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America needs more elitists

Did you know there’s a difference between elitists and snobs? I’m not sure I ever reconciled these two definitions in my head until recently. You can be one, or the other, or both.

An elitist is someone who wants the best of something or lots of things. Elitists demand excellence or perfection of something or someone for the benefit of themselves and others because they know it’s objectively better.

A snob is someone who wants the best of something so they can look down on others who do not have it. Snobs are selfish and seek some hifalutin thing for their own benefit and to show off that others don’t have it.

Some examples to help define elitists and snobs

Coffee, wine, and food are easy things to help define with elitism and snobbishness.

  • A person who refuses to drink gas station coffee because they only want fresh-roasted single cup pour-overs is an elitist.
  • A person who refuses to drink gas station coffee and thinks those who do are terrible people and gas station coffee should be banished is a snob.

The stakes are relatively low with coffee. So what about a car?

  • A person who drives a Tesla because because they enjoy its forward-thinking design, engine, and power source is an elitist. They may like some or all of these things because of brand affinity or genuine, objective measures against, say, a Prius.
  • A person who drives a Tesla and refuses any other electrical vehicle might be a snob. And someone who thinks anyone still driving gas-powered cars is awful, terrible, dumb, or spending their money the wrong way is certainly a snob.

Everyone regardless of their station in life is an elitist about some things and perhaps snobbish about others. iPhone vs. Android is another such example. And we all know a person who refuses to drink anything but Diet Coke. In that context, the person who refuses to drink other beverages might be a snob. And some who will shrug their shoulders at the inability of a Diet Cook and switch to water instead are likely elitists.

We should embrace elitism

This notion of elitism gets a bad rap, probably from the Fox News crowd. The notion being elitists are inherently also snobs and look down on people in rural areas for one reason or another. And they probably got that way because of their advanced education, training, worldly experiences, etc.

Somewhere along the line this got confused for a bad thing, despite millions of people making elitist decisions all the time.

For one, if all you’ve ever had is gas station coffee and then you travel one day and discover coffee from another part of the world, or different types of brews, you might change your mind because you gathered new information. You may still prefer gas station coffee, but undoubtedly most people, given the choice, will choose something not gas station coffee.

Two, even people who deride “elites” are, themselves, likely to be making some choices in their lives like the cities they live in, neighborhoods within those cities, and the schools their children go to. Suddenly a lot of people get real elitist real fast when faced with what school their offspring are going to attend.

It’s worth noting a lot of people fall somewhere in the middle or bottom of things. They don’t really care about a lot of things and “80% is always good enough, all the time, forever.” Maybe that’s okay. But in a hyper-competitive world, I question if that strategy works well all the time.

Much of America seems to be in a state that follows the “elitism is bad” way of thinking. But I can’t help but notice a lot of people in suburban corners of Indianapolis and other metro areas who seem to be making the choice, “I want to be in a place with the best parks, best possible schools, and best amenities.” For most people in most states, that’s a suburb.

Some people might argue “amenities” is broad, and it is. But saying someone in a “real city” has access to one or two really great Mexican restaurants, vague notions of “diversity”, or hand waving about “culture” likely miss the mark. Those are all things you do once or a few times a year or don’t really impact you day-to-day. Schools, roads, parks, trails, trash pickup, etc. are all things you see, use, and experience every day. That adds up, and reasonable people recognize that.

I thought about this as we came back in from Ohio and drive into Indy. A thought that I had been wrestling with for several months hit me harder: “This place is just ugly.” There is yet another gas station going in down the street, I’m sure with the intent of selling junk food more than fuel. The abandoned strip mall is still an ugly, blighted eyesore some ten years and counting now.

I know it’s uncouth to say a place is bad, or point out that things like pawn shops, gas stations, and dollar stores are “tacky”. But like gas station coffee, there are far better things out there. If that makes me elitist, so be it. If that makes me a snob, I don’t intend to offend — but it’s a hard truth to ignore.

The problem is likely mine to bear. Indiana is what is and is led by who its led by as a result of 200 years of culture, politicking, and development. Same for Indianapolis. Other states and communities are who they are for the same reason.

But it’s getting hard to find solace knowing there are places composed of people who have a much higher bar for their elected leaders, their communities, and themselves. “No, we won’t leave trash and needles on the ground,” and “No, we won’t shoot bullets or throw things at houses to see what happens,” is the lowest of low bars.

Living elsewhere evidently all comes with trade offs—and money—for sure. I just can’t help but think a culture shift that embraces elitism and the pursuit of better, not just bigger might make all of us better off.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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