Saturday, April 18, 2015

David Brooks Is a "Good" Conservative. What Does That Mean?

Our Mr. Brooks wants to erase the "self-esteem" generation.
They're not as good as they think they are, apparently.

Among my liberal friends and family, David Brooks is the good, or rational, conservative pundit, the one they like to read. Further, they respect his views on the PBS News Hour, even if they don't agree with him the vast majority of the time.

This, of course, infuriates me, just as my view of Brooks infuriates -- or maybe just confuses? -- my liberal friends and family. Why so much anger toward Brooks, they ask.

I answer: Because he is such a sophist, using coy and softened rhetoric to support the same old white male conservative doctrine to a tee. The only difference between him and say, Peggy Noonan, is he dispenses with the smarmy faux-folksiness in favor of saccharine psychobabble.

But it's still psychobabble, which my friends and family absorb almost uncritically. Or they often do. That's why I work to discredit him. It's not that hard.

Fr'instance, Brooks just wrote a column about cultural shifts. Seems everyone is wrong to blame the hippie 60s. No, the big shift in culture was just after World War II, after all the war and Great Depression stuff. It was time to bust out. It was time for Mad Men and martinis. It wasn't the hippies after all, with their drugs and bra burning. It was curvy Marilyn, red lipstick, T-Birds, and a home in the suburbs. Who knew?

David Brooks! But uh-oh, wait just a minute, Brooks tells us. It was wrong, wrong I tell you, to think we're good and deserve a break:
In short, American popular culture pivoted. Once the dominant view was that the self is to be distrusted but external institutions are to be trusted. Then the dominant view was that the self is to be trusted and external constraints are to be distrusted.
This more positive view of human nature produced some very good social benefits. For centuries people in certain groups in society had been taught to think too poorly of themselves. Many feminists and civil rights activists seized on these messages to help formerly oppressed groups to believe in themselves, to raise their sights and aspirations.
But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.
So perhaps the culture needs a rebalance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it.
Let's get this straight. Brooks says "we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up." Then we tossed away this "body of wisdom" of how bad we are. That's where we screwed up!

Now, people who bother to follow what David Brooks has to say -- okay, I'm one of them -- will recognize that, yes, this is another political column devoid of discussion of policy, mostly because the tea partiers ruined policy for sane commentators, so Brooks has waxed philosophic. Fine, I get that.

But what this most recent blather is about is Original Sin. And Nurturant Parents are no good because Original Sin, crooked timber, and also because self-esteem blows. So what we need is to go back to the Strict Father Model because, yep, turns out Original Sin. And spare the rod, spoil the child.

Just another conservative walk in the park, Brooks. You're not fooling anybody. Except maybe my liberal friends who think you're rational. Maybe you are rational, but you're about as intellectually evolved as Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

To learn more without dirtying yourself with backwoods moralism, read anything by George Lakoff.

Maybe I'm wrong about Brooks. Maybe he doesn't believe in Original Sin
and how we're ruining our awesomeous by not enough beatings by Dad.
Maybe he just thinks don't eat so many Fritos or drink so much Coke.

Note. I often include a comment or two from Brooks' peanut gallery. Here's one from a Meredith:
Another column in a long line, scolding us for our bad characters, ignoring the real problems embedded in our politics which are sold off to the highest bidder. That kind of character flaw Brooks ignores. It really is quite amusing by now.
The character that needs scolding is that of the Republican party radicals you promote, excuse and rationalize. You never seem to see any faults with their narcissism, their addiction to power, their exploitation of others, lack of principals or morality, their contempt for democracy, and ignoring of their own country's welfare. Or am I too harsh, David? You inspire me.

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