Railing against “elites” has become a big trend amongst extremists on both the right and left. However, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
A notion has embedded itself in global and local politics over the last couple of years. That notion is compressed into the word “elite”. It has equal purchase across the political spectrum from the far right to the far left, from the mainstream to the fringe. Everyone is against the elite: activists, union leaders, bloggers, journalists and, of course, the commentariat in mainstream and social media.
However it came about, “elite” is now a term of abuse, shorthand for whoever is responsible for whatever has gone wrong over the past decade – social, financial, political, environmental, medical and whatever you’re having yourself. And all political upheavals, including Brexit and Trump, are explained as a global revolt against the arrogant and out-of-touch elite.
But there are many revolts against many elites! Which one is anyone revolting against? Surely not all! Don’t we want our sportspeople to be elite?
And aren’t some of those who are in revolt members of one elite or another themselves? Are they up in arms because of the failure of an elite to which they belong, or because they themselves have been frustrated in their own elite ambitions?
For example, aren’t those who attend our prestigious universities part of an elite at home and abroad? Indeed, notwithstanding our self-identification as global underdogs, when measured against much of the world, the Irish are themselves members of a first world elite. Journalists and commentators are an elite too and it’s ironic that so many of them appear unaware of their privileged status.
Shallowness Is Easy
Of course, a word’s meaning can mutate if it gathers additional connotations and associations. According to the online Oxford dictionary, “elite” derives from the French word élite, which means selection or choice, from élire ‘to elect’. That dictionary defines an elite as, “A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.”
But crucially it adds a subsidiary definition: “A group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society, especially on account of their wealth or privilege”, and gives as an example of this usage: ‘the silent majority were looked down upon by the liberal elite’.
Isn’t this latter how we use the term now? But it wasn’t always thus – and its application, and the view of elites, varies. A guest here on Hog Heights once met a senior Government official from Croatia, not long after the last Balkan war ended. According to the Croatian, the biggest problem they faced in establishing their new state was the lack of expertise in government, economics and administration. She said their priority was the creation of an elite to lead and manage the country towards maturity.
Our Irish friend protested that elites were not a good idea and that they should proceed with caution. But the Croatian woman looked at her as though she had two heads. Without an expert elite, she replied, they were doomed to failure.
The kind of elite she had in mind is not unlike our own public service. It encompasses experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, special skills, continuity and so on. Are these bad attributes? Surely it’s only when they malfunction that they should be opposed. And yes, that happens. Look at the chaos of our health system or the past and present dysfunctional issues in An Garda Síochána.
Or is it that we think, as many in the USA seem to, that we should keep going back to zero, deleting all institutional and corporate knowledge? Hard right and libertarian ideologists in the USA talk of the “deep state”, the nameless bureaucrats and security services who, they say, constitute a separate and unaccountable government divorced from the wishes of elected public officials or the electorate. But, as David Rothkopf argues in the online journal Foreign Policy, while this may be problematic, and certain Dublin City Council officials are certainly a case in point, it pales into insignificance beside the growth of its antithesis, what he calls the “shallow state”.
Its influence is growing and is, he says, “scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition and shared values but (also) celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things.”
Its proponents skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.
Ultra Rich Elite
It’s immediately recognisable and the risk of our own shallow state is very real. Nowadays most people get their news from the internet or social media. Everyone cherry-picks. The average visit to a news website is a few minutes. We need to dig deeper. We must be more discriminating. You know, there’s a super yacht named Quintessentially 1 being built by a consortium. The co-founder and chairman decided to do it after finding it difficult to cater to rich clients when they all congregated at glamour events like the Monaco Grand Prix. It will travel the world, he says, to where the wealthy want to go and be seen. A room will cost £2,000 a night.
Or there are the Candy brothers, Nick and Christian, two British billionaires, who moved their business offshore because they were “not prepared to pay any tax”, according to their former colleague Mark Holyoake. Penthouses in one of their schemes in London cost up to £140m each.
And Indonesia’s four richest men own as much wealth as the country’s poorest 100 million citizens.
