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The Two Stupid Faces of David Brooks: David Brooks Is an Idiot, Part III

July 15, 2013

Everyone always makes such a big deal about search engine optimization, but I don’t see anything impressive about it.  Search engine optimization is easy.  For instance, let’s say you’re a blogger, and you have a target audience who is interested in a variety of topics, such as “David Brooks idiot,” “David Brooks stupid,” “David Brooks hack,” “David Brooks asshole,” “David Brooks dickhead,” “David Brooks imbecile,” “David Brooks sucks,” “David Brooks wack,”  “worst David Brooks,” “David Brooks waste of organic matter,”  and “fire David Brooks.”  Just create blog posts about those topics, using those words, and internet success will be yours!

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A typical day at I Hate NYT.

If you type "idiot David" into a box, Google knows who you mean.

If you type “idiot David” into a box, Google knows who you mean.

And the reading public’s interest in such topics has never been higher, due to a pair of recent editorials.  In discussing two hot-button topics, Brooks used words and phrases that some of his readers found distasteful.  What the words and phrases were, we will get to shortly.  But many readers seemed surprised to see someone as decorous as Brooks using distasteful words and phrases at all.  Commentators referred to Brooks in such strong terms as “white supremacist” and claimed that he had “[gone] full racist,”  or even “nuts.”  The uproar was strong enough to prompt the public editor to step in.  Heretofore, Brooks has cultivated a reputation as a moderate, writing articles in favor of immigration reform and cognitive science, which is useful for helping us understand the mind, except that it’s also not.  Has Brooks abandoned his wonted tact and revealed an ugly new side of his character?  Perhaps he was just misunderstood, and this new material isn’t really so different from the work of the man we thought we knew — the lighthearted, intellectually curious pundit who loved to wax eloquent about demographic trends and press releases about scientific studies.  Perhaps if we see Brooks’ comments in their true context, we will gain a more nuanced understanding of them.

So, below we will compare the two columns by the new, controversial David Brooks with some recent columns by regular normal David Brooks.

Crazy Racist Brooks

“Over the past few decades, American society has been transformed in a fit of absence of mind.”  Americans, we have GOT to learn to pay attention.  Gone are the days when you can fall asleep on the couch for 30 or 40 years and expect the nation to be exactly the same when you wake up.  America is being transformed, by other people, who are definitely not us, and are definitely not reading this now.  I mean, think about it: If Mexicans and Arabs were reading this, why would we be referring to us as “us,” and to them as “them”?  It doesn’t make sense.  Anyway, how are they transforming American society?  By existing, on our property.  “First, we’ve gone from a low immigrant nation to a high immigrant nation.”  This is a troubling development.  I don’t think immigrants should be using my tax dollars to get high on American soil.  I was wondering why an immigrant would be too absent-minded to notice his or her own existence, but perhaps the drugs are to blame.

“Moreover, up until now, America was primarily an outpost of European civilization.”  This was really something to be proud of.  For a continent, serving as an outpost for the civilization of another, more important continent is a great honor, yet simultaneously a great responsibility.  I would imagine that America’s first 15,000 years as an outpost of European civilization were the toughest.  There weren’t even any people here!  [Fact-checkers, let me know if this is incorrect {obviously kidding, they've all been laid off.}]  The whole continent just sat around for millennia, being a proto-outpost of European civilization, its virgin forests and herds of buffalo vibrating with reverence for the Platonic Ideal and the Cartesian Subject.   “Between 1830 and 1880, 80 percent of the immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe.”  Maybe, but what’s so special about 1830?  Can’t tell if I’m supposed to think 1830-80 were superior years because there were more Europeans around, or that Europeans are better because there were more of them in 1830.

“In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born population came from Europe, with European ideas and European heritage.”  You know, for a region that spent a thousand years years as fiefdoms waging constant deadly war with one another, Europe certainly has a coherent set of ideas and heritage.  You really gotta hand it to them.  If it weren’t for their consistency of ideas  (ballet, fancy food with domed covers, cathedrals, tapestries, monotheism but not the Arab kind, sailing over to other countries that aren’t European Civilization and helping them learn about monotheism), one would think they were a genetically and culturally diverse group of people who are currently viewed as homogenous only due to the arbitrary caprices of history.

“Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling.”  Sure, it sounds fun to intermingle with hundreds of fluid ethnicities, but many readers didn’t care for this line.  They didn’t like being compared to dogs, even though Brooks meant it as a compliment, plus it makes perfect sense.  Think about it: Just like dogs, human beings are divided into dozens of different breeds with different purposes and functions.  Some of them are more intelligent than others, and some have cute smooshed-in faces.  Wait, that didn’t sound right, let me start over.  Throughout America’s history, certain races of people have been considered more valuable and racially pure than others, just like certain breeds of purebred dog — in fact, all breeds of purebred dog.  And it wasn’t “certain” races, just one (the white one).  Meanwhile, certain other races have been considered less valuable and racially pure, just like certain breeds, or rather non-breeds, of dog (the dogs that aren’t part of any breed, because they’re mutts).   When you combine a purebred dog with a mutt, you get another mutt.  When you combine two mutts, you get a different, even freakier and more mutt-like mutt.    And when you combine two different kinds of purebred dog, you get another purebred dog that symbolizes European heritage — that’s not actually how it works in the dog world but come on, no analogy is perfect.

Anyway, that’s why a person who’s Swedish, Spanish and Croatian is a purebred and a vehicle for the glorious traditions of Europe, but someone who’s Swedish, Mexican and Japanese is a mutt.  Very lucid, and I can’t wait to see what happens when the world’s ethnicities finally start intermingling.

“As we stand on the cusp of this New America, it’s understandable to feel some anxiety.”  Well, a lot of things are “understandable.”  It’s “understandable” to try to crush people to death by repeatedly pressing the “door close” button on elevators, but I don’t exactly mention it on my résumé.  “If you take sociology and culture seriously, it’s sensible to wonder whether this is the sort of country we want to be.”  That would suck to be a Hispanic person who takes history and culture seriously, because you’d have to be like “is it really wise to allow more of my kind, if I know what I mean, around here?  Do I really want to see this great nation I live in become more welcoming to people like me?  Would I want myself to move in next door and marry my daughter?”

“Can we absorb this many immigrants without changing something fundamental?”  Lord knows, we’ve never “changed anything fundamental” before.  If we did, it would almost certainly suck, because we’ve got everything just..about…right.  It’s like meddling with a thermostat that’s been set at 74 degrees since before the formation of the Bering Land Bridge.

“Let’s make some educated guesses about what the New America will look like. It will almost certainly be economically dynamic. Immigration boosts economic dynamism, and more immigration would boost it more.”  That’s good…for some reason.  “Dynamism” is one of David Brooks’ favorite words/concepts.

31 might not sound like that many, but when you consider that the word means absolutely nothing, it's a lot.

31 might not sound like many, until you consider that that word means absolutely nothing.

His use of it makes me oddly convinced that this passage is sincere, but that just makes the whole column more disturbing.  He’s actually conflicted about a cultural development because on one hand, it’s bad for “culture,” but on the other hand, it’s good for “dynamism.”   That’s a dilemma too abstract even to be the plot of a Henry James novel.  If you explained it to Henry James, he’d be like “I don’t get it…could you put in some explosions or something?”

“There would also be a lot of upward striving. Immigrant groups tend to work harder than native groups. They save more. They start business at higher rates than natives.”  Well, if Americans persist in lethargy despite the plethora of rewarding and dynamic jobs available to them, we’ll just have to let a bunch of Mexicans come clean our pools for us.  If only there were some way to get Americans to start their own businesses, that didn’t involve providing affordable healthcare to people who own their own businesses.

“Because educated people intermarry at higher rates, we could have an educated cosmopolitan class with low ethnic boundaries and a fair bit of integration in white-collar workplaces. Then, underneath, there could be a less-educated, more-balkanized layer.”  It would be terrible for America’s ethnic mutt underclass to emulate the Balkans, a geographical and cultural region of southeast Europe famous for brutal internecine conflict.  It’s a good thing that when we decided to be an outpost of Europe, we emulated the part that’s not too swarthy.  I mean, European civilization is homogeneous and all, but some parts are more homogeneous than others.   If you’re not serious enough about culture to appreciate Western Europe’s legacy, consider this: In the past 100 years, there have been only two times when Western European nations tried to end civilization by bombing each other into oblivion.

