It’s destabilizing to have a nation of young strivers with no coherent vision or path to success.
My wife's father gave her one of the best pieces of advice I can think of on this subject:
You need to pursue a career that people are willing to pay you for.
"Meanwhile, we’ve spent decades ironizing the trappings of both middle-class respectability and white-collar success, representing the former as boring and conformist and the latter as exploitative and selfish."
Really? What is wrong with respectability and conformism? And if white collar success is exploitative and selfish, what about these insane narcissistic influencers and celebrities in this generation who think every facet of their lives needs to be broadcast on social media?
I say find a career or vocation that people will pay you for, and if you want to pursue art, music, whatever, have at it as a hobby. If you get really good and can make a living, go for it. It's called
I am so happy to see Freddie cover this topic. It is one of my favorites related to explaining our social and economic challenges.
I worked in blue collar physical jobs before I got interested in computers and business and converted to a professional class worker. Now, some of my family and friends tell me that I was always too intelligent to work in careers of physical labor. I laugh at that noting some of my friends that did not go to college and now own contracting companies where they make more money than me.
In one business I own I hire C4 certified pipe welders that bill $150 per hour. Those welders drive nice vehicles, live in nice homes and take nice vacations.
I am reading Ian McGilchrist’s book The Master and Its Emissary that covers the left vs right brain topic. I think another related consideration is that as our economy has migrated away from product manufacturing and related services to become largely one focused on entertainment, too many people are duped by their entertainment feeds to think they are talented enough to be entitled to making a living and then fame for their talent.
Just go on YouTube and watch travel Vlogs. 98% of them are crap. The 2% worth watching are done by people with talent, skills and knowledge. But ask around and you will discover that millions of young people think they too can make a living traveling and video-recording their experience.
Yes creating artistic content has never been cheaper or easier, but the talent pool has not really changed. Artistic success has always been a pyramid and will always be a pyramid where there is a small population of truly talented people at the top, and the rest of us need to find a job making some widgets.
One big issue is the lack of time to consume the art that so many want to make. You can only play music so fast, and appreciation comes even more slowly.
I think this issue is tied into the problem that society does not properly appreciate the creative character if may jobs, for example construction. Skilled workers cannot get through the day without addressing numerous issues that require novel solutions. If done properly these are never noticed because the product silently stands and functions.
The phrase 'starving artist' has always been around. Indeed, I have probably used the phrase more than once. What is different is that society (and each individual) blamed their hunger (as starving artists) on their own failures. Now society is to blame. That is different and (as the author points out) destructive as well.
A related point is that ordinary jobs are no longer esteemed. At one time, a coal miner (this is not about climate change, use school teacher if you would prefer) could take pride in his work. What about now? At one time, the US (and other countries) had an entire political party (in the US, the Democrats) who were essentially blue-collar. Now both US parties are quite white-collar. Indeed, the Democrats may be more white-collar than the Republicans.
My kids watched Disney Channel in the 90s and early 2000s. Every Disney Channel Original Movie had a similar theme: the kid wanted to be a creative, or pro athlete, or something cool, and had to fight against their mean old dense parents to pursue it. In the end the parents always came around, and all was good. The tag line for the Disney Commercials was “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!”
Get grounded and get real - says the guy who still believes in socialism.
Is there a unified theory that can accommodate your piece here ("It’s hard to see a future without a large number of young people who will settle for nothing but artistic success") AND the recent New Yorker essay about the precipitous drop in college humanities majors because everyone wants a steady job writing code? I am interested.
If what you mean by "elite" is people who go to college then, yes, there are far more of those than high-paying career openings. But if we're talking about a natural elite of those with outstanding innate intellectual capability overproduction of same is hardly the problem! https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0160289613000470
A related (closely related) point is that the US has turned its collective back on "blue-collar" jobs. These days the US imports illegals (and legal immigrants) to get necessary work done. The decline of "shop" in high schools is one metric of this social change. A typical article is "The Death of Shop Class: The History and Decline" (https://solutions.dunnlumber.com/projects/the-death-of-shop-class-history-and-decline).
Years ago it was said of a lot of Third World countries that one of their problems as too many educated people and not enough suitable jobs, so unrest. Now it’s the United States. To paraphrase Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the rich countries are different from you and me - they have more money.
Freddie, thanks for the article. There are many insightful and valid points mentioned regarding status, productivity and desires. As a social entrepreneur and "creative" (or creative class) person I can share my experience with finding it difficult to earn enough money from time to time. One of my colleagues has written this article about how things can be for the poorer parts of the creative class around the world.