Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Nation of Effete Intellectuals

Something is wrong with America. David Brooks suggests that we have lost: "the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation's wealth in the first place." Link here.

Yet, when Brooks says that we, as a nation, have become too "genteel," I prefer to say that we have become too effete. We no longer want to make things; we are no longer capable of putting things together and repairing things; we no longer want to earn our way by the sweat of our brow. We all aspire to be intellectuals.

We expect to be rewarded for thinking, not doing. We are cultivating our aesthetic sensibilities, not our gardens.

Whether we overdosed on affluence or suffered the unfortunate influence of the counterculture, we as a nation became more effete. Worn out by overindulgence, we are depleted, exhausted, and decadent.

As Brooks explains: "America's brightest minds have been abandoning industry and technical enterprise in favor of more prestigious but less productive fields like law, finance, consulting, and nonprofit activism."

He adds: "But the value shifts are real. Up and down society, people are moving away from commercial, productive activities and toward pleasant, enlightened but less productive ones."

As I say, the value shift makes us all aspire to become effete intellectuals. I think that this was what Brooks was trying to say when he declared that we became too genteel.

Of course, genteel means polite and well mannered. Those are not terms that I would use to describe today's America. We are more likely to revel in our rudeness than to aspire to proper etiquette.

After all, we elected a president who is the very model of the modern effete intellectual.

The mayor of New York, a tycoon if ever there was one, has morphed into a schoolmarmish scold, lecturing the citizens of his city as though they were a bunch of errant schoolchildren.

And hedge fund billionaire George Soros has taken to calling himself a political philosopher.

People with wealth and power are not satisfied with their achievements; they do not want to keep managing things; they want to be effete intellectuals.

Hidden in Brooks' analysis is another irony. A nation that prefers mental to physical labor is suffering from a surfeit of condo and McMansion construction. We have a housing bubble because building became an end in itself, without any real connection to what people could afford.

The housing bubble fulfilled people's wishes and aspirations. It did not offer habitations that were commensurate with the value of their labor.

The housing bubble was not the apotheosis of the work ethic. It was self-indulgent to the point of decadence. It enacted an idea, a dream. You could even say that it was built on a field of dreams. The slogan that seemed to direct it must have been: "If you build it, he will come."

So they built it, and he didn't come.

When reality failed to respond follow everyone's dreams and ideals, the housing market collapsed and nearly destroyed the financial system.

Our effete intellectuals do not just avoid hard labor and the verdict of the marketplace. Many of them have also lost the will to fight.

What else could it mean when politicians routinely declare that we can win wars by occupying the moral high ground? Do they think that we can fight and win wars without breaking a sweat, without getting our hands dirty... by sending in a brigade of lawyers from the ACLU?

What else could it mean when politicians like Michael Bloomberg  intone that if an Islamic Culture Center is not built at Ground Zero the terrorists will have won.

Will have won what, exactly? By what twisted values did we come to believe that appeasement equals victory?

Brooks is somewhat optimistic about our ability to get through our current values problem, but he is not sure how it is going to happen.

The question is not too difficult to address. If, as Brooks suggests, the greatest advance in past centuries was the propagation of the free market principles that sustained the Industrial Revolution, then perhaps the free market is going to solve our problems.

Given the chance the free market will come riding to the rescue. The only thing is, it is not going to be a fun ride. The market will deal with our values deficit and with our misallocations of labor and capital "without fear or favor."

Case in point. Yesterday I read the story of a recent graduate of Fordham Law School, surely an excellent school, who had lost her job and was now hiring herself out to clean apartments. Link here.

Unfortunately, the market is not designed to fulfill your wishes or to enhance your self-esteem.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Speak for Yourself

We are cultivating our aesthetic sensibilities, not our gardens. -- Stuart

I'm the president of my garden club and the secretary for the state-level organization it is affiliated with.


....I got tired of paying $160 a pop for the plumbers to come out and ream out the sewer drain that the broad-leaf evergreen finds so 'satisfying' and the $600, tripod-mounted, 8' sectional cable K50 arrived two days ago. I'm ready to (1) crank and yank and (2) save $320 a year while (3) keeping gray and black water from backing up into the kitchen and God-knows-whereelse.

That besides being an retired airborne-ranger-infantry computer geek who is also a proto-typical Borg.

What was that two-parter episode of ST:TNG? Best of Both Worlds?


[Trouble rather the dragon in his lair than the mage amongst his books. Especially if he acts like Conan.]

David Foster said...

I'm not sure "intellectuals" is the appropriate word here. To me a real intellectual is a person with serious interests and knowledge concerning the world of ideas. Getting a law degree doesn't automatically qualify you; neither for that matter does becoming a college professor.

