Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Beautiful People Letter

Tom Wolfe has a new book coming out. Wolfe is by far my favorite author - if you haven't read The Right Stuff or the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, you really should. Here is a passage from the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which chroniclas the true life happenings of the Merry Pranksters, a group of hippies led by the author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest) that were among the first in the country to start taking -

"El...Es...Dee... se-cret-ley... Timothy Leary, Alpert, and a few chemists like Al Hubbard and the incognito "Dr. Spaulding" had been pumping LSD out into the hip circuit with a truly messianic conviction. LSD, peyote, mescaline, morning-glory seeds were becoming the secret new thing in the hip life. A lot of kids who were into it were already piled into amputated apartments, as I called them. The seats, the tables, the beds - none of them ever had legs. Communal living on the floor, you might say, although no one used terms like "communal living" or "tribes" or any of that. They had no particular philosophy, just a little leftover Buddhism and Hinduism from the beat period, plus Huxley's theory of opening doors in the mind, no distinct life style, except for the Legless look...they were...well, Beautiful People!- not "students", "clerks", "Salesgirls", "executive trainees" - Christ, don't give me your occupation-game labels! we are Beautiful People, ascendent from your robot junkyard::::: and at thus point they used to sit down and write home the Beautiful People letter. usually the girls wrote these letters to their mothers. Mothers all over California, all over America, I guess, got to know the Beautiful People letter by heart. It went:

Dear Mother,

"I meant to write to you before this and I hope you haven't been worried. I am in [San Francisco, Los Angelos, New York, Arizona, a Hopi Indian Reservation!!! New York, Ajijic, San miguel de Allende, mazatlan, Mexico!!!!] and it is really beautiful here. It is a beautiful scene. We've been here a week. I won't bore you with the whole thing, how it happened, but I really tried, because I know you wanted me to, but it just didn't work out with [school, college, my job, me and Danny] and so I have come here and it is a really beautiful scene. I don't want you to worry about me. I have met some BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE and ..."

... and in the heart of even the most unhip mamma in all the U.S. of A. instinctively goes up the adrenal shriek: beatniks, bums, spades - dope."

I especially love the "don't give me your occupation-game labels," especially since I live in DC where everyone has the same one - lawyer. Like the lawyers, I don't think I'll ever escape from the "robot junkyard." But I appreciate the beautiful people who do.

Academics know that there is an obvious pecking order for the rigors of different academic pursuits, and that mastery of the harder of the two subjects gives one full license to preen about as an expert in the easier field. Such license is a hallowed tradition for intellectuals. Economics is harder than sociology, which means that even if I am a mediocre economist, I am overqualified for sociology. Having thus established myself as an expert in the field of sociology, I can say without qualification that reading the complete works of Tom Wolfe will provide you a better grounding in sociology than would a Ph.D. in the same, and in contrast to getting a Ph.D., you will be laughing the whole time rather than crying.


Blogger Professor Vic said...

We academics also know there is a well-established pecking order among Ph.D's, at least in economics: academics, government/quasi-governmental agency service, and private sector. Since it is harder to get a job in academics than in the private sector, even if I am a mediocre academic, I am overqualified as a private sector economist. I therefore have license to criticize any foolish comments made by a mere private sector economist.

Now excuse me while in my manly fullness I go tend to the bonfire of my vanity.

6:46 AM  

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