As a word of explanation: on either side of my family, I’m the eldest of my generation. My mother’s sister got in the next three, and then there’s a gap of eight years or more between me and my brother. From there, the various cousins and siblings range well younger than myself. As a result, sometimes I tend to lapse into “get off my lawn” mode with the youngsters, a situation that annoys all parties, and one I take pains to avoid when I can.
Still, I notice even when I manage to keep it to myself, and what I primarily noticed in the Czar’s Monday missive is the uncanny resemblance to many of my generation. This meant that I wasn’t keeping it to myself this time. The Czar kindly let me ramble, but even that was cut down. My interest was more than abstract. What got me where I live is the part I’m putting after the jump.
There are 15 of us, beginning with me and going down to a middle-schooler. Technically this would make her the next generation; leaving out all the cousins who are still in compulsory schools, our family stratum is eight persons thick.
Of these eight, three or four (depending on who’s tallying) are currently leading lives similar in most respects to what the Czar described: multiple part-time jobs instead of a budding career, group living (or stuck with the parents well into adulthood), and dubious prospects. This is not to say that they won’t make the leap – I did so relatively late in the game, and these aren’t untalented or unintelligent people. The final horn hasn’t sounded yet. Of course, nobody knows when that final horn will go off, will they? And that worries me. The rules of the game have been changed to make it ever-more-challenging to get off the bench and get into the flow of play.
One of the metaphors popular in discussing the meddlesome nature of too-large a State is that they are meant to be referees, and not to take up the player’s gear and participate in the action. Bad enough, but now it’s almost like the sportswriters have also taken the field – not to play themselves, but to make sure than everyone else plays according to prepared roles, because to behave otherwise is to spoil the purity of their story afterward. (After all, players only get in the way of a well-managed game.) The incessant whistles of Life’s overbearing refs dovetail nicely with this desire to move the players around like props. Nobody is important as an individual any more, but as a class, or as a metaphor for the lesson these busybodies mean for us to learn.
Should we be surprised that so many players give up on the game?
People lie along a continuum of behavior. Let’s scale it from zero to a hundred. In both the overall and in the individual pursuit, you will find a small group at the very low end, the single-digit sorts who are incorrigible. They don’t care. In schools, they’re the ones marking time until they can start their professional criminal careers; in jobs, they are untrainable and surly where they are even employable at all; they will cause trouble for the fun of seeing what it does to everyone else. Likewise, the high end, 90+, are filled with people who are dauntless. They’re the kids stuck with single-digit teachers who nevertheless become engineers or doctors or inventors, who read Aeschylus and Virgil in their own spare time; they rise from the stockroom to CEO; they take trouble on behalf of others even before those others knew they had trouble.
Most of us are in that comfortable muddle in the middle. We even make it something of a virtue not to be a Single-digit or a Dauntless… the “I’m a good person” defense when we become aware that we really could be a whole lot better if we bothered.
We already find it easier to shed points than gain them, but for a lot of us, “I’m a good person” only gets us so far, and we start to push to make it true. And that’s where the Refs and Writers are such a hazard. The more barriers they put up to our increasing our score, the fewer people keep playing, and the less success they have. The only high-end skill of the Refs and Writers: helping people shed the points. You could almost place these people in the negatives – they have a knack, a perverse anti-talent for insisting that it’s unfair to those losing points when other, better-motivated people try to gain points of their own.
Again, pick an aspect of life, any you like: “you’ve made enough money,” or “you’ve drank enough soda,” or the recent post at Morgan’s. That picture is astonishing to me. I can get if some people don’t want to be merely looked at, but to be told that everyone else has to pluck out their eyes? Hogwash. It’s not just about people being pretty no matter what, but other people insisting that they ought not to be pretty. And it’s self-defeating. It really becomes the mirror of what it purports to be: it’s the people shrieking like harpies about “lookism” who reduce a woman to nothing more than her physical appearance, who refuse to take a pretty girl’s brains seriously, or who insist that a smart girl can’t be physically appealing as well.
This is already intolerable, but it really begins to frost my flakes when I see its effect on my loved ones. I worry a lot about the seven youngsters. One is already in crisis. Even the others who aren’t, how are their prospects? To use the parlance of the day, the Blue Model life isn’t sustainable. Moreover – and this is the big secret – it isn’t meant to be. The mindset at the negative end of the scale is that nobody must be in the black; he who dies with the least toys, wins. All this money-grabbing and power-exertion isn’t even honest, in the sense of the grabbers wanting more for themselves. In my letter to the Czar I said otherwise, but the whole reason this didn’t go up yesterday as I’d hoped was because I really began to think I was wrong about that. I seriously doubt that any of the grabbers enjoy having their spoils to judge from their faces and attitudes. If they are capable of enjoying anything, it’s the actual grab, the thrill of knowing that they can impose their will on others. They really don’t care about winning; the thrill is in making sure the other guy loses, and knows it.