In Substitution of Wisdom

I recently heard about a man studying The History of Ideas. I’m not sure I’d ever heard of this field of study before, and it struck me as both novel and obvious; of course the nature of ideation ..nope, not a word.. anyway, it seems obvious that the manner in which humans form abstract thoughts and all the associated whats and whys are worth cataloging as a matter of human history. Maybe. Honestly, sometimes it feels good to just throw away the old stuff, but based on my experience with humankind, I’m unconvinced we’re at a level where we can risk discarding knowledge; we still need to get a handle on what we have so far and to find better ways to help people understand that.

When I went back to college to add a second major to my degree (did not finish), I remember seeing on my instructor’s office door some excerpt from some book. I always remember it as either “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” or “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” because whichever was the case, I hadn’t read either book at the time and wouldn’t have been able to distinguish between the two based on writing style. Knowing what I know now, I want to say it was Kundera, but in any case, the excerpt entailed the narrator lamenting the pages and pages of knowledge and expression and pedagogy piling up; he observed that words will be written and go unread. Well, I can’t remember any of the phrasing, but the idea really stuck with me.

As a youngun, I was taken by the world of artistic [and otherwise] expression, and I always saw myself seeking to offer some contribution of my own. Growing up with the emergence of the consumer Internet [and significant, continued dispossession of the American working classes], however, Kundera’s (or Eggers’?) description of the world with the essays piling up seems tame compared to the media culture in which we currently exist circa 2014. In fact, just as I type that, I look down and see a CD of music that features the music of the father of a chiropractor who gave me the disc. As it’s on CD and as I do not own a CD player, I’ve never actually listened to it, but this is how empowered expression is as a result of the culture that has been fostered by the Internet and, more specifically, digital media. And so, now an adult–and having lived through a variety of life experiences in order to get here, the allure and intrigue of self-expression and artistic creation have worn out, and where I once saw clever independent producers, I now see hucksters. Sadly, many of my musical role models are still touring, doubtlessly selling tickets to the same audience as twenty years ago; maybe we’d have a little room to breathe in the marketplace of ideas if some of these has-beens could find it in their hearts to take five.

But before I cross fully into Haterville, let me posit that it’s not The Offspring and Wyclef Jean who are responsible for all of today’s ills. No, I believe this malaise I feel is specifically related to the disenfranchisement of the middle classes I alluded to in a previous paragraph. Here’s the deal: the difference between this blog post and a blog post that makes a blog writer thousands of dollars has nothing to do with the quality of the content in any socially useful terms. The economy of ideas has been sold to privileged young people in privileged western societies as some nebulous panacea that will account for peoples’ and society’s needs so long as they’re articulated in a way that can offer investors and public fund managers a problem to solve, typically by providing financial support to people who have little or nothing to do with the problem in question. If you want to do something in America today, you present your company/product/self as the solution to a problem. In these terms, everyone can agree to synergy.

On the other hand, if you want to do something that is not identifiable as a problem–or if you want to solve a problem that doesn’t have an adequately-monied audience/market–good luck, pal. This game of life is about getting paid and getting ahead. Ahead of what is unclear but always forward, forward and towards some kind of ersatz consensus that was handed down from above and presented as a shared group goal. You can forget about political reform, too; authoritarianism and greed are both siblings and cousins. Plus, responsibility takes effort, and effort is harder than no effort.

And that’s how I know I’m not contributing anything except more pages to the unread pages of history–because this easy and takes very little effort. Indeed, I ate two tacos while writing this; leisure at its finest.

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