Anime Won’t Save the Zoomers (and neither will Dante)

The Distributist

The Distributist

Dissident discourse in a post-modern age.

Today’s letter, perhaps fitting for the new year, is directed at a perennial right-wing complaint: kids these days, or as they say on the Internets, the “Zoomer Question”.

As is obvious, the kids are not alright. Young people today (the “Zoomer Generation” as they are known) need help. They face unprecedented challenges from a broken social order while, daily, social media companies are inventing new vectors to fuel their continuing mental health crisis, as real-life support networks disintegrate.

Frankly, I am surprised more people aren’t talking about this problem. Perhaps it comes down to my own generation’s narcissism?

Speaking as Millennial, it’s hard to even think about “Zoomers” the same way I think about my own generation. Even though there is a difference between Millennials born in the mid-80s and those born in the mid-90s, there is also a certain commonality of experience. We all remember September 11th (albeit the younger as cohort as children, and the older cohort as teenagers ). We all remember the Star Wars prequels (albeit the younger cohort as a fond childhood memory, and the older cohort as a teenage pop-culture disaster). Each of us has had their lives disrupted, first by the emergence of social media then later by the emergence of the “Great Awokening” and its political radicalization.

But what about the new generation that wasn’t even alive during September 11th? What about those who never experienced the Star Wars prequels in the theater and who never knew a social world not mediated by Twitter and Facebook? What about that generation that wasn’t even really aware of a time BEFORE the Great Awokening or knew an era when America was still America? What about the Zoomers?

From what I can figure, Zoomers are strange group. They are a generation already in crisis before it has come of age. They are the ones who will experience the doom that was foretold, but really had no part in its creation. They are the ones whose lives will be at the spearhead, if not of outright societal collapse, then of the slow degradation we see day in and day out, of pretty much everything.

And the tribulations of COVID-19 illustrate these realities perfectly. Frankly, as a Millennial, it’s hard enough losing a few years of my life, watching society drain away as I start a family in my mid-30s. But how would I have processed this type of disruption in my early-20s? Or worse, in my late teens? It’s hard to even imagine how anyone is coming of age under these circumstances. For myself, it seemed hard enough to figure things out in the relative optimism of the early 2000s. But Zoomers will have few such fond memories to look back on, and much less optimism to look forward to. Yet, they are the future. And any restoration will have to come through them. And for those dissidents concerned with this prospect, more energy should be focused on the task of helping the young.

To be clear, I am not talking about fixing all society’s social maladies at the macro-cosmic level. I am not talking about saving everyone. To a degree the decline looming over our society and the new generation has already come to pass. But despite this, there is hope for a nucleus to prevail. We can’t help the entire generation beat the odds, but we can help any given young person make the best of a bad lot and avoid many predictable catastrophes.

But, it seems the conversation always gets hung up in predictable ways. There is a tendency to dwell on the negative. The people talking about helping the next generation usually end up complaining about the problem itself. Kids these days, am I right? This dismissive sentiment leaks through most right-wing conversations on the topic even when the people doing the complaining are the kids themselves. And I am guilty of this myself. There is a perverse pleasure in doom-saying, especially if the doom falls on your direct successors.

But leaving aside the pure pleasure of complaint, what actually is the point to all of this? For people sincere in their conviction there has to be some hope. There has to be some approach to confronting the issue. There has to be at least some way in which Zoomers can become more based, or at least more healthy. And here is where the problem lies. 

For all the talk of the “next generation” and the “not repeating the mistakes of the conservatives before us”, the dissident space online tends to fall back into common cliches and circular thinking that has paralyzed previous attempts to galvanize a right-wing youth culture. Perhaps we need to look at the problem in a new light? The least we can do is not repeat mistakes.

Here, I would like to outline two frustrating mistakes which I have heard repeated one too many times and then briefly discuss a different way of approaching the problem.

As always, this is not a definitive answer, this is not meant to be the end of a conversation, I am hoping for disagreement and discussion. But since, my prose hasn’t gotten any more concise in the last two months, I think I’ll cut short the disclaimers and just get started.

The Self licking Red-Pill Anime Ice-Cream Cone  

But what if the youth problem just fixed itself?

After all reality can red pill people. Leftism does promote delusions and large misconceptions about reality. And when those crazy “SJWs” finally get to the workplace, they will see the error of their ways and start looking for answers. Then the youth will be on highway back to good old-fashioned American values, apple pie, and conservatism,…. I mean, neo-reaction….I mean, post-leftism….I mean, does anyone believe this talking point anymore?

