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.