Hipsters and Prodigal Sons

Joseph made a post titled Dizzy With Nostalgia on his blog and commented on the failure of people in the (forgive me for any inaccurate description; it was never my scene) communist/socialist/anarchist/environmentalist/? underground scene to fully reflect on their past efforts. This isn’t really a comment on that, but some reflections it engendered on the feelings themselves. (This began as a comment on his post that seems to have been eaten by the ether, or lost through my own incompetence.)

He keys off something written by Aaron Lake Smith (with whom I’m not familiar), and says that he grasps that feeling of annoyance with the johnny-come-latelys who haven’t done the work, but merely adopted the stances.

Smith nails a feeling that I’ve been struggling to articulate for years: the sense that people who started paying attention in the last five minutes believe they’ve mastered ideas that my friends and I devoted our lives to articulating and shaping 15 years ago (socialism, anarchism, feminism, transgenderism, black bloc “Antifa” stuff, whatever). We questioned and disputed; they sermonize on the basis of assumed expertise. We held these conversations at anarchist conferences, forest rendezvouses, in the pages of clandestine journals and the comments section of anarchistnews.org; they read Verso books in grad school and publish essays in academic journals. We poured blood, sweat, and tears onto the dust of the earth to bring these ideas to life; they inherit them whole-cloth while pretending they’re the first to ever think them. 

It goes beyond that, though, Joseph says. He finds it weird that Smith hasn’t realized the flaws and faults of the earlier stances. That a proper reflection on what was done, and the full irritation with those now adopting those positions out of a faddish desire to be fashionable, must include the realization of the error of those ways. “Smith never considers that this experience sucks because the ideas themselves are bad.”

I’m sure Joseph is right. But it struck me that this feeling is not only limited to those who have worked through and rejected bad ideas. It is an equally likely sensation even for those who have had, worked through, and retained excellent, praiseworthy and noble ideas and ideals. This is a major facet of the hipster phenomenon. “I liked them before they were big” is practically the stereotypical hipster mating call and it partakes of this same feeling, that anyone who has not been with us from the start can never be like us, not truly.

In meme form, this is Bane telling Batman he was born in the dark, not one who merely adopted it.

Beyond this cultural resonance too, I think this has a moral dimension. There’s probably a Greek word for the sensation which I’m too much of an uneducated plebe (irony!) to know, but regardless this feeling is (when felt about good ideas and ideals) the one described in the parable of the prodigal son.

Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf.

Luke 15:29-30 American Standard Version

The father rebukes the son for feeling anger that his long-standing adherence to an ideal is not feted and celebrated in the same way as the one who comes to it after having rejected and abandoned it for so long. It is a natural, but apparently sinful, inclination to resent those who have only lately learned what we have always known, or those who are given what we have made great efforts to discern.

Perhaps it is patronizing to say it this way, but my attitude towards those who learn what I have long known or those who come to the faith later in life should be the same attitude I take when my children learn a thing. I must rejoice and delight in their acquisition of the same truths, wonders, and joys that I have experienced and revel with them in their happiness. It is a mean spirit and not of God to resent others coming to know what I know and agree with me; no gnostic secret wisdom for me, the Truth is for all and nothing is more wonderful than when others come to know it and are set free as I have been.

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