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Ed Driscoll

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What is a curmudgeon? “Well, the technical definition is a grumpy old man, and I fit that pretty well,” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute says kiddingly in our latest interview. But curmudgeons of both sexes are people “who are inwardly somewhat grumpy about the sensibility of the world in which their new employees are coming to work and make hasty and pitiless judgments when they don’t like something.”

And one thing they really don’t like, he adds, are young people entering the corporate world after graduating from elite colleges, where they’ve been taught that they were special, delicate snowflakes. To help young people negotiate the minefield that is their first corporate job, Murray recently wrote, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.

During our interview, he’ll discuss:

● The inspiration of the new book.

● His recent “open letter to the students of Azusa Pacific University,” after the university rescinded his speaking opportunity.

● What does the average curmudgeon think about tattoos, piercings, and hair colors not found in nature?

● Now that age of the mandatory suit and tie has passed in many industries, how does a new employ navigate the complexities of contemporary office dress?

● How did young people gain such a sense of supreme entitlement?

● What’s wrong with being “nonjudgmental?”

● Plus some thoughts on Murray’s earlier books, such as Apollo and Coming Apart.

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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All Comments   (26)
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19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't need a curmudgeon to tell me what to think. But I am having trouble realizing that a floor sweeper is worth $10.10 an hour and that alone will make him middle class. Whatever happened to middle class values?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here in LA, high school graduation rates are less than 50%. So not only do these young people not know how to read or write, they also definitely do not know what they don't know about life as a whole. Like, maybe having babies when you're 14 isn't a totally brilliant idea.

I think, also, they are totally unprepared for a criminal justice system that will *not* accept their stupid alibi's and excuses when they've been trained since they were in HeadStart that it's easy to lie your way out of whatever you've got yourself into because neither the teachers nor the administration have the balls nor the heart to do anything about it. So then you turn 16 and cause the death of someone by doing something stupid, and you're suddenly being judged as an adult in a system where NOTHING you say is believed ... my my my. I'd feel more sorry for them if I wasn't convinced that if you gave them a choice between going to jail and finishing a real training program that teaches a real job, they would rather go to jail than do anything that involves the word "teaching".
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have you heard some of the "stupid" alibis being used by people of all ages these days?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I think, also, they are totally unprepared for a criminal justice system that will *not* accept their stupid alibi's and excuses when they've been trained since they were in HeadStart that it's easy to lie your way out of whatever you've got yourself into because neither the teachers nor the administration have the balls nor the heart to do anything about it."

This is a REAL problem and not just regarding the law enforcement system; employers face this too. Kids have never been forced to work to established rules and processes, never been criticized, graded, or meaningfully supervised. In a world where homework assignments and such were little more than suggestions, they can't comprehend that a supervisor actually expects you to do what they say, won't believe the dog age your homework, and will criticize and ultimately dismiss you if you don't do as you're told. The schools taught all three of my kids to be habitual excuse-makers and liars, and we were just mean for calling them on lies. The oldest one has been beat up enough by reality that he's pretty much gotten over it though there is still a very cynical manipulative streak in him. The middle girl will lie when the truth is better, but has learned to be careful with it, at least with us. The youngest isn't quick enough to be a particularly good liar, but he is consistent with his generation in believing that any directive or process that he doesn't understand or doesn't like is "stooopid."
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Got a chance to meet Dennis LeHane the author of several very successful books including the "Given Day." When asked "why don't you teach writing and share your insight with young writers", he replied that he could not deal with "the fragile tea cup generation who never saw a grade of "C" and who would crumple should one appear on any paper they might write."
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or North Dakota- that's where the oil is. For what it's worth- the oil regions are where the Hunt family, the Bush family and, well, Stalin- it's where they all got started. The Levi denim family started by supplying different miners- gold miners- but the principal is the same.

What is the Northeast manufacturing these days?

Who is big in North Dakota?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I will say, the "flyover country" where I live- the kids are great. Really good. Amazing. They do their homework, they attend church, they have siblings they care about, they invite other kids to church with them. It's a whole world of decency in the suburbs. And, well, they have siblings. They do their homework and pester their friends to do their homework. They play video games that teach them history- not on purpose. But, say, War Thunder? That's researching planes and tanks. Civilization? That's, well, civilization. WofW? That's group projects that are self-organizing, not directed by Human Resources. That's a better, healthier culture than, say, reading Judith Viorst, or Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. or anything coming out of New York aimed at kids- the books normalize divorce.

I don't know that the coastal elite has siblings. That means there are a lot of grey heads, rows of them, staring at that single baby getting baptized. That baby can't turn the culture around. Numerically, it just doesn't work.

Youth culture-which is the future- is southern, evangelical, Mormon, suburban, western. It's not northeastern, episcopalian, established....I'd bet more on the future being UTAustin and BYU, before I'd bet on Harvard or Yale.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would be interested in your reasons for thinking UTAustin is different than Yale or Harvard. Damn if I can see the distinction.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
And the real underlying problem is moral, intellectual and physical laziness. The prosperity our ancestors passed down to us depended on a bunch of people showing up every day and doing their jobs. When they don't the prosperity goes away.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Might I also add that expressing themselves in constant abbreviations is also a form of laziness that they do not seem to understand.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recently failed retirement and took a part time job in big box retail. I grew up in retail - my father worked in then owned small town retail clothing and soft goods stores - and my first "real" job was as a management trainee with a corporate retailer in an early big box store. In those days the floor staff was almost entirely late teens and early twenties, some starting there in the work world after high school and some working to help pay for college. I was a department manager at age 22 because all my prior retail experience gave me a bit of a head start but all my peers were twenty-somethings, the section heads were gray-beards in their late 20s, early 30s, and the store manager was a real ancient in his early 40s. I left retail in the mid-70s because the hours are awful no matter how far up you get unless you make it all the way to corporate management and if you don't make it well up the ladder, you have both awful hours and low pay. In other words, unless you're really good at it and like it, retail is a good starter job that teaches you a lot about the world of work very quickly and doesn't pamper you because replacements are a dime a dozen, or at least they used to be.