“We could also see more ethnic jostling between groups.”  How vulgar.  I think we can solve that problem by getting our valet to shout out the window at them “what ho there, sirrah!  Stop your jostling, or I shall be forced to summon the constabulary!”

“Finally, it would make sense that the religion of diversity, which dominates the ethos of our schools, would give way to an ethos of civic cohesion.”  Diversity is to religion as human beings are to dogs:  They’re identical.  Liberals don’t want to admit that diversity is their religion, but all the signs are there:  the belief in supernatural beings (if you think of “diversity” as a supernatural being).  The feelings of mystery, awe and reverence.  The prayer.  (News flash, hippies, “diversity” isn’t going to cure your mom’s bowel cancer.)  All those huge, magnificent buildings around the world dedicated to worshipping diversity.  And don’t try to fool me with some line about “those are mosques” — I’m not falling for that one again.

In Mecca, worshippers have built this magnificent shrine to diversity.

In Delhi, worshippers pay homage to diversity in this beautiful shrine.

“We won’t have to celebrate diversity because it will be a fact.”  This is good news for me; I hate celebrating diversity.  But what I’m really excited for is the day that we won’t have to eat our vegetables, because vegetables are already a reality.  Hurry up and make diversity and vegetables real, society.

“The problem will be finding the 21st-century thing that binds the fluid network of ethnic cells.”  If something is already a network, do we have to rely on 3-D printers and flying cars to connect it to itself?  Add “nets” to “dog breeding” and “America’s toxic legacy of white supremacism” on the list of things David Brooks doesn’t understand.

All right, so America is kind of confusing, what with all the racial tension that’s about to break out as soon as we become diverse.  What about Egypt? Everyone there seems basically the same.  And Brooks agrees. In “Defending the Coup,” he writes that “Radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. Many have absolutist, apocalyptic mind-sets. They have a strange fascination with a culture of death.”  It keeps slipping my mind that here in America, we’re all about ~culture of life~.  Duh, right? I mean, there has to be a reason no one ever dies needlessly here.  If Terry Schiavo has been a radical Islamist, they’d have dumped her on the compost heap without even waiting to install a feeding tube.

“It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam.”  Hey, who built this DNA?  “Elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit.”  Someone should tell that to the guy who said George W. Bush had “ennobled and saved” the Republican party and that Sarah Palin was “smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable.”  What an idiot!

“It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.”  What are the odds that 82.5 million people would all run out of mental ingredients at exactly the same time?  They better plan a trip to the intellectual grocery store.  It’s probably in Europe, which is going to make transportation a challenge.  Egypt has the worst luck — not only is it in an actual desert, it’s in an intellectual food desert.

But Brooks isn’t the only one concerned about the ideological cuisine on offer in Egypt.  Thomas Friedman warns idealistic readers that “perfect is not on the menu anymore in Egypt. In fact, even food may not be on the menu anymore.”  I’m beginning to think Egypt acted hastily when it decided to open a democracy restaurant.  Maybe it’s the equipment that was built into the cookbook of their mental DNA, but one thing is for certain:  This menu is atrocious.  I demand to speak to the chef!

Regular Happy-Go-Lucky Brooks

Anyway, that’s what Brooks has to say about Egyptians and mixed-race people. But doesn’t he have some insights about regular stuff, like millennials and students at prestigious colleges?  Luckily, he’s been studying those topics in great detail.  “This year, I’m teaching at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, and one terrifically observant senior, Victoria Buhler, wrote a paper trying to capture how it feels to be in at least a segment of her age cohort. She’s given me permission to quote from it.”

“Buhler points out that the college students of 12 years ago grew up with 1990s prosperity at home, and the democratic triumph in the cold war abroad. They naturally had a tendency to believe deeply ‘in the American model of democratic capitalism, which created all men equal but allowed some to rise above others through competition.’”  Let me do some calculations…my God.  I was a college student 12 years ago.  I may not have been the coolest college freshman, but I was certainly never dorky enough to go around being a fan of “the American mode of democratic capitalism,” as if the American mode of democratic capitalism were Belle and Sebastien.  I guess it’s true what they say:  “You know you’re a 90’s kid if you cried when Kurt Cobain died, and/or you have a profound faith in the ability of some men to rise above others through competition.”

