Contributor Post Created with Sketch. In Praise of Detachment

 

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions but religiously follows the new,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, who died in 1862, deprived of the glittering spectacle of aesthetic, intellectual, religious, and cultural fashions that would follow. He was only 45. Which, come to think of it, was about the same age I was when I checked out of the popular music scene altogether, the increasing poverty of melody or even musicality doing to my spirit what a jackhammer does to a Stradivarius.

Over time, however, I’ve noticed a creeping detachment on my part from a great many other things that are thought by a great many people to be of pivotal importance — some of it actually quite important, though by no means all of it. Mark Twain is credited with the quote that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Which seems to be the case in a great many areas of life ranging from fashionable clothing to theories of governance, man’s relationship to the state and more. For those who’ve been around long enough to observe the recurring cycles, there is a tediousness that becomes at first apparent, and then insufferable.

As children, we giggled at the fedoras of our grandparents, their skinny neckties, their quaint mannerisms, and their music. We thought of our bell-bottomed pants and platformed shoes as the Mt. Everest of fashion statements, the pinnacle of modernity. We were cool, unorthodox, unabashedly hip, and, oh yes, we were smarter. The fact that our iconoclastic audacity and innocent arrogance were actually the indulgences of a freedom purchased by those old guys with fedoras who had, in their youth, charged into the bloody meat grinder of war against totalitarianism and genocidal evil was underappreciated by many of us, myself included. But if you pay attention, eventually, things come into focus.

Now, working in the men’s department of an upscale department store, I see the return of fashions we once lampooned. I literally got into fights as a kid because my folks couldn’t afford to keep up with my growth spurts, meaning that my pants were derided as “high waters” because they were short. Now, young men aspire to look like Pee Wee Herman, their skinny pants several inches above their shoes, their legs resembling spindly little twigs, their hair looking like something between Groot and a fallen soufflé.

As for me, having long ago discarded the bell-bottoms and platform shoes, I dress to keep up with exactly no one. But even in my musical and aesthetic tastes, my very rebellious nature and fierce independence is itself a part of the ethos of my generation, no? Am I leading or am I following the beat of a decades-old drum?

That’s a question for another day because, almost imperceptibly, another ingredient has entered the mix. It’s not complete apathy, though there is an element of it. And, if I’m honest with myself, an element of disdain comes into play. It’s a disdain best epitomized by a recent conversation I had with a young man barely in his 20s. In hushed tones, he confided that he was terribly concerned over an incident that took place the previous evening. He had, you see, opened the oven door to retrieve something or other that had been baking, and the wave of hot air was such that he was afraid his skin might dry out a bit. Did I, he asked seriously, see any blemish or anything that might betray that a whiff of heat had damaged his soft-as-a-baby’s-butt facial complexion?

Managing a straight face and somber tone, I inspected the landscape and pronounced him unblemished by heat (or serious thought for that matter). It was hilarious until I stopped to recall what I was doing at his age. Basic training, Security Forces training, weapons training, combat school accompanied by days spent in a foxhole and nights on recon, a face covered in camouflaged paint, hours in chemical warfare gear, deployments, and other adventures. Henceforward, (to myself alone) I nicknamed that young guy “Precious.”

Yes, yes, that was disdain pure and simple. But mainly though, I’m at a point of happy withdrawal and contentment. I decline to endlessly lecture people. I assume good faith until proven otherwise, and if questioned about events or my own perspective, I’ll attempt to respond only if A) the question is in good faith, B) I’ll be able to get my point across without being interrupted, and C) the question isn’t just a rant of the sort that makes Archie Bunker sound like Thucydides.

Likewise, I decline to lump all of the younger generation under a disparaging banner and announce their general uselessness. On the contrary, I’m reminded that our Armed Forces are in large measure composed of the younger generation and there is no indication whatsoever that they are any less capable or lethal than their predecessors. Just ask any one in the leadership ranks of ISIS, if you can find them. Additionally, I note that the vast majority of the younger folks with whom I’m privileged to interact each day at work in the world of retail are enormously gifted and intelligent. Do they have things to learn? Of course. Didn’t we all? Don’t we still?