At this stage it is very clear that no generation red-pills itself. Things don’t become more right-wing over time, they don’t even become more non-left-wing over time. The children of dyed-in-the wool progressives aren’t going to become Catholic monarchists to flip the script on their parents and rebel. Rock stars aren’t becoming reactionaries now that the company man is a forward thinking progressive. Water doesn’t flow uphill. The glass, once shattered, does not reassemble itself. 

And any reactionary will be sure to tell you the reasons for this. The left, insofar as there is a “left”, pushes in the direction of dissolution, laxity, and entropy. It doesn’t need centralized order to the extent its opponents do. It naturally lets things backslide, and, as such, it naturally aligns to the preferences of young people in the absence of wise direction. At this stage we dissidents should know this, and for the most part we are good at reciting the theory, yet we continue to make the same mistakes.

In place of the old neo-con idea of the self-wining war, or the boomer idea of the self correcting pendulum, I have noticed the emergence of another such self-licking red-pill ice cream cone which promises the future that will take care of itself. This is what I like to call the “Anime temptation”. Or to put it in more verbose terms, the mistake of confusing youthful affinity for traditional aesthetics with an actual desire to move towards more a virtuous way of living. And I understand why people fall for this.

After all, as everyone can plainly see, woke aesthetics suck. Everyone who has come in contact with the high culture of previous centuries, or even the marginally less bad pop culture from previous decades, rejects the trash early 21st-century progressive media shovels out and deigns to call “art”. Whatever people want, they can’t find it in modern corporate entertainment, so why not look back to something that feels, well, traditional?

After all, young men naturally like heroism, violence, and soldiers. Young women naturally like relationships, beauty, and princesses. Each wants media that depicts their desires and will gravitate to such media, wherever they can find it.

Enter anime, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and the like. Traditionalism in fiction is alive and well. From Hayao Miyazaki to Warhammer 40k and beyond, there are an enormous number of culture works that have conservative, if not completely reactionary trappings. Isn’t this encouraging?

After all, why wouldn’t people raised on stories about a magical British boarding school also be interested in emulating the values of actual boarding schools? Why wouldn’t the people who celebrate the heroism of king Aragon not also celebrate the traditional Christian culture from which he hailed? Why are the people enthralled by the Edwardian mannerisms of a Dr. Who not entranced by the arts and letters that made Edwardian society possible?

It’s a tempting proposition. So tempting that even as late as 2009, Mr. Yarvin himself was speculating that, maybe, just maybe, the faddish emergence of “Steam-punk” culture might implicitly lead to a revival of Victorian authors. As someone who lived through the mid-2000s steampunk craze, along with late-1990s anime culture, the proposition is laughable.

No Curtis, there is no path from liking corsets and Victorian goggles to reading Thomas Carlyle. Anime, while traditionalist in theory, isn’t in practice. In fact, quite the opposite. Every time we plug in the “based” anime machine and expect it to produce something traditional, it spews pure degeneracy instead. Why is this?

Like most mistakes, the “Anime Temptation” starts with a kernel of truth. The idea that people are naturally drawn to good things through beauty is true. After all, that’s a large part of the Darwinian reason for the “beauty” instinct. In addition to a spiritual relationship, there is a statistical correlation between beauty, truth, and goodness, and how the human mind perceives them. But this is simply the beginning of the matter. 

Like all healthy instincts, the desire for picaresque beauty, much like out desire for sex, has been subverted into desire for its simulacrum.  This is an obstacle that all adults have to deal with every day in the modern world, and the obstacle is much worse for the young.

It’s a cliché to state this, but young people do not understand reality and its consequences. They know what they want, they know what emotionally draws them, and they are just starting to feel their own power as adult human beings. Nevertheless, they don’t understand the cost of their decisions. They don’t understand the long term trade-offs that can (and must) under-gird all the pleasures the world has on offer. As such, there is an enormous opportunity for unethical parties to sell pretty lies to the young and impressionable. And in the last two centuries, there has been no shortage of charlatans willing to engage in this endeavor.

I mean, what if the rules were are all a lie? What if all of the difficult decisions grown-ups complain about are just a ruse? What if you could cast it all off? What if you could forge your own identity? What if you could just take the elements of your favorite pop-culture and half-understood philosophy and build your own life regardless of whether all of it, or any of it, made sense? Young people want to believe this.