“In sum, today’s graduates enter a harsher landscape. Immediate postgrad life, Buhler writes, will probably bear a depressing resemblance to Hannah Horvath’s world on ‘Girls.'”  Crazy how sometimes people’s lives can bear a resemblance to the lives depicted on shows specifically crafted to reflect people’s real lives.  There should be a word for works of art like that…we could call it “real-lifeishness” or “real-ism.”  It’s probably too crazy to catch on, though.  Anyway, terrifically observant of Victoria Buhler to have observed that.  “The hit song ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ‘is less a fashion statement, more a looming financial reality.'”  First of all, to make even an iota of sense, this sentence should have read “the action of shopping at thrift stores depicted in the hit song ‘Thrift Shop’…is less a fashion statement, etc.,” unless the hit song “Thrift Store” is going around foreclosing on people’s houses and cancelling their food stamps.  Victoria Buhler is really blown away by the ability of certain works of art to reflect certain elements of people’s lives.  If she were able to extend this insight to entitites other than “millennials” and periods other than “right now,” she would really have something.

For instance, shopping at thrift stores for reasons of thrift isn’t some groundbreaking new cultural shift that originated with the millennials.  One clue is in the name: “thrift store,” not “fashion statement store.”  Another is the fact that poor people have existed for longer than many Yale undergraduates realize — since the 90’s, or maybe even earlier.  It’s like Jesus said in the Bible:  “The hit parable  of the vineyard is less a fashion statement, more an ineluctable sociological data point.”

“Buhler argues that the group she calls Cynic Kids ‘don’t like the system — however, they are wary of other alternatives as well as dismissive of their ability to actually achieve the desired modifications.’”  No, that can’t be right.  I am sometimes dismissive of my ability to achieve the desired results, but it’s not because I’m a Cynic Kid; it’s because I’m a Leo with the moon in Capricorn.  That astrological chart would never steer me wrong.  I hate it when David Brooks’ sociological observations conflict with the psychic wisdom of the stars, because it’s so hard to pick which one is more authoritative.

But regardless of what the Zodiac says, haven’t today’s young people done some idealistic stuff?  I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t even say it.  “The Occupy movement, Buhler notes, ‘launched more traffic jams than legislation.’”  If you do something idealistic, and it doesn’t yield immediate legislative results, it doesn’t count as idealism.  I mean come on, Occupiers.  You can talk all you want about your so-called ideals, but you have to admit that you spent more time being tear-gassed by police officers in riot gear than being respectfully listened to by the very corporatocracy you were protesting, plus you inconvenienced motorists.

“In what I think is an especially trenchant observation, Buhler suggests that these disillusioning events have led to a different epistemological framework.”  This observation would be even more trenchant if it were more than an observation, and were based on some sort of data or factual evidence.  “’We are deeply resistant to idealism. Rather, the Cynic Kids have embraced the policy revolution; they require hypothesis to be tested, substantiated, and then results replicated before they commit to any course of action.’”  How…cynical of them?  Thinking that hypotheses should be tested before you’ll believe them was a pretty novel epistemological framework… in the 1600’s, when it was call “the scientific method.”  How I envy today’s young people, getting to relive the excitement of reading Rousseau’s Discourse on Method and realizing that you don’t have to cure diseases with a poultice of  wolfsbane and frog intestines just because grandma said to.

“Maybe this empirical mind-set is a sign of maturity, but Buhler acknowledges that the “yearning for definitive ‘evidence’ … can retard action…. The multiplicity of options invites relativism as a response to the insurmountable complexity.”  This paper is truly audacious.  Until now, the so-called “intellectual establishment” has stuck by their outdated, stale assumption that empiricism and relativism are not exactly the same thing.  We now know that too much empiricism will inevitably bring about relativism, and that the only cure for relativism is to apply ever more minute and diluted quantities of empiricism (this is also how homeopathic medicine works).

“She suggests calling this state of mind the Tinder Effect, referring to the app that lets you scroll through hundreds of potential romantic partners, but that rarely leads to a real-life encounter.”   Maybe you’re just not using it right.  Everyone who writes for the Times seems to be horrible at Tinder; I almost wish I were single again, just so I could prove them wrong by using Tinder to have real-life encounters with hundreds of potential romantic partners.

