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Look Ma, I’m Elite!

Unearthed blog editor, wordsmith, and all around superdad Terry Winckler gave me a hard time this week for being an "elitist" urban bike commuter. We had a good laugh over the use of the word. It got me thinking. What does the term "elitist" really mean these days?

Has elitist become political shorthand for "someone not like us?" The thought of calling someone who doesn't drive a car an elitist initially struck me as a perversion of the word's meaning. The working class folks I share bike lanes with each morning hardly feel "elite," more like Average Joes schlepping ourselves to work.

So let's check the dictionary.

Merriam-Webster says:

Elitist (n) 1947
1: leadership or rule by an elite
2: the selectivity of the elite; especially : snobbery elitism in choosing new members
3: consciousness of being or belonging to an elite

I think the version Terry used was the second definition, snobbery. The fact that I don't own a car, don't pay car insurance, buy gas, or worry about parking is something I admit crowing about because it has made my life simpler and cheaper. I want to share the joy with my co-workers. This must get really annoying, like being around a fanatical vegetarian.

But perhaps there is an upside to this accusation?

Maybe soon the "elite" will be defined by what we cannot afford (car ownership) and by the things we choose to not consume. Perhaps making more ecological choices can help us reduce our carbon footprint, save some dough, and get us into an elite club all at the same time.

Here's a great book on living without a car and all the money you can save.

It will even teach you the secret handshake.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.