“Elites Like Bad News”

(p. 101) Many elites love writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, who viewed all human action as meaningless, or Thomas Pynchon, whose novels, such as Gravity’s Rainbow purport to present hard-science arguments that ours is a pointless universe doomed to meaningless demise. Pynchon’s grasp of physics is debatable; what matters is that when he claimed to have found scientific proof the universe is pointless, many of a certain ilk were eager to believe him. Eighty years ago, elites of the United Stares and Europe gushed in praise over the social historian Oswald Spen-(p. 102)gler’s work The Decline of the West, which argued not only that American and European civilization “one day will lie in fragments, forgotten” but that the downfall of Western civilization was imminently at hand. Similarly, William Butler Yeats in the early twentieth century was praised by Western intellectuals for predicting pending social disintegration through his famed phrase, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Spengler even maintained that the collapse of Western civilization would be a beneficial development, because America and Europe were contemptible. Eight decades later, the West is far stronger, richer, more secure, more diverse, and more free than when Spengler declared it a decaying relic about to vanish. Nevertheless, his work and similar predictions of impending Western collapse are still spoken of reverentially among intellectual elites, a portion of whom delight to hear anything American and European called bad.

If elites like bad news, then the eagerness of intellectuals, artists, and tastemakers to embrace claims of ecological doomsday, population crash, coming global plagues, economic down fall, cultural wars, or the end of this or that become, at least, comprehensible.

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.
(Note: italics in original.)

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