That sounds like the worst kind of elite to me. And the horrible irony is that the anti-elitist right is refashioning the world in a way that further enriches and insulates this boorish ultra-rich elite, while at the same time corroding and dismantling the necessary elites of public service. Worse still, their grand project is being helped by cynical manoeuvres on the left.
As I say, we need to dig deeper.
Sadly, it is just one among many forces that are driving the world towards a scary place. No wonder optimism is currently in short supply…Read More
Leaked details of American government surveillance suggest we are not as far removed from the era of the KGB and Stasi as we’d like to think...Read More
As revelations about the US National Security Agency’s covert surveillance confirm, the digital world is one in which everything you do can be traced – by the State and corporations alike…Read More
The bombing of the Boston Marathon was a senseless act of violence. But what was the rationale behind it?Read More
That is the conclusion offered by Ben Goldacre in Bad Pharma. It is just one more reason to re-examine the illogic of the War On Drugs...Read More
Fundamentalist religious intolerance is on the rise in Nigeria, the USA, Pakistan and points beyond...Read More
Good old Keef’s autobiography is every bit as entertaining and enlightening as you might expect. Even more entertaining, though, is the turmoil which has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in recent weeks...Read More
The latest round of mobile phone scare stories shows what happens when bad science conspires with lazy journalism.Read More
There has been a rush to eulogise the late Brian Lenihan – and rightly so. The truth is that he was a decent politician handed the most poisoned chalice in the history of the StateRead More
Political upheaval inevitably creates a wave of refugees and the Arab uprisings have proved no different. The real is question is, how should Europe respond to the human rights tragedy on its doorstep?Read More
A general election looms – but what shape will the new Government take? And will real reforms to our political life follow?Read More
Ireland has been plunged into unprecedented financial turmoil. Well, with Christmas on the way, it's time for the bond holders to take their share of the pain...Read More
The fightback against Ireland's financial mismanagement may have startedRead More
Hallowe’en is a time of monsters, ghosts and ghouls. Except that this year, we didn’t have to make ‘em up...Read More
The leadership and comradeship demonstrated by the Chilean miners are sorely lacking in Ireland at the moment.Read More
Our worst fears have come true – the bankers have bankrupted Ireland for a generation. What to do now? Well for one thing, let’s stop despairing. And when the next election comes around, be prepared to make your vote count...Read More
Our columnist reflects on the little-reported matter of the Taoiseach’s appearance on Morning Ireland...Read More
Why the Icelandic Volcano is the Perfect Metaphor for our AgeRead More
Why the arts sector may well provide the key to Ireland’s economic renewal.Read More
The latest revelations about the failure of the State to protect vulnerable children underlines the fact that we need to start finding solutions.Read More
Our columnist on why anti-intellectualism is rife in Ireland.Read More
What the continued presence of the Angelus on our airwaves says about secularism in modern Ireland...Read More
As well as forcing Ireland to reassess its attitude towards Europe, the second Lisbon referendum was a reminder of just how nasty British euroskeptics such as UKIP really areRead More
The economy may be swirling down the plughole, but Ireland has a rich history of entrepreneurship. We need to build on this.Read More
Centres Of Excellence may seem like a good idea – but access is a fundamental consideration in cancer care and other health issues...Read More
There is a lot wrong with the report from An Bord Snip Nua. In particular, it reflects a complete ignorance of the importance of art.Read More
There's been no lack of scandals rocking this country in recent years – but does that justify the huge outpourings of hysteria in the media recently? And just what is the difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?Read More
It is right that the religious should have to pay for the appalling actions of their members, and the cover-ups for which the religious bosses were responsible. But we should not forget the part that the State played.Read More
As fiscal Armageddon looms, the Irish Government is faced with tough choices. In considering its options, it would do well to remember the lessons to be learned from past experience – in particular the fact that the Poll Tax marked the beginning of the end for Margaret ThatcherRead More
The issue of how best to raise money for the country’s depleted coffers is a vexing one.Read More
