New Year Musings
by Daniel A. Kaufman
The New Year has always struck me as a time not for resolutions, but for musings. Here are some from this New Year, in the order in which they occurred to me.
- The future is not very futuristic. One can drive down significant stretches of road – even in densely populated urban and suburban areas – and see no indication of whether it’s 2018 or 1980. This would not have been true had one driven down such a street in 1980 and thought about what it would have looked like in 1942.
- American politics is no longer even marginally about ideas, but about the hatred that the different portions of the country feel towards one another. Trump didn’t cause this. He is a manifestation of it.
- For the first time – at least since the beginning of the industrial era – we have generations of young people who care less about freedom than their elders do. This is unnatural and bodes ill for us.
- The ubiquity of smart phones and the almost complete absence of a space program suggests that we are shallow, unimaginative, and self-absorbed.
- That people in wealthy, modern, industrial nations no longer have the desire to reproduce is evidence of very deep social and cultural rot; a bizarre combination of narcissism and self-hatred.
- It now seems imaginable that (in the developed world) we could reach the point that men and women no longer will want to live together, as part of a single society.
- Doublethink is now necessary to navigate virtually every part of our lives.
- We are simultaneously the most depressed we’ve ever been and the most obsessed with healthy living. This indicates a deep confusion.
- Professional, academic philosophy will either be captured by its social justice wing or descend even further than it already has into scientistic irrelevance. Or it may continue as it is, with each of these elements simply becoming more pronounced and extreme. Regardless, it will not survive.
- It seems quite clear that within a generation or two, the humanities and liberal arts will play only the slightest of roles in primary and secondary education and no longer will be a significant part of higher education, other than (perhaps) at the most elite margins. This will do much more to usher in our “post-human” future than anything the transhumanists can dream up.
- On rare occasions, fantasy literature imagines that a world of elves and dwarves and magic lies in the distant future, rather than the past; in the wake of some sort of collapse of modern, technological society. Given what seems to be a widespread penchant for magical thinking, in spite of our complete technological immersion, this seems more plausible than the futures imagined by Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.
- With the exception of a handful of old-fashioned diners, one can no longer simply walk into an establishment and order a cup of coffee. Watching my elderly parents’ bewilderment as they try to operate their new television makes me realize that one also can no longer simply watch TV. Our commitment to customization seems to have reached the point of diminishing returns.
- How else to describe contemporary social justice activism but as a kind of racket? Progress, no matter how great, never results in a reduction of attention, energy, or resources. Indeed, all three are increasing rapidly, even at a time when the social and economic condition of minorities and women is the best it’s been, since concern with such matters began.
- The enthusiasm and ease with which we have embraced the simulacra of human relationships that social media provides shows that we effectively remain Cartesians, in spite of our professed naturalism.
- Generation X was the last generation to have anything that reasonably could be called “childhood and adolescence,” as these concepts have been understood since the Second World War. One result has been that the next generation, the Millennials, have no idea what it means to be an adult. It may take several generations for these concepts to be redefined in ways that are socially, culturally, economically, and politically viable. Our institutions, however – at least as they are currently configured – will not be able to wait that long.
- A time of disunity and mutual antipathy, such as we live in today, is one in which the liberal consensus is needed more than ever, and yet, the likelihood of our accepting it becomes smaller every day.