Posted by Brian at 9:31 AM
What universe does Walter Kirn inhabit?
Because man, I want to move there.
Simplified a bit, it runs as follows: a nation of remarkably productive, often well-paid workers who are becoming increasingly reluctant to pause from their labors and refresh their souls — a nation whose cash-drenched corporate employers typically don’t pay for much time off (less than two weeks annually, on average), a nation whose globe-gripping federal government is the only one in the whole industrialized world not to legally require generous periods of paid kick-back-and-hang time — is a nation that’s socially screwed up, particularly in comparison with European countries like France, which orders its citizens outside to play for the entire month of August and a few other weeks spread through the year.
That might very well be the case if we actually lived in the world Kirn describes, but to steal a line from Bradley, if you're like me--and I know I am--I don't know who these "often well-paid workers are." They're not the rule in my universe. Last time I checked, the median income in the US was somewhere barely north of $30K a year, and most folks below or just above that line aren't being offered generous vacation packages--they're lucky if they get two weeks paid per year, and often have to hold onto that time in case they get sick, because they have no medical leave at all. But this is Kirn's world--I just think he's an elitist asshole.
Take for instance this passage:
That fewer of us are doing so, it’s said, is a symptom of either anxious overcompetiveness (while I’m learning to fly-fish, that new guy down the hall is learning how to do my job); upward-mobility addiction (the cost of a 10-day Alaskan eco-trek is a down payment on a Lexus coupe!); the breakdown of the family (toasting s’mores for bored brats around a campfire is not a father’s duty anymore); or, perhaps, a complicated bitterness over the fact that surpassing France’s economy will never help us surpass its egotisms, so why bother aping the gourmet loafing that even most Frenchmen must sense has made them poorer?
Does Kirn think that most people really worry about this sort of thing? Really? Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the US--I doubt that the majority of smock-wearers among us are having to choose between a 10-day Alaskan eco-trek or the down payment on a Lexus coupe. They're more likely to be choosing between a week's worth of Mac & Cheese or Oriental flavored Ramen noodles, or if they got suckered into a sub-prime mortgage, paying the house note or eating at all.
If you don't want to take vacations, Kirn (even though you noted that you'd taken several weeks! off this summer), then by all means, don't. I've been on vacation for the last few weeks myself (even including the move of apartments), but that's part of the reason I got into academia--so that I would have lots of time off. My time is worth more than the extra money I could get in pay for hitching myself to a 9-to-5. And I don't think the French are worried that Kirn snarks on them.