In a brilliant essay over at Tablet, Alana Newhouse prepares a massive bowl of dystopian catnip for pessimistic conservatives called, Everything Is Broken. For my money, it's one of the most profound things I've read in years. In it, she describes the "flatness" that now dominates our society.
Flatness is the reason the three jobs with the most projected growth in your country all earn less than $27,000 a year, and it is also the reason that all the secondary institutions that once gave structure and meaning to hundreds of millions of American lives—jobs and unions but also local newspapers, churches, Rotary Clubs, main streets—have been decimated. And flatness is the mechanism by which, over the past decade and with increasing velocity over the last three years, a single ideologically driven cohort captured the entire interlocking infrastructure of American cultural and intellectual life. It is how the Long March went from a punchline to reality, as one institution after another fell and then entire sectors, like journalism, succumbed to control by narrow bands of sneering elitists who arrogated to themselves the license to judge and control the lives of their perceived inferiors.
She goes on to describe the sameness of American cities, particularly the wealthy areas, dominated by tech workers. Coffee shops and craft brewpubs with WiFi, boutique eateries and so forth. Think San Diego's Gaslamp District.
I don't know that such things are all that new, but the enforced cultural homogeneity certainly is. Back in the day, UCSD was utterly dominated by progressives, but ideological enforcement was limited to the odd gasps in the social science classrooms when you said you were thinking of voting for a Republican. Now, asserting that women can't become men would get you hauled up in irons before a committee. At least it would where I work, which is substantially less crazed than UCSD. Such extrapolation is defensible, methinks.
It's the description of this mandated intellectual flatness that opened my eyes to Alana's genius. Flatness. What a great word! For odd-shaped fellows like, me, it's the demand that I conform that presses my rebel buttons. Wife kitteh has asked me several times why I don't put up pictures of great Union generals instead of Lee and Jackson and I think this is the reason. I feel like a rebel in this culture. I identify more naturally to "All we ask is to be let alone."
I also identify with being hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, but continuing to fight anyway.
There's not much room for people like me any more. At least not in polite society. Alana's essay describes and codifies the feelings I have in my subconscious when I have to suppress myself at work and in public. I can recall the cheerful eccentrics and oddballs I knew when I was a pup, but I don't see too many of them any more, unless we first exchange a few cryptic, identifying sentences to indicate we're rebels.
There's a lot more to the essay. It's rather long and there are parts that describe expected consequences of a global economy instead of intentional suppressions of freedom, but in the main, it's genius.
|Last night's rack of pork. It was not flat.|