Pessimism has no function. It’s an indulgence of people who have little stamina to confront the challenges of modern life. And it’s a good way to rationalize their withdrawal from the work of participating in the great work of human beings, which is, as Senator Daniel Webster said, justice.
If you look at the history of nations, major redirections for justice were brought about by never more than 1 percent of the active citizenry. Whether it was civil rights, the environment, or consumer protection, they had one asset: They represented what Abraham Lincoln called the “public sentiment.” Nowadays people give up on themselves and rationalize their own powerlessness, but it takes very few people in congressional districts and around the country to make major, long-overdue changes in American society that are supported by large numbers of people.
What I ended up concluding is that working class people hate the cultural elite more than they do the economic elite—and mind you, they don’t like the economic elite very much. But they hate the cultural elite because they see them as a group of people who have grabbed all the jobs where one gets paid to do good in the world.
If you want a career pursuing any form of value other than monetary value—if you want to work in journalism, and pursue truth, or in the arts, and pursue beauty, or in some charity or international NGO or the UN, and pursue social justice—well, even assuming you can acquire the requisite degrees, for the first few years they won’t even pay you. So you’re supposed to live in New York or some other expensive city on no money for a few years after graduation.
Who else can do that except children of the elite? So if you’re a fork-lift operator or even a florist, you know your kid is unlikely to ever become a CEO, but you also know there’s no way in a million years they’ll ever become drama critic for the New Yorker or an international human rights lawyer.
The only way they could get paid a decent salary to do something noble, something that’s not just for the money, is to join the army.