The reason I ask is that his daughter has made a grand ass of herself as an English version of Megan McArdle. And it’s perfectly appropriate to think of Julia Hobsbawm as Eric’s daughter, even if she bizarrely insists that it has nothing to do with anything. Her profile in Talking Points Memo is too insipid to excerpt, which got me to thinking that she’s a minor but useful data point in the tragic story of British national decline. The British aren’t just a formerly upstanding, vigorous, and sassy people being tragically broken by degree with a proliferation of ASBO’s, sniveling hate speech cautions, and a barely reformed bullshit jurisprudence on libel. They’re also a people of some wit, if not necessarily thoughtfulness, stumbling into a pit of vacuity that can contend with the most vulgar and unwashed version the United States can offer. It used to have Lady Thatcher (“all that is left will be bitter, and all that is bitter will be left”) and all the properly posh old boys from the public schools, who were at least dapper and well-spoken, if ultimately thievish brutes. Now it has the political bollocks of New Labour and the self-help bollocks of Julia Hobsbawm. Even British Airways’ livery has gone to shit since the early nineties.
At least Boris Johnson is an entertainingly obnoxious posh bastard. And, at long last, no longer my countryman.
Julia Hobsbawm mentions that she got poor grades in school (I assume that’s an accurate synonym for “didn’t excel”) but claims to have applied a scrappy work ethic to take on projects that her classmates disdained, success in a class-hobbled society like England having nothing to do with being the child of one of the most famous academics in the country. Speaking of which, I’m the headmaster at Eton, you jolly old chap. I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with people like Megan McArdle and Julia Hobsbawm. Are they secretly embarrassed and compensating with up-by-the-bootstraps bluster? Do they suffer from some genuine failure of self-awareness? Are they just lying sacks of shit? It’s abnormal behavior. These fuckers dwell on some moral, or maybe intellectual, plane that we normals can’t see from where we live our daily lives. Or maybe it’s a natural endpoint for societies where everybody’s going to school for business or marketing or communications. (If communication is something that has to be taught, we’re in trouble. This is especially true if the instructor is NOT a speech pathologist.)
As it happens, I know a thing or two about being a faculty brat with poor grades. I won’t go into the details; if you’re that interested, it’s a journey of discovery that you’re free to make all by your lonesome; but I’m personally acquainted with some fairly prominent academics, and not just in an I-know-a-guy-who-knows-Laird-Hamilton kind of way. I’ve been on the fringes of some shit that was fucked up in roughly the same way that the Lonsdale/Clougherty thing at Stanford was fucked up, or the Kitzhaber/Hayes thing in Oregon. It’s like, these people are supposed to have some wisdom, but they’re so far away from anything resembling wisdom that it’s shocking, and I’m looking on in disbelief, watching the third or fourth act of some Greek tragedy. It’s stunning precisely because it doesn’t involve some good-natured but idiotic hanger-on in an East County trailer hollow who thinks that Jamul was one of the apostles, specifically the one closest to Jesus. It has to be heard and seen to be believed, but I’ve been in situations where I’m hearing about less crazy shit from a marginally employed felon who probably dropped out of high school than from a prominent tenured PhD. If I’m hearing less crazy shit from a guy who did six years at Lompoc Camp for drugs (different felon) and won’t shut up until I walk to another train car an hour and a half later, there’s probably something wrong with academia.
Still, there’s a big difference between falling way the fuck short of one’s professor parents and ending up like Julia Hobsbawm. We have a couple of family friends who, I’m not kidding, are both brilliantly well-educated (he’s a PhD, she’s a high-school graduate), neither of whose kids have ever shown very much academic interest to my knowledge. The younger one is still haphazardly working towards a bachelor’s in elementary education in her late twenties and has a boyfriend who, six years into his own undergraduate studies in political science, is probably one of the five laziest people I’ve ever talked to at length and almost certainly in the top ten. Not surprisingly, these two routinely board their dog with honored prospective mother- and father-in-law. He’s a really cool dog, but good grief. This is why I feel smug about never having gotten a pet of my own as an adult.
My point is that, in spite of all this, they live in truth. Uh, oh shit, can you watch our dog for a couple of weeks? Or, I guess, months? It’s a straightforward enough stance. Nobody gets bamboozled with a catfishing story of grit, moxie, and self-reliance. We unfortunately get hit with networking fire from time to time, since this is the same chick with the home jam business of questionable solvency, but it’s merely a bit obnoxious in the classic Millennial fashion, not a damnable bunch of treacherous lies. I guess there’s a certain humility that comes from proffering that dear doggie will have to take refuge with mom-mom and pop-pop in the family compound for the time being because we can’t find any apartments in our price range that take dogs. Having a boyfriend with never-ending excuses for his never-ending undergraduate studies in political science can’t hurt, either. I’ve had dinner with him, and he’s a good-natured layabout, not a Machiavellian manipulator. He isn’t slick enough to get people to buy his bullshit. I certainly can’t complain much about him after watching other friends have their lives turned upside down by dark triad shithead boyfriends, even if this fellow really is a lazy piece of shit.
