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Friday, 17 June 2016

Elitism Is Addictive

I've always hated elitism - the idea that one is better than another because of the school they went to, the clothes they wear, the money they make, the company they keep or the privileges they have. I've talked before about my struggle with what I choose to wear. I feel judged whenever I wear anything other than a suit to a milestone birthday and upon trying to get into a nightclub, I've literally been told "Those shoes have laces, I can't let you in." Despite how proud I am of the work I do for a living, there's always people that give me a blank expression when they discover I'm not studying anything at university. And I've been a part of systems that are run by an exclusive inner circle of people, where the only way to succeed in that system is to find a way into that circle. As someone who tries hard not to feel like I'm better than anyone else, these attitudes deeply frustrate me.

But something happened recently that challenged my whole perspective of elitism. It happened during footy umpiring. In South Australia you've got the SA National Football League (SANFL), the state's professional level of football, and the SA Amateur Football League (SAAFL), the premier non-professional comp. When I started goal umpiring, by a stroke of fate, I was put straight into the SANFL system. I only ever umpired the lowest level of that competition, but I still had to adhere to the league's strict standards. There was an exact way I had to wave my flags, there were no phones allowed in the change rooms, I had to get to each game at least an hour early wearing a shirt and tie and there were protocols including the colour of boots I had to wear, the way I wrote down the scores, the speed with which I went to confirm the scores with the other umpire after each quarter and even the way I held my flags as I first walked out onto the ground. After a while, that particular competition ended and I was shifted down to the SAAFL. Suddenly all those protocols were gone. Umpires were allowed to turn up five minutes before game time, wave their flags in any manner they felt comfortable and do whatever they wanted with their scorecard. An I'm sad to say I very quickly developed an air of superiority.

Although the two leagues have different sets of uniforms, the SANFL umpires are allowed to wear their professional green uniforms in the SAAFL comp. That means that immediately as you walk out onto the field, players and officials get an idea that the guys in green are at a higher lever than the orange and white dressed people around them. I really enjoyed having that recognition. In the very first game I did at that level, the other goal umpire turned to me and said "Just so you know, I don't run into the middle at half time." I'm embarrassed to say that I thought less of him as an umpire at that point. And the worst bit was a couple of games later, I was confirming the scores with the other umpire and when he realised that I hadn't written my scores the same way he did, he said "The best way to do it is to put a little tally mark in each quarter, for goals and one for behinds, and add them up at the end." I got annoyed and passive-aggressively replied "Oh okay. I'm just used to the way they do it in the SANFL." That statement got the effect I was hoping for and I went back to my post and continued putting in way more effort than was required at that level. And that was the moment I realised I was being the elitist that I'd hated so much.

Maybe the only reason I hate elitism is that I've got nothing to be elitist about. Maybe I get aggravated by rich business people in suits because I'm just jealous that they have money and respect and I don't. Maybe the reason I refuse to go to university is that I had such a crappy time in high school and assume that tertiary education will be more of the same. I don't like to think that that's the case, but the fact remains that the moment I had something I could hold over everyone else, I did so.

Or maybe I do hate elitism like I first thought, but like cigarettes, alcohol or junk food, elitism is just something you can become hooked on. We all like to think we're better than others in small ways. That's where the concept of keeping up with the Joneses comes from. Maybe once I have more things to be elitist about, I'll become that thing against which I've rallied so hard.


  1. This post lives up to your blog title "A Life Examined" -- your introspective examination of your life and attitudes does you credit! And your willingness to blog about it even more so.

    1. Thank you :) It's taken a while to get the hang of introspection :P

  2. Do you really think that trying to do your job correctly makes you an elitist? I'm fussy about grammar and organization. I guess I look down on people who are sloppy, but I don't think it makes me an elitist. I can still like those people and be their friends, even if I don't want to visit their houses because they have moldy food sitting about. I've spent quite a bit of time around true elitists (East Coast snobs who say things like, Well, for a while there they were letting absolutely everyone into Princeton), so I can tell you that I don't picture you as an elitist at all. As Debra She Who Seeks says, your introspection is good. It's good for all of us to be introspective and consider our actions and how we can improve the way we treat other people. However, I think you might be too hard on yourself. You're unusually welcoming and friendly--much nicer than I am.


    1. Yeah I guess I'm still happy to work with those people which an elitist wouldn't do. But I can't deny that I feel like I'm better than them, which is awful.

  3. Admittedly, I get that way with my work--computer programming. It's hard not to sometimes.

    1. I know, it's got some kind of weird allure.


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