Blog Note To Self: Don’t Read David Brooks


In most ways I think it’s safe to say that David Brooks should not be your go-to source for anything, but because it’s Wednesday and that hashtag head-desk looks tempting here we go. On Monday Brooks wrote to his readers that although he’s identified the greatest systemic threat to society, in both the small and big picture of things it’s actually all good, bro. We’re being too pessimistic in a time of unparalleled awesome-sauce, so we should take a step back and breath.

After that, though, we really should address the major issue of the day (emphasis mine):

I mention all of this because of the despondency and passivity and talk of unraveling that floated around this summer. Now there is a mood of pessimism and fatalism evident in the polls and in conversations — a lack of faith in ourselves.

It’s important in times like these to step back and get clarity. The truest thing to say is this: We are living in an amazingly fortunate time. But we also happen to be living during a leadership crisis, and a time when few people have faith in elites to govern from the top. We live in a vibrant society that is not being led.

We don’t suffer from an abuse of power as much as a nonuse of power. It’s been years since a major piece of legislation was passed, and there’s little prospect that one will get passed in the next two.

This leadership crisis is eminently solvable. […]

What follows are his solutions, some of which are understandably bizarre, yet it doesn’t actually seem odd to me that he would look at the grand sweep of world history versus today’s challenges and decide it’s “never been better.” Indeed, in many categories he would be correct — see Charles Kenny on global development. But what’s typical of Brooks’ preferred peddling of pop-sociology is that it’s almost incidental to his prescriptions for what really ails the United States and the rest of the world, as I imagine he would come to the same conclusion regardless. When your view of the world comes from the top rung of the socio-economic ladder the real-deal problems seem to originate from there as well.

Seriously, though, the greatest social ill is the crisis of the “leadership class” in not using it’s power properly? This is full-Brooks boss mode, so of course the only thing worse than oligarch class preferences dominating public policy to the detriment to everyone else is the lack of prominent leaderly-looking traits in the process. Nevermind the great divergence, an hourglass economy, the new Jim Crow, or the honest-to-Odin prospect that by the end of the century “the earth could warm by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level, which would likely be incompatible with human civilization in its current form.” That’s all just too easy. What galls is the sort of soft arrogance of power perpetuating its own importance in the form a David Brooks column while dupes like me bother to click because the day-to-day grind isn’t enough punishment. There is no other reason for this post beyond the exercise of typing too many words to remind myself not to read David Brooks.


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