I’m interested still in the ways in which political discourse, eschewing logic or evidence, works on the basis of “guilt by association” and also on the basis of nailing certain adjectives to certain nouns so firmly that they can’t easily be prised apart.
Take “Metropolitanelites”. Metropolitanelites is, of course, cognate with liberalelites. The suffix (it’s no longer a separate word) “elites” now means – “people I dislike whom I don’t really feel like arguing with on any sort of substantive level”. It used to mean (when it was a separate word), membership of a group which actually exercises disproportionate economic and political dominance – and it might do again if ever it’s allowed to live and breathe as a separate word. As a suffix, “…elites” infuses “metropolitan” with a residual sense of “having too much influence”.
But are metropolitans necessarily elitist at all?
Let’s imagine you live in an big city (a metropolis shall we say?) and you’re holding down two, maybe three jobs just in order to pay your gargantuan rent. You have family living in Mumbai, Paris and Los Angeles and you retain an ongoing interest in what’s going on in all of those places. You live in the city and have a metropolitan outlook on life? In what sense are you an elite? In what sense do you exercise disproportionate dominance over the lives of others?
Let’s imagine you’re an elected representative from a largely rural constituency. You grew up with everybody looking and talking more or less like you. Nobody has a second language. Everybody you hang out with is reasonably well off by any national or national standard. They voted for you on the be basis of largely local concerns and they expect you to look after their very specific interests (as indeed you do). In fact, you’re actually in government. There’s nothing remotely metropolitan about your environment or your intellectual habitus. But you’re helping to legislate the lives of city folk as well your own folk. You exercise disproportionate dominance over the lives of others?
Do we have the word parochialelite? Ar there such things as parochialelites? Or even just parochial elites – I mean – do we ever deploy the word “parochial” as a viable adjective to describe elites? And if not – why not – since those with parochial attitudes representing parochial interests clearly are disproportionately dominant in many countries.
It is of course, those who actually enjoy power who rail against “elites” of various kind as a way of reinforcing their own popular power base. Nailing adjectives and nouns together so that muscle memory of constant usage obscures the point of intersection is key to this technique. The important thing about metropolitanelites and liberalelites is to smear the prefix not the suffix. Everybody knows that “elites” are bad. If you were to talk about elitemetropolitans or eliteliberals instead, then you’d be conceding that many metropolitans and liberals are not elitist at all. But the important thing is to limit the adjectival independence of words like “metropolitan” and “liberal” altogether – curtail the ability of adjectives to pair bond freely and instead force them into shotgun marriages which you will subsequently denounce.
Right now, a parochialelitist government in Britain has determined that expression of metropolitan sentiment is “elitist”. Expressing regret at “Brexit” is undemocratic – not merely because it’s now considered undemocratic to even express a sentiment that has narrowly failed to command a 5o% mandate, but also because liking the EU is a metropolitan sentiment and therefore “elitist” and therefore unfairly prominent. This is what you get when you start to describe metropolitanelite as one word.
Increasing numbers of those who “won” the Brexit referendum (what did they “win” exactly?) are feeling (apparently) disempowered by the very expression of grief from those who lost. The idea that those who lost are still people, people who feel a need to own and affirm their sense of loss, is intolerable to those who with to retain the rhetorical force of “metropolitanelite” as one word. A really authoritarian government cannot permit grief, because grief detaches adjectives from nouns, releasing people from the categories to which they’ve been assigned. Not letting people express grief over Brexit is a refusal of Antigone’s last claim, and demands the dramaturgical and interpretive skills of Sophocles and Judith Butler.
The gods will be displeased.