Thursday, June 10, 2010

In praise of weird autodidacts

So my Facebook feeds have exploded with comments to the effect that after Glenn Beck's discussion of Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom rocketed to #1 on Amazon. Some of my friends are cheering, but others are more sneering.

Count me more in the cheering camp. It's been years since I last listened to Glenn Beck, but I like to think of his followers as being sort of the conservative versions of the ne'er do wells who worked in the bookstore with me when I was a teenager. The kind of autodidacts who are a little bit weird and a little bit crankish and a little bit rough at the edges. I used to be one of them. Then, thanks to the meritocratic educational establishment, I went away to college and started hanging out with a mix of fellow weird autodidacts but also more normal, graceful establishment types from places like New York and San Francisco. And then I woke up one morning in 2002 and the rough edges were gone. I am still not sure how this happened. But this puzzle is central enough to understanding myself that I am willing to slog through David Brooks columns, even the really annoying wrong-headed ones about libertarianism, all because Brooks seems to know something that would help me understand all of this. Note also that the weird autodidact kid is the saving grace of Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, which would otherwise contain far too much insufferable upper-middle-class navel-gazing to be readable.

There are days when I miss my rough edges. I was more passionate then. In some ways, I was more creative then, more willing to go out on limbs, and less Elena Kagan-ishly careerist. It has to be good for the world to have more weird autodidacts out there. Kudos to Beck for giving them a nudge on their way.

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