2/100: The Ideology of Children
Russian Lit, Paul Graham, Startups
I recently finished the book “Fathers and Sons”, a Russian novel by Ivan Turgenev which was published in 1860.
The bearded author sets up the story with colorful characters, who I categorize as follows:
The most visual and controversial character is a young man named Bazarov who is a self proclaimed nihilist. Throughout the book he does his best not to care about anything. Ironically, it requires a lot effort and care.
Behind him is another young man, Arkady, Bazarov’s friend and avid follower. He is an individual on a search for meaning and a philosophy that he can call his own. Arkady’s vision is malleable, with an open curiosity.
In tandem to the two young men, are a collection of older male characters, who are stuck in their ways, helplessly trapped by their values steeped in tradition.
Most importantly, there are the female characters both young and old whose presence is fluid. Their ideas are progressive and characters are resilient. Albeit that this book was written in the late 1800s, these women are depicted as trailblazers - defying tradition. The women are at peace with holding unique positions in society. I found that the women in this novel, are the only characters who demonstrated the ability of thinking independently, understanding other viewpoints, and engaging in productive dialogue.
Bazarov and Arkady engaged in endless ideological standoffs with their older male counterparts. For this reason the book was a meditation upon the shifts in mentality that take place between generations. Amazon’s book summary refers to it as Turgenev’s “masterpiece on generational conflict” - and still today the thematic interaction between old and new holds a similar dynamic. I couldn’t help but relate this to the big 3 - family, culture, and technology.
Interestingly enough, Paul Graham recently published an essay named “A project of ones own” - and the piece opens with an anecdote about a conversation he had with his 9 year old son: Upon picking him up from school, his son tells him how excited he is to go home and write the story he has been working on - a feeling that certainly resonated with me. Paul’s essay goes on to tell the story of how it is simultaneously valuable and challenging to have “a project of one’s own” - and breaks down the change that occurs as we grow older: we lose a certain openness to trying new things:
As children, we are ready to dive into the unknown - and as we grow older this unfettered curiosity is more and more difficult to lean into.
Having read “Fathers and Sons” and subsequently Paul Graham’s essay, it had me reflecting upon this never ending wheel of generational conflict, not only that which occurs between generations… but also within generations. What about the internal conflicts we face as we grow out of childhood and into adulthood? What happens when sons become fathers - and to be more inclusive than the 1800’s era novel title, when daughter’s become mothers? More generally, what happens when children become parents? What kind of internal ideas die in that transition? It seems that the plant of curiosity does not always survive.
All this to say..
Our current generation has come to be defined by innovation. So much so that the word itself has almost lost meaning - and the word’s overuse could be a topic explored in a whole other post.
Nonetheless, “innovation” has disrupted the old parental ideal of a stable career/life/journey - whether it be in finance, law, or engineering. Movements led by the (relatively) new startup ecosystem, creator economy, and the big bets being made by venture dollars are keeping the childhood readiness to explore alive.
As someone who left a stable to job to pursue a project of my own as Paul Graham puts it, I hope the ideology of children prevails, not only for myself - but for you too.
That is Day 2 and as always, let me know what you think. See you tomorrow :)
Check out some related reading:
A project of One’s Own via Paul G
The Tyranny of Time via Noema Mag
Is It Really Too Late to Learn New Skills? via New Yorker
We’re Finally Starting to Revolt Against the Cult of Ambition via The New York Times
P.S. Sorry for the delay in posting day 2 - I’ve been traveling and just reached back to London, if you are around let’s meet up!