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Musings on elitism and snobbery

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  • #63418

    Bear
    Participant

    Quite a few discussion of elitism and snobbery have been leveled in recent months in these forums — mostly in restaurant reviews and, less seriously, in discussions of some international food-oriented nonprofits, but also in topics as diverse as human rights in Iowa, city vs. suburb, and national politics.

    What’s really striking about this fact, to me, is that the American definition of “middle class” is so expansive that it’s practically useless: according to a recent NORC survey, 50% of families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year and 17% of families earning over $110,000 a year considered themselves to be “middle class” or “working class.” In such a society, one would think that elites would be hard to come by, yet charges of elitism and snobbery seem to be leveled without much hesitation.

    This came to mind recently when I ran across an entry on The Accidental Hedonist, written by Kate Hopkins, that is worth quoting in its entirety:

    I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a snob, trying to come up with an adequate definition. People often joke about being a snob, but the truth is that most people are not.

    Part of the problem is that people mistake being particular for being snobby. Being particular means being hard to please, mostly because whomever is being particular has some standards that they wish to be met. It doesn’t matter if these standards on any personal preference (No margarine for me thanks”) or some moral code (No meat for me thanks!), these are not actions of one being a snob, but one based in reason.

    Snobbery is disguised as reason, but works with an additional set of rules. Not only is there a choice based on some set of standards, but being a snob also comes with a sense of superiority based off of those standards. This superiority allows them to look upon those who don’t share their beliefs as “less”. Whether it’s “less intelligent”, “less cultured”, “less moral”, it doesn’t matter. A snob is one who uses their standards to place themselves as being better than others.

    The food world is rife with these sorts of folks, and often thrives because of them.

    So, if this is an acceptable definition, who would be a food snob? From my own perspective, I endeavor never to denigrate individual choices, but I have no problem in criticizing institutions. However, I can see where people would think that this would be a snob-like behavior, especially if they are emotionally invested in whatever institution that I’m writing about.

    Would you consider yourself a snob? Or do you think that my definition needs some work?

    This resonates with me, though my own sense is that snobbery (with regard to food) can involve not just looking down on other people for liking certain food but looking down on that food itself in a particularly arrogant manner.

    An example will clarify. Let’s say that I don’t like, I don’t know, White Castle hamburgers (don’t worry, Roland, it’s just an example). To my way of thinking, there’s nothing wrong with saying “I’ll pass on those, thanks — they’re not really my thing.” There’s everything wrong with saying, “People who like White Castle hamburgers will never understand good food.” (It’s idiotic, for one thing, but it’s also snobbish.) The third category of behavior — which I would call snobbish but Kate, I gather, wouldn’t –, involves arguing, even implicitly, that one’s own tastes are in fact the tastes to which all right-thinking people should subscribe. In this view White Castle hamburgers are objectively disgusting and no one in his or her right mind could disagree (a tough claim to make as long as you subscribe to the premise that tastes are subjective).

    My sense is that what people mean by “elitism” is far more divorced from what dictionaries say it should be (e.g., from Wikipedia: “the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.”) By contrast, in politics elitism tends (imo) to be used as a way to mobilize people who are thought to be culturally sensitive to the notion that other people (coastal types, well-educated types, etc.) see themselves as “better” in some way; and in food it seems that the definition of an elitist is someone whose six-pack of beer costs at least $1 more than your own.

    I wouldn’t be as curious about these terms or their use in everyday discourse if it weren’t for the fact that 21st century Americans seem to be extraordinarily sensitive to them and go out of their way to avoid being accused of either — while all the while, lobbing the terms at others with reckless abandon. I have to wonder whether a little conceptual clarity might be useful.

    #222199
    Coremodels
    Coremodels
    Participant

    :lol:

    When you’ve got a presidential election where one candidate, the one who doesn’t even know how many houses he owns, can suggest that his opponent is an elitist…you know this is about as vague a term as you can get.

    #222200

    funny you made this post

    i was talking to my husband about me being a snob/elitist

    and then i actually looked up what being an elitist is

    and i am most certainly just paticular!

