It appears that each generation of vaguely literate upper-middle-class Americans must find a particular genre of writing and clutch that tightly to its collective breast. The Lost Generation had their dissipated tales of ennui from Hemingway and Mr. Zelda Fitzgerald, the Greatest loved their massive trash novels (think Thorn Birds). The Boomers read Updike and Jong with (mastur)bated breath, and their younger siblings luxuriated in the privileged sense of wokeness conferred by suffering through an entire rambling Novel Of Blackness by the likes of Toni Morrison or Alice Walker.
Generation X has something unique — the upscale-parenting screed. This is something genuinely new, and like “trap music” it was nowhere until the moment it was everywhere. It litters the pages of the Atlantic and New Yorker the same way Tom Wolfe used to bully his way through the fiction section of every respectable East Coast magazine. The alpha example of this is “When The Culture War Comes For Your Kids,” a recent Atlantic piece skewered by Steve Sailer at Unz Review. Written by a National Book Award winner, the article bemoans the misery of finding out that your child can’t make the cut for a private preschool because at the age of two, his sense of visual ideation was already far behind the curve of other, more promising, two-year-olds. Later on, the author realizes that it will cost $1.5M to send his child through a NYC private primary and secondary education, leading him to whine preciously about schools filled with the progeny of “finance people” rather than the children of “orchestra conductors”.
The alternative to playing this brutal, and brutally expensive, game? Why, it’s horrifying:
When parents on the fortunate ledge of this chasm gaze down, vertigo stuns them. Far below they see a dim world of processed food, obesity, divorce, addiction, online-education scams, stagnant wages, outsourcing, rising morbidity rates—and they pledge to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling.
This single sentence should obliterate any vestigial feel-good beliefs you might have that the elites give any kind of shit about heartland or heritage America. They know how bad it is down here on the ground: the opioids, the joblessness, the PTSD from our endless foreign adventures, the hollowing-out of everything beyond the city limits of twenty white-hot real-estate markets. They know how bad it is — and their primary concern is to ensure that their children never see or touch it.
Despite Packer’s undoubted competence as a writer, he is too close to this particular forest to see anything besides the privileged and individual trees. He accurately describes the hellscape of American meritocracy while failing, tactfully or otherwise, to mention the glaringly obvious reason for its creation, to wit: we now have an unlimited supply of rich people, successful people… scratch that. There is now an unlimited supply of people, period. And it will only get worse. Much worse.