The Null Culture

Tyler Cowen is one of those guys worth reading in the same way Thomas Friedman used to be worth reading. There’s nothing about his arguments or analysis that is new or interesting. In fact, when he ventures into these areas he reveals a mediocre mind. The value is that he provides an insight into the thinking of the Cloud People with regards to the issues of the day. He’s a weathercock for the Cloud People.

Maybe this is intentional or maybe it is accidental. That can be debated and many of his most loyal fans start from the assumption that it is intentional. They believe his cryptic writing style is to encourage a hermeneutic reading of his posts and columns. Cowen indirectly encourages this by constantly referring to Strauss as if he is a deity. Many of his posts have a “read between the lines young grasshopper? vibe to them.

Another way to look at this style is that it is intended to mask the fact that he has no new insights or ideas to offer, so he puts the focus on the alleged game of expository cat and mouse. In the same way female pop stars dress like whores to hide their lack of talent, writers like Kevin Williamson, for example, rely on bloated prose to mask their lack of talent. Maybe that’s Cowen’s game.

Regardless, his latest column on Bloomberg is an example of his usefulness as a window into the hive mind of the Cloud People.

Since the 1960s and ’70s, food has replaced music’s centrality to American culture. These are invariably somewhat subjective impressions, but I’d like to lay out my sense of how the social impact of music has fallen and the social role of food has risen.

In the earlier era, new albums were eagerly awaited and bought in the hundreds of thousands immediately upon their release. Diversity in the musical world was relatively low, as genres such as rap, heavy metal, techno and ambient either didn’t exist or weren’t well developed. It was also harder to access the music of the more distant past — no Spotify or YouTube — and thus people listened to the same common music more frequently.

One of the remarkable things about the Cloud People is they have a non-linear timeline that has more holes than the fossil record. For most of them. the world started in the 1960’s. That’s because the Cloud is dominated by Boomers, but it is also when the Cloud started to form up as a social force. The result is they have two versions of the past. Their past, the 60’s and 70’s, and the long ago past, when Lincoln defeated Hitler.

This ahistorical world view is why they reflexively compare every foreign leader to Hitler and every problem in world affairs to Munich. It’s even more present tense for domestic matters. They have never stopped fighting the Civil Rights Movement. T.N. Coates makes $50K a speech because his kid brushed up against an old white women on an escalator once and that was just like the cops attacking the blacks at Selma.

Anyway, Cowen is obsessed with food and the so-called foodie culture. He correctly points out that this is a common obsession in the Cloud. He does not phrase it that way as that would require a degree of self-awareness he does not posses. Many of his posts and columns are about his trips to find something new to eat. Whenever he is preparing for a tax-payer funded junket overseas, he posts a bleg for restaurant tips.

So-called foodie culture is interesting in that it is not really a culture. It is the result of lack of culture. The people endlessly searching for a new dish or new cuisine do so because they have nothing of their own or at least nothing they wish to hold up as their own. The endless search for some new exotic cuisine is a distraction from facing the fact that their own culture is dead and its artifacts are now just museum pieces.

Culture is the spirit of the people. Their customs, foods and social structures are the result. The moveable feast that is foodie culture is not a celebration of something holy or sacred. It is shiva for people who no longer have any attachment to the rest of us or our share past. They see themselves as rootless visitors, sampling life in the hope that it will provide their lives with meaning, or at least make them mildly interesting to others.

Foodie culture is a null culture, the abnegation of culture. The Cloud Person going on about the food stalls they visited in Thailand is someone trying hard to not be from here, to not be of here, to not be a part of you. It’s why fusionism is so popular in the foodie world. It lets every person have their own thing, so they can avoid sharing their thing with others and therefore avoid the burdens and responsibilities of shared culture.

It also is why the managerial state and the Cloud People society dependent on it is brittle and fracturing. It has nothing to offer. If culture is old men planting trees in whose shade they will never sit, the managerial state is the burning of those trees in an outdoor fire pit so the imported cook from Thailand can prepare traditional dishes from his homeland. The former outlives the man, while the later cannot outlive the fire.

