I cannot win this argument. Nevertheless and being an English major, my soul is troubled, my conscience pricked. Since the Sixties and probably even the beat generation of the Fifties, the English major has come in for some easy scapegoating. Remember the image of the beat “poet” donned in beret taking a hit of pot, then standing up extending his drooping arms in mime, saying, “I am a tree.” That was and is the stereotyped English major. Actually Krauthammer would probably extend this image to psychology, history and philosophy majors, i.e. the liberal arts contingent. I wonder if he would include political science and economics majors who as everyone knows are highly productive contributors to the GDP. Alas, the old, Seventies images of Allen Ginsberg and Paul Simon, as pied pipers and troubadours wither. That millions of successful English majors wind up in education, communications, public relations and the law lies beside Krauthammer’s point.
Krauthammer pricked my conscience because in my time I have been a bit disaffected, not from capitalism, the pursuit of success and the American Way, but rather the way many conservatives would bully our culture. The United States without a doubt has been the most materialistically productive nation in history and in the world. Because of this we had the might to save that world from the Nazis. We’ve been trying to top our glory ever since.
And, of course, it makes sense that the absolute business of America would be business. Business dominates and towers hundreds of stories above all while it supports everything else — no question here. I am grateful for it, but not everyone is totally motivated by financial profit. Ayn Rand is not everyone’s hero. Must we forget that the economy has sectors which include government, education and not-for-profit enterprise — all of which provide jobs? Traditionally these three sectors have ameliorated bad times in the profit sector. They involve millions of productive people doing necessary work out of passion and commitment. The arts and humanities are legitimate endeavors. People pursuing them do not expect to be rich. Right now a malaise lies over all.
I am as put off as anyone by the recent interviewee at Occupy Kansas City, when he said, “I’m looking for a job, somewhat.” His counterpart shows up at Tea Party demonstrations as well. This is a disaffection of sorts, but it is not mine. Mine admittedly, comes from what my father would have blamed on “too many books.” Truthfully I cannot say that my disaffection came from reading Marx and a bunch of French writers, Keynes or John Kenneth Galbraith. Whitman, Thoreau, Melville and Henry Miller only gave me different views of life and the human condition. My reading has been far more an effort to understand the madness than to vilify America. And yes, at times the books have set me adrift from moorings.
My disaffection has other sources. True, my reading of William Dean Howells’ “The Rise of Silas Lapham” affected me profoundly as did “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead.” And I have read Hayek and Barry Goldwater. I listened to William F. Buckley on a regular basis. Pat Buchanan seems fair-minded to me these days. Above all, I like Pat’s sense of humor — a healthier view of the absurd than the bleakness held by too many “liberals.” For years my stepmother railed against FDR and lionized John D. Rockefeller and GM. I am still unconvinced that a corporation is a “person” except in the law. I have never found large institutions affectionate.
So I majored in English to immerse myself in all that seemed to matter. At that time it was the life of the mind — still very important to me. I am older and hopefully wiser now. I take more time to ride my bike, tend to home maintenance and watch the passing scene. The world belongs to others now, but the beast still slouches toward “Bethlehem” as it always has. The falcon again is out of touch with the falconer. The center has lost its grip and the next best step out of this mess is an end to stereotyping in all its guises. “Somewhat interest in a job,” Occupy Wall Street and the “disaffected” English majors are an old, old story just come around again in new clothes.
Your thoughtful comments are genuinely and fervently requested.
Steadfast and cautious,