“She wonders if the educated class is beginning to look at the less-educated class — portrayed on TV in shows like ‘Teen Mom 2′ and ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ — as a distant, dysfunctional spectacle.”  What was this paper titled, “Stuff I Thought About In the Tub”?  A truly revolutionary bathtime thinker would also wonder what the less-educated class thought about the educated class, but ascribing thoughts to poories isn’t really part of the Brooksian epistemological framework.  “She also wonders if the mathematization of public policy performs a gatekeeper function; only the elite can understand the formulas that govern most people’s lives.”  David Brooks hates math so much, it almost makes me want to like it.  It takes true dedication to believe the last 5,000 years of art and culture have been completely transparent, value-neutral and of universal relevance to every human being, including Ezra Pound’s Cantos and the Bible translated into Latin, but math is only hard to confuse people who went to state schools.

“I had many reactions to Buhler’s dazzling paper.”  David Brooks is so intense and multifaceted.  If only he had space to present all his reactions to this paper.  His train of thought was probably like “Hmm, I think I’d care for a glass of water…these certainly are some interesting thoughts about demographic trends….makes me want to read some more sociological observations about demographic trends…Being involved in the word of ideas as a college professor certainly is rewarding! you become exposed to a variety of perspectives…this remarkable paper is so similar to one of my columns, I wonder if I could use it as the basis for of one of my columns…hmmm, I think I’d care for a turkey sandwich.”

“…but I’d like to highlight one: that the harsh events of the past decade may have produced not a youth revolt but a reversion to an empiricist mind-set, a tendency to think in demoralized economic phrases like ‘data analysis,’ ‘opportunity costs’ and ‘replicability,’ and a tendency to dismiss other more ethical and idealistic vocabularies that seem fuzzy and, therefore, unreliable.”  Out of all the parts of this paper, he chose to highlight its ability to explain the fact that Ivy League students believe reality exists.  It seems weird that he’d be so bummed out by the existence of data analysis, but then again, if you were a public “intellectual” who still believed in trickle-down economics, you’d be easily demoralized, too. “After the hippie, the yuppie and the hipster, the cool people are now wonksters.”  I wonder if we’ll ever see a group of cool people whose name doesn’t end in an -ie or -er.  I guess events haven’t been cataclysmic enough to effect a change in the morphological framework.

If Brooks and his protegés don’t believe in data analysis, empirical evidence or the existence of facts, what do they like?  The humanities.  Well, that’s reasonable: Studying art and literature can impart grace to your prose style and open your mind to the experiences of people different than you.  And if those things aren’t your bag, consider this: it was all the rage back in the 50’s, before the immigrants ruined everything.

“A half-century ago, 14 percent of college degrees were awarded to people who majored in the humanities. Today, only 7 percent of graduates in the country are humanities majors.”  Why does every David Brooks historical fact start with a completely random date?   “In 1815, only 0 percent of Americans identified as pansexual.”  “Before 1934, few Americans could agree on the definition of the social contract…and they still can’t!”  Examples proliferate.   A piece on the economy and sociological trends prompts us to “imagine a man we’ll call Sam, who was born in 1900 and died in 1974.”  An article on education and dynamism informs us that “Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade.”  An article about character and sociological trends points out that “thanks to the temperance movement…adult per-capita alcohol consumption fell from 7.1 gallons a year to 1.8 gallons a year between 1830 and 1850.”  (More like no thanks to the temperance  movement, right?)  In an article about 50 Cent, the economy and character (?), we’re told that “Since the 1830’s, we’ve witnessed the same struggle.”  (Don’t worry about what the struggle is — it’s not very interesting.)  An article on names and sociological trends informs us that “in 1880, just 10 names — William, John, Mary, George, etc. — accounted for 20 percent of all babies.”   An article on dynamism, sociological trends, the economy and character states that “in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked.”  An article on David Brooks’s completely understandable failure to notice that the Iraq war was going to suck points out that “This time, unlike 1920, say, Iraqis can see a panoply of new and thriving democracies,”  as a prelude to noting that “in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing.”  (Sorry, armchair pundits; 11 more years before we’ll know how that prediction turned out.)    Now I may not be an expert on fancy stuff like sociology and demographics, but according to my research, America was founded, not in 1830 or 1890 or 1954, but in a little year you may have heard of called 1776.  From now on, articles about how America is going down the tubes must start with “in 1776,” “in 1492,” or perhaps “in the early Cretacious, when the continent that would later become North America separated from Pangaea.”

