I sometimes wonder why more conservative bloggers don’t write about existentialist matters, instead writing about political issues as if such issues exist in a vacuum removed from the human condition. How about articles that answer the question if having a high IQ in our increasingly technological society makes some people ‘better’ than others. Or about feeling of being left behind in a winner-take-all economy. There aren’t enough articles that address these matters, and one of the purposes of this blog is to fill that void. I think there is a demand for this niche that is unmet. Ross Douthat and David Brooks cover that ground, but more should.
A generation or so ago, families gathered around the TV, drawn like moths to a flame, to watch the nightly programme on one of the ‘big three’ networks – CBS, ABC, or NBC – until a combination of inexpensive on-demand entertainment and societal changes atomized the family, splitting it into individual units shared by blood but not in union. And that applies to broader society too, with entertainment and fulfillment becoming a complicated personal experience – often with high standards imposed by the economy and peer pressure – not a simple shared one. Entertainment can’t just be entertainment for the sake of entertaining – it must have a deeper purpose and meaning. High school can’t just be about going to school – but about college preparedness, where taking a full load of AP courses has become the ‘new normal’. This could be both good and bad. It’s good because a more competitive, meritocratic environment allows the best and the brightest to excel, possibly leading to new companies and technologies. But it can also result in abrupt societal and technological changes that leave a lot of people behind.
Then you have all this wealth being created in the Silicon Valley, especially since 2008, in apps and websites – some of this wealth generated very quickly and with what seems like little effort – and it makes you question not only your place in the world and universe, but if your approach to life, like if what you have been taught, your values – are all wrong. It’s like that ‘you’re doing it wrong’ meme. It’s like if you aren’t worth at least $5 million or, at the very least, if you aren’t in STEM, you’re doing something wrong in life.
It’s like everyone is getting rich but me, as the NewsWeek cover from 1999 at the height of the dotcom boom illustrates:
That’s kinda where we are right now. A world that revolves around physics, finance, web 2.0, and coding, all of which are high-paying, prestigious activities that are cognitively out of reach for the majority of Americans, who are merely participants in the economy, not creators.
Whether it’s the latest physics or math breakthrough that is circulated all over the web, elevating its authors to superstars, to the web 2.0 person making millions, who becomes a ‘rock star’ , to the 20-30-something coders making $200-500k a year, to Tesla and Uber, intellectualism and wealth has never been so intertwined, but also celebrated in society as it is now. IQ is not just a number, but a prerequisite to success.
And also an economy that unlike the 90’s, a lot of people are not fully participating, sitting on the sidelines, anxious, due to the perpetually anemic labor market, the specter of unemployment always hovering, and still being underwater on their homes – assuming they still have homes, as home ownership is well off the 2006 highs:
I guess that could explain, in contrast to the effusive optimism of the 80’s and 90’s, why so many people automatically comment ‘bubble’ or ‘central bankers…blah blah’ on any positive story about the economy. They probably feel left out, seeing all these smart people make seemingly effortless riches as everyone else’s lives stall. It’s human nature to want to believe things that give us comfort or a sense of control, even if they aren’t true. Instead of embracing our post-2008 technological and intellectual Enlightenment, people are resisting – or are at least cynical about it – seeing it not as a force of good, but a force of wealth inequality, envy, and anxiety.