This blog post is something of a response to Digibrony's latest video. My apologies to my meager subscriber count for wasting time on this instead doing the thing you're all supposedly following me for in the first place and getting a new chapter out in one of my overdue fics. Anyway, to make sure anyone reading this knows what I'm talking about...
So, let's cut to the chase. I can't really agree with this at all. The idea that AJ and Dash are somehow the wrong way around is just a gross misconception of what their elements mean, both to themselves and in the greater context of being components upon which friendship is built. It might make for an amusing joke or parody, but shouldn't ever be indulged as having any serious merit.
Let's start with Applejack and the concept of Honesty — in the context of MLP this is about more than just telling the literal truth, but about being a truthful individual. When AJ says she's the most dependable pony it's because of that honesty, because once she makes a promise she always keeps it, because failing to do so would make her retroactively a liar. This was the main conflict in both Applebuck Season and Last Roundup. It's also likely why she doesn't charge more SSCS6k. Given the length of the lines she could easily charge 3, 4, or even 5 bits per mug while still selling out every day, and a profit minded entrepreneur would do just that. AJ, however, isn't profit minded, but rather honest minded; 2 bits a mug is all her family needs to make enough profit to see them through the winter, so that's all she's going to charge. It's also why she refuses to "cheat" in the competition by lowering quality standards, because even if it let them make more cider it wouldn't be the genuine product.
The idea that she is somehow exceptionally more loyal than honest is just silly because her qualities of the former are built out of the latter. More so though, when the chips are down and shit hits the fan, she's really not very loyal at all. The most prominent example perhaps being Swarm of the Century, where when the parasprites start devouring all the food in town, AJ abandons her friends and the rest of Ponyville as well in order to safeguard her own farm first and foremost. Sure one could argue that she was just thinking about making sure everypony would still have food after the crisis, or just choosing loyalty to kin over friends, but that's not really how the scene plays out, and AJ doesn't even make a pretense of apologizing before leaving her friends high and dry on their own. Likewise, she shows a distinct lack of loyalty in Last Roundup, where she up an leaves behind everypony in Ponyville (including her family) just because she's too prideful to admit her she wasn't able to deliver on a promise.
While yes, it could be said that AJ's episodes are more about loyalty than honesty, they are always so only in so far as AJ herself learning to be more loyal and/or less stuborn, whether it is to others or to herself. This is precisely why she couldn't be the Element of Loyalty, at least certainly not in the first episode. To wield the Elements of Harmony is to be an exemplar of that quality, and AJ still has a lot to learn about Loyalty. Contrast say Rarity, who despite being inarguably vein and occasionally even a little greedy, she is never lacking in generosity, in the willingness to give of herself for the sake of others. Yes, she occasionally misjudges what it is those around her actually need most, but she is still always giving and no episode has ever been about her learning to be more generous. Even in Sweet and Elite she is clearly torn between her old friends in Ponyville and her new contacts in Canterlot, with the linchpin that causes her to temporarily make the wrong choice being when those Canterlot ponies first beg her that they absolutely NEED her to attend their various events, that is to say, when they impose upon her generosity.
Now, I will admit that the way AJ demonstrated her element in the pilot was pretty poorly executed, but that seems mostly the fault having to cram six such trials into a mere 22 minute episode. Even at that, while it seems silly for AJ not to just tell Twilight outright why it's okay to let go (because Dash and Flutters are there to catch her), the idea still works in that the reason Twilight can trust AJ is because she's honest. Friendship is built on trust and that trust is built out of honesty. That said, AJ did much better job of proving this quality, not in the Everfree Forest, but in the Ponville Library when she was the one that told all the others they should both give Twilight the chance to explain and believe what she had to say. So perhaps AJ's element should have been more accurately called something like "Trust" or even "Faith", with her honesty just being the reason why others can always trust her.
Still, what AJ really is at the core of her character though, is an archetype for the supposed concept of "good old-fashioned country values", which rightly or not are often considered more honest than modern urban values.
Now for Rainbow Dash and the concept of Loyalty — she perhaps says it best in one of her earliest lines, "I would never leave Ponyville hanging," and yet despite this bold declaration it's sort of hard to take her at her word. Not only is Rainbow Dash kind of lazy, but also very self-centered. At first glance she seems very much like the sort who only cares about herself and would without hesitation abandon others to pursue her own ambitions, which is in fact how Nightmare Moon later tries to tempt her into betrayal. Actually, I think it could be quite telling that Dash's trial comes last (discounting Twilight of course who had to discover what the sixth element was in the first place) and is the only one where NMM is actively attempting to subvert the pony's future element; it suggests she'd become aware of what was happening and was now taking active measure to prevent the last piece from falling into place. Anyway though, were Dash the Element of Honesty, she'd likely have rejected the Shadowbolts on the grounds of not wanting a free handout, preferring to earn her victories for herself, but that not what she does and instead jumps at the opportunity completely buying into every bit of ego stroking she's fed; instead it is only when she is forced to choose between her ambition and her friends that she chooses the latter and proves herself the Element of Loyalty.