    I don’t think everyone should have my views of opinions, i just know what mine are and am comfy with them and don’t need to be swayed…

    :D

    #222201

    Andrew Hall
    Member

    Bear wrote The third category of behavior — which I would call snobbish but Kate, I gather, wouldn’t –, involves arguing, even implicitly, that one’s own tastes are in fact the tastes to which all right-thinking people should subscribe. In this view White Castle hamburgers are objectively disgusting and no one in his or her right mind could disagree (a tough claim to make as long as you subscribe to the premise that tastes are subjective).

    There is another position which I tend toward. I seperate what I will “objectively*” consider to be better or best and what my preferences or desires are. It is more readily apparent in something like music – I will readily admit that opera or classical symphony is superior to pop music, but I mostly prefer to listen to the latter. Ditto food examples. I just don’t see a good reason why preferences have to be linked to rankings.

    * Obviously the word ‘objective’ is not being applied in the pure philosophical sense. What I am trying to capture is that preferences and likes can be purely subjective, but knowledge and expertise much less so. Appreciating classical music, to carry the example, is not an immediate thing and is linked to knowledge and expertise. I would lay odds that anyone who has sufficient of either will readily state ‘Mozart>Britney’. That statement doesn’t represent some mathematical truth, but is also a stronger statement than one of preference like ‘I like Mozart > Britney.’

    I recognize that the above is neither complete nor whole consistent. It is not a statement of deep philosophy but more my extremely general way of looking at things. It is no small part because I find the communication of preferences to be mostly worthless, but the more ‘objective’ language enables one to communicate on food, music, art, clothing, cars, etc far beyond the reach of one’s own preferences.

    A.

    #222202

    joev
    Participant

    I think snobbery is a byproduct of geekery. Geekery being having a higher than normal affinty toward something (ie, certain types of food, electronics, scooters, firearms, ice, etc.) Geekery requires both expendible income (to a smaller extent) and expendible time (to a greater extent), which not all people possess.

    Most people who spend a lot of time with, say Apple electronics, are very clear in why they like them and the overall awesomeness of the products because they’ve spent so much time experiencing them. Other people who are casually interested in electronics may purchase another brand based on price more than image, and might be ridiculed by Apple snobs.

    Same goes for whiskey (most people couldn’t tell a premium brand from a more prosaic bottle, but a whiskey snob would be embarassed to share the average bottle with another geek.

    Geekery on some level can be found in almost every person. Snobbiness is not apparent in everyone, just a subset of geeks who can’t separate from their own likes and dislikes enough to function among the non-initiated. Snobbiness is very easily detected, however, and is quite offputting to those who choose different things to geek out over.

    #222203

    Hael
    Member

    Bear quoting wikipedia wrote

    elitism: the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

    Having reviewed the above definition I believe that Obama’s statement about the working class culture which was said to a much wealthier audience was elitist.

    Obama wrote then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

    I think elitism is more of an attitude that one has and not so much a measure of the number of assets one possess. So, I imagine, arguments painting McCain an elitist will fail, in spite of him being richy rich.

    #222204

    blammo
    Participant

    Elitists are a pain in the ass to hang out with, but they usually have the best food & booze. Therefore I will always welcome the elitist contingent to my parties.

    #222205

    enzo
    Participant

    I do not like either and I think EGO out of check is the root cause of such behavior. Gosh, you can be the expert at whatever or have the most money or most uniuqe knowledge…whatever…Modesty and Humbleness and to be INCLUSIVE rather than EXCLUSIVE always wins in my book….UNIVERSAL CONSCIENCE.

    Snobs and Elitists are both delusional. It is something the mind created and the body follows. A chosen behavior not coming from a place of love but rather from a place that they have to have someone beneath them in order to feel superior and validate their “status”.

    #222206

    Bear
    Participant

    Hael wrote

    Bear quoting wikipedia wrote

    elitism: the belief or attitude that those individuals who are considered members of the elite — a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.

    Having reviewed the above definition I believe that Obama’s statement about the working class culture which was said to a much wealthier audience was elitist.

    Obama wrote then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

    I’m not actually clear on how, going strictly by the definition. I don’t see anything in what Obama said about taking views seriously, actions or views that are likely to be constructive to society, or fitness to govern. The full quote is,

    our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

    So, I’d be interested in elaboration.

