The ’90s and now, part 9

It’s not just math and science topics, but also matters of social and societal consequence that are being revivified thanks to the internet. For example, in 1995, the New York Times and The Washington Post acquiesced to Theodore Kaczynski’s demands to publish his infamous manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, which lead to his capture soon after, but for the remainder of the 90′s and the decade thereafter, there wasn’t much discussion about it and it was mostly dismissed as the rantings of a mentally ill man. But in recent years, especially since the election Trump, that all changed due to increased anxiety about technology, the rise so-called ‘surveillance state’ following 911, and privacy concerns arising from social media, as well as an upsurge in ennui and anomie and social isolation by a generation of young people who are less trusting of government and other social institutions and corporations than any generation before. The result was a huge upsurge in attention in his manifesto for its prescience about the dangers of technology and globalization, which are themes the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ can both agree on, which is why conservatives and liberals alike can approvingly cite passages from the manifesto, whether it’s the dehumanizing effects of technology, or Kaczynski’s dislike of liberals.

In a recent correspondence with New York Magazine author John H. Richardson, Kaczynski is pessimistic [despite being confined to a super-max prison for the remainder of his life, he's a prolific writer and is assiduous about answering mail]:

“Present situation looks a lot like situation (19th century) leading up to Russian Revolution, or (pre-1911) to Chinese Revolution. You have all these different factions, mostly goofy and unrealistic, and in disagreement if not in conflict with one another, but all agreeing that the situation is intolerable and that change of the most radical kind is necessary and inevitable. To this mix add one leader of genius.”

This agrees with part 1 about how America feels like it’s on a cusp of civil war between two warring ideological factions that have fundamentally diametrically opposed values, with one side going so far as questioning the legitimacy of a recently democratically elected president, and as the viralness of a recent Peter Turchin article Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays shows, the increasing concentration of wealth not only disrupts society socially, but makes it more unstable economically, too. [I don't agree with the premise, but the fact it went viral shows a lot of people, regardless of party affiliation, are concerned about it, nevertheless.]

Such incredulousness with modernity, ‘progress’, and democracy seems generational, with gen-z, in particular, the most disdainful of boomers, who seem oblivious and blissfully ignorant to the problems facing young people and society today. There is the perception that Boomers call millennials and gen-z lazy and entitled for not having the fortune of being born in the strongest period of economic growth and and job creation ever.

As an example of millennials and gen-z being incredulousness to politically correct narratives and demanding smarter discourse, in 2014, when Malcom Gladwell did an AMA, the most up-voted comments attacked the veracity of his findings, specifically the 10,000-hour rule, his methodology and tendency to make sweeping and unfounded generalizations, and dismal of the importance of IQ:

Few of Galdwell’s own comments received nearly as many up-vote as his critics, because the smartest generation knows he’s intellectually dishonest, and his books are full of unscientific anecdotes, shoddy research and cherry-picked data, all neatly packaged and professionally marketed, to tell readers what they want to hear – that IQ is not important or talent doesn’t exist, and with enough ‘deliberate’ practice, anything is possible – rather than the cold, hard truth, such as that IQ does not have diminishing returns past a score of 120, or that double digit IQ people cannot master cognitively demanding tasks no matter how hard they practice. Perhaps there isn’t much of a market for books that tell the truth (compare sales figures for Gladwell and Murray), but if you’re going to pass pseudo science as fact or consensus with reckless disregard for scholarship, prepare for a backlash by anyone with at least an modicum of common sense. We need more people like Steven Pinker and Charles Murray to disabuse the lies these false-hope peddlers.

The same sort of skepticism, cynicism, and incredulousness also applies to sanctified historical figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther king, who are not above reproach and criticism. Recent revelations about Martin Luther King’s apparent approval of a rape committed by his pastor friend, and, of course, Ghandi’s sex habits, frequently make the rounds on such mainstream sites as Reddit. Cynicism is the new earnestness. Young people don’t want to be told “x is Y” but want to verify and derive it themselves. As mentioned above regarding the popularity of Jordan Peterson, who is the opposite of Tony Robbins, as well as the rise of secular Calvinism, is the implicit assumption by many young people today–and also another example of a shared narrative–that beneath the veneer of modernity and social progress, is a sort of underlying malevolence, and to not be deceived or taken advantage of, requires a vigilant skepticism. Malcolm Gladwell says that practice makes perfect–BS!–give me the data. And of course, Malcolm, being a slightly more intellectualized version of a self-help author and a journalist who is often confused for being a scientist, predictably falls short in this regard, which is why many smart millennials and gen-z don’t hold Gladwell in high regard, and is just another preacher of positivity.

There is a sort of cognizance or hyper-awareness–the so-called collective consciousnesses–of society at the individual and collective level that seemed absent in the ’90s, when everyone just went about their business in a state of partial obviousness and detachment. ‘Wokeness’ is not just about social justice, but also a hyper-awareness of one’s social surroundings and changes to society, whether it’s immigration, birth rates, crime and race statistics, campus protests, economics, and so on. If according to Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living,” then millennials and gen-z have a lot to live for. Unlike gen-x–rather than trying to escape reality by zoning-out on MTV and sitcoms (as satirized by the ’90s comedy Beavis and Butt-Head and the 1996 David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest), taking recreational drugs, or engaging in passive consumerism–they (these woke young people) want to face it head-on by learning and understanding and debating it as much as possible, such as topics pertaining to economics, social policy, history, philosophy, and so on.