But as to the cares that consume these folks and so many others, I simply have no desire to engulf myself and my energies in them. Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” I think there is some truth to that, and while I don’t think I have a great mind, I’d like to think I can make some improvements on the gear I’ve got. Those improvements will not, however, come by chasing the latest trends, be they material or ideological.

As to the current infatuation with Socialism, history records that it is civilizational poison. Charles Murray recently wrote on Twitter:

My daughter’s immigrant friend, asked during her dissertation why she had not dealt with the Marxist interpretation of her topic: “I grew up in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. I do not indulge in recreational Marxism.”

Indeed. To those who indulge in starry-eyed utopian prescriptions, please read a book. I’ll read one to you if necessary, but don’t ask me to underwrite the validity of your ignorance. I’m reminded of Dorothy Parker who, upon being challenged to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence, replied, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” Quite so.

And while you won’t catch me dead wearing a t-shirt with some brand name splashed all over the thing, looking like a two-legged billboard, you will find me happy to indulge and assist customers who wish to purchase that and much more. I derive great comfort from helping others, and retail affords just such an opportunity. And while I’ll continue to appreciate a fine meal and high quality in material possessions, I remain mindful that these are transitory pleasures and not the solid sustenance of the mind, spirit, and soul. If you pay attention, things come into focus. Toward that end, a happy detachment is useful.

Published in Culture
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There are 18 comments.

  1. Robert E. Lee Member

    Do French youth wear Boeing shirts?

    • #1
    • November 18, 2019, at 5:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. SpiritO'78 Member

    I like that your detachment comes from contentment and not bitterness; bitterness is easier.

    • #2
    • November 18, 2019, at 5:56 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  3. Clavius Thatcher

    I remember how important it was to have long (long enough the back of the cuff would get chafed by your shoe) pants. And I spent 10+ years in a suit and tie every day because that was the dress code at Price Waterhouse. I was happy I didn’t have to wear a bowler which was the code in the 60s.

    I too let whatever the trend is to go by. Like not shaving. If go to work or to Mass, I shave. But if you don’t want to, it’s ok by me.

    Nice post Dave.

    • #3
    • November 18, 2019, at 8:06 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Western Chauvinist Member

    “Recreational Marxism.” That’s a keeper!!

    • #4
    • November 18, 2019, at 8:12 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  5. James Lileks Contributor

    I struggle with detachment and regard it with suspicion: there is a certain relief in disconnecting from the sturm & drang, but it suggests I don’t care anymore what befalls this great Experiment. To retreat to tending one’s garden implies that you don’t care which army passes by or runs past in retreat, as long as they don’t trample your furrows.

    I’ve always been intensely interested in the present, the future, and the past in equal measures. I used to be somewhat certain of the future, being an optimist and pro-human and convinced that we had a mission beyond our life on this blue marble, but now I have doubts – the self-hating madness that grows in the loam of affluence and security seems ready to have its day. Then again, uou can’t have Starfleet and the Federation without a planet-scouring war foisted by genetic supermen, so who knows.

    There are levels of detachment. Chasing the moment at my age is ridiculous. Ignoring the modes of thought and styles is lazy, and denies me the gratifying opportunity to assert superior alternatives. If nothing else, the Trump era has taught me to detach from the terrible imperatives of the day, because a shrieking choir insists every minute that the world is burning, ending, drowning, and dying, and I know this is not so. 

    • #5
    • November 18, 2019, at 10:03 PM PST
    • 16 likes
  6. Clavius Thatcher

    The shrieking harpies create there own problem. Thanks@jameslileks for your response. I’d same complete or great or well said, but it is bestly well thought out.