    As an aside, I found the Wikipedia definition interesting because it made me wonder just how averse to the elitist label people really are. I mean, if you ask the question, “Do you think the people who run the country should have above-average skills, intelligence, and wisdom, or should they be average in all of those regards?”, I suspect most people would prefer that their leaders be above average. But they might be much more conflicted about signing on to that statement once it’s labeled an elitist sentiment.

    #222207

    joev
    Participant

    Bear wrote As an aside, I found the Wikipedia definition interesting because it made me wonder just how averse to the elitist label people really are. I mean, if you ask the question, “Do you think the people who run the country should have above-average skills, intelligence, and wisdom, or should they be average in all of those regards?”, I suspect most people would prefer that their leaders be above average. But they might be much more conflicted about signing on to that statement once it’s labeled an elitist sentiment.

    I agree, most Americans want to be led by people who are smarter than average. But those people, or “elites” if you will, mustn’t let us know if think they’re better than anyone else. The political psyche of this nation is based on Primus inter Pares.

    #222208

    Bear
    Participant

    Andrew Hall wrote There is another position which I tend toward. I seperate what I will “objectively*” consider to be better or best and what my preferences or desires are. It is more readily apparent in something like music – I will readily admit that opera or classical symphony is superior to pop music, but I mostly prefer to listen to the latter. Ditto food examples. I just don’t see a good reason why preferences have to be linked to rankings.

    * Obviously the word ‘objective’ is not being applied in the pure philosophical sense. What I am trying to capture is that preferences and likes can be purely subjective, but knowledge and expertise much less so. Appreciating classical music, to carry the example, is not an immediate thing and is linked to knowledge and expertise. I would lay odds that anyone who has sufficient of either will readily state ‘Mozart>Britney’. That statement doesn’t represent some mathematical truth, but is also a stronger statement than one of preference like ‘I like Mozart > Britney.’

    Which worries me… because reifying a collective, knowledge- and expertise-based preference for one thing over another as a proxy for objectivity tends to lead sooner or later to formulations like Bourdieu’s, in which all expressions of taste become instruments of class power. Which makes me want to puke.

    #222209

    dru
    Participant

    can you be elistist without having influence?

    if you look at the wiki definition, or think of terms like political elites, media elites, etc…it usually connotes some sort of sway in opinion.

    so if i were to say Olive Garden is disgusting and banal, i’d rather eat at Basi because it is independent and fresh. someone might declare that statement elitist, as i’ve obviously sided with smaller, original, and slightly more expensive option. but unless someone actually buys into my opinion, am I actually elitist?

    #222210

    joev
    Participant

    dru wrote can you be elistist without having influence?

    if you look at the wiki definition, or think of terms like political elites, media elites, etc…it usually connotates some sort of sway in opinion.

    so if i were to say Olive Garden is disgusting and banal, i’d rather eat at Basi because it is independent and fresh. someone might declare that statement elitist, as i’ve obviously sided with smaller, original, and slightly more expensive option. but unless someone actually buys into my opinion, am I actually elitist?

    Yes, I think a person who is elitist without being an elite is just called a snob.

    #222211

    enzo
    Participant

    I think it is in the delivery and intention behind the opinion…is it said with love or said with the intent to make someone feel less than you?

    #222212

    dru
    Participant

    joev wrote

    dru wrote can you be elistist without having influence?

    if you look at the wiki definition, or think of terms like political elites, media elites, etc…it usually connotates some sort of sway in opinion.

    so if i were to say Olive Garden is disgusting and banal, i’d rather eat at Basi because it is independent and fresh. someone might declare that statement elitist, as i’ve obviously sided with smaller, original, and slightly more expensive option. but unless someone actually buys into my opinion, am I actually elitist?

    Yes, I think a person who is elitist without being an elite is just called a snob.

    okay, but again using the OG vs Basi statement above, does it then matter if one uses first person (I) to make the statement, and never invokes the second person (You), does that make it elitist or snobby?

    it’s not saying nobody should eat there, it’s not saying anyone is wrong for eating there, it’s stating an individual preference that isn’t cast further upon anyone. or would my thoughts on banality automatically accuse the second person?

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