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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ain't no elitist swine, lipstick or not, allowed in here

The 21st century has brought a deterioration of the English language in America. It has ushered in an Age of Illiteracy. Anyone who uses language well or reveres such usage is an elitist--that most despicable of creatures.

At one time elitist referred to a person who subscribed to the fascist-based notion that the world was divided into a superior class and a whole bunch of inferior classes, and it was an inalienable right of the superior class to rule over and determine the fate of the inferiors. In that context, the term had a huge ironic dimension in that most people who placed themselves in the elite class had little substantive reason for doing so. It conveyed that idea that some omega dogs were assuming the role of alpha dogs.

The deterioration of language is largely due to the deep, festering resentments people have toward those who possess natural attributes of talent or grace. No one is an object of such resentments more than Barack Obama.

Here is a man who is half African American, comes from a broken home, was raised by a single parent. But he is the embodiment of the American principle. He earned his way to and through Columbia Univeersity, then Harvard School of Law, and edited the law review. His success at rising from a broken family to a prestigious performance on the national stage is termed elitist.

There are, of course, racial resentments that intensify his offense. But the worst thing he is charged with is using language well.

The current issue of The New Yorker endorses Obama for president. It also confronts the deterioration and devolution of language that is apparent in our political life. The Republican party seems to have adopted a contempt for the competent use of language as a basic value of its political philosphy.

James Wood

Doesn’t this reflect a deep suspicion of language itself? It’s as if Republican practitioners saw words the way Captain Ahab saw “all visible objects”—as “pasteboard masks,” concealing acts and deeds and things—and, like Ahab, were bent on striking through those masks. The Melvillean atmosphere may not be accidental, since, beyond the familiar American anti-intellectualism—to work with words is not to work at all—there’s a residual Puritanism. The letter killeth, as St. Paul has it, but the spirit giveth life. (In that first debate, McCain twice charged his opponent with the misdeed of “parsing words.”) In this vision, there is something Pharisaical about words. They confuse, they corrupt; they get in the way of Jesus.

Sarah Palin's attraction to the Republican base is because, it seems, she epitomizes the attitude that effective use of language is an offense. George Saunders examines the case this way:

Now, let us discuss the Élites. There are two kinds of folks: Élites and Regulars. Why people love Sarah Palin is, she is a Regular. That is also why they love me. She did not go to some Élite Ivy League college, which I also did not. Her and me, actually, did not go to the very same Ivy League school. Although she is younger than me, so therefore she didn’t go there slightly earlier than I didn’t go there. But, had I been younger, we possibly could have not graduated in the exact same class. That would have been fun. Sarah Palin is hot. Hot for a politician. Or someone you just see in a store. But, happily, I did not go to college at all, having not finished high school, due to I killed a man. But had I gone to college, trust me, it would not have been some Ivy League Élite-breeding factory but, rather, a community college in danger of losing its accreditation, built right on a fault zone, riddled with asbestos, and also, the crack-addicted professors are all dyslexic.

Geroge W. Bush and Sarah Palin represent atitudes in the American psyche. The proficient use of language is suspect. It is offensive to many. The blogosphere, that region of "citizen journalism," illlustrates the attitude with abandon and abundance. Something that goes far deeper than politics is at work. Mere equality never was an acceptable eidea to some of those omega dogs. The deterioration of language is a prime symptom of something that is happening to democracy.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States