pangaea

“They are committing suicide because many humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise.”  Who is “they”?  Let me reread the sentence — no, that doesn’t help.  It’s not the 14 percent, and it can’t be the college degrees.  It also can’t be the 7 percent who are majoring in humanities now, because the whole sentence is  about the decline of the humanities, and the 7 percent are the only ones who aren’t to blame.  It seems that they (the humanities) are committing suicide because they (the humanities professors) have lost faith in their own (that of the humanities professors, or the humanities themselves) mission.  Why?  No, not because of rampant pronoun/antecedent confusion.  “Back when the humanities were thriving, the leading figures had a clear definition of their mission and a fervent passion for it. The job of the humanities was to cultivate the human core, the part of a person we might call the spirit, the soul, or, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, ‘the dark vast forest.’”  Cultivating the human core might be worthwhile, but it is about the least clear mission I have ever heard of.  If I got hired to do a job and someone handed me a mission statement that said “cultivate the human core,” I too might commit suicide (metaphorically, by doing a bad job at my job, which is what committing suicide means now).  (D.H. Lawrence would have loved David Brooks, though.)

“Somewhere along the way, many people in the humanities lost faith in this uplifting mission. The humanities turned from an inward to an outward focus. They were less about the old notions of truth, beauty and goodness and more about political and social categories like race, class and gender. Liberal arts professors grew more moralistic when talking about politics but more tentative about private morality because they didn’t want to offend anybody.”  Except all the people they did offend, by pointing out all the racism, classism and sexism.  People who are offended by liberals’ alleged reluctance to offend anyone must really think they’re perpetrating the ultimate mindfuck.

“To the earnest 19-year-old with lofty dreams of self-understanding and moral greatness, the humanities in this guise were bound to seem less consequential and more boring.”   Race, class and gender sure are boring.  It is unfortunate that 95 percent of the Earth’s humans have to pay attention to them because they’re not rich white males, but for the rest of us, please be considerate and restrict your discussion of morals and values to things that affect all of us.  The humanities are all about your human core, but if someone is judging your human core based on your gender, race or class, that’s a problem for the political science department.

One way the humanities unite us all is through words.  In “What Our Words Tell Us,” Brooks praises Google’s N-gram search tool, explaining that “Results can reveal interesting cultural shifts. For example, somebody typed the word ‘cocaine’ into the search engine and found that the word was surprisingly common in the Victorian era. Then it gradually declined during the 20th century until around 1970, when usage skyrocketed.”  “Someone”?  Apparently Brooks wasn’t clever enough to think of typing that word into a search engine himself, but the real searcher is too secretive or modest to have his or her name revealed.  They do sound more fun than David Brooks, though.  “Someone typed ‘58,000 + 8′ into a calculator and found that if the calculator was turned upside down, the display screen appeared to read ‘BOOBS.'”  What happens in the affluent suburbs of D.C. stays in the affluent suburbs of D.C., I suppose.

“I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine.”  Well, that sounds promising.  Typing words into a search engine is the best research method that doesn’t involve doing anything other than typing words into a search engine, and a half-century is the most important unit of time, because it’s approximately how long David Brooks has been alive.  “The first element in this story is rising individualism.”  Isn’t this how the Iliad started?  Haha, no, because stories are supposed to have characters and settings, not “elements.”  It’s in the clear definition of their mission.  If Brooks had studied the humanities more, maybe he’d know that.  He probably spent one day in an English class and was disappointed that the great literature of the Western canon was about a bunch of dumb people doing stuff, instead of cool words with Latin etymologies.  He started to do the reading and was like, “To the earnest 19-year-old with lofty dreams of self-understanding and moral greatness, a narrative that focuses its energy on individuals like Pip, Joe Gargary, Miss Havisham, Estella and Magwich the Convict was bound to seem less consequential and more boring.”

These people had a lot of problems, all caused by lack of Dynamism and failure to understand the social contract.