The world economy is crumbling, but while other countries are overturning inept governments, we’re doing what we’re best at: moaning to anyone who will listen.Read More
Will the election of Barack Obama to the White House usher in a new era of peace and global harmony? Or is there a danger we are pinning too much hope on the shoulders of one man?Read More
...Or at least it does where Halloween is concerned, as the old pagan feast is transformed into an orgy of amateur pyrotechnics, civil disobedience and open-air boozing.Read More
Our economy is caught in the eye of the storm and the global financial system teeters on the brink. How long will the recession last and how will Ireland fare?Read More
The global economic meltdown of the past fortnight is a ruinous consequence of Ronald Reagan's '80s crusade against regulation. The question now is: where will it end?Read More
Having spent decades trying to cast off the legacy of colonialism are we now in danger of being sucked into the anglosphere at the cost of our European identity?Read More
The most yawnful month of the year is upon us, but thankfully politics and sport are keeping the flame alight: the games have already begun.Read More
The twin spectres of recession and emigration may loom large, but that's no reason for the media to make things worse by indulging in gross exaggerationRead More
The Lisbon Treaty makes unlikely bedfellows of left and right. So what are we to read into this?Read More
It's been good to know ya. He had his faults, but there was a lot to like about the Taoiseach. And the fact that he was central to achieving peace in the North will be a lasting legacy.Read More
There'll be plenty of time to grow old and boring later. If you're not engaged in honest, direct, idealistic political activity while you're young, there's something badly wrong....Read More
With Archbishop Diarmuid Martin seeking to undo much of the harm and distrust caused by his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, could we at last be seeing a change in the Church's attitude to victims of sexual abuse?Read More
While An Taoiseach insists that being presented with thousands of pounds in a suitcase by shady businessmen is completely ‘normal’, the rest of us have our doubts.Read More
Contrary to anti-immigrant mythology, England’s Browns, Smiths and Taylors still outnumber the Singhs, Hussains and Ali’s.Read More
Would illegal Roma immigrants be treated differently if they were Nigerian or Somali? Are economic refugees suffering from a rose-tinted view of life in Ireland?Read More
There are few, if any, people who remain unconvinced that Joe O’Reilly was responsible for the brutal murder of his wife Rachel.Read More
Last year’s bumper harvest of Afghan opium is about to hit our shores. Meanwhile, cocaine’s popularity in Ireland rises to unprecedented levels.Read More
It’s a different world than it used to be! In this special extended birthday column, The Hog takes a necessarily selective – and typically colourful – look at the 30 most important influences on the process of change that has brought this country all the way from there to… well, where else but here?Read More
Now the votes have been counted and the losers have dried their tears, The Hog wonders what the whole thing means.Read More
With elections this year on both sides of the border, maybe the only antidote is, literally, a breath of fresh air.Read More
Europe shivers and draws its blankets tight around itself. Is global warming becoming too obvious to ignore?Read More
Bird ‘flu, bogmen and Armageddon. Business as usual on Planet Earth AD '06. Only more so.Read More
The fall of the Republican party in the US has been hailed as good news, but perhaps we should not be too optimistic about what the future holds as the Democrats prepare to take over Capitol Hill.Read More
The Israeli army has deliberately targeted civilians in Lebanon and behaved like a terrorist gang. Their excuses will only convince the terminally gullible.Read More
Surveillance technology can apprehend but not comprehend. Who’s watching the watchers?Read More
The chattering classes express revulsion at Young Ireland's spitting, shouting and shagging, but their piety masks a disgust at anything youthful and working class.Read More
For the most part, St. Patrick's Day festivities in Ireland went off without undue hassle. But Official Ireland still got itself into a lather.Read More
The continuing influx of immigrants into Ireland means that our old ideas of national identity are becoming increasingly redundant.Read More
The continuing influx of immigrants into Ireland means that our old ideas of national identity are becoming increasingly redundant.Read More
The recent arrest of eight republican activists marks a hugely significant watershed in recent Irish history.Read More
Peace in the North will remain impossible until Gerry Adams and co. cease their continual distortion of the facts.Read More
After the Northern Bank Heist, the climate has changed and other parties are now putting it up to the Shinners.Read More