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Chris Smith
Chris Smith
3 years ago

I enjoy your blog in the same way I enjoy Dead Kennedy’s: I may or may not agree, but my thinking is ever stimulated in any case.
Thanks,
The C-Man

Ron
Ron
3 years ago

Well said. The Cloud people have removed themselves from objective reality and focused on their feelings and subconscious animal desires as the supreme authority to measure value by. They are discovering like Solomon of old that there is nothing new under the sun, even when they call it by some other name. So novelty, such as pursuing exotic or new variations food, is all they have to look forward too to stimulate them.They are slaves to their appetites, living to eat, instead of eating to live, as well as fornicate, and play Sim games treating the Dirt people as their… Read more »

onezeno
3 years ago

The same conclusion applies to travel culture as well. People go to great lengths to visit seemingly exotic places for the primary purpose of acquiring photos to display on social media. The goal is to exhibit one’s culture exposure, which, as you mention, makes the implicit assertion that one has no culture of their own.

James LePore
Member
3 years ago

Everything is pitched for its hipness factor. The competition to be hip is eventually going to drive hipness lovers (most of the population over six) crazy, literally, as total hipness is an ever-moving target. Hipmania will however never be recognized as an official mental disorder, or even diagnosed, because no one in psychiatry wants to be labeled as unhip. New institutions will have to be built where people can walk around all day in the hippest sneakers, using the hippest cell phones, eating the hippest foods and referencing the latest pop culture hip insights. The marketing of these institutions will… Read more »

Al from da Nort
Al from da Nort
Reply to  James LePore
3 years ago

James;
No worries mate_! Soon enough hipsters will be ‘sooo teens’ and they or, more likely, their young cousins (don’t think they have many, if any, sibs) will be on to the next big thing. Do I know what that is_? If I did, y-all’d only find out after I had set up my investment positions.

Dutch
Dutch
3 years ago

Missed it by that much… The food culture and travel culture are all about beating the people around them over the head with how extra-double-plus-aware and special they are to take in all of these places and foods, and you, in your pathetic inferior lives, devoid of photos of exotic places and bellies full of strange foods, are not. Suck on this, cultural experience inferiors… It is not about looking for strange cultures because they don’t have any culture of their own, but because it elevates them over the rest of us, in their eyes. Bragging about the Saturday pancake… Read more »

Tim Newman
Reply to  Dutch
3 years ago

Indeed, and it’s mostly middle aged professional women with plenty of money but no partner or kid who do this over-the-head beating. They travel, alone or with other single women, because they have nothing else to do in their spare time.

Jim Jones
Member
3 years ago

Cowen is obsessed with equality. Someone does some data mining and posts a paper on the trivial amount of inequality revealed – it will appear on Marginal Revolution.

Al from da Nort
Al from da Nort
3 years ago

Z Man; So TC is sad that food is the new status competition arena and not pop music_? And he’s sad that food’s not as political as he thought pop music to be_? I see what you mean about the a-hostorical nature of what passes for thought in the Cloud these days. You nail the ‘why food_?’ question. The other question should be ‘what took so long_?’. There has always been status competition (and likely always will be). To be a player, one must be (a little) out in front, but that gets harder and harder, (not to mention more… Read more »

Darth Curmudgeon
Darth Curmudgeon
3 years ago

I have to agree, and expand on this a little: The insatiable hunger for constant novelty at any cost is an r-selected trait. They can never eat the same thing twice, visit the same city twice, sleep with the same person twice – the constant need for endless novelty at the expense of literally everything is the hallmark of such immature minds as we find ourselves being crushed under today. College students used to save money by eating ramen, rice and beans, PB&J. Now they go an extra $20,000 in hole so they can try a new sushi place every… Read more »

thor47
thor47
Reply to  Darth Curmudgeon
3 years ago

Well, I will say it, Darth: your closing line is one of the best I’ve ever read, zman.

crispus attacks!
crispus attacks!
3 years ago

the cloud is a social trance. we were hypnotized into chasing the “best” music in the 70s instead of debating politics & the human (or majority group) condition, or appreciating our ancestor’s accomplishments & trying to add to them. (((somehow))) it all became very narcissistic & trance like (“look over here – entertainment! food!”) now that things aren’t so good, we wake from our trance.

Garr
Garr
Reply to  crispus attacks!
3 years ago

Right — (((Mick Jagger))), (((David Bowie))), (((Ozzie Osbourne))) et. al. really undermined the (((West))), didn’t (((they)))

Drake
Drake
3 years ago

I agree with the article and the comments above. I like my food and frequent several ethnic restaurants in town but don’t make a big deal over it. It just seems silly to make that big a deal over your Pad Thai, photograph it, and share it with people not there. One of the many reasons I don’t do social media is that I don’t care what other people are having for dinner. Anyone that starved for intellectual stimulation should be visiting art museums, exploring classical music, reading classic literature or ancient history. I’ve met self-professed “foodies” and mentally translate… Read more »

Backwoods Engineer
Backwoods Engineer
3 years ago

I go the other way, sometimes just to tweak the foodies on Facebook. My roots are Appalachian, and there is many a coal miner and hillbilly in my lineage.

