There was an interesting piece in last Sunday’s (10/24/10) Washington Post by Charles Murray entitled The tea party warns of a New Elite.  They’re right. Murray observes that the tea party is “of one mind on at least one thing:  America has been taken over by a New Elite.”

Accompanying the article in the printed version of the Washington Post is a graphic containing 10 questions.  The more “no” answers one has to the questions, the more solidly one’s membership in the new elite is established.  The questions were as follows:

1.  Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?  (The really famous one, not the football coach.)

2.  Can you identify military ranks by uniform insignias?

3. Do you know what MMA and UFC stand for?

4.  Do you know what Branson, MO is famous for?

5.  Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary Club?

6. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of “The Price is Right/”

7. Have you ever lived in a town with fewer than 25,000 people?  (During college doesn’t count.)

8.   Can you name the authors of the “Left Behind” series?

9.  Do you live in an area where most people lack college degrtees?  (Gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count.)

10.  Can you identify a field of soybeans?

The answers:  “Jimmie Johson is a NASCAR driver who won the Sprint Cup Series championship four years in a row.  MMA stands for mixed martial arts; UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship.  About 7 million tourists travel to Branson, MO, each year to visit its 50-plus coutnry-music halls.  Drew Carey replaced Bob Barker on the “Price is Right.”  Time LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are the authors of the “Left Behind” series.”

A “yes” to 0-2 questions seals you “in the New Elite bubble.”  A “yes” to 3-7 suggests you “need to get out more.”  “If you can answer “yes” for 8-10 questions, it doesn’t matter if you went to Yale or live in Georgetown, you’re part of the American Mainstream.

My score of 4 indicates that while not a full-fledged member of the new elite, I need to get out more.  (I knew about Branson, MO, I was once a member of a Rotary Club while living in a town with fewer than 25,000 people and I can identify a field of soy beans.  I could identify a few, but not all, of the military rank insignias and I thought one of the authors of the “Left Behind” series was named LeHane – close but incorrect.)

What does this all mean?  It is clear to me that there are many Americas out there.  Several of those Americas genuinely frighten me, including those parts that never read a newspaper but have strong opinions about issues of the day.  It’s not that regularly reading a newspaper makes one wise, but it’s a step in the direction of having informed opinion.  And without informed opinion we have chaos.  While I would again have to note that the “new elite” are neither necessarily wise nor well-informed, the odds increase if they read a newspaper with regularity.

I am glad that I’ve lived in small town America.  I also visit that America regularly when I travel to a beach community in Delaware.  While it is indeed refreshing to leave the intellectually snobbish Washington, I’m clearly also not really a part of the greater local community.  That was brought home to me this past weekend as I walked along the route for Rehoboth Beach’s annual Sea-Witch Festival Parade.  This was definitely not an America of which I feel a part.  This is no doubt partly the consequence of my being full-fledged member of the definitely-not-mainstream “gay” America.

While the article seems to suggest that the gap between elite and mainstream America can be bridged by the elite “getting out more”, I think a more fundamental solution lies in doing a much better job of educating all of America.  There is an education gap between mainstream and elite America that must be addressed.  I have also personally spent a lot of time trying to become a more “conscious” individual, aware of the complexity of the universe and my role in that universe.  I am convinced that increasing the “consciousness” of all of humankind is the only path toward a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.  It involves not only education, but self-awareness and an ongoing commitment to spiritual development.  I am thus far from convinced that educating myself about NASCAR, the MMA, the UFC, and “The Price is Right” would accomplish anything of real value.  In fact, I am quite convinced of the opposite.