The Curse of the Thinking Class

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The Curse of the Thinking Class by James Howard Kunstler

How might we account for the strange melding of neuroticism and dishonesty that has gripped America’s thinking class since the ascent of Donald Trump as an epically reviled figurehead on our ship of state? It all seems to come down to shame and failure.

There is, for instance, the failure of America’s leading economic viziers to arrest the collapse of the middle class — and with it, the disintegration of families — that more than anything produced the 2016 election result. What is a bigger emergency: the destruction of all those towns, cities, and lives in flyover-land, or the S & P stock index going down twenty points?

The choice made by the “experts” the past ten years is obvious: pump the financial markets at all costs by using dishonest policy interventions which they are smart enough to know will eventually blow up the banking system. They did it to preserve their reputations long enough to retire out of their jobs. The trouble is that the damage is now so extreme that when the time comes for them to apologize it will not be enough. They will lose their freedom and perhaps their heads.

The neuroticism and dishonesty is exactly what turned two of this country’s most sacred and noble endeavors, higher education and medicine, into disgraceful rackets. Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes covered both bases in their lead story about how the NYU medical school recently declared its program tuition-free. This great triumph was due to an enormous cash gift from one of the founders of the Home Depot company, billionaire Ken Langone. Nowhere in the broadcast did CBS raise the question as to how the cost of a degree became so outrageous in the first place. Or how Mr. Langone made his fortune by putting every local hardware store in America out of business, which enabled him to capture the annual incomes of ten thousand small business owners and their employees. NYU’s grand gesture is just a way to paper over the shame of the University executives’ role in the college loan racket that may destroy countless lives.

Neuroticism and shame is what drives identity politics with all its weird ritual persecutions and punishments. It was the thinking class that led the civil rights campaign of the 1960s. Here we are fifty years later with dozens of ruined cities, failed public school systems, and prisons stuffed with black men way out of proportion to their actual demographic in the general population (nationally 37 percent versus 13 percent). In California, it’s 29 percent while only 6 percent of the state’s male residents are African American. The favored narrative of the thinking class says that the high incarceration rate is due to unfair application of drug laws for relatively minor offenses, especially being caught holding weed.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.