It is natural for the young man to believe he can be the smart science guy who saves the world, even though he struggles to understand basic math. It is natural for the young woman to want to be an independent heroine who somehow never has to take ownership of her mistakes. Politically involved young people love the idea of the activist, ever the under-dog, ever the victor, never having to come to terms with the consequences of wielding power.

Pop culture is consumer culture, and that’s what the young consumer wants. And if this applies to mass pop-culture, it applies doubly to the super-escapism of something like role-playing, or anime.

Here I might offer my own insight as someone who once looked to anime as a counter-note to the materialism and leftism I grew up around in Northern California. As a teenager, anime seemed like the perfect escape and alternative. A departure from late 20th century mundane life, while still avoiding the uglier side of leftism very much on display where I lived. To be fair, it all seemed real enough. But in the end nothing held up.

From the first anime I saw, (the pseudo-Edwardian Kiki’s Delivery Service) to the final anime I ever saw (the overtly neo-Victorian Last Exile), I must have seen a thousand stories of stoic warriors, demur heroines, and healthy hetrosexual flirting leading to true love relationships.

Still, despite the hours of content, and the stalwart dedication of my fellow Otakus (what the kids these days now call “Weebos”), did anyone ever imitate these patterns in their lives? Certainly, some gravitated towards more normal existences. But, for the most part, the years have not been kind to the 90s Otaku now sliding into her mid-30s. Looking back on it now, despite their desire for escapism, the anime lovers of yesteryear followed the path of their own society, drinking deeply of the worlds’ excesses, so present in modern world and so far from the animated fantasy stories they idolized on screen. 

Anime was a beautiful world, but a world of illusions. Worse yet, anime seemed to have convinced many people who watched that its fake and saccharine fictional beauty was more important than the subtle and wounded beauty of the world they inhabited. Of course, classical wisdom will always commend an ugly truth to a beautiful lie. But in the Otaku sub-culture, something very different was being communicated.

No, Otakus, wisdom is wrong. The fantastic is more important the real. The real world is painful, hard, and full of complicated issues, the fantasy world is simple and easy. In fiction, everything could be as it always was meant to be: a picaresque fantasy, with no rough edges.

In this sense, the story of anime sub-culture follows the same pattern that plagues our generation: a simulated fantasy, slowly eclipsing reality itself. Was the fantasy not aspirational? Did people not want to emulate what they saw on the screen? Do I even need to answer these questions at this stage?

What? Did the emergence of online pornography not cause America’s young men to become sex-crazed Lotharios pursuing women at every opportunity? Did the presence of airbrushed super-models not encourage women to become more physically fit? Did the mass sexualization of entertainment not increase the total amount of fornication in society? Monkey see monkey do in some circumstances, but for our generation, the presence of simulacra had a tendency to replace the authentic action itself.

My own experiences with this strange generational phenomenon echo through my mind when I see articles like this one describing the slow progression of teenage anime fandom down the road towards gender confusion, hormone replacement, and reassignment surgery. Really this was to be expected. That was the message most people took from the culture of anime. The culture of anime implicitly promoted the idea that fantasy and emotion were everything, that image was the totality of essence, and that the desire for self-expression trumped all.

For this vantage and from hindsight, it’s easy to see that cosplay and transgenderism are two sides of the same coin. After all, if being a brave Victorian explorer, a wide-eyed virginal debutante, or a debonair Space Cowboy is just a matter of putting on the right costume, why is being a woman any different? What if it’s all cosplay? Otaku, you might not know Judith Butler, but Judith Butler knows you.

But really, this pattern in anime sub-culture is nothing new, it’s just the logical extension of the perennial adolescent romantic fantasy, the same old temptation of pornography. You know the script: heroism without consequence,  liberation without constraints, and pleasure without price, this time just with a neo-traditionalist veneer that makes the entertainment seem wholesome while the spiritual poison does its work.

Engage on All Fronts

Alright, well maybe I put too fine of a point on that last one. Because at this moment all of the conservatives, traditionalists, or post-conservatives reading this essay have their retort ready to go. Repeat after me:

“The problem is modernity!”

Indeed. And as such, it stands to reason that the only solution is a complete rejection of its premises. After all, if there is one thing that we have learned, you can’t compromise with modernity. It is corrosive. You give it an inch and it takes a mile. It degrades everything it touches. And so, the only solution is rejection, refusal to engage, and isolation from its effects. Is this too extreme?

Perhaps, but there is point here that needs to be understood. The only solution to the modern world, the only way to survive it, is to refuse it, at least in some sense. Modernity needs hard limits to be contained. And in the the future, any society which prioritizes human survival, even a highly technological one, is going to have to posses a solution to keep the effects of modern temptations is reign.

