Tuesday, June 04, 2013

David Brooks' Oblique, Emotionless Cry For Help

Today, resplendent in his threadbare Polonius beard and change-purse of borrowed wisdom, Mr. Brooks offers "an earnest, morally serious man" his very sagest advice on how not to become David Brooks.

The subject of his column is Mr. Jason Trigg, "a 25-year-old computer science graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology" who wants to change the world by making a fortune at 

high-frequency trading hedge fund trading and then giving most of the money away to fight malaria.

Which is all well and good, but not nearly as rich with tragicomic potential as it would be if Mr. Brooks the Elder were addressing his admonitions to, say, Mr. Brooks the Slightly Younger.

For example, this takes on a new cast entirely -- 
"First, you might start down this course seeing finance as a convenient means to realize your deepest commitment... But the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you."
-- when you realize that it's written by someone who has spent his most productive professional years Windsor-knot-deep in the dregs of American Conservatism,  befriending hate radio goons, anti-Enlightenment fundy grifters and other unsavory life forms.

This reads very differently -- 
"Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment."
-- coming from the occupant of Yale's prestigious Uriah Heep Chair for the Study of Humility and Reticence...who paved the way to that position spending years extruding Bush-extolling, Liberal-bashing twaddle for Bill Kristol's House of Neocon Wonders,  virtually all of which history has now shown to be horribly, horribly wrong.

This is both much creepier and more sad -- 
"Third, and most important, I would worry about turning yourself into a means rather than an end...
"Taking a job just to make money, on the other hand, is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars. 
"We live in a relentlessly commercial culture, so it’s natural that many people would organize their lives in utilitarian and consequentialist terms. But it’s possible to get carried away with this kind of thinking — to have logic but no wisdom, to become a specialist without spirit."
--- if you know  the speaker'  most often-recounted childhood memory is attending a Be-In with his hippie parents where he stuck his hand in a fire to retrieve a $5.00 from a little pyre of cash that was being burned in protest.  Who, 45 years later, has literally bought himself a multi-million-dollar mansion from the proceeds of a life spent punching imaginary hippies for money. 

And finally, perfectly, this is just astonishing -- 
"If you choose a profession that doesn’t arouse your everyday passion for the sake of serving instead some abstract faraway good, you might end up as a person who values the far over the near. You might become one of those people who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately around. ... Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a detached god."
-- coming from a professional Conservative pundit who, since the day when every economic, social and foreign policy theory he had touted so loudly during the Bush Years all went publicly and catastrophically tits-up, has spent virtually all of his energies hiding from the consequences of what should have been serial, career-ending failures by piling up one banal, insipid, rote Paean to Fake Centrism after another until they blot out the Sun.

Because to keep his mansion-earning job as America's Most Famous Conservative Public Intellectual,  Mr. Brooks must simultaneously face the painfully reality that American Conservatism has completely imploded while at the same time avoiding the suicidal admission that David Brooks -- America's Most Famous Conservative Public Intellectual -- has been spectacularly wrong about Conservatism all along, while the Dirty Fucking Hippies (who he has been bashing his entire life to pay for his mansion and his seat in the Yale faculty lounge) have been right about Conservatism all along.

At one point or another (or several hundred times over the last eight years) every single critic of David Brooks (but mostly me) has made precisely this same observation: that in almost every single column he writes these days, Mr. Brooks deals with this unresolvable professional Kobayashi Maru in the same way -- by strapping himself over and over and over again into a gimp-suit made of pure, emotionless, fake-detachment and robotically explaining how the Problem or Issue or Whatever It Is is obviously equally the fault of The Extremes on Both Sides. 

As one long forgotten wag noted long ago in his infamous "How to Write a David Brooks Column" (which is more practical but less hilarious than his infamous "David Brooks Files a Police Report" post) the putative subject of the Standard David Brooks Column literally does not matter, because no matter what it is, in just 10 easy steps you too can be punditting like a pro!
1) Pick a subject. Any subject. From Tasseled Loafers to Torture, it literally does not matter.

2) Quote extensively from one person or group on the subject. It's OK to just more-or-less copy and paste in big hunks of what whatever-you-happen-to-be-reading-at-the-moment to flesh out your 800-word column. Here at the Times we call that "research"!

3) Quote from some other person or group on the same subject who appears to hold a different opinion. If no actual opposition exists, just put on your Magic Green Jacket and invent an opposing opinion.

4) Although such is not the case with today's subject, as often as possible, try to impute these fictional distinctions to the different hemispheres of the political Universe. So no matter how bigoted, reckless or just bugfuck crazy the Right behaves, you just go right ahead and blandly assert with no supporting evidence whatsoever that the Left is equally and oppositely bad in exactly the same qualities and quantities. Here at the Times we call that "seriousness"!

5) Discover in your final paragraph or two that -- amazingly! -- the precise midpoint between those two completely artificial positions on an imaginary spectrum just happens to be exactly the Right and Reasonable answer!

Oh boy!

6) Rinse and repeat. No matter what the subject, no matter how false or bizarre the equivalence, just rinse and repeat. Twice a week.

7) Every week.

8) Year.

9) After year.

10) After year.
Mr. Brooks has spent a lifetime focused his energies on becoming just the sort of person that Mr. Brooks now believes one should avoid becoming.

And then he wrote a column about it.  


World without end.



Lawrence said...

Does living in a four million dollar house disqualify him from having an opinion on the subject of Humility? It should. What the hell is a college course on Humility, taught by David Brooks or not, supposed to teach anyway? I thought Yale was supposed to be a good school. ASU used to offer, might still, a humanities course called Jazz In America that was considered an easy A. Much of the coursework occurred in nightclubs. Standing in line for drop/add every miserable August I could hear the murmurs up and down the line about whether it was still open. Perhaps Humility is Yale's Jazz In America.
And now I have to go read David Brooks Files a Police Report, because it's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Not to go off topic, but jazz music is actually of some importance in US cultural history. It is one of the few distinctly "American" forms of music to become popular internationally, and probably the earliest. Also, it is a keystone in early "making black people stuff white culture". Music was actually one of the first places black people could earn some respect among white America. I could actually see why it would be a good humanities course.

Back on topic, I wholly agree that the fact that no one has called bullshit on someone in a $4M mansion teaching a class on "humility" makes it clear it's just CV fluff. Also, he's probably looking for proteges. I think it would be fascinating if we could get DG in that class to follow his Magic Formula, and watch him get an A.


Lawrence said...

Anon, I like jazz, and realize it's cultural significance. That relevance was not well conveyed by the course offering I described. But, this was ASU, the school I could a) get into with my crappy high school record, b) was where I lived, and c) could be paid for by the Pell grants I was getting. I had a wonderful Harvard alum teach, several sections of Greek and Roman history, a former CIA analyst teaching international relations, among many others. It was not so bad if you knew where to look and applied yourself. With 45,000 students (in 1988) quite a few will treat the experience like 13th grade.

Rock Dots said...

Something I wish had happened:

That David Brooks had even attempted to contact and interview Mr. Trigg.

Something I (naively) hope will happen:

That Mr. Trigg will write a NYT Op Ed methodically shooting down every one of Bobo's themes.

JerryB said...

Dave's real good at producing pseudo-intellectual bubblegum. That all looked like something I could have written when I was 17 and thought I was being clever. Reading it now and knowing an adult wrote it and was payed money for it just makes me feel tired all over.

Ema Nymton said...




As someone quite cleverly said, "There is a club. You are not in it."

You keep this up and you will never ever ever by allowed in. Yowza yowza yowza ...

Ema Nymton