• Ken Ilgunas

Book Review: "The Problem with Everything"


Meghan Daum is one of my favorite memoir writers and her latest, The Problem with Everything, is very good. It’s a memoir/manifesto/cultural critique of our modern culture wars, in which she defiantly flicks away creeping ideological groupthink and casts a critical eye on 21st Century moral panics, on what she calls “fourth wave feminism,” and on how younger generations have seemingly abandoned toughness as a character quality.

For me, there’s nothing like reading the thoughts of a smart person. It almost doesn’t matter what her subjects are. I could read a smart person's thoughts endlessly. But I suppose this book was especially satisfying for the fact that her thoughts are close to my own. People of privileged demographics often feel hobbled from saying clear and unspoken truths, and, as a straight white dude, I’ve (perhaps sensibly) chosen to keep my head down and mouth shut. Call that cowardly, but it’s probably far better and more effective if criticism comes from individuals within their own groups. And that’s why an author like Daum (a feminist criticizing the foibles and fallacies of Facebook feminism) is so refreshing: It’s like, “Ahh, thank god, someone finally said it!” If I have any criticism of the book, it's that I wish she didn't shy away from venturing into issues of race, which is perhaps an even harder subject to talk about, and one that's sorely missed here. A great companion piece to this (and one more reliant on data) is Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of America, which criticizes the culture of safetyism, virtue-signaling, and righteous victimhood in America. “But something was different back then. I shared a planet with those elders. We occupied the same universe. We breathed the same air. I had the great gift of being able to look up to my elders because it was possible to be like them. We may have been of different generations, with different problems and preoccupations and ideas about what constituted paying a lot of rent, but we still all grew up holding books in our hands. We called our friends from pay phones and negotiated sexual situations without technological assistance and registered opinions without being smacked down on social media moments later. We made mistakes in private and, in turn, respected the privacy of others in their mistakes. The same cannot be said for the relationship between my generation and those that are coming up behind us. Young people don’t want to be us because they’re not even the same species as us. Even if they did want to be us, the proposition would be absurd, like a human trying to emulate an orangutan. The world has changed so much between my time and theirs that someone just ten years younger might as well belong to a different geological epoch. In this epoch, there are no pay phones for calling friends at the spur of the moment. The contact highs from walking down the street have been replaced by dopamine hits from Instagram likes. To a young person, someone like me is not so much an elder as an extinction. Is it any wonder, then, that older generations’ contributions to the conversation are, at best, a kind of verbal meteor shower, the flickering, nattering remains of planets that haven’t existed for eons?”