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.
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.
‘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.