Today’s viral article is The New 30-Something.
The article went viral because it contains two of the three elements of the wealth-individualism-intellectualism trinity, those being wealth and individualism. All over Reddit, over the past four or so years, especially since the election of Trump, there as has been a ton of interest in personal finance, which in the aforementioned link I predicted, with many communities dedicated to the accumulation of wealth, whether slowly (/r/investing) or quickly (/r/wallstreetbets) or early (/r/personalfinance). Acronyms and lingo such as Refi, FIRE, and HELOC are becoming increasingly common in everyday discourse.
Financial success, such as net worth, is something that can be readily quantified and is objective whereas religion and morality are more abstract and subjective, but furthermore, does not highlight the individual. Attending church, participating in a political cause, or being virtuous and other participatory actions are low-barrier; anyone can do them and hence they do not confer status, but few can, say, amass a million dollars debt free by 30, which is a more impressive and exclusive club to be a member of. As Groucho Marx said “I”d never join a club that would accept me as a member.” Unless you land a plane on the Hudson or something, no one is that impressed by being good and virtuous. No one is impressed by your impeccable church attendance or if you voted.
In our hyper-competitive, globalized, everything-goes-up economy–in which tech companies are making more money than ever, interest rates are low (making home ownership cheap), coders out of college are making 6-figs, and stock prices are rising to no end–not only has attaining financial independence never been easier (assuming you are in tech; other fields will be harder), but there is no excuse not to secure a piece of the wealth creation pie. Yeah, rents can be high, especially in Silicon Valley, but that is why individualism is so important for financial inexpedience, because family formation and taking care of relatives is a major drag. Regarding status again, people are impressed by big bank accounts and early retirement, not big families. As the rise of the child-free and forever-alone movements show, family formation is viewed as a burden and low-status, not something to be proud of. One can argue that this is dysgenic, because all these high-IQ people, whether in tech or on Instagram or on YouTube, are squirreling away their money trying to retire early than creating families, but so be it. Nothing can be done.
And many people, including the Trump-right and the IDW, are tired of moralizing. Up until as recently as 2000, conservatism stressed the importance of family and religion, but now it’s about self-sufficiency and not trying to impose values (as the rise of non-judgmental conservatism shows). It’s like we hate how the SJW-left imposes their values, but are tired of the right doing it too. Moralizing is now seen as low-status– something that people do to affirm their own biases and preach for the approval of their peers, than conveying worldliness, introspection, and intellect, which are high-status traits and not about imposing values but about understating motives and behavior and reconciling contradictions. America’s increasingly competitive, results-orientated economy and society has pushed culture war issues to the periphery for many smart young people, who prioritize avaricious individualism over cultural and political collectivism and activism, as discussed in Inaction and Indifference as Rebellion:
With the decline of activism and the rise of introspection, which is individualistic and to some extent self-absorbed, the ‘culture wars’ are dying, as far as millennials are concerned. The post-2009 bull market (which is officially the longest ever), the post-2009 economic expansion (also the longest ever although the GDP growth is still sluggish), as well as a culture, economy, and society that celebrates and prizes individualism (such as taking pictures on Instagram), has also made culture wars less relevant. People see headlines about surging stock prices, stratospheric web 2.0 valuations, and Chinese buying up all the expensive estate estate in America, and we want a piece of the action instead of missing out (FOMO)–but also headlines about social security dwindling, the bad labor market, or how deficit spending threatens social programs, and millennials realize that while culture wars may be a sort of ‘bonding experience’ between like-minded people, no amount chest-thumping about social issues will change anything as far as policy is concerned nor provide financial peace of mind in increasingly uncertain economic times (such saving for retirement, paying for healthcare and education, covering the mortgage, or getting a job). Because of the aforementioned social, cultural, and economic factors, the culture wars ‘lost’ in the ‘court of pubic opinion’ or the ‘marketplace of ideas’, because the ‘generals’ failed to provide a sufficiently compelling case for why people should keep fighting when other issues seem more pressing.
I think we’re seeing more moral nihilism. We’re living in a society that prices individualism and individual quantifiable merit, more so than ever, whether it’s techies striving to get rich in Web 2.0 or high school graduates striving to get into elite schools. Millions of young people are cramming for AP tests and the SAT, in order to get however small of an edge over their competing classmates (and there is all the cheating that goes on in college, such as paper mills, although this far predates the current era). The rise and fall of Theranos seems to sorta encapsulate the wealth-at-all-costs sort of mentality we’re living in, but it also highlights example of individualism merged with nihilism.