Friday links! Fantasy of decline edition

Since we spent so much of the week railing against declinism, I figured we’d take Friday to argue that American society is going down the tubes—you know, in the interest of fairness and balance. I’ve learned to use those words to refer to the opposite position of what is true, because I regard contemporary discourse as so broken that it doesn’t matter what I say. Thus does cynicism propagate itself. Of course, it is a true fact that empires rise and then fall again. Straitened people achieve great things, and into this greatness they bring a generation of entitled pussies. That was probably our parents, and now we are absolutely livid with them that we might have to do something to remain the Earth’s only superpower. It’s Friday, and Rome is in decline. Won’t you make the potentially disastrous mistake of eating a bunch of olive oil and dates with me?

Any assistant manager will tell you that power corrupts. It is also well known that money is power, so it should come as no surprise that scientific experiment has linked being rich with dishonesty and greed. Props to Mose for the link. In addition to literally taking candy from babies, wealthy people were found more likely to lie in a contest for a $50 gift certificate and less likely to yield to pedestrians at an intersection. Is it a coincidence that six decades of expanding wealth has coincided with a period of dramatically increased assholism?

Answer: yes, probably, because the claim that more people are jerks now is completely unfalsifiable. The evidence from the previously-mentioned experiments is flawed and anecdotal, which we all know is the best kind. Example: the number of preschoolers with multiple cavities has increased for the first time in 40 years. Devon Koester, aged two-and-a-half, arrived at Seattle Children’s Hospital with cavities in 11 of his 20 teeth. The next paragraph from the Times article is worth quoting in full:

Devon’s mother, Melody Koester, a homemaker from Stanwood, Wash., and her husband, Matthew, an information technology manager, said they began worrying about brushing Devon’s teeth only after Mrs. Koester noticed they were discolored when he was 18 months old. “I had a lot on my mind, and brushing his teeth was an extra thing I didn’t think about at night,” she said.

Note Melody Koester’s occupation. Of the things on her mind, the possibility that the human being who depended on her entirely for survival might need to brush his teeth was not one. The article goes on do describe one potential source of pediatric cavities as “endless snacking and juice.”

Judging parents is fun, isn’t it? The sword of total identification with your children cuts both ways, as this mother found out when she decided to “ace the SATs” along with her son. Spoiler alert: she didn’t, although she did manage to declare victory anyway after deciding that her negligible improvement on the math section wasn’t her fault. I quote from the About page:

I know way more math than I knew at the beginning of this project. Way. No question. What I learned was not reflected in my math score, and I think the reason is that I vastly underestimated the amount of ‘hard work’ that would be required to achieve a great math score.

There is no question that she learned a lot, even though a test designed to measure how much she had learned found no improvement. The reason was that she didn’t realize she would have to quote-unquote work—or rather the amount of quote-unquote work that “would be required.” It might also have something to do with the equation she uses as the image for her Solutions page, reproduced at right. Do not learn that equation.

There is the world we imagine, and there is the world we see, and no amount of squinting will bring both into focus. Is it any wonder that people succumb to manufactured enthusiasm? Chuck Klosterman gently suggests that the selection of tUnE-yArDs as the best album of 2011 by the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll might be an instance of hope’s triumph over clarity. I have listened to tUnE-yArDs’s irritatingly titled w h o k i l l, and it sounds like what Woody Allen’s much younger date puts on right before he starts missing Annie Hall. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it is definitely the kind of new outfit that the emperor’s court will agree looks great. As Klosterman notes, that puts Merrill Garbus in a tough position:

For the next 15 years, she must validate other people’s belief in her own brilliance. There is no other option. Because if she doesn’t, those same people will view her inability to become transcendent as hilarious.

The affections of the poseur are fickle, because they had no basis in the first place. Compare to my affections, which are so fixedly obsessive as to become irritating. I will never be done linking to Jay Reatard videos. I bet that in late Rome, the music was great.


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  1. Regarding that SAT story…Is the Onion planting its satires in legitimate news outlets as a means of fucking with us?

  2. I didn’t see an SAT story in a legitimate news site, but I did browse the lady’s website. I can’t articulate exactly why, but she makes me furious. Something about the sleeves pulled out onto the palms of her hands, the scatterbrained approach to communicating, the entitlement about the testing environment, the preoccupation with keeping time, distractions, and her her crafty notebook. All of it reminds me of the studious but stupid students who can practice learning techniques all day long and fail to even approach a facile understanding of the material. To them, school is a game, a search for approbation in high test scores, with little or no real-world value. And it’s always women.*

    Most egregious of all it was the computerized understanding of an essay she rattles off. “If I didn’t rock that essay, I. give. up. I did, I think, the best essay…I used Tim O’brien, I stated my position, I did the thesis, I gave really detailed examples, I used jingoistic–jeengohistic, how many people use jingoistic in their essay? Um, final paragraph? I did the counter example, I finished with a–strong–conclusion?”

    Is it the uptalk? Is it the obliviousness to a real value of knowledge that I’m projecting on to her? I would love to see you shit on her from atop your throne of words, D.Brooks. It would be cathartic. As a former tutor, I suspect you have valuable insights into the educational system and the psychology of its students, which has yet to get much airplay here on the blog.

    *When guys fail to value knowledge they blow off the educational experience, not become experts in its techniques.

  3. I don’t know what’s wrong with that equation, which looks like a perfectly straightforward definition of a paraboloid surface (I’d link to a plot, but am too cheap to shell out for Wolfram Alpha Pro).

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