Friday links! Impossibly broad social trends edition

Social interactions will become strangely more difficult as your appearance declines with aaaaaaage!

Now that the most world-altering and profound election in our nation’s history for at least the next two years has come and gone, it’s time to make broad pronouncements about the future. You know this game: each player makes a series of unfalsifiable claims about impossibly broad national, global and temporal trends, secure in the knowledge that the prediction will be forgotten long before the predicted comes to pass/turns out to be total bullshit. Sure, the prognostications and trendspotting say more about the biases and fears of the prognosti-spotter, but that’s always been the soothsaying game. Horoscopes, tarot cards, palms—they’re all just cold readings, and the job of the modern reader is no different. It’s the crystal ball in reverse—the mirror ball, if you will, and just because it insists on only telling us about the gypsy doesn’t make it any less reflective. Won’t you join the party?

If you’re wondering why I bothered to run down that agile (some might say tortuous) metaphor, it’s so I don’t have to actually believe in this. With surprisingly few new sources or events to guide them, the New York Times has released a description of the “game plan” the Republican party has been running for the last two years. “If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” a Power Point slide asked Republican congressmen just before Obama’s inauguration. “The purpose of the minority is to become the majority.” Astute readers will note that this statement tacitly implies the minority party is not obliged to help run the government, which is either A) a paranoid distillation of how the Times views the last two years of Republican behavior in the aftermath of their overwhelming victory or B) accurate. I’m sure that after the election, though, the GOP will stop seeing themselves as a persecuted minority and set about the serious business of bipartisan governance. Or the Times will run a four-year retrospective on how they acquire fresh supplies of human blood.

Meanwhile, in conservative fantasies, Charles Murray has used his column space at the Washington Post to claim that “America has been taken over by a new elite.” If you’re already gearing up for a series of David Brooks-style “the [new class of people I just made up] are more likely to [this] than to [that]” sentences, Murray will not disappoint. After invoking the authority of Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle and other television hosts and congressional candidates who have warned us of the power of elites, Murray points out that “Far from spending their college years in a meritocratic melting pot, the New Elite spend school with people who are mostly just like them.” As opposed to previous generations of college students, who went to school with a bunch of crack babies and eskimos. As much as I love ersatz populism, I grow weary of syndicated columnists and the children of US senators warning that people think they’re better than me.

But what can you do? Vague patterns in the behavior of strangers divide society into archetypes, as the free-floating and contagious meme of the hipster indicates. Mark Greif, who has gotten a lot of mileage out of the subject, has announced the demise of the hipster. He also traces the phenomenon’s beginning to the late 1990s, and argues that hipster culture experienced a fundamental change in 2003, which also happens to be the year he turned 30. After that, hipsterism was all about combing your hair forward and arguing over whether it was okay to date college students. Like all the best culture reporting, Greif’s article alternates between the idiotic and the profound, but it’s worth reading. Too bad it ended hipsterism forever, though.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of popular culture, the Volokh Conspiracy has tipped us off to this dry but fascinating scholarly article on the constitution of the Roman Republic. Everyone besides Ben Fowlkes has stopped reading now, but seriously, it’s good. The paper’s author, Eric Posner, argues that the deliberate checks and balances of the Roman system worked well for a small, homogenous electorate but became bogged down in maneuvering and partisanship once the nation became large and diverse. Sound familiar?

Fortunately, we still have drugs and Russians. Everyone’s favorite Meghan Gallagher sent me this amazing video of a naked Russian man freaking out on homemade drugs, which I should warn you contains naked Russians on drugs. It also has no sound, which lends it the eerie dignity of a Chaplin movie. “Dignity” may not be the appropriate word, here. Regardless, either this or writing composition curriculum lessons will be my weekend. Maybe both.

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