The self-righteous inherit the earth
It is instructive to take a close look at the people who set themselves up as morally superior to you.
There are, for example, the people who lecture us on the importance of Traditional Marriage while going through their Traditional Divorces, or the militant patriots who contrive to avoid military service. A particularly ripe example was the recent discovery that Dr. George Rekers, a co-founder of the Family Research Council and anti-homosexual activist, took a ten-day vacation in Europe with a paid male companion whom he had engaged through Rentboy.com.
Martin Estinel, the proponent of an Academy of English, has responded to comments in the Times of London article on his proposal that “you should see the admiring mail I have been receiving. It appears that British society splits into 2 camps: those who want to remain ignorant and those who wish to better themselves. For the former, we can do nothing; for the latter, we are here to serve.”
I detect the true and authentic note of the morally self-righteous. It is one thing to be a snob about clothes or tastes in music. People are either fashionable or unfashionable, and, really, that doesn’t amount to much. The fashionable can flatter themselves on their exquisite taste, and the rest of us don’t care. But the language snob cannot accept that other people simply have different tastes in vocabulary or syntax or spelling or pronunciation. They must be denounced as ignorant, as barbarians, as a mob threatening the foundations of Western civilization.
As it happens, I understand this psychology from the inside, for I was an English major at a state university and a graduate student in English at a mediocre private university. I not only had better taste in language and literature, but I was morally superior to the rabble who had not read Milton.* Feel free to substitute Aristotle or Gibbon or Augustine or whatever Dead White Shibboleth is appropriate to your field.
It has taken a good while for the abrasions of life to erode that brittle veneer so that I can now understand that I am not a paragon but simply a practitioner of a craft. I labor to repair defective writing without the burden of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. I am not set up or qualified to judge that bad writers are defective as human beings. Annoying, yes, but not morally inferior.
Since the human impulse to make social distinctions over trivial and superficial matters is apparently inescapable, my advice to the peevers is to give up on language and find something that doesn’t matter to gratify their need for a sense of superiority. It’s not hard to feel superior to people who drink chocolate martinis, or watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey or read novels about emotionally sensitive vampires. If the peevers shift to those areas, then they can leave English alone. It does not require their assistance.
*Colleagues on Calvert Street will be amazed to learn that I was even more insufferable in my twenties than I am now.