The young people who will bear the burden of our collapsing economy and wear the chains of a new servility vigorously advanced their own demise on November 6. Most of the announced options for saving them from themselves are mere fantasy. There remains a completely ignored option that would work like a charm.
“If men should ever reach the point of being fully contented with material possessions, one must suppose that they would lose little by little the art of producing them, and that they would end up enjoying them without discernment and without advancement, like brutes.” Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, Part II, ch. 16.
“How many things there are of which I have no need!” Socrates on a stroll through the Athenian marketplace
I have seen at least half a dozen distinct autopsies of the failed Romney presidential bid. Alleged causes include the following: Republican resistance to a blanket amnesty for violators of immigration laws (Linda Chavez, William Krystol, and every other neo-con), the GOP’s insensitivity to libertarians (Katie Kieffer), Romney’s ineptitude at courting campus populations with rock stars and stand-up comics (Celia Bigelow), the Party’s cavalier negligence of black voters (Crystal Wright), the Right’s utter surrender of popular culture—movies, music, etc.—to the Left (Derek Hunter), decades of patient Leftist brainwashing by the education establishment (Rush Limbaugh), corruption of the electoral process in swing-states (Rachel Alexander)… I believe I have now exceeded the half-dozen mark. Some of these analyses are surely better targeted than others. That millions of illegally resident unskilled laborers, already receiving generous amounts of government munificence, would have voted Republican if given that right along with free education and health care seems doubtful; and the proposition that their legally Americanized relatives eagerly want to see the nation’s laws trampled down strikes me as tinged with a covert racism (viz., “Even legitimate Hispanic Americans care more about skin color than law”). That something fishy was going on with the ballot-counting in Ohio, on the other hand, cannot be denied. On average, about six or seven of every ten registered voters actually show up at the polls: in Cleveland, that ratio leaps to a really impressive eleven out of ten! Yet how are we to handle the stark reality that our nation now flirts with Third World levels of voter fraud? As Rush Limbaugh remarked, the prospect is almost too dismal to bear contemplating.
In between neo-con self-emasculation over amnesty and near-apocalyptic levels of corruption, more modest post mortem assessments are leading to various recommendations (now aimed at 2014). I vigorously supported Michele Bachmann first, and then Herman Cain—so the Republican Party will draw no praise from me for how it treats the man or woman in the streets. But if young people need a candidate framed by stars and starlets, then maybe they should be deprived of the right to vote, or given one-tenth of one vote. Maybe they should have to pass a test before receiving their registration card… something on the order of naming the number of states in the Union (which our president can’t do) or the three co-equal branches of government (which our vice-president can’t do).
Personally, I see no real solution to our misery other than a great deal more misery. I have to attempt to teach approximately one hundred 18-to-22-year-olds every week. I will walk into a classroom this morning and be confronted by lids of laptops and pairs of eyes behind them that will not meet mine for the course of the ensuing hour. Many will also have a plug in their ear, and at the same time will be thumbing texts to their brain-dead friends in other classes. The biggest whales on earth come up for air a couple of times a day: these human vegetables emerge once every four years—if then—to cast a quick vote, peering around like sleepy groundhogs. If they should see a cool dude who looks like something straight out of their laptop, then he becomes the “people’s choice”. What they need, frankly, is five years in a gulag… and I’m very afraid that the next four years will end up bringing them just about the same experience.
My remarks are not intended flippantly. Two exceptionally intelligent students came by to chat in my office earlier this week and were both distressed to see me worrying about their future. Everything would be fine, they said (as if coaxing a child who had just fallen on his first bicycle ride). Their tone suggested a good-natured condescension: they had such confidence in their assurances that we all ended up making light of The Coming End (I participating because… well, to have done otherwise would have been boorish). The more scholarly of the two actually had half-baked theories at his fingertips about how the New Age economy would pour forth a cornucopia of high-tech jobs. What he never explained was why tech companies should choose to prosecute their business in one of the most heavily taxed and regulated marketplaces on planet Earth. As if drawing upon Donald Trump’s wealth of expertise, he blithely assured me that mega-businesses had far too much loot in their coffers to concern themselves over such trivia as tax policy. This child is twenty-one, and a History major.
Upon recalling these moments later, I realized that I had encountered the same attitude frequently in other young people. I had warned two classes right after Election Day (because my mood was too dark to pretend that nothing had happened) that any young person being forced to take a core literature course should now do so with two things in mind: that he or she might one day have to teach the heritage of Western civilization to the kids at home, since public schools would likely start toppling; and that knowledge of history and culture would give tomorrow’s worker an enviable flexibility in a marketplace that would no longer favor Americans or English-speakers. My comments drew silence and notable scowls—notable because I was used to drawing no looks at all from above the sea of laptop lids. This generation does not appreciate “defeatism”. Its members have been taught that success consists of having the right attitude rather than of recognizing and addressing hard facts. I think their marriage to e-technology must have at least as much to do with this as any specific indoctrination they may have received (with all due respect to Rush): I think escape into alternate universes has become second nature to them, and that they interpret dire warnings as a perverse choice to dwell in an unpleasant space. Who but a lunatic would make such a choice?
My own son, a high school senior, often mirrors this mindset. He receives my concern about his future as a willful fouling of the well. Why speak of such things, or even think them? Everything has always run swimmingly in the past (or in all he and his generation know of the past): why think that the future will look any different? The sun always rises. If we keep a positive attitude, all the joys we dream of will lie wrapped in tinsel beneath the tree on Christmas Day. That’s precisely the level of this generation’s moral grasp upon reality. That’s where our parental coddling and our incredible technology of instant transformation have led twenty-first century college students.