Even more so though, this notion that she's somehow the most "authentic" of the mane-six just doesn't bear out, because if anything she's the opposite. All of her ego, all of her grandstanding might make it seem like she's made out of confidence, but as seen in episodes like Sonic Rainboom, she is anything but confidant; it's all just a mask she wears to hide from her own insecurity and fear of failure. This compared to Fluttershy who knows she's something of a coward who'd rather runaway and hide than stand up for herself (even while being still quite capable of standing up for others), or Rarity who has no illusions about her own vanity and so makes no false pretenses at modesty and really does feel that she deserves to be treated like royalty, or Pinkie Pie who genuinely does just want to see everypony smile. There are no pretenses with the other mane-six and they all wear there souls bare and in plain sight; it's really only ever Rainbow Dash who hides from herself and is afraid to admit things because for fear of how others might judge her.
As in the preceding section it could be said that Dash has more episodes about honesty than loyalty, but again that's because she already is an exemplar of loyalty and so doesn't have much more to learn on that front. Conversely, in episodes like Read it and Weep she learns that it's okay to both like books and to admit that having a diverse range of interests doesn't have to detract from her core self-identity as an athlete. She still gets to have episodes about Loyalty though, which is the key conflict in Wonderbolts Academy. Dash initially goes along with Lighting Dust's recklessness because Spitfire seems to believe in her and Dash believes in Spitfire, or at least she wants to. The conflict is finally resolved not because of honesty but because of loyalty; Dash wants to be Wonderbolt, it's all she's ever dreamed of, but her loyalty comes first to her friends and perhaps more importantly to her own morality, and if those are values which don't matter to the Wonderbolts than that's not something she can be part of.
Some people like to use examples where Rainbow Dash speaks her mind as an example of honesty, such as when she said that Rarity kind of was a laughing stock in Suited for Success, or how she was the first of the mane-six to openly voice an opinion on the first set of dresses. Neither was a particularly good example of being honest though, but rather just being blunt, superficial and inconsiderately tactless. She's not saying these things because she thinks Rarity needs to hear the truth, but because she never stops to consider how hurtful that truth might be. Dash might always speak her mind, but it's not because of honesty, but because she just has a bad habit of speaking the first thing that comes to mind without ever stopping to consider the consequences; she's a speedster, not just in her actions but her words as well. This superficiality, and complete lack of authenticity, is also the driving conflict behind Mysterious Mare-Do-Well, where Dash gets completely sucked into her own hype and forgets that it is her deeds that make her a hero, not her popularity. Fame can be a fickle and fleeting thing, it's a poor way to define one's own self-worth, and Dash suffered for it when the next big thing came along and she mistakenly felt like she was no longer a hero without all the adoring fans to cheer her on.
Bring this all back together, I think it's also telling to look at the mane-six's cutie mark stories. Each of them not only involved discovering their talent, but their future element as well. Rainbow Dash didn't just prove her speed, but did so while in her own words 'defending Fluttershy's honor'. She wasn't racing for her own sake but as a way to stand up for someone else. Whereas AJ found her talent not just in going back to her farm and family, but in finally being able to admit to herself that it was where she truly belongs, the city having been just a false dream she was never really happy with and where she had to pretend to be something else just to fit in.
If the words LOYALTY and HONESTY seem ill-fitting or lacking when describing these two ponies, it's only because they are just singular words being used to define complex characters and concepts, but they don't have be the only words we use, and we get some good alternatives in Magical Mystery Cure, where Celestia describes them over a panning shot of the character as "charity, compassion, devotion, integrity, optimism, and of course, the leadership". So really the important thing is to not get hung up on words, but to see past those words to the meaning underneath.
Because really, if we get hung up on words, would not generosity just be a subset of kindness? Are not the great lengths Pinkie Pie goes to brighten everyone's day while asking for nothing but a smile in return an expression of generosity? Was not Fluttershy's admission of her own insignificance and humility when Discord tried to first turn her against the others an expression of honesty, or what about Twilight who wouldn't just except the existence of Pinkie Sense and instead tried to find the truth behind it? Or just as much, how Twilight is unfalteringly dedicated and loyal to the princess. The fact is that all of the mane-six are good upstanding ponies and as such they all possess aspects of all six Elements of Harmony, just not in equal measure. Rather than mince details over the exact words used to describe them, we should instead take it as a given that they are the exemplars they already proved themselves to be when first defeating Nightmare Moon and then later Discord. Instead of trying to define the ponies by the elements, we should define the elements by the ponies.
Oh, and special thanks to Empty-bee for posting a link to this this on Reddit's MLP analysis community.