Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Reform Is Driven by Rising Elites

The most powerful members of our society work in predictable ways. So do those who join them.

In our society, elite coordination is often intentionally obscured. Private conferences like the Bilderberg Group provide avenues for frank discussion free of the ideological performances that need to be made in public.

Samo Burja’s 2020 article on rising elites and their relationship to existing ones explains how elite coordination works and how reformists join their ranks. It begins by examining how elites communicate with the public:

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, makes a good example of an elite whose power derived primarily from a formal position within a strategically relevant institution. While in office, Greenspan regularly made media statements that affected the economy by influencing market confidence, a tactic known as strategic communication management. This power was greatly enhanced by the fact that he had economists on speed dial to help select the right talking points. He also had direct access to government officials and top business leaders, and so could influence them personally and directly. And all that’s not even counting the direct political power over economic policy that he possessed.

But Greenspan’s public influence cannot be taken at face value. He has admitted that his remarks to reporters were sometimes intentionally nonsensical; his press conferences were mere efforts to look accountable, without any intention to impart real information. This illustrates a distinction between the formal reality, and the actual reality. The formal reality is that the Fed chairman is holding a press conference to inform you about the state of the economy. Acting under this assumption, journalists will disseminate his remarks whether or not they personally believe him to be speaking in good faith. The actual reality is one where the press conference has to be held as a matter of course, but where accurate information on the state of the economy couldn’t be shared while retaining the position.

This is characteristic of modern Western elites, selected for their ability to advance a narrative, or, at the very least, obscure challenges to it. What looks like idiocy or confusion can often be tactical, especially in a “transparent” and televisual era where something has to be said. Donald Trump’s weaponized distraction is now well-known; but while his style is unique, the chaos that results is not. Nancy Pelosi is known for being intentionally confusing in remarks to the press, obscuring her next move. When dealing with the statements and actions of elites, one must be careful not to automatically take them at face value. The ability to get away with making seemingly “bad” decisions is often an indicator of power, as one might hypothesize in the cases of Donald Trump, Kanye West, or a multitude of other celebrities.

In the public sphere, then, it can be assumed that things are not always as they seem. But if that is not an avenue for real debate and decision-making, what actually is? The answer would be the within the loose, semi-permeable networks that elites exist and overlap in. Access is gained through the public demonstration of usefulness:

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