Fast forward forty years: at almost 65, I'm far from the oldest employee and many are well into their 70s. There are no teenagers and only a smattering, maybe 25% of twenty-somethings. Some of the 20-somethings went into retail right out of high school and have stayed, some are working to help with college expenses. And we have been through a bunch of them! For many, being where you were supposed to be, at the time you were supposed to be there, and doing what you were supposed to be doing was simply unfathomable. Policies and procedures were at best suggestions. Management directives were something they might consider - and follow if they agreed. Most show no deference to managers or more senior, more experienced employees. I've witnessed interactions between managers and kids that I would have fired a unionized public employee on the spot over - and made the firing stick through arbitration and the courts. I discussed one such incident with the manager involved and was told that to be a retail manager these days "you have to be very tolerant." Tolerant or not, I don't know how many couldn't stand the irritation of following rules and directions and just didn't bother to show up any more and how many got fired, I know some did, but we've been through bunches and bunches of them - and there are still some on thin ice.

Mass retail is about the most basic work there is. It is true minimum wage work and only those employers who drug test pay more than MW. High end and specialty retail take some product knowledge and sales skills, but big box mass retail takes little more than the ability to show up and fog a mirror and the employer will teach you what you need to know - and that isn't much. But you must show up and you must do what you're told. Apparently, that ability has been largely lost to those under 40 or so.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder if the reason Millennial unemployment numbers are so high *is* because Boomers as a whole are failing retirement and making the decision not to be pushed out to sea on an ice floe quite yet. So people in their 60's may be taking and keeping jobs that the 20-somethings historically could have looked forward to. The fact that the 20-somethings also don't know how to get up in the morning, get themselves dressed and make it to work on time is just the cherry on the sundae.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's more than a bit circular. Most of us retired 'Boomers spent the last years of our careers working around and in many cases trying to hire and supervise Millenials and X-ers. Along the way we learned that any employer with a brain would rather have a mature worker who might actually show up when and where they were told and do what they were told to do. The only real liability we have in job seeking is younger supervisors and managers being afraid we'll make them look bad, and you do have to go out of your way to assure them that you're not looking to have their job. My daily prayers is, "please don't let me become ambitious."

There is no doubt that the job I have could and should be done by somebody in their teens or early twenties, but most people in their teens and twenties that I see today don't have the maturity or work skills of a 12 year old of my generation - and our parents thought we were spoiled slackers!
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr Murray speak of a renewal of American culture. How can that occur if we are swamped with other cultures from third world countries? In fact, do we now have enough of an American culture remaining to serve as a base for a renewal?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just change the term "third world countries" to southern and eastern Europe and you have many American's opinions from 1880-1914.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Except that those who came to America at that time did so without the expectation of a generous welfare system. That and most had skills commensurate with what industry of that day required. Also, they came leaving the old country behind and to be fully a part of their new country.


20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Those who came to America from southern and eastern Europe from 1880-1914 may not have had a generous welfare system, but like the Texans who moved to California in the 1920s through the 1970s they started building that welfare system as soon as they arrived.

And now here we are in their Obamatopia. Ugh.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah, we are stilling dealing with the fallout from that wave of immigration.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
You mean the people who elected the fascist Wilson, and then kept re-electing the even more fascist FDR? Maybe they opinion in 1880-1914 was right. We have been drifting away from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a lot longer than since 2008 you know.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I will definitely buy this book and will probably share it with the 20- and 30-somethings in my life, who will probably ignore it. I work with young people every day and the sense of entitlement is oozing out of every pore. God forbid their MANAGER should deign to tell them what to do. One of the first questions I am asked in practically every job interview of people under 35 is "Will I be able to work from home?" Oh HECK no!!!!! I have to be sure you will actually work at WORK before I'll let you work from home once in a while! I think it was the new CEO of Yahoo who was hired to turn the company around. One of the first things she noticed is that hardly anyone was working in the office. They were all "working from home." Except apparently nobody was working. I bet once she required everyone to come into the office every day she was able to cut half of her workforce.

As for the inability to write coherent English, well, apparently the schools don't even teach English anymore. I have had teachers tell me they don't teach kids how to spell because they can use spellcheck. They don't teach grammar because kids get bored. They don't require good English language skills in college because "only the English professors are qualified to assess that." so everybody sloughs off their duty to teach proper grammar, spelling and punctuation until the kids get to the workplace and can't write a coherent report or letter to a customer. As an Employee Development professional I have been asked repeatedly to offer "Business Writing" workshops. In other words, they want me to teach someone in 8 hours something that they failed to learn in 12 - 16 YEARS of school. Right... I do offer English writing self-study programs, and my department also offers copy editing services on request. You'd be amazed how many people do not take us up on that offer.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
"They don't teach grammar because kids get bored."

When did teachers start worrying about that?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
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