Former ministers under pressure; decentralisation a non-starter; the guards in the dock – no wonder Charlie McCreevey has fled to Europe.Read More
the crackdown on fibber magee’s once again proves that the goverenment has got its priorities completely wrong.Read More
Despite how the result of the citizenship referendum has been interpreted by some, ireland is not a racist society. but we do need some calm and honest discussion about immigration.Read More
Michael McDowell and co’s recent referendum prompted our columnist to analyse what exactly we mean when we talk about citizenship.Read More
Back in the days of the Wild West, Judge Roy Bean presided over his court as ‘the law west of the Pecos’. Rough and ready, and largely self-taught, his constituency included chancers, fleeing miscreants, vagabonds, thieves, murderers as well as homesteaders and frontier entrepreneurs.Read More
One of the few people who might be happier at the end of the year than the beginning is Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf who was the Iraqi regime’s spin-doctor and publicist during the war.Read More
This was the year that a lot of frustration boiled over, steaming and fuming and effing to high heaven. A major target was the LUAS, Dublin’s answer to a question that’s out of date and wasn’t being asked anyway, a white elephant generated by people who were besotted with the idea that trams are, to quote Frank McDonald of the Irish Times, ‘civilising’.Read More
The Great Chat-Show War didn’t quite turn out to be the promised Mother of All Battles. Although in some ways it did: like Saddam’s first war, it was all over in less than a 100 days.Read More
For once, and don’t hold your breath for the future, we had a really brilliant summer. Couldn’t have been better. What would ya be going to Spain for, sure isn’t this even better? It was just mighty.Read More
There are those who argue that the best that Northern Ireland can hope for is dreariness. They’ll have been disappointed this year, so. It’s been grim instead, and right from the off.Read More
The Coalition blitzkrieg on Iraq is part of a wider “war on terror.” says George Bush. To justify this claim, he and Tony Blair made one feeble attempt at being as hard on the causes of terror as on terror itself, when they collaborated with the UN, the EU and Russia to publish what they called the Middle East ‘road map’.Read More
How intolerant can we become? It’s a challenging question. We have already become one of the least tolerant and aggressive societies on earth. Few can compete. But 2003 witnessed an upsurge in control culture. This is especially the case in ‘official’ circles. There are six causes.Read More
Having been returned triumphantly to office in 2002, Bertie Ahern might have expected things to rock gently along this year. But instead, he’s been through a mincer and it’s not over yet.Read More
Portents of war came thick and fast. The US ordered 11,000 desert-trained troops to the Gulf region in January. Let the spin commence.Read More
The Whole Hog and other regular Hot Press columnists, look back on a year in which, with some notable exceptions, the message seemed to be – up yours.Read More
The survival of the Good Friday Agreement hangs by a thread following last week’s assembly elections.Read More
Never one to shirk a challenge. The Whole Hog attempts to tackle the question which has perplexed many a theologian over the millenia. DoesRead More
With the Celtic Tiger years an increasingly distant memory, dissatisfaction at how Bertie Ahern’s administration has has handled the economic downturn is growing by the day.Read More
The Irish health system and our attitude to the disabled desperately needs a rethinkRead More
That’s Northern European Protestant by the way. And it’s what we newly godless people are turning into as we increasingly take our moral cues from the nanny stateRead More
The great and the good have imagined a new Ireland. Now it’s our turnRead More
After Saddam, are Syria and Iran next?Read More
How the war on Iraq just might signify the sun setting on the westRead More
The Iraq war boils down to two undemocratically elected leaders going toe to toeRead More
With St. Patrick’s day on the horizon, the vexed question of what it means to be Irish once again comes to the fore.Read More
There may be growing opposition to the impending war in Iraq, but the British and American governments seem unwilling to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes.Read More
Neutrality, being less demanding than pacifism seems to mean whatever we want it to mean. But, argues, The Whole Hog, if we are totally opposed to war it behoves us to find other ways to help liberate the people of IraqRead More
The media reaction to Tim Allen’s sentencing shows we have simply replaced one outdated moral order for another argues The Hog.Read More
Are we still able to see the wood for the trees?Read More