One distinction I find useful is that between "line" and "staff", where "line" people have actual decision-making authority and accountability, whereas "staff" people recommend and advise, but have no actual decision authority. Seems that an increasing number of people would rather--if they're in business--write studies of potential acquisitions in preference to running a sales region or a factory, or--if they're in government--rather pursue a career path leading to the writing of studies about "transportation issues in 2030" in preference to one which leads to running Atlanta Center for the FAA.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: Now THIS....

What else could it mean when politicians routinely declare that we can win wars by occupying the moral high ground? Do they think that we can fight and win wars without breaking a sweat, without getting our hands dirty... by sending in a brigade of lawyers from the ACLU? -- Dr. Stuart Schneiderman insightful.

Maybe we should send the good Blogfather, some professor of law, to fight for US.

After all, I noticed, just a little while ago where he had stated that we should not "Overreact" to 9/11.

From my military experience and studies in history, 'overreaction', e.g., overwhelming force, is one of the keys to victory.

You just supported my rather low opinion of the good legal professors military expertise.


[In warfare as in law, possession is nine points out of ten. And the infantry are the bailiff's men.]

wolfwalker said...

Tell me, Chuck, did you read a little further down to where Glenn said "If they’re punished severely — and that means severely, not a bombed aspirin-factory but something that puts those behind it in the crosshairs — this kind of thing won’t happen again. That was the lesson of the Libyan bombing."

Anyone who reads Instapundit regularly knows that Glenn is a wholehearted supporter of force as long as it's precisely focused on the actual enemy.

Dr. Schneiderman wrote: "Our effete intellectuals do not just avoid hard labor and the verdict of the marketplace. Many of them have also lost the will to fight."

Many people have lost the will to fight because there often doesn't seem to be any good reason to keep fighting anymore. Extremists never give up and never stop. Doesn't matter whether they come from the extreme right or the extreme left, they never stop, never give up, never accept compromise. The only way to stop an extremist -- really stop it -- is to kill it. But of course, that's illegal. So is there any way to stop an extremist from achieving its goals? No. Not in the long run. One need only look at the history of socialism in the US to see that. Americans don't want socialism and never have, and yet here we are: a nation so completely ruled by socialists that Europe is now more conservative than America is. Sickening.

If you can't win and you know it -- not guess, not suspect, but know, as certainly as you know that water flows downhill -- well, what's the use in fighting?

Cappy said...

Okay, Chuck-O. I'm calling you on geekihood. Everyone knows you're either Hardware (Hank Hill, the IDMS progrmmer down the street that single handedly kept the GeoMetro going for years beyond expiration date), or Software (me, other normal techies). Crank and yank AND geek? YeahSure. If you've got time to fix real stuff/go outside/have a family/eat/sleep you are a friggin' slacker that's draining the very lifeblood of the project.

Also, just put a sock in your he-man creds. Everyone knows that Larry Ellison has more nads than anyone in tech. And if you don't agree, he'll scratch your eyes out.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: wolfwalker
RE: Therein....

Many people have lost the will to fight because there often doesn't seem to be any good reason to keep fighting anymore. -- wolfwalker

....lies an excellent point. And something which I, once again, lay at the feet of our vaunted American education system.

'Fighting Spirit', as we call it in the Army, is not born into the people of a culture, it is educated into, or in our case, out of them.

History is rife with examples of cultures that having gone, as the doctor puts it 'effete', have ALWAYS been overrun by the more warlike cultures around them. Especially when stress is put upon the environment to even survive.

And the warlike ALWAYS prevail. The effete are destroyed in the process.

I like the way T.R.Fehrenbach put it....

Americans in 1950 rediscovered something that since Hiroshima they had forgotten: you may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life—but if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud. -- This Kind of War

A book every general officer who came and addressed the assembled classes at Benning School for Boys, told US to read. I got mine from Tattered Cover, after being assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson.

However, since the 1970s, our public education system hasraised something other that becomes less and less likely to be able to do the job when the time comes.


[Qui desiderat pacem — praeparat bellum. -- Vegetius]

P.S. Regarding the Blogfather, I occasionally yank is chain, just to keep him 'alert'. Most of the time, he's pretty good, but every now and then....

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Cappy
RE: You....

....sound like you're 'jealous' or something.


[If you had a Life in the first place, you'll never have a 'mid-Life crisis'. -- CBPelto]

P.S. Being retired Army, I work for myself these days. So my 'projects' are of my own choosing and design. My deadlines are whatever I want.

My current interest is to bring a bunch of sweet ladies up to the 21st Century, by bringing computer systems into their organization. [NOTE: See first post in this thread for details.]

Maybe if YOU had a REAL life, you'd be able to say the same someday....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, all, for the great comments. They all add important points to what I was trying to say.

I agree entirely that it is a question of the culture and its values. Teach people that hard work is inferior to thinking about things, and that fighting is futile because the other side will never give in... and you get to where we are today.

