21st November 2023 – (Hong Kong) A provocative question permeating Hong Kong’s stratified society is whether the poor can still retain elitist attitudes. This seeming paradox forces examination of what constitutes elitism and how structural inequalities foster indignation that transcends class boundaries. The truth often defies simplistic categorisations – personal dignity derives complexly from both material conditions and psychological temperament.
Elitism denotes a belief that superiority justifies dominance over others deemed inferior. In its common usage, elitism implies possessing an inflated self-importance tied to high social status, prestigious affiliations or exceptional abilities. The poor, lacking such claims to elevated stature, appear incapable of elitist conceits.
Yet elitism fundamentally stems from convictions of preeminence regardless of objective metrics – it represents an internal hierarchical worldview. Therefore, rather than arising from demonstrated qualities, elitism often compensates for low self-worth and insecurity. It manifests in defensive scorn towards the “lesser” other to alleviate psychological wounds.
This mindset enables elitism to permeate Hong Kong society across classes. Though denied traditional status signifiers, the poor nurture subtle notions of superiority along cultural, moral and political dimensions that stoke indignation. Their circumstances evoke empathy, yet elitist attitudes corrode this into resentment.
Cultural Superiority – Low-income communities, particularly older residents in public estates, retain a strong Hong Kong identity distinguishing them from mainland arrivals. Their Cantonese linguistic fluency and deep local roots become a cultural badge of honour, signifying a “true Hong Konger” status claimed over wealthy migrants flooding the city.
Moral Superiority – A sense of moral righteousness also emerges from beliefs that the wealthy achieved success through luck or questionable means. Some poor citizens decry the erosion of integrity in the upper classes. Their own grit in the face of adversity proves a virtue they claim over soft and corrupt elites.
Political Superiority – Having withstood hardship and injustice, the poor may assert superior political consciousness and commitment to fighting oppression compared to more complacent and complicit elites. They perceive themselves the enlightened underclass over oblivious oppressors.
In all dimensions, notions of superiority compensate for lower objective status. But this “elite of the oppressed” mentality divides solidarity between the underprivileged and progressive elites who could align to enact reforms. It further entrenches societal rifts when dignity derives from ranking over others rather than respecting universal equality.
Yet we must also concede reality’s complexities – elitism responds to genuine social slights beyond wounded pride. And culture provides meaning that tempers dehumanisation in poverty. To bridge divides requires going beyond scolding the less powerful for their prejudices.
Elitism as an Assertion of Agency
Helplessness Demeans – Elitism partly asserts personal potency against powerlessness in an uncaring system. Lacking control over political and economic forces, the poor at least retain agency over their self-judgment. This becomes their platform for demanding respect.
Reclaiming Dignity – Attitudes resenting dependency restore self-worth denied by circumstances, redeeming victims from shame. Focusing scorn outwards deflects painful inward critiques that erode self-esteem. Maintaining pride requires believing one still stands above another, even under trying conditions.
Defending Identity – Cultural superiority offers psychological shelter against threats of displacement and social death. As global capital uproots traditions, asserting unique local knowledge protects coherence. When all else is lost, retained culture consecrates the self. Coping Through Othering – Demonising elites as immoral or weak channels frustration safely away from personal inadequacy. Externalising failure preserves sanity amidst uncertainty and trauma. Blame localizes on the “elite other” while buttressing notions of virtue.
Thus elitism, however unconstructive, fulfils deep needs for those whom society has forsaken. It functions as a necessary, if flawed, coping mechanism against sustained assaults on human dignity. More respect and inclusion could temper its divisive impulses.
The Dilemma of Responding to Elitism
Well-intentioned liberal elites trying to embrace the grassroots confront dilemmas in responding to elitism within underprivileged communities. Their mission of empowerment relies on uplifting marginalized voices. Yet they balk at echoes of their own much-criticised prejudices. How does one champion the disadvantaged while confronting biases?
Two counterproductive instincts emerge that fail at forging genuine understanding – either brushing elitism under the rug to avoid difficult dialogue, or dismissively rejecting entire constituencies as irredeemable. The former abandons truth for superficial politeness. The latter punishes already alienated groups and further entrenches divides. Navigating these tensions constructively demands nuance in aligning interests across barriers of distrust. This begins with moral courage to confront prejudices directly, but with compassion that builds faith in a shared future. Awareness of unequal power dynamics and empathy for lived experience can guide elites in raising uncomfortable issues without condemnation.
Patience and commitment to empowering disadvantaged communities on their own terms are also essential. This grants the psychological security to honestly reflect on counterproductive attitudes. Though difficult, reminding society that elite virtues and flaws exist across classes allows unpacking painful misperceptions.
Significantly, well-meaning elites must also recognize their own unconscious biases that perpetuate inequality in subtle ways. Making sincere amends and demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice privilege and unearned status helps establish credibility to then discuss changes in perspective on multiple sides.
Through persistent solidarity rooted in honesty, humility and compassion, the threat of elitism that divides can give way to wisdom that unites. But this only succeeds if conducted as a peer dialogue, not paternalistic lecturing. The liberating power of truth can only heal old wounds when wielded with love.
Fundamentally, can Hong Kong progress with elitists both rich and poor? Though difficult, their coexistence remains feasible if both recognize shared humanity beyond labels. But this requires exercising moral courage and imagination.
For wealthy elites traditionally atop the hierarchy, status anxiety that breeds defensive elitism must give way to historically conscious service. Those blessed with means incur a responsibility to direct it towards justice and social inclusion that dissolves artificial separations. Noblesse oblige means utilizing exalted positions to lift up others rather than pulling rank.
Meanwhile, the poor must also reflect on whether just indignation has curdled into blind prejudice. Righteous anger must channel constructively towards organising and building power, not dismissiveness. The first step lies in distinguishing bad actors from potential allies across class lines with nuance, resisting tribal identifications.
From both sides, emphasising our universality as Hong Kong people pursuing common dreams can reset skewed assumptions. Cherishing diverse lived experiences enriches society when shared openly without judgment. Everyone gains from displaying grace and seeking the wisdom in different perspectives. Some poignantly suggest the true elite in Hong Kong are not wealthy nor book-smart, but those with the emotional intelligence to bring a divided people together. Perhaps only dismissing notions of superiority altogether can end the perpetual striving for status through elitism.
In a climate of mistrust, projecting this ethic of humility into communities may seem idealistic folly. Every small gesture of sincere understanding risks ridicule or rejection. Yet supposedly naive faith in Hong Kongers’ shared values and empathy holds more promise than resigned cynicism.
During trying times, we often recall the Hong Kong spirit that inspired the world while facing formidable odds. Summoning that courage now for reconciliation and justice makes manifest the city’s idealism and humanity. If elitists among both the powerful and powerless dare this self-reckoning, rejecting ugliness with hope and empathy, we yet prove ourselves equal to this challenge, and deserving of the future we envision.