Many on the right assert that elitism is an approach to social problems that recognizes inherent differences in individuals. Elites belong in leadership positions where their natural talents can be used to best benefit society. Most people are not cut out for responsible positions within the social apparatus, according to their argument.
Understood in this narrow sense, I do not find elitism dangerous as an abstract analysis. Indeed, there are a vast variety of competencies inherent in people, whether through their choosing to develop them or whether they come "naturally" (whatever you think that means). That some should gravitate to a place where their talents are best used is not a problem; it is a core purpose around which we associate.
The problems enter in when a mere measurement of talent distribution is expanded into an individual or group identity. Without elitist pretensions, there is no need for a purposeful elevation of the more competent over the less. There is no need for institutional structures that maintain elite predominance. Why go to great lengths to stress differentiation between non-elite and elite if those differences are obvious?
I've been saying for years that the future will not begin until the average Joe is able to program his computer. I know, I know - it's a convenient time to mention it. But those of us who make our living as programmers can get tired of being the go-to guys for computer issues. For my part, I find it embarrassing - and not just that I'm treated with deference and respect for nothing other than a minimum comfort with these machines. Rather, I completely understand the frustration of subordinating one's sentience to a stupid configuration ritual or opaque interface construct that by all rights should be conforming to me. Yet my generation is supposedly more advanced because we've learned how to click on "How High?" at the "Jump!" prompt. By the same token, my industry isn't exactly falling over itself to make these machines more human.
Upon reading Douglas Rushkoff's Program or Be Programmed, however, the annoyance has transformed to concern. The vast potential of our networked culture lies not in figuring out what the computer wants as much as figuring out what we want. Because as we tailor our wants to the available choices presented us by software, as we conform our lives and attention spans to the demands of the network, as we learn the new social dynamics of massive connectivity and anonymity, we aren't just adapting to inevitable realities of our times. We are just as assuredly adapting to the strategies of the business interests that have massive capital invested in leveraging the biases of these systems in which we too often passively participate.