    • #6
    • November 18, 2019, at 10:09 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Front Seat Cat Member

    My favorite line in this outstanding post: “The fact that our iconoclastic audacity and innocent arrogance were actually the indulgences of a freedom purchased by those old guys with fedoras who had, in their youth, charged into the bloody meat grinder of war against totalitarianism and genocidal evil was underappreciated by many of us, myself included. But if you pay attention, eventually, things come into focus.” – Wow! That could be the QOTD!

    A recent discussion with my much older cousin who in her day was a real activist and grew up in a rough part of town, said back then, there were no homeless. She mentioned one, who upon her death they found a home with nothing but gobs of money in the closets. You had winos under the bridge, or people in mission shelters, but never tent cities or youth choosing it. We didn’t have the rampant drug epidemic, even in the 60’s, that today are creating walking dead. Law enforcement kept the streets safe.

    I love your cheer as you observe the human landscape. Only later in life have I started educating myself about my family’s origins, WWII, the swiftness of how evil took over. Read a book is great advice. Now if we could just get rid of the hideous 1970’s polyester crap that passes for “quality clothing” today……..

    • #7
    • November 19, 2019, at 5:29 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  8. Dave Carter Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I struggle with detachment and regard it with suspicion: there is a certain relief in disconnecting from the sturm & drang, but it suggests I don’t care anymore what befalls this great Experiment. To retreat to tending one’s garden implies that you don’t care which army passes by or runs past in retreat, as long as they don’t trample your furrows.

    I’ve always been intensely interested in the present, the future, and the past in equal measures. I used to be somewhat certain of the future, being an optimist and pro-human and convinced that we had a mission beyond our life on this blue marble, but now I have doubts – the self-hating madness that grows in the loam of affluence and security seems ready to have its day. Then again, uou can’t have Starfleet and the Federation without a planet-scouring war foisted by genetic supermen, so who knows.

    There are levels of detachment. Chasing the moment at my age is ridiculous. Ignoring the modes of thought and styles is lazy, and denies me the gratifying opportunity to assert superior alternatives. If nothing else, the Trump era has taught me to detach from the terrible imperatives of the day, because a shrieking choir insists every minute that the world is burning, ending, drowning, and dying, and I know this is not so.

    As always, James, your clarity and eloquence prompt me to think more carefully through my own position. I’m grateful as always, and suspect that we are more in agreement than not here. Your last paragraph pretty well sums up my own position.

    I also share some doubt about the future thanks to the “self-hating madness” that is determined to guilt us all into a regressive and emaciated state of mere existence. There was a time when I my optimism was unbridled, but I simply can’t say that anymore, and this is what I find so exasperating and dispiriting, James.

    Put another way, I enthusiastically enlisted in the military under President Reagan. Some 20 years later, after three tours in the Mideast, a year in Korea and sundry adventures, I retired, aspiring like Cincinnatus (No, I didn’t save the Republic, but I contributed what I could) to return to life as a simple citizen. Then came Barack Obama and his promise to “fundamentally change” the country. That was a clarion call to man the political battlements which, thanks to Peter Robinson and Rob Long, I was honored to do here on Ricochet.

    Owing partly to personal circumstances beyond my control, and to what you accurately refer to as, “the terrible imperatives of the day,” I simply can’t keep up with the minute-to-minute crises that dominate the news. Oh, I have a solid grasp of the general flow of things, and that’s depressing enough. The time I have available each day to dig into the weeds on the latest insanity is now negligible at best. 

    I’ll offer what insights I have from time to time, but to borrow the from the title of a column in National Review (by an author whose name escaped me), I’ll try to take “the long view” of things rather than get bogged down in the latest outrage.

     

     

    • #8
    • November 19, 2019, at 7:50 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  9. Dave Carter Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    My favorite line in this outstanding post: “The fact that our iconoclastic audacity and innocent arrogance were actually the indulgences of a freedom purchased by those old guys with fedoras who had, in their youth, charged into the bloody meat grinder of war against totalitarianism and genocidal evil was underappreciated by many of us, myself included. But if you pay attention, eventually, things come into focus.” – Wow! That could be the QOTD!

