Elitism: the Ivory Tower and Mann on a Gold Plated Jet-ski

Musing further on my previous post, I’m drawn back again and again to the term (which I subjected to a footnote) “elitist”.

It’s a term we’re all too aware of; thrown like mud from the committed sceptical community. “Woe! How the elitist scientific community doth rent-seek at the expense of the common person and true scientific endeavour!”

We’ve all heard the claims about elitist scientists sitting loftily in ivory towers, too giddy with their privileged position to be aware of the terrible burden they place on the community that supports them. Of course, all this rhetoric is done without evidence or citation. We are simply expected to believe they pocket grant money and produce dodgy studies to perpetuate additional revenue.

It seems incredible that the global academic community is oblivious to such broadscale behaviour when falsehood of this nature should be fairly easy to detect. Why do we have no equivalent sites to Exxon Secrets to point out Michael Mann’s five sports cars and supersized home (oh, don’t forget that fur coat he’s always strutting in) or similar from the other “elitist” climate researcher?

That’s simple to answer: because it’s a myth.

Again, Tim Minchin’s works ring loud and clear, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved.”

It requires a suspension of higher faculties to maintain such an illusion.

Moreover, what does the term,” Elitist”, set on a hair trigger, actually mean?

Here’s some of the terms I found online;

“considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, weather, or position in society: elitist country clubbers who have theirs and don’t care about anybody else.” (from Dictionary.com)

“the belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.” (from the freedictionary.com)

“the belief that a society or system should be led by an elite: local government in the nineteenth century was the very essence of elitism” (from the online Oxford Dictionaries)

“the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality or worth, higher intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.” (from Wikipedia)

Wikipedia go on to summarise it further with;

“The term elitism, or the title elitist, are sometimes used by people who are (or claim to be) not a member of an elite organization. In politics, the terms are often used to describe people as being out of touch with the Average Joe. The implication is that the alleged elitist person or group thinks they are better than everyone else; and, therefore, put themselves before others. It could be seen as a synonym for snob. An elitist is not always seen as truly elite, but only privileged.”

It’s noteworthy that Wikipedia also rightly place Egalitarianism as contrary to Elitism – which is yet another panicked cry from the committed sceptic. “They’re planning to siphon money from the rich west to poor countries…” Go figure.

Basically, elitism is the belief in being better than others and using this belief to justify a desire to govern others. At first, it’s a far cry from the lofty ivory towers, wealth, sports cars and trophy wives that come to mind when one hears in media the nauseating “elitist” lament, yet it does deserve discussion.

It isn’t, after all, a far leap (of faith?) to conclude the suggestive measures to reduce the potential impact of climate change can be taken as being told what to do. However, the facts don’t line up with the delusion.

Have evil climate scientists learnt a trick or two from Palpatine of Star War? Dun dun da!

For instance, there has been committed effort to inform the wider global community of the potential ramifications of modifying concentrations of greenhouse gases longer than I’ve been alive, but trends in CO2 emissions have only increased over this time. Also, I must have overlooked the likes of Michael Mann or James Hansen bid for the presidential seat or papers that conclude that supreme power should be overturned to them until the crisis is over (not unlike Palpatine)… Hardly rich, powerful men are they?

The only way such a scenario makes sense is in the same way various medical bodies suggest a healthy lifestyle (ie. smoke-free, lean diet and exercise) is beneficial to us, which in turn results in various governing bodies utilising such evidence laden suggestions to curb incidence of avoidable tobacco and obesity related illness and death.

Do we hear similar claims over “elitist” doctors and medical bodies telling us what we can and can’t eat, drink and smoke through a manipulation of government? You bet we do, but we rightly identify such people as crackpots. Why should committed climate sceptics deserve anything but similar notoriety?

The only definition for “elite” that I found fitting was; “The best or most skilled members of a group” (from freedictionary.com)

Billy Connolly said it best, “If you wanted to know how to build a ship, you wouldn’t ask a marshmallow maker.”

In a similar fashion, if I had a faulty heart, I’d consult a cardiologist, not my barber. In fact, I’d hope to consult a damn good cardiologist – one with years of experience and an excellent track record – and not just some recent graduate. Likewise I would consult a mechanic about my car over a carpenter or climatologist or a meteorologist about climate change over a geologist, journalist, weatherman or a classic’s major.

Specialisation is an important function of our complex societies. It’s impossible for anyone to be an expert on everything, thus we all formulate our own skills package that allow us to function within a society that benefits from this diversity of skills. Some of us become elite in a narrow field of expertise. That’s how we have rovers undertaking sophisticate surveys on other worlds, keyhole surgery, nanotechnology and whatever else you care to mention from the modern era.

Some scientists in a given field are elite, but not elitist. Some scientists are clearly elitist as well – I could suggest a few who pretend to be experts in fields outside their area of research or others who explicitly state their work is “a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

Relying on a hereditary peer title as authority on matters one has never really studied could also been seen as elitist in that it uses a “belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect [or] social status.”

In truth, the Ivory tower does exist as well as elitists. However, the term has been applied without evidence to individuals whose investigations of the natural world have led them to uncomfortable conclusions. The term has been used by individuals and think tanks who are clearly not sophisticated enough to present a valid case against the standing body of evidence. If anything, I suggest sideshows of this nature only expose the obvious fact that there is no valid case against anthropogenic climate change.

If there was, there are an abundance of committed sceptical outlets, online, in print and on screen as well as significant political paralysis allowing such information to become common knowledge. There is nothing to stop the “final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic climate change”. But for all the hype, slander and puppetry, a valid contrary case remains elusive. I’m fairly confident none will ever be forthcoming (however, I’d be grateful if it was).

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