A friend of mine linked me to this paean to despondency from noted Canadian wanker novelist Douglas Coupland:
- A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years (Globe and Mail)
Guess how he kicks off?
1) It’s going to get worse
No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.
I guess we can be thankful that Coupland, despite his farsighted foreknowledge, isn’t going to burden us with specifics — just a metaphor taken from the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Since I started reading econoblogs — yeah, “the dismal science” — I’ve been pretty well-steeped in overall optimism. For example, Matt Ridley’s outstanding The Rational Optimist makes an astoundingly convincing argument that life is, in fact, getting better… and has been getting consistently better over the past several hundred thousand years. He quotes Thomas Macaulay thus:
On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?
More concretely, David Henderson gives us this germane burst of exuberance:
- How cool! (EconLog)
Right now I’m on a flight from Dallas to LAX. This is the first time I’ve been on-line in mid-air. It’s fantastic. If you want to see a great 4-minute riff by Louisck that puts everything in perspective, check the following.
One correction: everything’s amazing and I’m happy.
Better things for better living, through technology. But Coupland, bless his artistic little heart, sees only confusion and discord:
2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic
It’s simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly.
So Coupland’s safe little world where nothing unusual happens and he gets to write disquieting postmodernist literature about how horrible it is to be a programmer is bursting into a cacophony of wonderful little innovations that solve people’s problems… or at least make problems like “I’m stuck on a fucking airplane for five hours” far more bearable.
But here’s the moment of clarity, the pearl inside this particular oyster. Douglas Coupland is about to tell me exactly why I hate the living fuck out of everyone who complains about the death of the middle class:
6) The middle class is over. It’s not coming back
Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day?
That’s where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return.
OMG ONO– wait, I used that already.
When I remember travel agents, I remember how much worse air travel was when booking a flight had to be done through a secretive priesthood that jealously guarded its oligopoly on access to airlines. I remember not being able to choose where I wanted to sit, or when I wanted to show up at the airport, without the explicit say-so of a grey-faced technocrat on the other side of a monochrome CRT monitor. (Granted, security was much less of a theatrical production; but on the other hand recall that the “Hi, Jack!” joke in Airplane! rang true back in 1980.) Travel agents were rent-seekers when I remember them, not value-adders. They’re gone — well, odds are that like other people whose jobs were sucked into the wormhole called “the internet” they got new jobs — and the world is a better, richer, happier place for it.
Coupland’s teeth-gnashing rant drips of unearned smug snobbery. His picture of the middle class — and of its disappearance, along with nice houses in the suburbs and the brand appeal of IKEA — is of a crowd of people who build their identities on the foundation of class superiority. They’re somehow better than the working class. This decided, they need an excuse to explain why, and a “middle-class” job (“travel agent”, say, or “postmodernist novelist”) is just the ticket to self-justification.
Back in the day when trade was expensive and “travel agent” was a real job, the middle class sure looked better than the working class by the crude measure of wealth. But as things like organic kale and nice hotel rooms get both cheaper and more broadly accessible, it’s getting harder to differentiate the “middle class” from the “working class” — which is a Coupland-ish way of saying that poor people are getting richer. He doesn’t like that. In fact, he somehow manages to paint it as racist:
However, this won’t stop people from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we’ll be entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new monoclass!
(Emphasis added; impotent jealousy in the original.)
Coupland can go cry in his beer; I’m gonna go play on the internet.