Last week I wrote a piece urging a return to agrarianism with the aid of advanced technology—not a return to the farm (a prospect neither attractive to nor physically possible for most), but a re-design of residential suburbia so that individual families may recover yesteryear’s degree of immunity to circumstance. A free society’s members do not need or want politicians “creating jobs” for them. They look after themselves. The most pressing needs today are food (as always) and energy (as participation in modernity demands). We cannot yet gather electricity in significant amounts from sources like the sun, the wind, or lightning—but we might certainly reduce our need of energy by designing more efficient houses that hold heat in winter and coolness in summer. Architecture could also largely satisfy our need of security. (The Romans figured out well over two millennia ago that inserting large windows on the ground floor was an invitation to burglary.) In many locales, water could be collected, purified, and stored from nature’s seasonal bounty of rains. Nobody talks about the imminence of a major water crisis as the continental tables are depleted; but sooner rather than later, some such shift as I describe will be a do-or-die proposition.
To return to our children… we cannot and should not wean them from the use of state-of-the-art communications technology. If only to keep abreast (or a step ahead) of what evil dictators are having their scientists do in concrete bunkers around the world, we must continue to occupy the cutting edge of innovation. At the same time, though, our young people require the salutary ballast of planting things, watching them grow, harvesting them at maturity, and then following the natural cycle’s close into dormancy. They need to understand that life has hard realities beyond the manufactured, whimsical images of their playthings. They need to get their hands dirty—to grapple with the various intricate hierarchies of existence. Wendell Berry has often written eloquently—but almost as often rather mystically—of the link between labor and eating. One need not wax mystical here: the equation, “No work means no food,” can’t get much simpler. Survival always requires effort, and those who survive effortlessly are of necessity parasitizing off the labors of others.
So let the child have his iPod—but send him into the greenhouse as he syncs with his preferred “music”. By all means, let him learn to exploit the potential of Facebook—but also let him collect table scraps for the fish tank that holds several of next month’s meals. Our kids, in my opinion (it is actually a conviction with me), don’t need lectures on how the market works as much as experience in how life works. Their teachers, after all, are not so much purveying a coherent ideology as they are expressing the mawkish sentiments of their own stunted adolescence. (“It’s not fair that women have to pay more than men for health care!” whined one blonde mouthpiece for the Left on Hannity last month directly after stressing that female procedures are usually more numerous and expensive than male ones.) Contact with reality teaches that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. In fact, if your chimney provides ready internal access to complete strangers, then you’re probably in grave danger. The true gifts of life are those produced by your own hands—or else those you have produced and choose to bestow upon a loved one. We should not abandon our weak and our poor to their fate, but they should understand that we have chosen not to abandon them. The cycle of hard work, production, charitable giving, and sincere gratitude is one of human civilization’s essential binding forces.
Young people already vaguely grasp the importance of the natural environment to life on earth, and their respect for that environment is not the consequence of mere propaganda. Yet this praiseworthy regard is at present easily channeled by unscrupulous propagandists (e.g., Al Gore). Believe it or not, our children are also probably more likely than we to comprehend the liabilities of “social media”. Sixty-year-old gals seem to love tracking down high school chums on Facebook: twenty-year-old coeds tell me that they hate being asked on a date through text-messaging. These kids are not irrecoverable—but they don’t know how to pull themselves out of the abyss into which we have adoringly nestled them.
If the Republican Party’s leadership really desires to court new voters with a facelift, it might try implementing the principles of Technically Assisted Self-Sufficiency (the name with which I have christened my plan). It won’t, of course. Its core doesn’t really embrace conservatism at all, but rather wants every one of us enveloped in constant craving for more and newer so that we are ever going out to spend and spending to go out. Its model kills the very soul of peace, stability, and rootedness—but it also produces the all-important “new jobs” that generate paychecks for insatiable junk-addicts. Many stalwart Republicans I have known (mostly of northeastern origin—the ones I perhaps unkindly dubbed “carpetbaggers” last week) view the small-town life of loyal neighbors and solid families with at least as much contempt as their progressive counterparts do; for these preppy partisans are, at heart, progressive themselves. They never like where we are. They consider the rank and file to be tedious, brain-addled zombies—social cannon fodder—with hay in their hair and a pitchfork in their hand. The last thing in the world a Romney/Christie Republican wants is for you to have no need of anything being peddled at the mall.
The Democrat Party has grown equally hostile to individual independence. Indeed, its watchword since the days of Bill Clinton has been “inter-dependence” (a clever synonym for slavery). The new Democrat is not even a progressive so much as what I call a demagogic monarchist: that is, he or she believes in rule by a supreme, enlightened leader—a Fuehrer-cum-Buddha—who periodically must gin up a show of approval from the ignorant masses. The defining metaphor of “progress”, if you ponder it, is downright antithetical to the concept of a democratic republic; for an “advance” must always have a “cutting edge”, a prow that breaks the waves. The hull’s mass of timbers merely follows.
Democrat leaders need people to need government, the better to secure a power for themselves approaching autocracy. Republican leaders need people to need merchandise, the better to secure their own lavish profit. Toqueville seems to have prophesied with stunning accuracy just where the pelf-craving Gadarene swine created by the Republican elite would end up: in the diabolical clutches of Democrat megalomania. Of course, Toqueville could scarcely pin party names to these trajectories—but he was dead-on-the-money about human nature. The one essential piece of the puzzle that he truly could not appreciate was the motive role played by the Industrial Revolution in all this madness. Though pygmies, we can sit on the giant’s shoulders now and see what he could not. If and only if we assert control over our miraculous gadgetry and our genius for analysis, we can construct a stable, happy, safe, and healthy society whose individuals enjoy that independence only known before to Hollywood Daniel Boones. Otherwise… otherwise, some very sad chapters of history are about to be repeated.