I see where David's coming from, and I think his point is well taken. I should have been clearer about the idea that far too many people aspire to be effete intellectuals, and are unsatisfied with their lives because they do not feel that they have achieved that exalted position.

I think that it's the creation of the ideal and the way people are induced to think that achieving the ideal is the way to be happy that matters here.

Ralph said...

I just read an interesting post on Bruce Charlton's Miscellany, about what intellectuals are good for. He separates them into two categories, sages, and shamans. It is his conclusion they are not a lot of use except the occasional problem that needs an abstract thinker. The sage is more dangerous than the shaman, for the sage's comportment implies he is wise.

His definition of wise is common sense and, for many intellectuals a common sense solution is beneath them. The current class of ruling elites are intellectual sages controlling debate and making decisions on large scale basis.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Becky, et al.
RE: Indeed!

His definition of wise is common sense and, for many intellectuals a common sense solution is beneath them. -- Becky

I was living in the vicinity of Denver when they began their massive 'upgrade' of their airport: establish Denver International Airport (DIA) and destroy Stapleton.

It was fascinating to watch the politicians and bureaucrats deciding on the proper place to locate the new facility. And BELIEVE ME.....

....'common sense' went straight out the proverbial 'window'.

Case in point....

The 'researchers' asked the local population—where DIA was eventually built—about whether or not it would be a good idea to build such a facility there.

The locals said, "You're out of your mind. That piece of land is the 'Tornado Alley' of the Front Range. We see more severe thunderstorms and funnel clouds there than we hear reported anywhere else along that stretch of mountains."

However, the bureaucrats had their way, bought the land and started building the airport.

Around the same time, NOAA began experimenting with a new radar. The, now-a-days, popular Doppler Radar, used for displaying precipitation. They started testing it at their Boulder, Colorado, facilities, about 20 miles to the West of the DIA site.

Guess what?

The experimental Doppler Radar validated the locals reports on bad storms in the area.

Indeed. After DIA was built I remember looking at a massive funnel cloud just to the East of DIA.

And, looking back on it, I remember driving along I-70, East of Denver, and watching what seemed to be a C141 attempting to 'fly', as it took off from Lowrey AFB, East of Denver. It was hanging in the air, under a very dark cloud, as if it were hanging from the sky by a string. It wasn't going ANYWHERE. And, it was at a very sharp angle to the ground.

Having 'jumped' such beasties while in the 82d Airborne, I was somewhat familiar with them and I thought, "That's 'odd'."

About that time, there was this MASSIVE 'dust storm' that blew up off the ground, several hundred feet DIRECTLY UNDER the stationary C141. At that point, I realized the plane and its poor crew were desperately attempting to FLY out from under a micro-down burst.

Fortunately, the plane was able to escape its dire situation.

What's my point?

I'm agreeing with your evaluation of how 'high-minded intellectuals' are REALLY low-brows when it comes to such thinks as 'common sense'.


[Common sense is not so common.]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

As you are suggesting too many intellectuals take thought as a substitute for experience. And they believe that their minds can prepare for every eventuality.

It's really the difference between a centrally planned economy and a free market economy. In the former a group of people decide that they know better. As Chuck saw in Denver, and as always seems to happen, their best laid plans are undone by unforeseen consequences.

When you have a market economy or when you convene a group of people who have real world experience, you always do better.

wolfwalker said...

Becky wrote: "I just read an interesting post on Bruce Charlton's Miscellany, about what intellectuals are good for. He separates them into two categories, sages, and shamans. It is his conclusion they are not a lot of use except the occasional problem that needs an abstract thinker."

And you are defining "intellectuals" how, please?

Cappy said...

Jealous? You bet. Of Ellison. And you'd better be too. Or he'll strafe you with his private MIG.

But seriously, folks, you need to step back from this, or at least lower your standards. Take my immediate family of insufferable liberals. 'Specially my middle sister. Became enraged when my nephew (of little sis) wrote a complimentary letter to President Bush when he (the nephew) was 8. Thereafter, the little boy was DANGED FOR LIFE. Fast forward to a year before the lad's Bar Mitzvah. MiddleSis swore mighty oaths the boy wouldn't be able to hack it. We aren't talking about killing a bear with a knife, jumping from planes, signing up for the Marines or other such acts of deering-do, mind you, but a normal coming-of-age ceremony involving reading from the Torah that millions of Jewish boys have done for thousands of years.

This may be because middleSis always finds wastrels that aren't even fit for the slacker band.

So get off your high horse, dangit! The way things are going just getting your @ss out the door and holding down a job is on the way to being viewed ad a major accomplishment, these days, if said self-annointed elites have their way.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Cappy
RE: Heh

Or he'll strafe you with his private MIG. -- Cappy

Been there. Done that. Boooorrrriiiiing.

