Thursday, September 24, 2009

Like Clockwork

There has been much talk about the huge disparities of wealth that emerged in the years leading up to the most recent stock market collapse. Professionals who had spent years of study to obtain degrees in law or medicine found themselves economically marginal in cities like New York, where hedge fund managers put even relatively unremarkable dwellings out of a the reach of a once affluent class. The collapse of the stock market has not improved matters appreciably, since now the glut of available apartments is rendered inaccessible by the insecurities of the job market.

Educational disparities are an even more dispiriting prospect. There are two societies emerging in America. One is developing exponentially higher levels of educational sophistication, while the other is moving in the exact opposite direction. If Anthony Burgess were alive, he would have been the writer to distill the predicament of a culture in which educational anorexia leads to disenfranchisement. The same competitive parents who bought up all the desirable apartments were at the same time fighting to get their children into the best high schools and colleges. When the race is fixed, it’s hard to compete, and there are whole segments of American society that simply refuse to nourish their children on the educational fast-food served up by woefully under subsidized public schools.

Like super rats whose survival skills have been honed in subway tunnels, dead eyed, pistol-packing third graders are the stuff of contemporary urban legend. There are also super rats graduating from Ivy League institutions, the supreme products of our culture of consumption. Whatever the residual truth about the existence of these different species of miscreant, they constitute the cast of a sequel to A Clockwork Orange that has yet to be written. Brutal and self-seeking, speaking languages they barely understand, the super rats that emerge from our institutions of higher learning, or alternatively our prisons, populate a new Inferno. “What doesn’t kill you will make your stronger,” quoth Nietzsche. But certain strengths are adaptable only in the context of pathology, and at what cost?

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