This is a crucial thing to understand. It’s easy to get a lazy motherfucker to do some damn work now and then. One would expect Americans to understand this without difficulty (and the English, too, for that matter), since we have entire batteries of social controls devoted to stirring the lazy into a state of industry, or at least something passably resembling industry. It’s nigh impossible, however, to stir the dishonest into a state of honesty. I don’t mean dishonesty in the mold of aww man poli sci is really hard and stuff; that’s too sheepish and ashamed to cause trouble for anyone but the lazy bastard muttering it. I mean honest-to-God mendacity, which is kind of a bad analogy, but it’s fucking six am and I’m going to see the sunrise for once because #WINNING. I mean dishonesty that comes from the depths of the soul. Because, to quote Det. Juliet O’Hara, since it’s too night-till-it-be-morrow late for me to give a shit about her relevance or existence, “Guys! Guys! This isn’t working out! I can teach you the moves, but I cannot make you feel the crunk! The crunk has to come from inside, from right here!”
I’ve often looked at Megan McArdle and her writing and thought, is this woman of the Devil? I’m not kidding. It’s an involuntary, unsettling thought. I really feel like I’m looking at something ontologically immoral. She isn’t someone who’s situationally immoral under pressure; I’ve known such people, and they’ve never been nearly so smug. It has to be deeper and worse than that. Writing Ayn Rand-derivative mental garbage for think tanks can’t be the only sinecure that someone with her family connections can land. She has to have other options at her disposal. It’s damning that up-by-the-bootstraps objectivist agitprop is the option she has chosen. You can be the bet the beach house that it’s worse than sitting around in pastel Capri pants drinking Cosmopolitans all the live-long day. That’s merely the waste of a life; Megan McArdle is the waste of a polity. She makes the waste transitive on the rest of us.
I do believe it’s a cookbook.
Julia Hobsbawm is a different accent but the same goddamn song. There she is, the daughter of a world-famous historian, and she’s gibbering on about introversion and cortisol like the love child of Malcolm Gladwell and Dale Carnegie. Much better to be the village idiot; certainly much more respectable. Smearing one’s shit on the toilet seat, laughing gleefully about this happy accident, and calling one’s foster mother a fucking cunt, all during one’s twenties because that’s how one rolls as a retard: all of these are an improvement over presuming oneself a sort of Yiddish matchmaker for introverted Britons with just the right amount of class-consciousness who could use a networking-derived cortisol modulation.
Few people are bashful about telling a grown retard to stop doing that right now. Screaming obscenities at the top of one’s lungs is too egregious to tolerate in polite society. Hobsbawm is insidious because she respects the outward etiquette rules of public discourse. Never mind that she could benefit from a crude Cockney awakening in a spirit of truth and righteousness, a duty that I’m normally afraid to leave to the Cockneys but that in this case I’d be of a mind to entrust to the worst chav on the island. She’s cluttering up and polluting the public discourse with pseudoscientific agitprop. Of course someone should tell her to shut the fuck up, you bumptious fucking charlatan. What the fuck does she know about cortisol? Bitch please. There’s no excuse for giving any sort of academic imprimatur to bullshit like that, and any academic institution that allows its auspices to be so intellectually corrupted deserves to be hounded into a shame-faced retreat. It’s an affront to thought. Realistically, though, there’s no turning back. It may be a matter of months before Hobsbawm is bamboozling bougie goobers with a TED Talk on her networking insights, and at that point we’ll have to listen to her AND to that excruciatingly anodyne bastard Guy Raz in the same segment. (Where the hell does NPR find these losers?)
We need to realize that there are worse things than idleness for the scions of privilege. Worse for the rest of us, certainly, and there are a lot more of the rest of us than there are Hobsbawm and McArdle scions. A trustfunder ought to learn a trade or profession, to be sure, but a life of beachfront dissipation is much, much less socially deleterious than a life of dicking around with public policy for shits and giggles, or, more likely, for crude self-dealing. There are ethical duties that come with involvement in public intellectual life, and even allowing for ample academic freedom, McArdle and Hobsbawm damn well are not discharging these duties. No reputable intellectual falls into their crooked, fourth-rate thinking. They’re vacuous shitbirds. Honestly, the best thing I can say about McArdle is that she’s only sometimes a vacuous shitbird, but even seventy or eighty percent reputability is not enough when the remainder of one’s writing is so morally (and often stylistically) execrable.
There’s a certain noblesse oblige that ought to be incumbent upon the wealthy to try not to make things worse for everyone else, and these two aren’t abiding by it at all. Conversely, what I can say for Tommy Gilbert is 1) he never wormed his way into academia or the think tanks, and 2) most of his acquaintances knew what they were getting with him, and that what they were getting was volatile and bad. As I’ve said before, if you have to choose between high-functioning psychopaths and low-functioning ones, choose the low-functioning. They’re easier to report to the Mounties.
I feel rather pedestrian for staying out of academia for fear that I’d keep getting into torrid affairs with undergraduate girls.