Anti-intellectualism, declining public debate, 2016 election, all three are starting to come up as topics of discussion among my Facebook feed. A good friend of mine who is either a Gen-Y’er or a Millennial, I’m not sure about the cutoff, practices the Internet phenomenon of curating the news on social media to stimulate discussion (and maybe to show off how much he reads, which is an admirably considerable quantity). The post in question came from a roundtable discussion held in New York City and sponsored by Basic Books about “The Future of the public intellectual.”
He prefaces the quote about our culture’s predilection toward anti-intellectualism and the newer phenomenon the “declining complexity of public debate” by saying, “This is just stuck in my mind for some reason. I don’t even recall reading the original forum discussion [from the piece in The Nation],” (Jp Pagán, Facebook):
“I’m struck by what one wag called the herd of independent minds; by the fact that what too often passes for intellectual discussion is a process of trying to suit up everybody in a team jersey so we know just who should be cheered and who booed…,”
When we’re looking around for who should get the blame for the declining complexity of public debate… [one is the] celebration of a self that views the world solely through the prism of the self, and much of the time a pretty “icky” self at that. It’s a quivering sentimental self that gets uncomfortable very quickly, because this self has to feel good about itself all the time. Such selves do not make arguments, they validate one another.”
That got me thinking about how my generation–the baby boomers– has contributed to the current state of affairs and how those things will affect the 2016 election, as well as our chances of meaningful change.
I should warn you ahead of time, being a baby boomer, I didn’t read the original article in The Nation because, being a baby boomer, everything is about me and my considerable hoard of knowledge and learning and my quest for enlightenment–yours not mine. I’m already there, deal with it. (Now you know why I love Jacques Derrida and deconstructionism).
Having lived through most of the baby boom journey, I’m of the opinion that selfishness and entitlement are the defining characteristics of my generation. And that it, more than anything else, has added to the U.S.’s love affair with anti-intellectualism and contributed mightily to the declining public debate about which my friend Jp was talking.
We turned on and tuned out when we were young because it felt good–that and it was also fun to tell our parents fuck you. As we turned off and tuned in, we pretended we never did drugs, forgot all the kumbaya, said greed was good, and searched in vain for our inner-children.
In the process we bankrupted the S&L industry. Crashed the stock market twice. Created junk bonds and derivatives. Deregulated the banking industry to codify usurious lending practices bad enough to make the Mafia jealous. Face it, loan sharks can only break your bones or kill you. The government can go after your heirs. We spent more than we earned. Took corporate welfare to the heights. And when it all fell apart, turned to the government to fix the problem. Oh and let’s not forget, we started two pointless wars which cost countless billions and thousands of lives. Disengaged from our civic duties we treat the government like a provider of services rather than our responsibility. And we hire lawyers for everything to prove nothing is our fault.
So I agree that it’s impossible to have fruitful discussions when our vision is focused on our selfies as opposed to pointing the lens outward and seeing the world as it is.
Buddhists have this notion of big “I” and little “I”. Both exist and require attention but when we see our big “I”, we know our job is to act compassionately and for the benefit of others.
If only things were different. I wish we held onto the best of the ideals of the sixties and early seventies. But the whole counter-culture revolution was all about me, as in . . . I’ll take whatever drugs I want because they make ME feel good. I’ll sleep with whom I please for the same reason. I deserve to live better than my parents so I’ll treat the equity in my home like an ATM and cry when I get nothing after the final sale.
It appears to be too late for us baby boomers. It seems we cast aside the ideals of our youth and cast the standard of social justice on the field of battle.
My message to people like my friend Jp: Your generation is next in line to run the show. The question to ask yourselves as a cohort is whether you want to follow the path laid out by us or whether you have the courage and wherewithal to do better.
With guys like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and that douche bag Chris Christie on once side of the aisle and the narcissistic would be queen Hillary running for president–the Fantastic 4, I wonder whether the Gen-X and Y’ers and the Millennials can withstand the gravity from the black hole we created.
You guys are on the event horizon. Whatcha gonna do?