These people had a lot of problems, all caused by lack of dynamism and failure to understand the social contract.

“That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like ‘personalized,’ ‘self,’ ‘standout,’ ‘unique,’ ‘I come first’ and ‘I can do it myself’ were used more frequently.”  To be fair, the rage for “I come first” might be about some stuff that Brooks understands even less than he understands the ineffable beauty and pain of human existence.

“The second element of the story is demoralization. A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like ‘virtue,’ ‘decency’ and ‘conscience’ were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century. Words associated with moral excellence, like ‘honesty,’ ‘patience’ and ‘compassion’ were used much less frequently.”  The more times people use a word referring to a thing, the more of that thing there is.  If one million people are writing about Kim Kardashian’s baby, Kim Kardashian has one million babies.  If people are talking about gluten 1,000 times more, it’s because there’s 1000 times more gluten around than there was ten years ago.  Sexism, racism and transphobia are brand new, which is probably why college professors bitch about them so much: They’re just nostalgic for the good old days.  People barely ever use the word “fortnight” anymore, because the nature of the space-time continuum has become altered in such a way that it’s rare for two weeks to occur in a row.  Don’t even get me started on “eftsoons,” “peradventure” and “gramercy.”  I think the Kasebers missed a real opportunity, starting their research with the 1950s instead of, say, 1066.  I did some scholarly Googling of my own, and according to my research, almost every word that was part of the English language in 1066 has completely disappeared.  There’s only one conceivable explanation:  Medieval English people had hundreds, possibly thousands, of moral and social virtues that we’ve never even heard of.  They were no doubt eradicated by William the Conquerer and his amoral, relativistic social program of secularism and political correctness.  The implications of N-gram are indeed chilling.  (Also, did you guys know that in England, an eggplant is called an aubergine?!)

“Usage of humility words like ‘modesty’ and ‘humbleness’ dropped by 52 percent.”  Are these real categories of words?   It seems suspicious that of the English language’s two humility words, one of them is a variation on “humility”.  I’m beginning to suspect that this experiment was designed on the back of a bar napkin.  “Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like ‘discipline’ and ‘dependability’ rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.”  And…to fairness, noteworthy for being the moral virtue related to being fair.  Republicans love virtues and ethics, except the ones they think liberals like, which they recategorize as either political correctness or economics.  Yes, the world of liberals is certainly a schizophrenic one, with its Manichean division between a ruthlessly capitalist dependence on the primacy of the free market, and a ruthlessly anticapitalist obsession with forcing their unpopular religion of political correctness down everyone’s throats.  Sometimes it seems like their whole outlook is based on being negative and sniping at people they don’t like, but of course there aren’t any political parties like that in America.

“Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine.”  Well, I don’t want to be vain, but I’ve conducted some pretty broad studies with the Google search engine myself.  Do you people even realize how many animated GIF’s there are that can represent reactions one might have to experiences in everyday life?

“So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked.”  It all started with caring about sexes, races and classes.  Once you start caring about moderately specific things like that, it’s a slippery slope to full-on caring about individuals.  And once you do that, you lose focus on what really matters: the social and moral fabric, whatever the hell that is.

“Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias. People see patterns they already believe in. Maybe I’ve done that here.”  Definitely not.  I mean, if you were the kind of guy who was prone to unscientific rationalization, why would you admit that here?

Conclusion

I hope you can see now that David Brooks isn’t a racist, or a peddler of lazy stereotypes.  Instead, he’s a fearless intellectual explorer who loves to pursue a train of thought wherever it may take him.  If that leads to the occasional misstep, so be it.  He’s happy to admit that he’s sometimes been wrong about some things, as long as he doesn’t have to point to specific examples, or suffer any consequences whatsoever for doing so.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2013 1:55 am

    The recategorization thing drives me nuts. “Us conservatives have morals! Liberals have no morals. Therefore, when liberals express moral disapproval, it’s ‘political correctness,’ because I’ve already decided it can’t be morals.” Fuck those disingenuous weasels.

    Excellent post, as always.

