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David Brooks still has a job?

The web has been resounding with a mighty echoing “WTF?” — David Brooks has written another column in the New York Times, and it’s weird, even for Brooks. He’s sneering at “Thought Leaders”, apparently this new generation of pundits who are beneath his contempt. At first I thought maybe it was entirely autobiographical, and that he was describing his own career, in which case he really needed to be put on suicide watch. And then I thought, nah, it’s David Brooks — I’m assuming a degree of self-awareness that simply isn’t there.

So I wrote my own impression of Brooks.


David Brooks. Paris. 1789.

David Brooks was awakened early by the shouting and rumbling of carts outside his apartment window — why, it was perhaps as early as 11 o’clock, a most uncivilized hour for a gentleman. It was one of the obligations of nobility, however, to be willing to address his duties at any hour, and by God, he could rise even before the sun had reached its zenith.

He rang the little silver bell by his bedside to summon his servants to come and dress him, rose, and slipped on his silk dressing gown. A pinch of snuff to invigorate the blood, and he was ready to investigate. He looked out his window, down upon the unwashed mobs of Paris.

The tumbrels were rolling. Yet another day when the ranks of the aristocracy would be purged of their dead weight, he thought, leaving only the deserving to lead the country. He recognized one of the men roped in the cart, despite the shabbiness of his velvet coat and the loss of his wig; that young cockerel! His great grandparents had been merchants, and even now he was rumored to dabble in trade. No loss there. Just another trumped up nobody who had dared to regard himself as a match for those privileged by righteous birth.

He was moved to write another missive for the King — the last had been well received and read aloud at court, and he was gaining quite the reputation as the clever wordsmith. His dismissal of the middle class as the “bohemian burgeoisie” had provoked mirthful titters from the right courtiers. An elegant letter explaining how the regime was right and natural and safe, and that the elimination of the arrogant young upstarts was only right and proper would strike just the right tone. He rang his bell again. Where were those lazy servants? He had work to do! These nouveau rapscallions needed to be named and chastised. How else will everyone know the right people to rebuke? And behead?

He rang the bell insistently. Hands on his hips, he stood facing the entry door: the instant that worthless layabout finally arrived, he was going to receive the fiercest verbal scourging, and be thrown out on the street with the rest of the rabble. You do not question the right of David Brooks to be treated with respect and dignity and the deepest humility. You do not delay him.

He waited.

There was a loud and ferocious pounding on the main doors downstairs. The servants will get it.

What is that crashing great racket?


Damn it. Charles Pierce has already done it so much better.

Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.

Well, you start out being a coddled little genius nurtured by the think tanks and vanity publications and fanzines of the American right. Then you make a career out of whatever pop sociology text you read 10 minutes ago. Then you write a couple of books about how the American genius for mindless consumerism is the future of the country. Then you get a column in the New York Times. Unfortunately, there comes a conservative president who fks up everything from hell to breakfast, and all of the intellectual arboretums in which you were raised fall into disrepute. Dutch Elm disease of the mind become epidemic. So you backpedal as fast as you can, running over several of your previous selves in the process until you finally end up one day writing a column in which you pretend that you haven’t spent your adult life pumping your speaking fees and grazing the buffet tables at various brainiac circle jerks.

I’m sorry. Were we talking about someone else?

Yeah, that’s David Brooks alright.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says

    Unfortunately, there comes a conservative president who fks up everything from hell to breakfast

    LOL in meatspace.

    It’s funny because it’s true!

  2. says

    Reading the first few paragraphs of Brooks’ essay it does come across as being about himself, that he’s asking “What the hell have I been doing all these years?”

    Off topic, but Brooks mentioning it got me thinking about it again. The American thing about writing an essay as part of a university application always seems weird to me. Is it a universal requirement?

  3. robro says

    timgueguen @#2

    Is it a universal requirement?

    I wouldn’t know if it’s universal but it is a very common requirement for American universities. I believe they want to know if you can express a coherent thought in writing. It might surprise us to know how many Americans couldn’t do that competently.

  4. unclefrogy says

    I do not read his columns I only see him on the News Hour and it is funny how his thoughts work. He almost makes sense about the state of things, he almost sees things as they are but he is surprised that outside of the political maneuvering of his friends things do not go as he thinks they will. He always sounds like a guy who is having an argument with reality and it is failing obey his desires.
    uncle frogy

  5. raymoscow says

    I read his columns occasionally for years, and I never saw him make a coherent or accurate statement about anything. Finally I made a point of avoiding him, which seems to work pretty well.

  6. Kathleen O says

    While I usually enjoy Pierce’s savaging of Brooks, I thought your piece nailed him more perfectly. I wanted MOAR.

  7. Zee Low Brown says

    Long time reader first time poster…

    I just assumed it was autobiographical. I’ve never heard of him before (ignorant Australian) but the constant references to snarky writing in what can only be described as a particularly snarky piece were just too blatant to merely be a lack of self awareness. Surely no-one who can string reasonably constructed sentences together could miss that?

    I call Poe’s law.

    Having said that… Being a “professional” and getting Linked-In emails from “Thought Leaders”… It’s unfortunate that far too many are actually Lack-Of-Thought Leaders, or Superficial Thought Leaders.