I wear it like a badge of honor.

So, when I or my wife make pinto beans with chow-chow and cornbread, or fried potatoes with ramps, or venison stew, I’ll post pictures on Facebook and describe what’s really good food. Yeah, it tweaks the kale-eating foodies, which is a bonus.

Tim Newman
Reply to  Backwoods Engineer
3 years ago

One of the benefits of being into bluegrass (I’m a Brit living in Paris) and going to bluegrass jams is nobody can accuse me of pretending to be into music just so I can appear hip!

Doug
Doug
Reply to  Backwoods Engineer
3 years ago

Ramps, a cat head sausage biscuit, pinto beans, weenies and peppers, a slaw and chillie dog, canned dear meat, a shopping bag of Morrells, fried green tomater’s, now those are about as provincial aspects of culture here in WV as you can get. Culture that is definitely upstream of politics.

Them tree humpin’ coal hat in’ dirt people despicin’ foodies are the little globalists among us.
Have a message for them and their white genocide:

https://mtntopforge.wordpress.com/wv-we-like-it-that-way/

Bill Jones
Bill Jones
Reply to  Doug
3 years ago

Would the dear meat be the wife?

Member
3 years ago

“So-called foodie culture is interesting in that it is not really a culture. It is the result of lack of culture.”

Yup. Everybody eats. It’s basic. It’ll be funny to watch as every dish gets a tag of ‘cultural appropriation’ on it. I’ll get the popcorn!

Dutch
Dutch
Reply to  Whitney
3 years ago

When eating carnitas burritos with green chile salsa becomes cultural appropriation, someone’s gonna have a lotta ‘splainin to do.

Ed Gruberman
Ed Gruberman
Reply to  Dutch
3 years ago

Explain cultural appropriation? Easy for the children of George Washington: “Cultural appropriation is an in integral part of MY culture!”

Every Mexican who says “culture” to me gets to ‘splain her Spanish language contaminated with American English, her Catholic faith, her Japanese car, and Chinese fireworks.

Dutch
Dutch
Reply to  thezman
3 years ago

I found that show unwatchable, because I could not get past the idea that the host was the kind of guy who would enjoy pulling the wings off of live butterflies, or aiming his speeding car at the cat caught out in the middle of the road. Not as some sort of schtick, but for real. Something really creepy going on there. The contestants, as on so many similar shows, also communicated the idea that success or failure in arbitrary tests, with few or no objective measures by which to judge, was life changing to them. I always admired the… Read more »

Dutch
Dutch
Reply to  thezman
3 years ago

Mrs. Dutch used to watch the Runway show with the clothes. Every contestant seemed to live under a bridge and was troubled and gay, and was some sort of minority mongerel mix, and had always wanted to design fabulous clothes, and life would be worth living if they won the show. Then they would be pitted against each other, sleep deprived, and encouraged to get all catty. Way too much drama. Heidi Klum could have physically smacked down anyone in the room, and everyone knew it. I wish she would have now and again.

OFWHAP
OFWHAP
Reply to  thezman
3 years ago

I think the whole reason for Alton Brown’s attending culinary school was for making his own cooking show because he thought all the others on TV at the time were garbage. He’s actually a TV/film guy who transitioned to the culinary world instead of vice versa. If you’re into eggnog, then Alton Brown’s “aged eggnog” is fantastic to make.

Bill Jones
Bill Jones
Reply to  thezman
3 years ago

Yeah but I still smell a whiff of the pedo about Brown.

Lulu
Lulu
Reply to  thezman
3 years ago

Back in the 70s when our life was very winey and we were besieged by “experts”, my ratings on a wine were “delicious”, “blah”, or “nasty”.