This is all true. But the simplified description contains a temptation towards sloppy thinking that does not help the right, especially when it comes to speaking the younger generation. The temptation begins plainly with the fact that, the majority of right-wingers (and the vast majority of us who make a hobby out of using social media to discourse) have not made such a hard break with modernity. Certainly not in the way the Amish or the Orthodox Jews have, and in many cases, not even to the extent necessary to live like our parents.

For the most part, most of us are deeply connected to some degenerate element of our declining society. More so, the young Zoomers still looking for alternatives to the modern world. Under these circumstances, the people who want to post traditionalist platitudes and “RETVRN” memes as panaceas to the problem of modernity don’t authentically advance a conversation about how to build a successful anti-progressive counter-culture.

Look, I know, it’s a meme. I know this Uncle Ted stuff is tongue and cheek. I know telling people sick of Wokeness in their comic books that they should have learned New Testament Greek to meditate on the ancient church fathers is fun. After all, lecturing people from behind a screen and keyboard is good sport, probably more so for people who don’t remotely live up to the prescriptions they drop neatly at the end of internet debates. It’s pretty gratifying, but what does this accomplish?

I for one am a bit tired of these cute responses to serious problems. Not only are the recommendations often fake, they also help replicate the kind of insincere-empathy and para-social status mongering that we are trying to get away from.

Telling people burnt by the hollowness of own pop-culture to go read the Bible or the Iliad is often a transparently a phony gesture, because everyone who understands these texts, understands the nature of youth, and has taken stock of the state of modern education, knows that making these types of recommendations is futility bordering on mockery. Better to tell a morbidly obese man that he should shed weight by running a marathon. Better to tell a paraplegic that he can build his core strength by doing squats. It’s not actual advice, it’s a “fuck you”.

Old literature, with highly abstract themes, byzantine pacing, and language requiring multiple layers of translation to resemble our vernacular is no, generally speaking, appealing to younger people. Even less so because modern education doesn’t teach how to read it, or even why anyone should want to read it.

Try as you may, recommendations to young people to RETVRN to classic modes of culture often fall on deaf ears. Many will balk because the implicit condescension and the phony intellectualism, but many more will turn away just because it’s hard. These classic works were never designed for a general audience to begin with, and two hundred years haven’t done wonders for their accessibility. While these texts contain immortal truths, they do, and always will, require an enormous amount of effort and patience to access.

Of course, I know the retort: well educated young people from the 19th century read this stuff! Yes, and in those days modern electronic entertainment didn’t exist, virtually no one was overweight, and the education and political system was dedicated to centering classical philosophy and wisdom. It was a different time. Anyone making a similar journey in the modern world is doing something entirely different. They are not following the guidance of their teachers along a patch trod by all of their peers, they are undertaking a strange deviant lifestyle, made all the harder by the fact that these texts are now even more removed from the world we now occupy. No amount of condescension is going to fix this.

For my money, the “RETVN to classical culture” platitude is entirely unfit for purpose, at least general purpose. Classical education is a useful resource for understanding our world, a fine choice for independent education of children, and a feat of intellectual discipline in adults. But it is not a reliable mechanism to dissuade Zoomers away from the path of self-destruction.

And it’s at this point when the little Boomer who sits on my shoulder starts whispering in my ear: “But … maybe we could make it easier. Maybe we could combine pop-culture and classic culture, take a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B, using the advantages of each to reinforce the other. After all, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down!”

Well maybe, but I smell a half-truth here. Leaving aside the fact that there is tendency in young people to swallow the sugar and spit out the medicine (see the previous section on anime), this approach tempts us towards the Boomerish venality of diluting the product we are trying to save. In the end sugar-coating medicine might help with very young children, but feed the same to adolescents and they will reject that cloying concoction with disgust.

As an example, just take everything and anything deriving from modern Evangelical Christian culture over the last 30 years: from Joel Osteen’s Christian remixes of consumerism, to Rock-and-Roll worship music, to the endless white-washing of biblical perspectives to seem “cool”. But of course none of this is “cool”. It’s the opposite of “cool”. All of these approaches are transparently insecure and every young person can smell it a mile away.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t pay to sell yourself to the spirit of the age, it always leaves you a high and dry when circumstances change . The same tricks pastors used to make their own faith seem relevant during the 1990s, made it impossible to stay relevant in the 2000s. At this stage, 30 years later, young Zoomers associate Christianity, the Evangelical sort in particular, more with mealy-mouthed platitudes and cringe rock ballads than sermons about fire and brimstone.

