that some people would rather live in South Dakota than New Jersey as simply more evidence that we non-urban folks needed the guidance of his superior intellect.

Posted by: dhanson at July 28, 2004 10:08 AM

dhanson: Ah, yes, I remember this professor and his wife. I got great glee out of reading an article on how they respected and loved the "Buffalo Commons" land, "often coming back for visits." It was accompanied by a picture showing Drs. Frank and Debra Popper in a hay field waving to the camera. Basically, the farmers and ranchers thought they were full of some animal product smelled miles away during a good rain, and let the area media know it. The good professors had to back track on some statements (although I can't remember specifically what statements, it was a long time ago) and were soon checked off by most area people as being full of dung.

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