‘I Am Combing,’ She Whispered, ‘Los Angeles Out Of My Hair.’ Did America Stagnate Economically Around 1972 And Has Its Cultural Avant-Garde Increasingly Become Nihilistic?

Regarding the above conversation between writer Bret Easton Ellis and mathematician Eric Weinstein:  Both men tell coming-of-age tales as Gen Xer’s during the early 1980’s;  a glamourized, somewhat nihilistic youth culture and a deep personal freedom.

I’ve been to L.A. a few times (Raymond Chandler kept me going when I was far away from my language) and David Hockney has captured some of the light and landscape of that particular place.

We all have likely have some contact with Los Angeles through the movies, and particular stylized visions of it:

It can seem vapid and empty; fake and dark.

Sometimes, the hills burn:

‘I am combing,’ she whispered, ‘Los Angeles out of my hair.’

Here’s Tom Wolfe, referring to Californians in this piece by Michael Anton:

‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!

Does L.A. or the music made there even have a center?:

More broadly, in interacting with many Millenials I often find myself thinking: What the hell happened to a rough and ready sense of independence, freedom and responsibility? Am I alone in my deeper sense of patriotism, gratitude and a skepticism regarding the new, emergent rules?

Freedom of Speech!  America!

Whatever,’ comes the reply.  ‘We’ll see.

Am I just living in a post-60’s and post-Boomer bubble myself?  To some extent, yes.

Generation Birth Years
Silent Generation 1925-1945
Boomers 1946-1964
Gen X 1965-1979
Millenials 1980-1995
Next 1996-

Weinstein’s argument as I understand it:  Something fundamental shifted around 1972 in American economic and institutional life.  It’s when a previously more explosive rate of economic growth stalled.  Since that time, most folks within our academic, cultural and political institutions simply haven’t adjusted.

It’s harder to get into many housing markets now, and it’s harder to compete with global labor for jobs and academic positions.  Our current politics is a clown-show (for many reasons). Much stagnation has ensued, and many of our current institutional hierarchies might just possess dark, unspoken ponzi knowledge at their hearts.

The sooner you got in, the better off you are.

If such a theory be true, these conditions can easily erode a basic sense of fairness, institutional trust and continuity.  This could allow more space for the postmodern and nihilist drift both men discuss, and the growing desire for (S)elves looking for (C)ommunities and rules.  EQUALITY now.  More space for Socialism.  Anarchy.  More space for a retreat from the public square into one’s family and church.

Such a theory just might also stroke the egos of people who think of themselves as relatively independent, such as myself.

Dear Reader, I’ve got to watch out for that.  I like to think of myself as ahead of some curves.

Weinstein:

‘Increasingly the research seemed to show that interventions by government, universities and industry in the US labor market for scientists, especially after the University system stopped growing organically in the early 1970s were exceedingly problematic.’

A few more thoughts and personal experiences as an undergraduate English major which support the theory:  There were plenty of talented undergrads, sure, but there were also clearly not enough slots to develop and mature their talents within the institutions.

A writing MFA?  Don’t be a sucker.

The older the professor, usually the more rigorous and focused the teaching.  The higher the expectations and the less existential questions of pedagogy there were.  Fewer ontological questions of Self in the World emerged as confessional blank verse and personalized syllabi.

Later on, briefly (you should be as happy as I am I’m not a lawyer), I saw legal education displaying similar troubling trends, even though law requires a clearer logical and objective rigor:  All the top-tier law grads were vying for teaching spots at second and third-tier law schools.  If you started at a second or third-tier law school….good luck.

Don’t be a sucker, now.  Find your (S)elf.  Freedom is next.

Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

Full post here.

‘The best thing that could happen to poetry is to drive it out of the universities with burning pitch forks. Starve the lavish grants. Strangle them all in a barrel of water. Cast them out. The current culture, in which poetry is written for and supported by poets has created a kind of state-sanctioned poetry that  resists innovation.’

Has the institutionalization of poetry done it much good?:

‘Lilly’s contribution (and contributions) to the Poetry Foundation are the only reason it is what it is today. In other words, it’s not through any intrinsic or hard-earned merit that the Poetry Foundation is surviving and flourishing today, but because of a drug baron’s fantastic wealth.’

Maybe it wasn’t Emerson that kept Whitman going, but rather, the thought of returning to his tenure track position after a long hiatus.   Yet should there be no state funding at all of poetry…only patronage?

In the meantime, lose yourself in the sweetest 80’s Soviet Synthpop:

Perhaps the strict control of production and state nationalization leads to unlikely members of the same synth band.  Check out that keyboardist:

English translation of the lyrics here.

Also On This Site:   Cleaning up the humanities?  Do they need to be cleaned up, or just better cared for?:

Did Martha Nussbaum succeed in addressing a perhaps broader problem?  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

The Game Is Afoot-Some Links On Sherlock Holmes, Democracy Dying In Darkness, In The Gutter, Bleeding-Out Subscriptions, And China

Michael Dirda at the Washington Post: ‘Sherlock Holmes May Not Have Been A Real Crime-Fighter, But His Creator Was

Of note:

‘In 1908 the wealthy Gilchrist kept lots of expensive jewelry in her home but feared robbery so much that she installed three locks on the entrance door to her apartments. Nonetheless, one afternoon the family residing below heard loud crashing sounds above, followed by three knocks.’

As posted:


by Colin Angus Mackay

“I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it.”

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A discussion of deductive and inductive reasoning here, as it might relate to solving crimes (which is highly dramatized in our culture, perhaps partly due to Holmes).

Strange Maps has this.

221B Baker Street page here.

Just as I sit back, dear reader, life’s burdens lifting as though a shoe from a swollen foot, tender flesh slaked by the flow of cool prose, my pulse once again quickens.

The race has but begun:

Your Hopes Merest Fantasy
Your Vigilance Vanity
Democracy Dies In Darkness
Partake Of This Insanity

I’ve since joined a sub-subset of the Human Race.

It’s not the WaPo subscription list, nay, it’s a little club I like to call ‘The Human League.’  Membership is free.

Who says the human soul can be squeezed into 3:52 seconds of sweet 80’s synth?:

If you live in a society which hasn’t developed a profound and enduring concept of the individual in relation to the group, moral philosophies dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, laws emerging from the free association of individuals entering and leaving contracts with authority and with each other, well…,you might be living under a post-ish Communist centralized party apparatus laid atop a few-thousand year-old hierarchy laid atop a rapidly changing chaotic civilization.

Christopher Balding (via Marginal Revolution) has some thoughts about China during his nine years living there, and the turn taken under Xi:

‘I want to make perfectly clear that any complaints I wrote about in any forum are reflective only of my concerns about the illiberal, authoritarian communist government of China and not the Chinese people.  Most professor colleagues, even those I would consider pro-Party, were good colleagues whom I enjoyed talking, debating(yes, it happens behind closed doors and I learned a lot from them)…’

As posted:

Tyler Cowen from his blog: ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Chinese Economy

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From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.

My how times have changed!:

‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.

The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.

Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’

As previously posted:

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Interesting piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Also On This Site: TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’