It turns out watering your product down doesn’t help its sales. This wisdom goes for religions just as sodas, high-culture literature just as well as gasoline and cigarettes. The comic version of Pilgrims Progress won’t actually help young men find God and the YouTube version of Mansfield Park won’t help young women find virtue. You don’t get the experience of Dante’s Divine Comedy playing the video game. And this is not a fault of the works themselves, they contain truth, just not in a way that is accessible to the young.

Don’t Panic, Stay Cool

But what? Is this simply a council of despair? Black-pills aren’t uncommon in these types of conversations, and there is certainly no shortage of dissidents waiting to write off the youth entirely, and bury our civilization where it stands. But really all I have done is point out two strategies that don’t work. Nothing I have said should commend despair. In all but the direst of circumstances, there are many roads towards survival. And even on this issue, many very promising paths go unexplored.

One approach, rather unexplored, is to redirect our focus, less towards campaigning to young people, and more in cultivating out own lives. To create an alternative mode living, strong in conviction, confident in its own space, comfortable in its own skin, and, dare I say “cool”?

At once this looks like folly. The history of the right-wing is the history of those who couldn’t pull off being cool, those who couldn’t keep up with their times, and who always seemed to be fighting the last battle over and over again. Certainly bucking this trend would be hard, if not impossible. And if we accomplished this transformation what would it get us? Isn’t being “cool” part of the same progressive snake oil we were right to distrust in the first place?

Perhaps. But I think this attitude deserves a second look. After all, while appearing  “confident”, or “cool” might have been the tool of chaos and leftism in the last century, will this always necessarily be the case?

Truth be told, these days the left is pretty far from anything we might call “cool”. Almost nothing described as “progressive” doesn’t feel radically detached from the reality of the contemporary world and (oddly enough) its own internal logic. Everything that once seemed so vibrant now seems fake. And what remains of the left is simulacrum piled on simulacrum, LARP following LARP, with nothing at all real or solid to put ones feet onto. The left has lost its soul. Or to use a more popular phrase, “the left can’t meme”.

We on the right love talking about the phenomenon of “The Left Can’t Meme”. But many fewer have examined its implications. We understand the left has lost something, a certain ability to perform a role that was once critical to its success. We are quick to laugh at how embarrassing the loss of such a weapon is for a movement now swollen with overconfidence. But ultimately, instead of laughing, we would be better advised to spend our time trying to recover the weapon for ourselves.

But perhaps this is getting too abstract. What does it even mean to be able to “meme”? Why does it matter if you are “cool”?  For myself, this can be boiled down to a single word: authenticity. Most of the time, that is what people mean when they say “cool”,  to be someone who lives in authentic truth and whose life is authentically interesting. Or perhaps, to put it more prosaically, being “cool” means being comfortable in one’s own skin, with ones’ own strengths, living in one’s own age.

In the past, conservatives have failed across the board to embody this mode of living. And in many ways the problem was foundational. By the nature of how conservatism conceptualized itself, it never had a proper relationship with modern political reality and was subsequently caught flatfooted by the emergence of hostile cultural forces from within once trusted institutions. Ideologically, the movement lived in the past, and, as such, conservatives were always an inch away from LARPING, talking about things like constitutionalism, limited government, and the opinions of 18th century jurists with little regard to how remote these concepts were to power within a modern 21sts century state.

Moreover, conservatives themselves experienced a kind of personal phoniness extending directly from their ideological shortcomings. Anyone familiar with college Republicans will know what I mean. There is a kind of weird hollowness found somewhere in between the half-believed patriotism, naked political careerism, frat-boy social hierarchy, and the bow-ties. Everyone seemed to be acting out a pantomime. So many games, so little sincere visions of the future. So many grifters, so few true-believers.

But now things are changing. Conservatism is dying away. And the sincerity of yester-year’s left wing is nowhere to be found. This is change certainly. Maybe an opportunity?

Confidence creates a kind of gravity. People have a natural affinity for others who are straight-forward, know who they are, and mean what they say. And while it is certainly true that people be bribed into the pursuit of vice through the sugar-coating reality and the obscuring hard truths, so too can they be led to virtue through the leadership of those who they trust. This is the direction we all should be thinking in. Becoming the kind of person that people want to learn from; even if clout isn’t on offer, even if immediate power isn’t on the horizon.

