I'm utterly fascinated by Lee Siegel's op-ed in the New York Times about how he was too good to pay off his college debts.
No really. That's the whole piece. Let's leave aside the basic moral question about whether or not one should feel some sense of obligation to repay one's debts. It's filled with lines like:
Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.
I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.
Recent Stories in Culture
Maybe I should have stayed at a store called The Wild Pair, where I once had a nice stable job selling shoes after dropping out of the state college because I thought I deserved better, and naïvely tried to turn myself into a professional reader and writer on my own, without a college degree. I’d probably be district manager by now.
Someone with character would have paid off those loans and let the chips fall where they may. But I have found, after some decades on this earth, that the road to character is often paved with family money and family connections, not to mention 14 percent effective tax rates on seven-figure incomes.
Emphasis mine, throughout. Siegel's ability to envision himself as an unappreciated Übermensch is something else. The whole essay drips with a massive amount of self-regard—seriously, bro, I think the world of letters would manage to survive without your contributions; even if it couldn't, if T.S. Eliot could write The Waste Land whilst holding down a job at a bank, you probably could've committed your scribblings to the page too—when it doesn't revel in mean-spirited condescension. "I'd probably be district manager by now," he sneers, pissing all over the people who do the work his dainty hands are too good to touch.
The most bizarre line, though, has to be this one:
It struck me as absurd that one could amass crippling debt as a result, not of drug addiction or reckless borrowing and spending, but of going to college.
If I understand him correctly, he's saying it's nuts that it costs money to spend four years absorbing wisdom from people who have mastered their fields—their time isn't nearly as valuable as Lee Siegel's, he can assure you. Furthermore, it's totally outrageous to expect people to pay for a credential that will allow them a chance to earn far more money than they otherwise would've been able to.
It's all quite precious.
Siegel, like any good sociopath, is jealous that others have something that he wants. So he advocates taking it by force:
Congress might even explore a special, universal education tax that would make higher education affordable. … If people groaning under the weight of student loans simply said, "Enough," then all the pieties about debt that have become absorbed into all the pieties about higher education might be brought into alignment with reality. Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education. There are a lot of people who could learn to live with that, too.
"It's not fair that they have money and I do not, so you should take their money and use it to pay for my bad decisions." Impeccable logic! A-plus work. I'm really excited to read your next book:
Lee Siegel is the author of five books who is writing a memoir about money.
I'm sure that'll be a doozy.