Last time, I said something that could get me into trouble, so I thought I would hurry up and expand on it…so that I will be certain to get into trouble.
Specifically, I talked about writers who are members of the Elite. Those who know writers, and know what kind of money they make (or complete lack there-of) know perfectly well that the words “rich” and “writer” are polar opposites. It’s like matter and anti-matter. They annihilate one another.
Which is true…
But the thing is, this means that anyone who is a success as a writer or artist or whatever today is frequently (not always, but often) already affluent. Oh, yes, here and there you’ll have a success story about someone who beats the odds, someone like J. K. Rowling (who was also a real rags to riches story).
But, the reality is that most of the people who show up as famous public intellectuals in this day and age are, in fact, already members of the upper middle to upper classes. They’ve already inherited money. Or they’ve married it. But however they’ve gotten it, they have it. And they need it. No one else can afford to dedicate their lives to the arts without hope of reward for long years to come. No one else has the oh-so-vital connections with publishers and editors. No one else can take the time and has the resources to cultivate the right people — you have to go to the same schools, know the same people, have the same tastes, meet at the same cocktail parties…
(If you’re interested in this phenomenon, check out the article “"Sponsored" by my husband: Why it's a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from, by Ann Bauer, in Salon, January 25, 2015. You can see it here: https://www.salon.com/2015/01/25/sponsored_by_my_husband_why_its_a_problem_that_writers_never_talk_about_where_their_money_comes_from/)
"The Cake Is A Lie."
But as a result, you end up with a rather interesting situation. To wit, the people who are successful writers, intellectuals, and academics in this culture tend to be plugged in, somehow, to the same networks that contain our more successful bankers, hedge fund managers, oil company executives, and so on.
Now, let me go a little further. We are not supposed to admit that. We are supposed to say that somehow our “cultural elite” and “business elite” and our political elite and all our other elites are somehow disconnected to one another.
In fact, just consider the word “Elite.” That’s no longer an acceptable term in some places, something I learned the hard way back at Clark University just before they threw me out of the history Ph.D. program when I was ABD. One of my three major professors there (major professors, and chief tormentors) was named …well, let’s call her Ivy. She was a very young woman, a graduate of Columbia, proud of herself to the point of (I thought) narcissism. She was one of those people with whom you could not have a conversation because each time you tried to speak, even if it was just to answer a question, she cut you off and somehow contrived to tell you how wonderful she was. In detail. And in six or seven different ways.
Always willing to tell you how wonderful she was.
One day, I was asked to say a few words about my dissertation at “a small gathering.” I was told it would be just a minor thing, a cozy little chat between myself and a few of the professors. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and found virtually all the department’s graduate students there.
I soon discovered that it wasn’t so much a conversation as a firing squad….with each of the professors …and the students…taking shots in turn. (It later turned out that this was part of a larger plan…dare we say it? Gasp! A conspiracy!…to drive me out of the department. But I didn’t know that at the time.)
At some point in my hastily organized defense, I think I may have used the word “elite.” I didn’t mean to. I was so flustered, it just came out. And that was a serious mistake. Ivy soon made it very clear that there was no “Elite.” There were Elites. Note the plural.
This is, by the way, a fairly new idea. As late as the 1950s, most political scientists saw “the elite” as a more or less monolithic body monopolizing all avenues of power, including cultural power. For a variety of reasons, that idea was challenged (starting in the 1960s) and today you don’t dare suggest such a thing — as Ivy had just demonstrated.
But, as time has gone on, and I’ve become more and more aware of the interlinking nature of our Elites I’ve begun to wonder about that supposed separation of eliteness. When you cannot be creative without also being wealthy, an when wealth is so often linked to politics, and when think tanks are ever more constructed to promote the ideologies of the rich (see links below), and even sports arenas are renamed after their most powerful corporate sponsors…and somehow any number of “libertarians” (or, more precisely, pseudo-libertarians) are always willing and eager to rush forward and explain that the concentration of such vast power is perfectly normal, and, indeed, moral…
Well, I think we’ve seen the end of that vaulted plurality of elites. I think we may safely say Elite, without the “s,” and tell the Ivys of the world to go fuck themselves in the most unpleasant ways possible.
And then, with energy and, yes, a little malice, we need to consider how we may change this world…this current system…so that power once again may be plural, and the writer, the artist, the scientist, the small business owner, and the rest of us can say, yes, we, too, may share in the governance of the world.
And, this time, we must determine to never…ever!…lose that power again.
The Power Elite Exists. It is our job to defeat it.
Oh, quick aside. Ivy? My professor?
I soon figured out why she was so eager to attack me on the issue of the Elite. She came from money, had married money, and had never known any other life.
In other words, she was a member of the very Elite she pretended did not exist. And, doubtless, was eager to keep that illusion, if even she only fooled herself.
Some notes. If you’re interested in the concept of a political elite, consider the book The Power Elite (1956) by C. Wright Mills. In it, Mills basically argues that power shifts more or less automatically to an oligarchy representing everything from corporations to generals to Hollywood, and that soon the individuals in that oligarchy come to reflect each others ideas and concerns.
I am not sure I would go all the way with Dr. Mills, and he is very much out of favor now (Ivy would have hated him, if she’d ever heard of him). But it is hard not to think that we’ve seen in recent years the construction of a real Power Elite that is quite potent.
And if you’re interested in the articles about the links between research institutes (i.e., Think Tanks) consider these articles:
“Which Washington Think Tank Do Billionaires Love the Most? And Why?” by David Callahan, Inside Philanthropy, https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/economic-policy-research/2015/2/5/which-washington-think-tank-do-billionaires-love-the-most-an.html
“How Dark Money, Political Think Tanks, and Billionaire Kingmakers Influence Our Political System,” by Bobby Powers, Medium, https://medium.com/discourse/how-dark-money-political-think-tanks-and-billionaire-kingmakers-influence-our-political-system-dd6e468915b6.
“Which Think Tanks Do Billionaires Favor?” Think Tank Watch. http://www.thinktankwatch.com/2012/04/which-think-tanks-do-billionaires-favor.html
Until next time…
Onward and upward.