For most of us, if not all, our own journeys away from easy conformity towards a harder life of dissident has included one or more of these figures. Admirable men (sometimes women) whose example pointed us in the direction of a virtuous life. Ultimately these figures may not have even played a role in our political formation, however without the window they provided towards higher values, how could any of us have be motivated to leave the comfortable default positions of modernity?

I know that I am not breaking any new ground here, after all what I just said sounds a lot like “become worthy”  a truth that has become rather hollow in its platitudinous repetition. I think far too many conversations end here, in a sort of vague technical truth that seems poetic because the details aren’t filled in, so let’s do that now. When I say that people should become “cool” or “worthy” or “models for the next generation”  what am I actually talking about?

As alluded to earlier, the process starts with becoming comfortable in ones own time and ones own skin. And for the right usually the former is more challenging. Just as a sense of personal fakeness dogs the new left, the new right has never completely overcome the cringe nature of conservatism before it. And wherever cringe is, confidence is not.

The phenomenon of “cringe” (as it has become known in internet circles) is nothing less than being embarrassing by virtue of being radically out of sync with the times. To be clear things are bleak in the contemporary world, and things were better and certainly more optimistic in times past. But you can’t build a life out of nostalgia nor a serious political vision out of bitterness for a lost past.

To put it bluntly, it’s time for people to skip the LARP, skip the cope, and skip the posturing. Let us all come to terms with things as they are. We, on the dissident side of things, are dispossessed, we are the diaspora, and circumstances are not on the cusp of turning around any time soon. Whatever we have in the foreseeable future, we will have build ourselves. This is a hard pill to swallow, but necessary. Luckily the next part is easier.

Once you come to terms with the world as it is, centering yourself within it is easier. Better to be an honest seeker than a priest at the alter of a dead god. Better an authentic Ronin than a retainer to a lie. Once you admit your situation, there is strength in it. You are honest about what you love, honest about what you have lost, and honest about what you don’t know. You can speak plainly, make basic observations, interact with reality at a basic level. You develop poise and maturity.

Of course some this is aspirational, but it’s also a natural process. Just as long as one avoids common pitfalls, starting with the pretension that we are in control of things. We are dissidents, not rulers. We cannot guide society, but we know who are, we know what is real, and we know what we love and what a future we will fight for. And the people who share our values and dreams are welcome to join our journey. This is narrative can reach a lot of people, not least the young people looking for honesty in a society that manifestly refuses to give them candid guidance.

I suppose from this point, it’s up to old fogies like myself to take up the mantel and provide guidance. It’s a scary proposition, but the ability to provide leadership is something a lot of people underestimate in themselves. At any point when you feel in your bones that someone is going astray, when you see someone make a mistake and are moved by genuine compassion to head-off the harm they are causing themselves, then you are probably in some position to provide mentorship. Generally I have found, in an informal capacity, the job is less about teaching than it is about sign-posting potential dangers and potential opportunities for those with less experience. It is less about being a professor, more about being an experienced friend.

Mentorship is about meeting people where they are, advising on limits, no-go zones, or areas of caution. It is about ascertaining the right amount of sugar and medicine at each stage of development to sustain morale and encourage growth in turn. It is about understanding whether a friend needs encouragement to take a daily walk, to take up a sport, or rather to take up periodic fasting. It is about understanding when a learner is ready for The Hobbit, Dune, or Crime and Punishment. It is about ascertaining which challenges are appropriate to the season of life and the soul in question. It is more art than science, but it also comes naturally.

I suppose in closing one last thing needs to be mentioned: the internet. In the past mentorship was always face to face. Mentors were friends, family members, or people you worked with. Today (especially post-COVID) things are different. Our discourse is almost entirely online. Can mentorship exist in such a detached space? I have to admit it’s a problem. A voice from the internet giving you recommendations is never really taken seriously. Without the personal relationship, without the personal presence, simple information doesn’t go very far. Moreover, the nature of these online interactions has a kind indulgent shallowness not conducive to growth. And that’s before social media corporations started swinging the ban hammer on every traditionalist or dissident community within reach.

Really, for online mentorship to work, for any attempt to help Zoomers to work, there needs to be a revolution in how we use the internet and social media. Such a development is well beyond the scope of this letter. But I think we are seeing some positive developments. Our para-social interaction with internet figures has reached a peak during the COVID years and there is some evidence that people are starting to want more. Already some creators are changing things up, going to a more collective mode of production, fostering community, IRL meetups, and the seasonal celebration of cultural and religious heroes. It’s just a small phenomenon now, but perhaps a new mode of online community interaction more healthy for young people?

Certainly something to watch hopefully in 2022.