Better being bombed by F4s that mistook my mortar platoon position for their 'target'.


P.S. Get a life....

P.P.S. Get back on-topic, you're making a spectacle, i.e., example of the thread, of yourself.

Chuck Pelto said...

P.P.P.S. Just to put thinks into perspective....

I was programming Honeywell 2200 mainframes while your father was trying to figure out how to tie his shoes. And that was some Summer 'lark' I took with a couple of friends between my sophomore and junior years in high school, late 1960s. The program was REALLY for the faculty and staff of the parish school system. [Note: Louisiana. Not Roman Catholic.]

Cane Caldo said...

I'm surprised you did not comment of the irony of David Brooks lamentation of gentrification/effemination. That's like Patton becoming compassionate at the sight of enemy casualties.

That's all I came here to say, but one of the comments really bothered me: "If you can't win and you know it -- not guess, not suspect, but know, as certainly as you know that water flows downhill -- well, what's the use in fighting?

Did you know that in Norse mythology, after everyone had died, and after all the training in Valhalla was done and the battle of Ragnarok commenced, the Norsemen believed the Frost Giants would defeat their gods. They still couldn't wait to die in battle to train with Odin. That's who I want to be.

This topic reminded me of a great essay by G.K. Chesterton:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Cane Caldo, for the reference to the Chesterton essay. It's a great piece of writing.

His most salient point makes a great deal of sense. The trouble with decadents is not so much their pursuit of pleasure, but their unwillingness to pay for it, to make any sacrifices for it...

They want the spiritual purification without having to undergo the indignity of the fast...

LordSomber said...

Michael Barone touched on this in "Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future."

David Foster said...

"Hard America / Soft America" was a very worthwhile book. I do think he goes too far in conflating "hard" with for-profit and "soft" with non-profit organizations. A nurse working for a non-profit hospital, or an air traffic controller working for the FAA, is pretty far over on the "hard" side because they are in constant contact with demanding and very hard realities. OTOH, there are many "staff" jobs in profit-seeking corporations that have a definite soft-America flavor to them.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: Additional Thoughts....

....on the effects of 'effete' intellectuals on matters of national importance.

[1] 9/11 — If political idiots had not outlawed the use of asbestos as a fire-retardant, the World Trade Center would probably STILL be standing. Despite the 'best efforts' of Islamic fanatics.

[2] Space Shuttle Columbia — If political idiots had not outlawed the use of proper insulation on the main fuel tank of that space shuttle, the Columbia and its crew would STILL be flying today.

Just some additional thoughts on the stupidity of those who 'think' they 'know better' than people with 'Common Sense'.


[When we build systems to prevent fools, government will invent an better fool.]

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: Allow Me.... comment on how it impacts my community locally.

Ever hear of an element called 'Selenium'?

It's buried deep, far and wide in my geological area. And it is another 'anathema' amongst the ecologically-correct'.

So much so that anything that touches on, i.e., 'mentions', it is considered a 'hazmat' situation.

Oddly enough, there's a higher level of the element in the waters of the local reservoir. And because of that, an effort on the part of the community near the reservoir to improve its water reclamation/reuse activities was part.

However, if anyone with more than two synapses to rub together did the math, they'd know that, at the current levels of the element therein, someone of 100 pounds weight would have to drink 33 gallons of the lake-water in order to receive a fatal dose.


They'd die of water-poisoning before the Selenium had anything to do with their demise.

And yet, oddly enough, down-streams, we grow the best cantaloupe in the whole-wide-world. And I suspect that it is because of the Selenium in the water and soil. Like the best green chilies in the world come from the soils of Hatches, New Mexico.

Such is life. Such is the stupidity of people who 'think' they 'know better' than the rest of US.


[General notions are generally misunderstood.]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Chuck. I had heard about the failure to use asbestos to coat the beams at the World Trade Center, but I do not see it mentioned very often.

More specifically, I heard that they had used asbestos to coat beams up to the 60th or so floor, and then they discovered that it was bad and they replaced it with something that was almost as good.

As you say, the rest is history.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: The Columbia Disaster....

....was brought on by the same sort of political correctness imposed on NASA, when it was required that NASA coat the main fuel tanks of the shuttle launch vehicle with a politically acceptable 'green' insulation material.

A chunk of it blew off during lift-off and slammed into the wing, damaging the ceramic tiles thereon.

On re-entry, the damaged tiles failed and the heat of re-entry friction with the atmostphere burned through the wing causing it to fall off.

The rest, as you said, "Is history." Tragic history at that.

But the foolish people who caused the disaster have not 'paid'....yet....


[Vengeance is mine.....sayth the Lord. I shall repay.]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Wow... I had not heard about this side of the shuttle tragedy.... It's amazing to see how many people think so little of sacrificing lives to their ideology.