Are you (or, am I) an elitist? Is that okay?

Today in a conversation with a couple of coworkers, it came up that Ireland is an island. (I know that sounds like a weird discussion point, but it made sense in context.) My coworker expressed amazement over this, and said that she thought Ireland was in Europe. I guess my face expressed what I was thinking (“WTF?!?!”), and my other coworker said, to cheer her up, “Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know that either.”

For a few moments there, I was just incredulous that my two coworkers were that ignorant of geography. Then I felt begin to feel bad about that. I’m not superior to them because I know that Ireland is an island, am I? Somewhere, someone could be mocking my ignorance of quantum physics.* OTOH, knowledge that Ireland is an island is probably a lot more widespread than how quantum physics works. Is there a line?

Anyway, what do you think? Are you an elitist? Am I? Is that okay? Absolve me, okay? I feel kinda bad about how I reacted.

[sub]*This is not, despite how the people on my LJ friends list read a similar post, a plea for recommendations on books on quantum physics. Although if you have any particularly good recommendations, my email’s in my profile.[/sub]

Not sure where to draw the line between an elitist and a well informed and educated person but I’m going to suggest that knowing basic geography is not that line.

You are not an elitist. However, your coworkers may very well be dumbasses.

I am elitist. I believe that some books, some music, some movies, are better than others. I think that, while people can certainly have personal tastes, that some things are better is not opinion but fact. When I say “James Joyce is a better writer than Laurell Hamilton,” I am not expressing a personal opinion, I am making a statement of truth. This value is separate from the personal opinion by which I own and enjoy books by both writers, but even while I enjoy them, I can tell which is superior.

I am also elitist in that I think that some people are better than others. I think that every human life is of enormous value, but when my student accuses me of thinking I’m better than him, I have to think, yes, I am. I worked very very hard to improve myself, and after all that work, it would be rather sad if I weren’t better than you. Work hard, my son, and one day you may be better than me. I also think that Toni Morrison and Sandra Day O’Connor are better than me. Because I am an elitist, I’m always trying to better myself, to work my way higher on the invisible ladder of worth.

Lots of people make accusations of elitism when they’re feeling embarrassed of being ignorant, and decide that they shouldn’t have to be ashamed to be ignorant. If you’re ignorant of something, you don’t have to feel shame, but you should try to become less ignorant, once it’s drawn to your attention. Your co-worker’s correct response, if she were an elitist like me, should have been ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ and then to go home and look at an atlas, where she would learn that not only Ireland but also England, Sicily, and Madagascar are islands.

Alas, because your friend is not an elitist, she will very likely never be wiser than she is now.

I don’t think you’re an elitist. It’s not elitism to assume a certain basic level of education in a coworker. If a person who was raised in poverty and never had a chance to get an education didn’t know that Ireland was an island, and you snooted at that person, that would be an elitist attitude, IMHO. There’s nothing elitist in expecting a high school graduate to know a simple fact of geography.

It’s okay to feel the way you do, but your instincts are good. You have to hide your reaction sometimes to spare people’s feelings.

A very long time ago, a new coworker (I’ll called her “D”) overheard a discussion I was having with someone in which I mentioned that my mother was Irish - that she’d been born in Dublin. D asked “What’s Dublin?” It wasn’t that she didn’t know that Dublin was a city in Ireland - she’d never heard of the place. It was hard, but I think we avoided making her feel bad when we explained.

I did use D’s general cluelessness about general information to win a bet a bit later, though. Another co-worker (“K”) was into trivia questions. She’d catch the last few minutes of Jeopardy! every day and pass along the final jeopardy question to a few of us who were interested. Maybe there were 4 or 5 of us. We probably knew the answer more often than not.

One day, someone commented that a lot of people would seldom (if ever) know the answer to her daily question. K (very smart, but a bit naive) expressed surprise at this statement. Somebody else (this might have been me) agreed with the first comment, and said that there were a lot of people who wouldn’t have a clue about basic facts, like when Columbus discovered America. Discussion and a wager followed. (The standard bet was a nickel.) I suggested D as the test subject, with an agreement that any answer within 100 years of the correct answer would be acceptable.

Then we realized that we had a problem. How do we ask the question without embarrassing D if she got it wrong? We nearly gave up on the bet, but then we realized that anyone who didn’t know the answer wouldn’t realize that it was too simple to be a real Jeopardy question, so it was presented in that way. (It was common knowledge K passed along Jeopardy questions.)

D didn’t know. IIRC, she guessed a year in the 1800’s. (I’m not trying to paint D as especially clueless. Rather the opposite. I think that there are a lot of people like D, or the co-workers in the OP, and if you don’t realize it, you can inadvertently make them feel bad. No danger of that here, though.)

And if she were REALLY good at reading atlases, she would realize that England is NOT an island, rather, it’s a country on the island whose name is (I believe) Britain, which, along with Wales and Scotland (also on Britain) and Northern Ireland make up the nation state of the UK.

