Saturday, December 30, 2017


But the dramatic changes in elite spending are driven by a well-to-do, educated elite, or what I call the ‘aspirational class’. This new elite cements its status through prizing knowledge and building cultural capital, not to mention the spending habits that go with it – preferring to spend on services, education and human-capital investments over purely material goods. These new status behaviours are what I call ‘inconspicuous consumption’. None of the consumer choices that the term covers are inherently obvious or ostensibly material but they are, without question, exclusionary.”

Maybe some people are writing in order to change the world.  Others are writing because it fits the movie-generated idea that the most vital “story” possible is to have talent, develop it in some mysterious way (suffering?), and finally be published.  If the two purposes are conflated, then this is the most admirable of lives and might possibly lead to the birth of a new religion.  

It’s always a little blurry how this happens, partly because it doesn’t depend upon the skills and vision of any one individual and partly because when one is inside the kind of social movement that creates this uplifting power, it’s not really possible to see it, much less manage it.  Or finance it.

For instance, “education” is meant to be the key to the world for the “aspirational class  Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s research focuses on the arts and culture and most recently, the American consumer economy.  Election 2016; urban policy and planning; cultural industries (art, fashion, music); Los Angeles and New York City as cultural hubs; economic development of cities; social networks, nightlife, innovation; economic impact of creative industries; the making of celebrity.”  Pretty slick.  Hanging with the hoity-toity while keeping one’s identity as an academic instead of a parasite.  Though there are some people who think academics ARE parasites.

I got a comeuppance this holiday season: coal in my stocking.  My old friend had taken a different, far more conventional road, one that didn’t include college.  She regrets this, I think, seeing a degree as an entitlement or certification of virtue.  This is far from how I see it, but I’ve tried to stay “modern” and part of that is understanding that education is always arbitrary and too often made into a commodity to be sold.  The academies are quite frank, accepting rankings by magazines and calculating what one’s earning power might be if in possession of their degrees.  The corresponding dark side of that is “fake universities” where one receives an empty “education”.  People sue; the government intervenes.  Trump University is no more.

What is education?  Commonly now, people don’t talk about being “educated” but being “schooled.”  Educated seems to be something happening in academia.  Schooled is something that life and other people do to you, setting limits and requiring skills.  My friend is schooled by her family, her church, and her economic limits.  She has learned her lessons and is admired for it.

But I went for the old fashioned kind of stuff, academic classrooms and professors, both of which are being evaded now.  The classrooms have gone online and the professors must write and do research, so their grad students teach the classes as adjuncts.  Still, maybe because of my age, I’ve been able to get just ahead of the curve, barely preceding the upending of everything taken for granted, then surfing on the developments, which is something one can do with books.  Think "Hawaii 5-0" -- first the metaphor of the big wave curling over the person on a surf-board, and then the detective work sorting evidence and doing research, often on a tabletop computer.  I find it exhilarating.

With all my elite awareness, I never even noticed my friend saw me as playing in the sand with my little pail and shovel, building castles that will be destroyed by the tide.  She was more pejorative:  “sanctimonious hermit” she said.  “A child who must be indulged.”  Whups.  She cannot see my aspirations.

It got worse.  She would not read the writing I sent her, me assuming that she would want to read it and would be proud of me.  NOT.  Her standards are rigid, her horizons are close-by, and that’s the end of it.  If I wanted to argue, she offered to fight.  “Bring it on!” she said, and her first attacks were about my failures in the Sixties when she had already made her choice, a grown-up thing to do.  This split between us is just a little crack, auxiliary to the crevasse of separation in the US (maybe the world) today.  

The paragraph quote where I began, doesn’t address this issue, unless Currad-Halkett is suggesting that with the pitchforks coming, it would be better to be found reading a book than inventorying one’s jewels.  But it’s not a matter of quoting Camus at cocktail parties (even if they’re reduced to being speakeasies or coffee houses).  It’s a matter of a shifting world view, of seeing things quite differently.  One can’t go back.

Doing the work of learning or writing is partly a matter of schooling — practical (practising) matters of keeping order, finding structure, knowing where to look when you need to know something.  And there’s a dimension of spending, much of it traveling to conferences or libraries or buying computers.  Much technical knowledge acquisition is incredibly expensive, partly because it is at the edge of what is perceptible even with equipment.

But real knowledge advancement means the management of thinking “outside the box” as the metaphor goes.  Thus we come to “my” kind of writing, trying to frame ideas in print on paper (pixels) in order to understand it.  Seeking out transgressions for the sake of insight. “Exploratory education” often turns things on their heads as “deconstruction”.  I’m happy with where this is going in my back bedroom office where I’m having a little trouble keeping the temp above sixty because outside it is twenty below and this old house is not well insulated.  Others can see this as failure.  That’s not my problem.  My problem is that when they stop pretending and tell me what they “really” think, my feelings are hurt.  I AM a baby!  Just how aware am I?

But look at the sand.  Do you know that there is a shortage of sand in the world?  Do you know that sand is the resource for glass?  What’s the current state of scientific research on sand?  I’d better google that.  Does the pretty metaphor of “little grains of sand” mean anything these days?

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

The author of the above ditty, Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney (6 April 18231 November 1908), born Julia Fletcher, was an American Universalist educator and poet, whose works began to be published when she was 14, and who later wrote under various pseudonyms."Julia", "Minnie May," "Frank Fisher," "Sadie Sensible," "Minister's Wife", "Rev. Peter Benson's Daughter”  “Her earliest sorrow was the opinion of a maiden aunt, freely expressed to her mother, that "if she let that child go on writing verses, she would never be good for anything else." 

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