Hey, alla you kids — get offa my century!

This really cracked me up. Remember the anecdote I told about the conversation I overheard awhile back between two students? To keep you from clicking and reading through that long post again, here it is:

I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard on the USC campus back when I worked in an office, and took long daily walks around the campus and downtown area. These two boys were walking behind me, and one of them was bitching about having to take a course in stupid history — as if anybody cared about that.

His friend, however, protested that learning history was important to understanding our world, and he got the first kid to agree, reluctantly. I almost applauded, but in keeping with my lifelong habit of hanging back and observing, I didn’t (anyway, they may have found that a bit… condescending).

But then I heard the first kid say, “Yeah, OK. But this was, like, 500 years back! Who needs to know about that?”

The friend felt compelled to walk back his position: “Well, maybe not 500 years! Let’s not be ridiculous…”

I just kept walking…

Well, that kid who was willing to defend history — up to a point — was an absolute classical scholar compared to the one who wrote this note:

The 1900s! Had they developed writing that early?

I wonder what he would think about Paul’s 20th-century speakers? He’d probably confuse them with Cato the Elder, if he’s heard of him.

Ever since I read that, I’ve tried to reconstruct the train of thought that led to that question, but I haven’t arrived.

Did he think the prof would respond mockingly, saying something like “Hey, why dontcha cite the Magna Carta, or… I know!… the Code of Hammurabi!…”?

I’m thinking about quoting the sages William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan here, but that would take us all the way back to 1989…

4 thoughts on “Hey, alla you kids — get offa my century!

  1. Ken

    Professors commented on the cluelessness of some students back when I was in college.
    No doubt they had similar things to say about your generation.

    And the same applies to generations before that:

    Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’.
    We, their sons, are more worthless than they;
    so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.
    – Horace, ca. 20 BC

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Of course! That’s a common meme throughout history. I’ve heard and read about it all my life. But I wonder if this kid is aware of it?

      I’m sorry if you didn’t think it was funny. I did. But as I said, I seriously wonder if there was a REASON the student asked that. I mean, maybe the course was something like “Contemporary Themes Regarding X,” and the prof neglected to tell us that… If not, it was a bizarre question…

  2. Robert Amundson

    Ivory tower elitism, embodied by figures like the Englishman Samuel Johnson, can inadvertently fuel the flames of anti-intellectualism. Johnson’s belief that he had exhausted the depths of knowledge echoes the perils of intellectual arrogance. The irony lies in how intellectualism, when perceived as haughty and exclusive, contributes to the rise of anti-intellectual sentiments.

    The relationship between the two is complex; it’s a symbiotic dance where elitism begets skepticism, and skepticism reinforces elitist attitudes. It becomes a challenging task to decipher causation from correlation, as each fuels the other in a disheartening cycle. The humorous nod to “42” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy serves as a reminder of the humility required in intellectual pursuits, highlighting the pitfalls of claiming absolute knowledge and the need for a more inclusive and humble approach to foster a harmonious coexistence between intellectualism and the broader society.

    So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is a great song by Perfect Circle:

    “Ticker tape parade; our hair and skin like Marilyn Monroe in an afterwind.

    Time is money, money’s time; We wasted every second dime

    On politicians, fancy water, and guns, and plastic surgery.
    Like our Prince and Reenie’s mom – All the dolphins have moved on

    Signaling the final curtain call in all its atomic pageantry.

    Bravissimo, hip hip hurray, what a glorious display

    Melt our joyous hearts away under the mushroom cloud confetti.”

    1. Ken

      And what about anti-intellectual elitism/arrogance?
      (Yeah, seems like it should be a non-sequitur, but it’s not.)

      As for “harmonious coexistence between intellectualism and the broader society,” it’s questionable whether that’s possible, or even a worthwhile goal. James Baldwin, for one, would’ve doubted it is. After all, there should be something toward which “broader society” should strive. And such striving cannot be abbreviated through mere harmony.


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