Are you reading this column over lattes at Starbucks? If so, then you are almost certainly a member of the Elites - the social class that Stephen Harper, Rob Ford, and Tea Partiers love to dump on. The anti-elite backlash is running high these days, because an awful lot of people think that the Elites (that's you, latte-lass) are arrogant and out of touch. The anti-anti-elite backlash is also strong, because an awful lot of the Elites think that ignorance and know-nothingism have been elevated into a political movement.
Before we venture further into this battle zone, you can calculate your elite status by taking this patented Elite-O-Meter test. See how you rate!
Your degree is from:
An American Ivy League university or Stanford (Score: +40) Queen's, McGill, the University of Toronto, Western or UBC (+20) The University of Ottawa or other (-20)
Your children's degrees are from:
An American Ivy League university, etc. (+30) Queen's, etc. (+10) The University of Ottawa or other (-20)
What do these initials stand for?
NPR (+10 if you know) MMA (-20 if you know)
None of your friends voted for Rob Ford (+20) One of your friends voted for Rob Ford (0) You voted for Rob Ford (-20)
For a good time, you prefer
Luminato (+20) A tailgate party in Buffalo (-20)
Who is Carol Off? (+20)
Who is Jimmie Johnson (not the football coach)? (-40)
To get some exercise, you prefer
Yoga and Pilates (+10) Hunting and fishing (-20)
Have you ever had a housekeeper or nanny? (+10)
Have you ever been a housekeeper or nanny? (-20)
Have you ever had a job that made your feet tired by the end of the day? (Teaching, or jobs during high school and university, don't count.) (-40)
As an adult, have you ever lived in a small town for at least a year? (University towns don't count.) (-20)
Have you ever read a book by Michael Ignatieff? (+50)
Have you ever read a book by Tim LaHaye? (-20)
Your idea of good TV is
The Sopranos or Mad Men (+20) Oprah or The Price is Right (-20)
Needless to say, the higher you scored, the more Elite you are. If you are on the plus side of the Elite-O-Meter, there's a good chance you belong to Richard Florida's Creative Class. You are probably (or soon will be) in the top 10 per cent of income earners, and you are probably married to someone a great deal like yourself. Congratulations! You are the product of the modern meritocracy. Although your family may have come from humble origins, you have joined the ruling class - the one that runs our major institutions, including governments, the law and the media.
More than at any other time in history, the modern ruling class is based on brains and talent, rather than privilege and money. This is good. But it is by no means an unblemished good, as Charles Murray argued recently in the Washington Post. (Mr. Murray provided the inspiration and some of the content for the Elite-O-Meter.) That's because, despite all our self-congratulation about diversity, we live in a highly self-segregated society. The elites don't live and work with everybody else. They live and work with each other. The result is that the Elites tend to have only a dim idea of how most ordinary folks live.
The second problem, as Mr. Murray pointed out, is that the new elite class is largely self-perpetuating. A generation ago, as our higher education system opened up to everyone, there was enormous social churn as people from formerly excluded groups got their chance. The sons and daughters of prairie farmers and Jewish refugees grew up to be brain surgeons and Supreme Court judges. These people married other seriously gifted people, and had seriously gifted children who are now graduating at the top of their class and marrying each other. The top students at our top schools look far more diverse than they did 50 years ago. But economically, the vast majority of them come from the upper middle class. Almost the only exceptions are the children of first-generation immigrants.
Most (actually, all) of my friends belong to the elites. (After all, I live in downtown Toronto.) They have great kids. Their kids work hard, they're super-smart, and most of them are unaffected, kind and good. What they lack is much experience of people unlike themselves. (Tutoring inner-city children as part of your community-service requirement doesn't count.) Soon, they will be running the world. But they've grown up in a bubble, and they will go on to work in the same bubble.
Why do non-elites resent elites? Because they think the elites don't understand them and don't respect them. They can be right about that. They also tend to resent the elites of the liberal, nanny-statish variety who insist that they know better than the unwashed masses. This is the mentality of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which voted to ban free toys with Happy Meals as a way of limiting childhood obesity.
The culture chasm between the elites and non-elites is politically significant. Stephen Harper often plays the anti-elite card even when he doesn't have to. Michael Ignatieff, who is a member of the über-elite, had to spend an entire summer on the small-town circuit just to prove he can talk to ordinary folks. Canadians don't mind if their leaders are smart. But they also want them to live in the same world as we do. (Unless they're Pierre Trudeau.)
If you're a member of the Elites, I'd advise you to be humble. After all, it was smart people who brought us the Vietnam War, the dot-com collapse and the Great Recession, just to name a few. Also, maybe you should get out more. Go to Tim Hortons for a change. As Bill Clinton once put it, "Some of us are going to cross the street, folks."