Andrew Stuttaford links to a piece by Brendan O’Neill that puts into a pithy phrase the thing that just crawls under my skin and irritates at a low grade burn most of the time, but erupts into a volcanic flame periodically. Its the “stinging snobbery” that is so completely insufferable.
This reveals the stinging snobbery at the heart of the politics of global warming. Because what we have here is an updated version of the elitist idea that the better classes have access to a profound and complicated truth that the rest of us cannot grasp. Where we have merely sensory reactions (experience), they have reason and analysis (knowledge). Our critical reaction to the snow actually revealed our failure to understand The Truth, as unveiled by The Science, rather than revealing their wrongheadedness in predicting an ‘end to snow’. We are ‘simple’, they are ‘reasoned’
Reading O’Neill this morning reminded me of a couple of long pieces that Ace of Spades put up a couple of days ago one of which included a youtube clip from Penn Gilette of Penn and Teller fame. The other one was about marxism and class consciousness in Victorian London.
in both of these posts, Ace is getting to the heart of the reason behind the “stinging snobbery” observed by Brendan O’Neill. There is a very basic need in humans to feel like they are superior to other humans.
Here is how Ace puts it in the longer post of the two:
If people typically heard the beliefs of other inarguable elites, perhaps there wouldn’t be this bias in people’s minds that liberalism represents the beliefs of the smart set. If people heard what engineers had to say, if engineers were on Letterman as much as Brian Friggin’ Williams, perhaps their subconscious notion of the “elite” way of looking at things would change. But they don’t hear from engineers. They just hear from David Letterman, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, and other, um, non-elites who just happen to be paid a king’s ransom and be on tv all the frickin’ time because that’s their job, to fill up the space between commercials. Even when other elites are featured on tv — they tend to be ones expressing the same ideas as the media. Al Gore gets on Letterman to talk up global warming, but Freeman Dyson — an actual brilliant scientist — doesn’t get to say that he thinks global warming is overstated, half-baked, most-likely-wrong poppycock. Science popularizer Carl Sagan is on every network to talk about his “Nuclear Winter” theory, but father of the hydrogen bomb Edward Teller doesn’t get to say that’s all a bunch of well-meaning made-up political “science.”
I’m not really an elitist (tell a lie– most people are, in their own way, and so am I) but I understand the need for it. People are people. They are insecure in their position and they want to feel special. Inclusion in some sort of “elite” (even if that elite exists almost entirely in their own minds — KKK guys are pretty arrogant about how brave they are for seeing the truth about race relations, for example) is a little indulgence in self-flattery most people succumb to.
So I understand how many otherwise-sensible people become liberals. They aspire to be something more; they want to feel special; they want to be part of the “better” sort of group of people. That’s elitism, sure, but that’s the sort of elitism that most people harbor, even if secretly.
And 90% of the time when they see members of a professions’ elite, they see liberals, because 90% of their exposure to people outside their actual first-hand acquaintances is from tv and magazines and TMZ. And all those elites spout the same party line, so people can be forgiven for thinking that is, in fact, the “elite” way to view the world.
But it’s not. It’s just the way the elite members of a single profession think. But that’s the one profession they hear from, day in, day out. So when they cast about for their models of behavior and thought, those are the only ones most people even have the option of choosing.
and here is how he puts it in the shorter post:
But maybe there’s a bigger reason Kaus’ book didn’t generate much of a movement, apart from some respectful reveiws: Are liberals really interested in that? I’m not suggesting just that social equality is a lower priority for them than Kaus would urge. I’m suggesting that to many liberals, the whole idea of social equality is a bad thing, something they’re actively against. Because, I submit, it’s particularly critical to many liberals, to their sense of self-valuation, that they are in fact apart from, and above, the Common.
So what do you think? I think I am sick and tired of a bunch of know it all do gooders telling me that I have to eat live and think a certain way or be considered a racist xenophobe outside the boundaries of decent society. I am sick and tired of the “stinging snobbery” heaped on us by our supposed betters. I am sick and tired of the president and his wife along with the democrats in Congress telling us what is good for us and that we are going to get it whether we want it or not.
I think that my frustration with the “stinging snobbery” is shared by a lot of people in the country. I think that frustration benefitted the Republicans in this last election.
But here is the thing. Republicans are susceptible to exactly the same human disease that just hurt the democrats so badly. There is the temptation to begin thinking that you are smarter than other people and that you care about things more than they do, so you should just run the show whether the other people like it or not. There is the tendency to denigrate “the people” as unthinking and out of touch because they don’t truly appreciate your brilliant caring magnificence.
As long as the Federal Government and its agencies have as much power and control as they have, then such questions of human nature regarding the people in charge will continue to matter a very great deal. The only way to limit the damage is to decrease the scope of central governmental power over our lives.
I take it as axiomatic that the closer power is held to the people being governed, the more likely that the people being governed can smell the hubris arising in their leaders and effectively do something about it by dressing them down in person or by replacing them in office.
When a city council person or school district representative, or even a state legislator has to go to a sunday school class, rotary club meeting, or lions club meeting, or boy scout campout or whatever else they are involved in and face up close on a regular basis the people who he represents and for whom he purports to speak at council meetings, school district meetings or in the house of representatives, then two salutary things have the possibility of occurring. Number one, the council member will realize that people are generally pretty able to run their own lives and make their own decisions in their own best interest. And number two the people being governed can closely monitor the representative for any sign of the rise of any “stinging snobbery” and puncture the balloon before it gets overly inflated.
Personally, the gospel is the thing that punctures my incipient pride balloon quite effectively most of the time. Knowing Romans 5:6, 5:8, prevents me from thinking that God was after anything of value in me when he sent Jesus to die for me. Knowing John 6:44 and 6:65 and Ephesians 2:1-10 prevents me from thinking that anything in me deserves credit for seeking him.
Take a look at Ephesians 2:1-10 with me for a minute.
[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
We were dead and without hope, naturally objects of God’s wrath. But God because of his great mercy and love reached down to us in all of our deadness and made us alive to be part of his family. There was no work of ours justifying this action on the part of God.
It just seems to me like a heavy and repeated dose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best antidote for the creeping inexorable growth of pride in my heart that could if unchecked lead to the “stinging snobbery” that I so despise.
Again, what do you think?