For many Americans a tooth can make the difference between security and destitution. That’s right: lose a tooth in the United States and you lose your chance to live the dream. Poverty and emotional desolation follow soon upon the unfortunate loss. For in the land of veneers and gratuitous orthodontia, “untouchable” status is a shed bicuspid away.
An essay of mine appears at The New Inquiry, an upstart journal out of New York City that’s well worth checking out and sticking in your rss-feed reader. The essay discusses the massive earthquake one kooky geologist, Dr. Iben Browning, predicted would demolish most of western Illinois and eastern Missouri, including my then-hometown of St. Louis.
The detached, transcendent point of view of “Subdivisions” points toward a technocratic future for those analytically minded teens, toward a successful place in the universe of research consultancies and policymaking think tanks. They need not become bogged down in high-school popularity traumas as long as they can take the long view, can see them clearly from the outside, and can assume the ability to comment on them neutrally, as if they didn’t affect them personally at all. This subtle refinement catered to the nerdy teens’ sense of innate superiority in a new — and arguably dangerous — way. With “Subdivisions,” Rush taught the embryonic meritocrats among its fan base that power, coldly and clinically deployed, is the best way to redeem awkwardness.
Thirteen years ago, when I began my collection of seventies-era cookbooks, how-to guides, and life manuals, the economy was bustling along, nourished by the manna of dotcom stock jobbing profits. This manna also fueled the dullest undergraduate’s daydreams, which danced through his head enrobed in all the finery a salary in the high five figures can command. Today, however, these books sitting around my apartment seem documents from a vanished world — Work and Leisure in Ultima Thule, perhaps, or Homemaking in Atlantis — one which was pried away by force of massive low-interest leverage, or was patiently ladled out of the ship of state during various bailouts. These tomes represent a collective memento mori of a variety of prosperity and equality that is not likely to return in my lifetime.
Voltaire once wrote that if God didn’t exist, He would have to be invented. Apparently the same can be said for bureaucracy — and for the rent-seekers who manipulate its levers. You need only loosen up your conception of bureaucracy. The “take a number and we’ll be right with you, but first make sure you have completed the following forms” model of bureaucracy? That’s so “old economy.” In the world to come, bureaucracy, like everything else under the sun, will be miniaturized and digitized, so you can take it with you wherever you go. Now that’s convenience.
The fact that graduate school seemed to me a cult probably says more about me and my inability to view education as anything other than “self-actualization” and personal growth. I wasn’t always discouraged from this view, but neither did I have it forced upon me. I never abstracted myself from the schooling process and would not accept it as simply a program of professionalization and preferential networking. I chose to cling instead to an impression of the university as a place obscurely designed specifically to aggrandize my ego. I was thus made uncomfortable when any larger mission would come into view.
Generation Bubble surveys the cultural and psychic landscapes of the progeny of an age in which increased access to debt replaced wage growth as the key to an improved standard of living. Members of Generation Bubble understand intuitively that consumption has replaced production as the key aspect of one’s identity, and that producing a self to which a good credit score can be attached now constitutes life’s great work.