There’s always been that pull, but I assume… I mean you went to a good college, you knew about Louis Hartz and the liberal box. [I nod. I have no idea.] There’s always been some great… Louis Hartz is this political scientist who talks a lot about this difference between American politics, say, and Europeans. And that we don’t tend to get extremism with the kind of political influence here that there is in Europe. And that one reason is that there has been this peculiar kind of liberal centrism. That we’re very nervous about extremes.
I don’t know about you, and I don’t know what your friends are like. But this seems to me to be a sadder, more hungry generation. And the thing that I get scared of is, when we’re in power, when we’re the forty-five-year-olds and fifty-year-olds. And there’s really nobody–no older–that no people older than us with memories of the Depression, or memories of war, that had significant sacrifices. And there’s gonna be no check on our, um, appetites. And also our hunger to give stuff away. And I’m aware–I’m again, I’m speaking as a private citizen, I do not know any other generation. I’m talking about kind of a feeling I have, that’s somehow way down in my stomach…
You think this generation is more prone to…
I think this generation has it worse or better than any other. Because I think we’re going to have to make it up. I think we’re going to have to make up a lot of our own morality, and a lot of our own values. I mean, the old ones–the 60’s and early 70’s did a marvelous job of just showing how ridiculous and hypocritical, you know, the old authoritarian Father’s-always-right, don’t-question-authority stuff was. But nobody’s ever really come along and given us anything to replace it with. Reagan gave us a kind–I mean, the Reagan spasm I think was very much a story about a desperate desire to get back to that. But Reagan sold the past. Reagan enabled a fantasy that the last forty years hadn’t taken place.
And we’re the first generation–maybe people starting about my age, it started in ’62. We grew up sorta in the rubble of kind of the old system. And we know we don’t want to go back to that. But the sort of–this confusion of permissions, or this idea that pleasure and comfort are the, are really the ultimate goal and meaning of life. I think we’re starting to see a generation die… on the toxicity of that idea.
Dying in what ways? I mean, literally dying?
I’m talking about the number of people that–I’m not just talking about drug addicts dying in the street. [Watch beeps again. I keep thinking it’s my watch in the bag.] I’m talking about the number of privileged, highly intelligent, motivated career-track people that I know, from my high school or college, who are, if you look into their eyes, empty and miserable. You know? And who don’t believe in politics, and don’t believe in religion. And believe that civic movements or political activism are either a farce or some way to get power for the people who are in control of it. Or who just… who don’t believe in anything. Who know fantastic reasons not to believe in stuff, and are terrific ironists and pokers of holes. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s just a whole lot else.
Ad if you look for instance–some of the stuff’s in an essay about TV that was in that, I mean, and I’m kind of quoting it. But I really believe, that I think if there were one, like, archangel of this mentality, it’s Letterman. You know? Who’s the master of the deadpan, ironic echo of old truisms, that expose their vacuity. And his hip sophistication at seeing through them, and his hip invitation to us to join him in his superiority over them. And that’s it’s–Letterman for me is this fascinating trans… I mean, he is an archetype, it seems to me, of this era. I don’t see anybody or anything past him, except for extremists, you know? Rush Limbaugh, who uses a Letterman-like irony to ridicule liberal positions. But hte device, the mind-set, is still there. I don’t know what’s going to come after it, but I think something’s gonna have to. I mean, something’s gonna have to.
What do you think it will be?
My guess is that what it will be is, it’s going to be the function of some people who are heroes. Who evince a real type of passion that’s going to look very banal and very retrograde and very… You know, for instance, people who will get on television, and earnestly say, “It’s extraordinarily important, that we, the most undertaxed nation on earth, be willing to pay higher taxes, so that we don’t allow the lower strata of our society to starve to death and freeze to death.” That it’s vitally important that we do that. Not for them, but for us.
You know? That our survival depends on an ability to look past ourselves and our own self-interest. And these people are going to look–in the climate, in the particular climate of our generation and MTV and Letterman, they’re going to look absurd. They’re going to look like, what do you call it? Pollyannas. Or, um, you know, suffragettes on soapboxes. They’re gonna come off bombastic and pretentious and self-righteous and smug and, um…
But in a weird way, I think they’re… At some point, at some point I think, this generation’s gonna reach a level of pain, or a level of exhaustion with the standard, you know… There’s the drug therapy, there’s the sex therapy, there’s the success therapy. You know, if I could just achieve X by age X, then something magical… Y’know? That we’re gonna find out, as all generations do, that it’s not like that.
That at a certain point, we’re gonna look for something. And the question for me is, what? — is what comes after it? Some Ralph Reed, knuckle-draggin’ fundamentalist, you know? Easy atavistic bullshit that’s repressive and, that’s repressive and truly self-righteous and truly intolerant? Or is there going to be some kind of like, you know, something like what the founding fathers and the Federalists did. You know? Are we going to like look inside our hearts and decide that, things have been fucked up, and we’re going to make some rules that are good for everybody?