30.7.12

RECLAIMING THE CULTURE?

In a nation of moochers, epater les bourgeois is out of fashion, according to Glenn Reynolds.
In today’s culture of immediate reward, a work ethic centering on self-discipline and the ability to defer gratification is almost, to use a favorite term of the avant-garde, transgressive. Hmm: With so much of our economy and politics now based on the absence of those characteristics, maybe it really is a bit transgressive.

But those mores just may be making a comeback in these tough times. The fact is, self-discipline and the ability to defer gratification really do help you get ahead, avoid debt and feel more in control of your life.

In boom times, even slackers can do well enough (or borrow enough to seem to) to make those rules seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. But when the bust comes, reality reasserts itself and those trite sayings (“waste not, want not,” “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” etc. — Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings”) turn out to be not so much trite, as true.

At any rate, we can hope that saving money, avoiding debt and treating friends and family with consideration are now edgy enough to become trendy.
Perhaps so, although those strivers might be the remnant in a country increasingly occupied by Romulans.  In Victor Davis Hanson's neighborhood, trendy California is no longer the California of the Beach Boys.
The internet, video games, and modern pop culture translated into a generation of youth that did not know the value of hard work or a weekend hike in the Sierra. They didn’t learn  how to open a good history book or poem, much less acquire even basic skills such as mowing the lawn or hammering a nail. But California’s Generation X did know that they were “somebody” whom teachers and officials dared not reprimand, punish, prosecute, or otherwise pass judgment on for their anti-social behavior. Add all that up with a whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast that was more worried about wind power, gay marriage, ending plastic bags in the grocery stores — and, well, you get the present-day Road Warrior culture of California.
And nobody is clever enough to maintain the roads.
If one were to drive on the 99, the main interior north-south “highway” from the Grapevine to Sacramento, one would find places, like south of Kingsburg, where two poorly paved, potholed, and crowded lanes ensure lots of weekly accidents. Can a state that has not improved its ancestors’ highway in 50 years be entrusted to build high-speed mass transit? Can a state presently $16 billion in arrears be expected to finance a $100 billion new project? Can a state that ranks 48th in math field the necessary personnel to build and operate such a postmodern link?
More to the point, would a latter-day Charles Crocker, E. H. Harriman, or Fred Gurley approve the investment in such a project? Or would those investors view most of California as a revenue desert?
One of the strangest things about Road Warrior was the ubiquity of tattooed, skin-pierced tribal people with shaved heads and strange clothes. At least the cast and sets seemed shocking some thirty years ago. If I now sound like a reactionary then so be it: but when I go to the store, I expect to see not just the clientele, but often some of the workers, with “sleeves” — a sort of throwback to red-figure Athenian vase painting where the ink provides the background and the few patches of natural skin denote the silhouetted image. And stranger still is the aging Road Warrior: these are folks in their forties who years ago got pierced and tattooed and aged with their sagging tribal insignia, some of them now denoting defunct gangs and obsolete popular icons.
One expects such a description of Thirteenth Generation crude from a Tory. To read something similar in Common Dreams suggests there might be something more afoot.
Every tattoo I’ve ever seen manages to detract from the person’s appearance. In truth, seeing that crap plastered on people’s bodies makes me think of graffiti spray-painted on an overpass.
Expectedly, the author there frets about the potential for Romulans to sell advertising space on their bodies, and, expectedly, the there's-no-such-thing-as-deviancy-to-define-down crowd doesn't like his essay.  Whatever.  It will be difficult to reverse the polarization and social stratification of the U.S., or any other large industrial country, without equipping young people from difficult backgrounds with the tools to interact with people who inherited, or saw the wisdom of acquiring the intellectual and commercial skills that characterize a productive person.

No comments: