On how you look at it

Dear Coquette,

Do you think we’re a benefit to the Earth? Or unhealthy for it?

You would be wise to do two things:

First, don’t flatter yourself. We are of no consequence, and the Earth is indifferent. On a geological time scale, our measurable effect on the planet is a greasy burp.

Second, don’t separate yourself. It’s ridiculous to pretend that the concept of the collective “we” is somehow detached from the concept of the earth. There is no difference between the two.

What you’re really asking is whether our species in its current state of evolution is a benefit to the broader concept of life, and the only legitimate answer to a question like that is a Zen-like shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t. We’ll see.

Do you think a quarter-life crisis is an actual thing? I’m 20 years old and I feel like my life is over.

Your life isn’t over. Your childhood is over, and you just don’t know the difference yet.

As for whether a quarter-life crisis is an actual thing, sure it is. You can have an existential crisis at any age, and it’s perfectly reasonable to freak out in your early twenties when you suddenly realize that life is one big grind.

That’s no excuse to wallow in it, though. You’ve only got a few years in your early twenties when it’s culturally acceptable to screw around trying to find yourself. Don’t waste them being filled with angst and ennui.

As an average American, what do you think about the middle class?

The middle class is a cultural cliché without an internally consistent definition. It’s just an idiomatic device used by politicians and those in the media who want to represent the broadest area under the socio-economic bell curve. When reporters use it, they mean “not the rich and not the poor.” When candidates use it, they mean “you and everyone you know.”

The subtle counterpoint is calling me an “average American.” That phrase doesn’t draw attention to class distinctions, and it also has nationalistic connotations, which is why you’ll find more Democrats using the phrase “the middle class” and more Republicans using the phrase “average Americans.”

And of course, that’s really what you’re doing with this carefully loaded cocktail-party question. You’re just trying to suss out my political leanings.


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