Christopher S. Johns
Christopher S. Johns
3 years ago

TC is an idiot, and his analysis is banal, but for once he has actually noticed something: the obsessive status signaling of “foodie” culture now occupies an outsize place in 21st century affluent America, while popular music’s importance in the wider culture has diminished significantly. The two may be related, but not in the way that Cowen thinks. The popular music of the latter half of the 20th century was created by young people, mostly young men. Young men don’t channel their energy and creativity into musical expression these days. The reasons are various, but foremost would be the social… Read more »

Anonymous White Male
Anonymous White Male
3 years ago

Maybe you shouldn’t assume what a writer like Cowen is TRYING to do. If he can’t get it across to the reader, maybe he isn’t a very good writer. People read things into the written word that aren’t there. I’m sure if you told Melville that his great White Whale was symbolic of fill-in-the-blank, he’d probably say, “The dickens you say. I wish I had thought of that! I was just trying to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.” Food is currently a fad. I wonder how many more minutes the glut of food shows on TV… Read more »

Member
Reply to  Anonymous White Male
3 years ago

It is precisely because Mexicans that I avoid Mexican food, or to drink Tequila.

Dr. Mabuse
3 years ago

C.S. Lewis observed this same ignorance of history in uneducated Englishmen: To us the present has always appeared as one section in a huge continuous process. In [the uneducated man’s] mind the present occupies almost the whole field of vision. Beyond it, isolated from it, and quite unimportant, is something called “the old days”– a small, comic jungle in which highwaymen, Queen Elizabeth, knights-in-armour, etc. wander about. Then (strangest of all) beyond the old days come a picture of “primitive man.” He is “science,” not “history,” and is therefore felt to be much more real that the old days. In… Read more »

Member
3 years ago

This is related to the fact that the only benefit that the cloud people can come up with for multiculturalism is the wide variety of cuisines.

PRCD
PRCD
3 years ago

The other thing about food (sorry if someone above already said this) is that it’s one of the only things that can be discussed in the Cloud. For example, if you go to India, you’re not allowed to comment on the squalor of it and the indifference of its people towards those in a lower caste. “The FOOD WAS WONDERFUL!” is the only remark you are allowed to make. Cloud people frequently talk about the quality of coffee and food in polite company. I completely agree with your larger point though. CLoud people lack a culture, a history, and a… Read more »

Zeroh Tollrants
Zeroh Tollrants
Reply to  PRCD
3 years ago

Bringing up designated shitting streets in India or deep fried live dog in China makes whitey feel bad & might force them to take a critical look at these cultures. Much preferable to sing praiseful hymns to the great god of food Dieversity. I hadn’t really thought about how my lack of interest or downright distaste of “exotic” foods also falls in line with my political & cultural views, tbh. I own an international trade business,but I hate to travel outside the US, don’t enjoy the “local culture,” particularly. I do, however, make a mean pot roast, casserole, BBQ, biscuits… Read more »

Teapartydoc
Member
3 years ago

1. This food culture also happened in the decline of Rome. There are old Roman villas with aquariums where they raised exotic fish, and letters describing the same obsessions with foods we see today. The same kinds of health oddities, too. Cicero writes of Julius Caesar coming to his villa in Tusculum for dinner, bringing two thousand troops with him, and describing a new diet wherein he uses emetics. 2. The narcissism we see in our culture has been repeated over and over through the centuries. It usually comes about after some great landfall in wealth gained by those in… Read more »

Mike Anderson
3 years ago

The saddest version of this is middle-class wannabe Cloud People routinely pissing away their income one cup at a time every morning at Starbucks. Hey, I enjoy a good cuppa joe, but making palatable, affordable coffee at home ain’t rocket science. But Cloud People and their followers were never great on introspection. Or cost-benefit analysis.

Lulu
Lulu
Reply to  Mike Anderson
3 years ago

A three pound bag of Jose’s Colombian beans at Costco $12.50. A Cuisinart burr grinder for the cheapest price available (retail $50 and worth it. Can be found for less.). A Cuisinart coffeemaker (best price at Best Buy with coupon).

This coffee is delicious and brings raves.

Lulu
Lulu
3 years ago

The Foodie Culture was actually a 1970s thing, following the 1960s when Jacque Kennedy introduced French food to the White House. The Chunnel was one of the most thrilling innovations to the Brits because they could now shop and eat in France. I was married to a wine aficionado (there are few things more boring) and had to suffer his winey pals as well. Numbers of very classy alcoholics finally found a legit place to practice their addiction. Hippies like Alice Waters became famous for cooking. Ditto Beard, Julia Child, and on and on. And it became hip to know… Read more »

Cloudswrest
Cloudswrest
3 years ago

“Anyway, Cowen is obsessed with food and the so-called foodie culture. ”

Heartiste doesn’t refer to him as “Cheap Chalupas” for nothing …

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3 years ago

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