The PJ Tatler

A Second Open Letter to the So-Called '99%'

The “Occupy” protests have now spread to Austin, home of the very liberal and extremely expensive University of Texas. My friend Robbie Cooper at Urban Grounds picks out a photo of this fellow:

As Robbie says, this protester is “so eminently mockable.” I agree, but I’m going to take a different tack.

I don’t personally know the man in the photo, but it’s not difficult to figure out a few things about him. One, like many in the occupational protest army, he probably considers himself a non-conformist. Hence, all that expensive ink on his arms. Question: Did any of his student loan money pay for any of that ink? If so, his government loan shark might like to have words with him.

Non-conformists can be an entertaining lot. Like the gentleman above, in order to demonstrate their non-conformity to the society that they believe owes them so much, they rebel against it. They denounce it. They show their non-conformity by conforming to something else, something edgier, but no less predictable. They’re not really non-conformists, then, but just conformists of a different stripe. And having chosen their brand of conformity, they bristle when the society they rejected rejects them right back.

In this case, it’s not at all clear why the young man piled up student debt. What sort of job did he expect to get, with his arms covered in tattoos? Who would hire a CPA or lawyer who went around choosing to look like that? Who wants that look in their elementary schoolkid’s classroom? The young man’s appearance works for some businesses, but not most, and that’s just reality. What was the goal of piling up all that debt? What was the end game? What sort of career did he hope to land? His choices seem to be poorly thought through.

Apple visionary Steve Jobs passed away this week. The founder and leader of the company that taught the tech world to “Think Different” didn’t walk around with a ring in his nose and tattoos up and down his arms. He tended to look pretty boring, actually — a black turtleneck, jeans, short hair, wire rimmed glasses. Steve Jobs didn’t rack up student debt during his college years. When confronted with the possibility of saddling his parents with his debt, in fact, Jobs really did think different.

The lead mind behind the most successful company on the planet never graduated from college, in fact, he didn’t even get close. After graduating from high school in Cupertino, California — a town now synonymous with 1 Infinite Loop, Apple’s headquarters — Jobs enrolled in Reed College in 1972. Jobs stayed at Reed (a liberal arts university in Portland, Oregon) for only one semester, dropping out quickly due to the financial burden the private school’s steep tuition placed on his parents. In his famous 2005 commencement speech to Stanford University, Jobs said of his time at Reed: “It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5 cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.”

I doubt that Steve Jobs, at least the young Steve Jobs who made hard choices and took risks and followed his own path and changed the world, would think very highly of the non-conformist conformist occupiers who seem to be demanding handouts. Perhaps our friend in the photo, reading this on the iPhone he probably can’t afford but can’t seem to live without, will ponder that.

The fact is, indebted students like the man above and the ones who are still posting their pictures at the “We Are the 99 Percent” site have been scammed. That much is true. Or rather, they bought into a scam and are now reaping their reward. The scam wasn’t perpetrated by the corporations, and not by the banks, but by the educational establishment that keeps coming up with ever more irrelevant degree programs to keep more and more professors tenured and insulated from the real world. The benefit to students and to the future of the nation isn’t even close to being an afterthought in most of the ivory tower.

As Jamie Cullum sang in “Twentysomething“:

After years of expensive education
A car full of books and anticipation
I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot
But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought

Our twentysomething considers traveling to find himself, and considers love and career, before concluding as the tattooed man seems to have —

Love ain’t the answer, nor is work
The truth eludes me so much it hurts
But I’m still having fun and I guess that’s the key
I’m a twentysomething and I’ll keep being me

Keep being you, that’s fine. It’s a free country. But choices have consequences and life isn’t risk-free. Just don’t expect the world to pony up and make your life comfortable because your bad moves have left you unprepared for life. Own your choices. Live with them.

They’re probably all you’ll ever have, unless you get your mind right.

(Read the first open letter here).