This was making the rounds: Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. In it, a writer with a master’s degree from Columbia absolves himself from having to repay his student loans.
Here’s a little something I wrote about student loans and other bank subsidies. One might think I’d be more sympathetic with Mr. Siegel, since I agree with him that student loans are a racket. But self-identified nihilists have voted themselves out of the pool – by their own standards, my sympathy would mean nothing. Therefore, I look only at the destructive nature of his attitude – not the default itself, a relatively minor thing, but his petulant sense of entitlement and superiority. What, I wonder, would this man not do to feed his delicate yet zeppelin-like ego? He forgives himself for lying to the banks he borrowed money from, and advises credit card fraud as a viable economic strategy, with little more than a condescending wave of the hand. He follows that up with a smug dismissal of any concerns that universal adoption of his recommended behaviors would cause economic and social chaos. And, unsurprising, he was caught sock-puppetting (is that a word?) his own blog at The New Republic and suspended, but, of course, he’s a fully accredited member of the intelligentsia with a master’s from Columbia he paid for with stolen money, so he gets a pass. Such concerns are beneath the parasitic yet special snowflake we have before us.
See, the moral nicety here is this: that student loans and college tuition are a mutually supporting racket does not provide a presumptive excuse for behaving dishonorably, if, in fact, honor has anything to do with it. Which, for a nihilist, would be a stupid claim to make. But if you did care about honor, you’d have to make a better argument as to why it was OK to steal the Ferrari than you really wanted a Ferrari and deserved it more than the guy who had it (how does one deserve anything besides death and eternal obscurity in a nihilistic universe, anyway? There I go again, expecting a little logical consistency). State U was just so plebeian, and besides, you won’t make the kind of contacts you need at State U to get a job at the New Republic and a pass on lying to and abusing your readers – you know, your employer’s customers.
The most interesting thing about all this to me is the combination of nihilism and narcissism. I suppose in a universe devoid of meaning, you’d just as well be a narcissist as anything else. But at first blush it does seem odd that his narcissism would lead him to write an essay bound to provoke a backlash from, oh, tax-payers, people who pay their debts, people who went to State U, people who didn’t get to go to even State U, baby-popping primitives who don’t even care about the difference between Columbia and State U – you know, all the people it’s perfectly say to insult nowadays. But then again,.what good is being a special snowflake if you can’t laugh at the yokels?
Enough. This man’s name is Legion, and, except for the threat to sanity that his views contain, would be so tedious and yawn-worthy as to make TV look good. Instead, I wondered: is there any relationship in the real world between getting a degree from Columbia and being a good writer? Fortunately, it seems somebody from Columbia is working Wikipedia, which contains long lists of Important People who took classes there.
I was frankly surprised at the number of authors on the list I recognized. Isaac Azimov, Joseph Heller, Upton Sinclair, Hunter Thompson, James Blish, Paul Gallico (Poseidon Adventure – recognized the book, not the author), Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Millett, J. D. Salinger, Robert Silverberg, Mark Van Doren (Great Books guy!), Eudora Welty, Herman Wouk, and Roger Zelazny. And a couple sportswriters, too, although I don’t know how proudly a writing graduate school would embrace them.
Some observations about this list: First, I’m unlikely to know many authors from the last 50 years or so – I don’t keep up with modern literature at all – got better things to read. I’m well aware that means I’ve probably missed so really good stuff, but the needle in a haystack nature of the search coupled with not reading something else makes that a decision I’ll live with. Second, speculative fiction is especially well-represented. Third, despite his high and lonely calling to writer-hood, Siegel isn’t on the list. I’m sure he’ll make the proper authorities aware of this tragic omission.
Started to take a look at the connections these writers had to Columbia, and it was interesting. These observations are not scientific or exhaustive by any means – I got bored. But of the ones I did check or knew about: Most of them did not get a degree in English or writing. Some, like Azimov, took degrees in other fields; others, like Upton Sinclair, dropped out; Hunter Thompson audited a couple courses. Of the ones who did get degrees in English or writing, Communists and other idiots are well-represented. Then there’s Kate Millet, for crying out loud.
Compare this list with a list of great writers who did little if any college, let alone high prestige schools that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend. Elite colleges are all about making connections. Why the education of a George W Bush is dismissed because he went to elite colleges to make connections, while a Siegel is expecting his misbehavior in pursuing such connections to be brushed away as necessary is a subject for further contemplation.