    • betoma permalink*
      July 16, 2013 7:16 pm

      Ugh I know! One time I was arguing with this guy on someone’s facebook page, and he accused me of feigning empathy because I said it was bad that people with chronic diseases might die because they couldn’t get health insurance. He was like “typical liberal, shedding crocodile tears.” I think a lot of conservatives are insincere about the “morals” they claim to support, & they project that onto others.

  2. July 16, 2013 1:24 pm

    Thanks for the shoutout. This is wonderful work.

    “Out of all the parts of this paper, he chose to highlight its ability to explain the fact that Ivy League students believe reality exists.” That’s like the Platonic Brooks!

    “Why does every David Brooks historical fact start with a completely random date? ” It’s not random, it’s the start date of the chart he Googled when he started “writing” the column. He generally puts his historical fact a paragraph or two before he mentions his source, so that we’ll think he was just magisterially thinking about the subject first, as opposed to frantically searching for something to write about. In my experience, Brooksologists often find themselves developing a specialty or two (thus Driftglass focuses on his historical evolution from fascist attack dog to nonpartisan sage–gradual change or punctuated equilibrium?) and one of mine is the investigation of his working method.

    As King Solomon remarked, “Of the faking of Brooks there is no end.” Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend!

    • betoma permalink*
      July 16, 2013 7:21 pm

      Thanks! Haha, it’s true. He uses the first cherry-picked piece of information he finds, and then slips it in a way that suggests he has mastered a vast body of research and authoritative discourse. One of my old Brooks posts talks about a column where he quotes some intellectual-sounding book. But he obviously hadn’t read the book, because he said it “opened with” the quote in question, & it was really from chapter 4!

  3. July 16, 2013 5:06 pm

    On the poll: I really think Douthat is a much better writer than Brooks, in spite of the chunky Reese Witherspoon episode, and even because of it–I like the frankness with which he wears his mental illness on his sleeve. Don’t mean to suggest here that he’s ever right about anything, just that he has a little style in his wrongness. I also think it’s unfair to conflate Dowd and Collins: Collins is actually kind of funny much of the time. I don’t read her dialogues with Brooks, though

  4. July 17, 2013 12:00 am

    great post
    re: seo; because i run a blog called ‘idiot joy showland’ and occasionally mention people by their names, a good portion of my traffic comes from people looking for conformation that gilles deleuze, karl marx, edward snowden, and everyone working at disneyland are, in fact, idiots. internet fame is fuckin easy

    • betoma permalink*
      July 17, 2013 1:58 am

      It’s kind of touching, this desire for confirmation that someone else out there thinks person XYZ is an idiot, too. Someone found this blog yesterday by searching “does anyone else hate david brooks.”

      • Lispeth permalink
        July 24, 2013 11:42 am

        Heaven knows I found it by searching ‘frank Bruni awful’ or some other concatenation of words to the same effect. Sometimes the burden of hating something is just too big to carry by myself, not to mention the ineffable satisfaction of seeing someone do it better than I could. You are the creme de la creme of co-haters.

  5. July 29, 2013 5:52 pm

    Another joy. Can you have a selection on your questionnaire that allows me to choose ALL?

  6. Clare permalink
    August 6, 2013 7:29 pm

    What I really don’t understand is why Buhler seems to criticize Occupy Wall Street for not showing immediate results or policy driven, and then immediately after says that young people are too calculating, results oriented, and policy driven, and it’s killing bold idealistic action like….Occupy Wall Street?

    • betoma permalink*
      August 6, 2013 8:33 pm

      Haha yeah, I failed to even note the full irony of the Occupy Wall Street thing. Like if you’re too idealistic to get results, it proves you’re not idealistic enough…somehow?

  7. A. M. Rosenthal permalink
    August 20, 2013 11:38 pm

    I did my own extensive Internet research on David Brooks (wikipedia) and discovered that he was actually born in Toronto and is Jewish and that his wife was originally named Jane but changed her name to Sarah when she married him and converted to Judaism. Mutts, intermingling, crossing international borders, something half-remembered from my humanities background about Jews and conversions and the superiority of European culture…

  8. January 7, 2014 3:53 am

    “David Brooks hates math so much, it almost makes me want to like it.”

    -You owe me a new Macbook Pro.

    Bravo! Beautiful brilliant hilarious stuff!!

    -c

    • betoma permalink*
      January 7, 2014 9:36 am

      Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed it, ruined computer or not!

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