Notice the naive cynicism here, beginning with that obtuse transition “more importantly,” in which there is not an iota of self-awareness. What unintended comedy in the whole of the second paragraph, which reads like the work of a satirist. Yes, happiness is a high test score. Parents will buy that farce, certainly. It’s hell for the young? No matter. There’s money to be made. We are not just out to profit by helping schools reduce the life of the mind to a few nifty administrative figures; we also care—cha-ching. How about a hug, O aspiring “efficient” students? Let’s just consult the HR manual first; we don’t want anyone to feel harassed.

Religion—historically man’s source of morality—has declined just as human egotism has increased to an unprecedented degree. Meanwhile, more and more people are growing up without any sense of community. From beginning to end, we live among strangers, most of them vehicles of confused ideas—the usual folly of intellectuals—that they do not understand. In this degenerate condition, which is unlike anything in world history, there has arisen a need for a certain useful deception to obscure all the prevailing selfishness: Hence the purpose of all this cant about being “a good team member,” having a “can-do attitude,” a “passion for customer service,” and so on. With goods to sell and services to offer, the money-grubbers wish to dupe their employees into believing that they are all part of some kind of family or noble project. Nor is this objectionable to everyone. On the contrary, many people take to it quite readily. After all, a look at how they spend their leisure shows that vulgarity is their element. At 5 p.m. the marketer, after a day of false smiles and feigned goodwill, goes home and her night consists in Real Housewives and chatter about who is sleeping with whom in Hollywood. She is as much at home in the one emetic as in the other.

Indeed, what makes the sheer odiousness of contemporary American life so intractable is that, at bottom, it derives from human nature itself. Democracy by its very nature elevates what is inferior, even as it suppresses what is fine. You get human rights, but in time culture becomes poison. The deceitful games of the success crowd are nothing but a reflection of what man himself is, on average. Hannah Arendt, in her work on the Holocaust, upset many people because, for her, the phenomenon could not be explained by just arguing, what most people wanted to hear, that the Nazis were evil. For her, as for virtually all of the great philosophers from Plato on, it was evident that the ordinary person is an unthinking and unprincipled conformist. He knows nothing, and can know nothing, but superficial monkeylike following and spineless obedience. As Emerson wrote in “Self-Reliance” (1841), “the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.” In fact, he requires submission to the day’s shallow whims, and positively detests anyone who would urge him to live a better sort of life. To anyone who disagrees, I can only say: Observe people more closely, and have the strength of character to accept the truth of your perceptions, however painful.


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