Ricky Williams is an All-Star running back for the Miami Dolphins who abruptly quit professional football just weeks before the present season began. (His team is now in a 0-5 free fall.) Ricky Williams was making $3.5 million dollars a season when he left the game. Esquire magazine caught up with him recently. They found him living in a $7-a-day campsite in Brisbane, Australia.
I was talking to the daughter of a friend of mine, “Sandra well call her. Sandra is a second year college student with formidable intellectual gifts and a superb pre-college education. She told me she was planning to work in a clothing store this summer because she feels, as she put it, “like I have been in a harness since I will 12. After the rigors of her college prep, minimum wage at a clothing store looked like a vacation.
Usually, two data points is everything this anthropologist needs to leap to a conclusion. (Thats what Im going to call my autobiography: Leaping to Conclusions.) But in this case, more data was forthcoming. 60 Minutes did a piece a couple of weeks ago on people in their 20s. It claimed that all of these people had been as children programmed to within an inch of their lives, and some of them have been pushed really hard.
“Hmm, I thought, “just like Ricky and Sandra. So thats the question. If its true that young adults have been programmed and pushed, should they be regarded as “contents under pressure? Can we expect some of them to bail out suddenly and without apparent cause. Sometimes this will be a declaration that they cant take the pressure anymore. Sometimes, it will be an act of personal protest.
As Daniel Bell pointed out, there are two conflicting individualisms at work in American culture: economic and expressive. People are quite happy to take up the challenges of economic individualism but when they believe that this challenge preempts the challenge of expressive individualism, they begin to act strangely. They just walk. They say to themselves things like, ‘this [football or college] cant be everything, can it? What about me?
Ricky Williams is an odd fellow, to be sure, but what if hes also a harbinger?
Bell, Daniel. 1976. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.