    A recent discussion with my much older cousin who in her day was a real activist and grew up in a rough part of town, said back then, there were no homeless. She mentioned one, who upon her death they found a home with nothing but gobs of money in the closets. You had winos under the bridge, or people in mission shelters, but never tent cities or youth choosing it. We didn’t have the rampant drug epidemic, even in the 60’s, that today are creating walking dead. Law enforcement kept the streets safe.

    I love your cheer as you observe the human landscape. Only later in life have I started educating myself about my family’s origins, WWII, the swiftness of how evil took over. Read a book is great advice. Now if we could just get rid of the hideous 1970’s polyester crap that passes for “quality clothing” today……..

    Thank you!! That line went through more iterations than a cat has lives, if you’ll pardon the reference. Glad it finally came together.

    • #9
    • November 19, 2019, at 7:55 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Dave Carter: And while you won’t catch me dead wearing a t-shirt with some brand name splashed all over the thing, looking like a two-legged billboard…

    Surely there are exceptions, Dave.

    This post has got to go into the catalog of all-time greatest hits for Dave Carter. The Like button just isn’t strong enough.

    • #10
    • November 19, 2019, at 10:54 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  11. Dave Carter Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Dave Carter: And while you won’t catch me dead wearing a t-shirt with some brand name splashed all over the thing, looking like a two-legged billboard…

    Surely there are exceptions, Dave.

    This post has got to go into the catalog of all-time greatest hits for Dave Carter. The Like button just isn’t strong enough.

    Yes, there are exceptions! Not exactly flagship brand name there, but is has a nice ring to it. Thank you! 

    • #11
    • November 19, 2019, at 11:23 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  12. Kay of MT Member

     

    Ah Dave, I so appreciate your posts.

    • #12
    • November 19, 2019, at 11:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. Eridemus Coolidge

    There could be a constructive mode of attachment but most of us don’t have any leverage except to choose between some level of derangement syndrome, and detachment. We lack an effective way to respond to the derangement. I actually believe that the deranged regard detachment as equivalent to clear opposition. I have one particular friend who has cut me off when I never actually disputed or did mental combat regarding her take on current politics, but I didn’t ECHO her clearly and loudly enough, and that’s what she was looking for….someone attached in her own mode even if I’m only a fellow microbe on the world stage, and not an actual threat at all. Meanwhile, semi-detachment gives me more mental peace than she can imagine.

    • #13
    • November 19, 2019, at 11:58 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. philo Member

    Dave Carter: unblemished by…serious thought

    I hope you don’t think for one minute that I’m not going to use that.

    Great post (as usual).

    • #14
    • November 19, 2019, at 4:28 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Front Seat Cat Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Dave Carter: And while you won’t catch me dead wearing a t-shirt with some brand name splashed all over the thing, looking like a two-legged billboard…

    Surely there are exceptions, Dave.

    This post has got to go into the catalog of all-time greatest hits for Dave Carter. The Like button just isn’t strong enough.

    The radio deplorable t-shirt looks like Dave? Uh-Oh…

    • #15
    • November 19, 2019, at 4:51 PM PST
    • 1 like
  16. Dave Carter Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Dave Carter: And while you won’t catch me dead wearing a t-shirt with some brand name splashed all over the thing, looking like a two-legged billboard…

    Surely there are exceptions, Dave.

    This post has got to go into the catalog of all-time greatest hits for Dave Carter. The Like button just isn’t strong enough.

    The radio deplorable t-shirt looks like Dave? Uh-Oh…

    Not only that, but Randy called me Shirley. 

    • #16
    • November 19, 2019, at 6:33 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. ShaunaHunt Member

    This post made my day. Your writing is exquisite!

    • #17
    • November 19, 2019, at 9:42 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. Clavius Thatcher

    Dave Carter (View Comment):
    Not only that, but Randy called me Shirley

    Surely you can’t be serious. And stop calling me Shirley.

    • #18
    • November 19, 2019, at 9:55 PM PST
    • 1 like