(See? You’re hardly the only elitist :slight_smile: )

(And I used to think that the COUNTRY was Madagascar, but the ISLAND was Malagasy. Some googling could not definitively resolve that either way, however…)

Dang, you’re right. Thanks for correcting me, and I’ll try to remember not to make the same error again.

(See? That’s how an ELITIST deals with being correctly corrected!)

I’m an elitist and a snob–not to be confused with being a racist or a bigot. To me, being an elitist snob merely means having high standards and not wishing to compromise them.

Of course, one must always make others comfortable and not hurt peoples’ feelings, which means that while you may think your coworkers are a gaggle of ill-bred yahoos, it would be poor form to let them know you think this.

That’s what I figured. I’m not that good at hiding my reaction, unfortunately. Must work on that. You’d think I’ve had enough practice…this is the same office where someone once asked me what state Washington, D.C. is in.

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Everybody knows that.

I’m not sure if I am or not. I like opera, but I also like country music and headbanger rock. I like the classic literature but I also like comics books. I lime premiom beers and single malt Scotch, but have been known to drink a 40 ounce of cheap swill too. So on and so on. But, sometimes during a conversation with various co-workers I find myself thinking “Damn yer a stupid bastard”. Is that elitist?

But Columbus didn’t discover America! It was discovered lloonngg before he arrived first by what became the American Indians and then by the Vikings. So in that sense you would have been wrong too. :smiley: Does that make me elitist?

I actually had an argument with a coworker on Columbus Day about this fact. She was whining that we had to work on Columbus Day, and I told her I didn’t want to celebrate a genocidal maniac, and besides, he didn’t discover America anyway. She absolutely refused to believe me. My point that the Indians were already here was lost on her. Her husband is a history buff, though, so she went home and asked him his opinion.

He agreed with me, so I won the argument in her eyes.

Coincidentally, she’s the sister-in-law of the second coworker (the one who cheered up the first coworker) in the OP. And it’s her brother who’s the history buff.

Well, I’m probably more of a complete misanthrope than an elitist. I don’t care if people don’t know history or geography, but if people don’t care that they don’t care I look down my nose at them.

I have a big thing with people. A lot of people aren’t even trying and I wish they’d fuck off.

You’re not superior to them, you’re just less ignorant. Expecting someone to know that Ireland is an island is not the same as being a snob, nor is it the same as expecting someone to know about quantum physics. You already know the difference, you don’t need us to confirm it. :slight_smile:

I think that what you describe is arrogance, not elitism. It’s not elitist to “know” that Joyce is a better writer than Hamilton; elitism would be not admitting that you’re familiar with Hamilton’s writing (or simply not being familiar with her at all, because of her mass appeal). “Stating a truth” that one subjective thing is better than another subjective thing, or that you are better than someone just because you have achieved more, is simple arrogance, I think.

(I’m really not trying to be insulting: you described yourself, I just think you used the wrong word because “elitist” sounds nicer than “arrogant.” Or you think that they mean the same thing. I can’t tell.)

Admitting to --and then remedying – one’s own ignorance has nothing to do with elitism. An elitist would have immediately pretended that she did, in fact, know the information, and was kidding the whole time. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything…

Actually, I think that’s pedantic, not elitist (you know, pedantic like I’m being in this post). :smiley:

Aren’t they the same thing?

I’m beginning to think that everyone else is working from a different definition of “elitist” than I am… :frowning:

Nah, sometimes that’s just honest. :slight_smile:

See “pedantic” above. :wink:

Now that’s the right word! :smiley: :wink:

I suppose I’m not an elitist if I’m supposed to feel superior because I know more about geography than another person. My fiance probably doesn’t even know where Ireland is. He only attended first and second grade so it’s not surprising.

Then again he’s mastered three languages and could build a house on his own.

Maybe the people you were dealing with weren’t so great with geography, but have other skills that beat you. :wink:

I think I am, yes. I do as much as I can to avoid being a snob, but I know I’m smarter than most people. In recent years, I’ve done elitist things like in favor of the Supreme Court should decide certain issues, and saying it’s a positive that the Constitution is set up to keep America’s laws from changing too fast.
It’s elitist, but I’m at peace with it. I don’t think everybody’s equally good at everything. This site’s put-up-or-shut-up attitude probably encourages elitism.

It’s not elitist to expect people to have a basic level of competence. Not expecting basic competence, if it becomes standard, brings the entire collapse of the civilization in question. You are doing your best to prevent the downfall of what has taken thousands of years to build up.

Crap, FisherQueen, I’m sorry: when I wrote

I didn’t mean “you think they mean the same thing” in a “Jane, you ignorant slut” kind of way. I meant it in a “maybe when you say ‘elitist’ you mean a kind of arrogance,” way, because I seemed to be the only one in the thread using “elitist” as a synonym for “snob.”

It’s bad enough that it sounds like I’m accusing you of arrogance, I didn’t mean to compound it by implying that you didn’t know what the words “elitist” and “arrogant” meant (I’ve seen other posts of yours, and one thing you ain’t is ignorant) – I was just questioning how we were each using them.

Hopefully I didn’t just make things worse… :smack:

Reminds me of one of my favorite Carlin quotes: