David Brooks actually did have a Point

David Brooks is catching a fair amount of grief for one paragraph of his column. Well, when one writes this, it’s not overly surprising.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

And yep, it reads elitist and snark-worthy as all get out. But maybe there is a bit more to it than that. I hold no brief for David Brooks, but he is a pretty decent writer, who can get his ideas, however wrong or silly, into words, effectively. Erick Erickson has some thoughts.

The rich keep up with David Foster Wallace and raise eyebrows at the rubes reading Proverbs. They look down on Chick-Fil-A while eating at their artisan sandwich shops that get reviewed in the backs of location specific vanity magazines. Then they tax the poor guy’s coke and plastic grocery bag. They shut down the Christian baker who just wants to be left alone and put hedonism on a pedestal they can afford that the poor could not. Abortion on demand is the left’s preferred equalizer, but as the poor descend into the rich’s hedonistic lifestyle, they cannot afford the STD’s, addiction problems, etc. that the rich can paper over with money.

He’s right, and part of the reason I am uneasy with the instant snark that comes, especially from Twitter. It’s fun, and often very funny, but sometimes there is a nuance buried in there that snark hides forever. And that’s not good either, we need to talk together more, and snark at each other less. I don’t know any more than you how this begins, but it needs to.

Way back when I started blogging one of the first people to follow here was Michael O. Church. Over the years, I’ve found him fascinating, sometimes infuriating, sometimes agreeable, and always original. I disagree with him a lot, but always respect how he got there, and I remember that his journey is not my journey, in either time or place. He too wrote about that David Brooks piece. Here’s a bit.

We have a problem in this country. The economic elite is destroying it, and the intellectual elite is largely powerless to stop the wreckage, and while there are many sources of our powerlessness, one of the main ones is that we get the bulk of the hate. The plebeians lump us all together, because the economic elite has told them to do so. They make no distinction between the magazine columnist, who can barely afford her studio in Brooklyn, and the private-jet billionaire who just fired them by changing numbers in a spreadsheet.

Brooks has some good points, and the essay that I linked to is worth reading, not because he’s right on every call, but because he’s not wrong. For example, he writes:

Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

If that isn’t true, well you’ve been vacationing in sunny Antartica. Do not, Do Not Ever in current America, get between a parent (especially a mother) and her dreams for her kid(s). Not even if you are that kid. That’s always been true, of course. But it seems like now, that kid must be successful no matter what, whether he can read or not, whether he bothered to do the coursework, or not, whether or not he ever showed up. Hate to say back in the day, but back in the day the pressure was different, it was on the kids to earn their way, not be given a free ride because…well I guess because (s)he managed to learn to breathe. With that pressure, even going to school could be optional, Lincoln went to school less than a year, but he managed to learn a fair amount.

Brooks also says:

Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.


All true. All valid. Except, the emphasis is completely wrong. He implies that well-educated people are the problem. No. This is like the conservative contention that anti-vaxxers are liberal. Scientifically illiterate anti-intellectuals (on the left and right) are the problem, not leftists. Some of the NIMBYs are well-educated, and some are not.

The zoning/housing issue has little to do with educational pedigree. It’s generational. Boomers got into the housing market when prices were fair; then, they passed a bunch of self-serving legislation to thwart supply growth (as noted) and let a bunch of nonresident scumbags buy coastal real estate in order to spike land prices and apartment rents. Generation X was affected, but Millennials just got screwed. Further, Boomers have perpetuated a work culture based on hierarchy and socio-physical dominance, making it difficult to have a career in a company unless one works on-site in close proximity to the (very wealthy) people at the top. This creates abnormal demand for real estate in major cities, because peoples’ careers depend on them living there, even though the Internet was supposed to make location irrelevant. Consequently, we have a bipolar nation where one stretch of the country has affordable houses, even in beautiful locations, but offers no jobs; and the other offers jobs but offers no path to homeownership other than winning a hedge-fund or startup lottery.

Sounds likely to me, but my experience is different, but I’m a Boomer and live in the interior so it would be.

This is not a balanced country, politically speaking. First, while we have two parties, we’ve become polarized to such a point that most places suffer under a local one-party system.

He’s absolutely right here, as are the conclusions he draws.

When I look around in my circle, I don’t see an exclusive “intellectual elite”. I see people from all sorts of backgrounds: black, Latino, transgender, Midwestern, Southern, European, Asian, sons of restaurant owners and daughters of coal miners. We accept people who are different from us. If you’re smart, no one cares where you’re from; we don’t even really care where you went to college, because it’s correlated with almost nothing after age 30. Most of the best writers and artists don’t have elite degrees at all.

For a contrast, how often do you see Davos Men hang around with anyone but other Davos Men? Never. How much do corporate executives care about people who weren’t born into their milieu. They don’t.

My circles are like that, too, and it’s the way I want them. I skipped quite a bit here that you need to read, a good part of it I disagree with, but I was wrong once or twice as well. So read it and see what you think. But the point he makes about the intellectual elite should always be true, it’s about merit, nothing else. I see much more of that on the right than the left, but I, like everybody have an internal echo chamber, where what is memorable to me is what I agree with. And while the short form is ‘the intellectual elite’ far more often the right is talking about the university itself, which ties back to his point on the plans of parents for their children, maybe.

If you want to hate me for the books I read or words I use or food I eat, go ahead. Let’s not get distracted. We have a shared enemy. The country isn’t being destroyed by people using the word “intersectionality”. No, it’s being wrecked by the weakening of unions, corporate downsizing, accumulated environmental damage, rising anti-intellectualism, and creeping plutocracy. We have a real enemy and it’s time to put our (very mild) differences aside and fight.

There’s a lot of that I disagree with, and yet, I see much the same thing happening, so maybe he has a point. He surely has a point of view and the reasoning process to make it valid. So read the articles, and see where they take you. Hiding in a cave never solved a damned thing, after all.

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