  8. Zee Low Brown says

    Oh, and I actually joined up to say – loved your story PZ. You have a real flair for satirical fiction. You should do more :-)

  9. Bicarbonate says

    timgueguen @2

    No, not in France in any case. Totally foreign to the mentality here. Admittance to the supposed best schools is based solely and strictly on test scores (and who your family knows).

  10. Bicarbonate says

    PZ — I’m assuming you know the new (isn’t more than ten years old) hit word against the educated people on the Left here in France is “Bobo”, “les bo-bos” for “bourgeois bohémien”. Does everyone know that?

    In any case, I second Kathleen O., yes, more, please, more.

  11. nich says

    @13:

    Tom Tomorrow of this Modern World drewthis comic about David Brooks. I always wondered why he chose to call him Mr. McBobo. I think now I know.

  12. says

    Brooks’ column is bizarre and confusing. But, with regards to your satire, you said this:

    At first I thought maybe it was entirely autobiographical, and that he was describing his own career, in which case he really needed to be put on suicide watch.

    Find better jokes. That one is not at all funny.

  13. objdart says

    For me personally, that editorial displays a remarkable lack of self awareness. Or, really, of awareness at all.

    The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler. Each year, he gets to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, where successful people gather to express compassion for those not invited. Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.

    My first reaction? This “thought leader” matters to a few thousand people in the entire world. Then I thought, “wait, Maybe there are people who really read this sort of thing with their brows furrowed in concentration, taking in each word of each paragraph as if they were sips of that ’02 malbec Chuckie and Ophelia brought back from their adventure in Chile. Maybe an audience for this sort of thing really exists!” Then I needed to spoon my brains back into my head after the explosion.

    If an audience out there soaks this sort of thing up, that is a sad commentary on humanity. Then I thought, “But who isn’t a sad commentary on humanity at some point?” Then I decided that I would try to limit my dislike to just this article on the principle of taking one thing at a time.

  14. cicely says

    I like the Myers version best.
    Not sycophancy—I like the quasi-historicalness of it.
    *sitting back to eagerly await the Next Installment*
    -

    I believe they want to know if you can express a coherent thought in writing. It might surprise us to know how many Americans couldn’t do that competently.

    Only if we stay offa them Interweebs.
    And receive no text messages.
    And never, never, never read students’ school work.
    -

  15. Matt G says

    The best part about David Brooks articles is the comments section, wherein it is demonstrated that all of Brooks’ readers are more intelligent than he is.

  16. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    From the comments over there, otherwise completely OT:

    The underlying despair reminds me of the old New Yorker cartoon of the two monks on a desolate hill. The one says to the other, “I came here to ponder the futility of it all, but I can see that’s useless.”

  17. says

    @#15, michaelbusch

    Find better jokes. That one is not at all funny.

    Dunno. The joke isn’t that suicide is funny, it’s that anyone who has read David Brooks’ columns in the past knows the man is way too obtuse to be sufficiently self-aware to know he just denounced himself. (And, for that matter, too self-important to commit suicide — David Brooks would react with horror to the idea of suicide; after all, how would the world ever manage to get along with him?)

    Imagine a computer which is running a very complex neural network algorithm to put together words into essays. At first, it writes random streams of nonsense. After a while, it is taught to build sentences. After a few months or years, it learns to build complex sentences which are on a related topic. And then one day it constructs a grammatically perfect essay which proves conclusively using constructive logic that computerized systems have no capacity for reason and that content generated by a computer is necessarily worthless and dehumanizing in the aggregate. Got that scenario in your mind? Okay, well, Brooks’ readers know that that imaginary computer actually appreciates the irony of its essay more than Brooks does.

  18. Marc Abian says

    #21
    What you mean is that you think there is some consequence of jokes about suicide which means they shouldn’t be told? You’re not debating purely on comedic grounds?

  19. says

    It was not a joke. Read the Brooks essay. If it was knowingly self-referential, as some claim, then Brooks is deeply lost in despair and self-loathing, and there are grounds for serious concern about him.

  20. says

    michaelbusch #15

    Find better jokes. That one is not at all funny.

    I can’t say I was very happy with this passage either. Pity, because it was an otherwise great post. (I’m with cicely in liking PZ’s version best.)

    [tangent]

    timgueguen #2

    The American thing about writing an essay as part of a university application always seems weird to me.

    I can’t remember any public university in Brazil in which the admission process did not involve writing an essay at some point. Nothing as open-ended to allow for “My learning experiences in Panama”, mind you. Besides, the grading process seemed to involve a random number generator…

  21. scrawnykayaker says

    “David Brooks still has a job” is the Eternal Question. Unfortunately, the answer is yes, not 42.

    The latter should be “…months of unemployment,” although even that would have had him hanging on long after it became apparent that he is a perfect example of failing upward.

  22. says

    Marc Abian, @22:
    What you mean is that you think there is some consequence of jokes about suicide which means they shouldn’t be told?

    Trivializing suicide is a very harmful thing to do.

    PZ, @23: It was not a joke.

    If you actually have serious concerns for someone’s safety, it is not the time to be writing skewering satire. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be linking that the one to the other.

  23. says

    @#27, michaelbusch:

    Trivializing suicide is a very harmful thing to do.

    Which is quite possibly true, but is definitely a different point than “those jokes aren’t funny”. Maybe you never find the topic a part of something humorous, but not all of us are so fastidious and genteel. Learn to say what you actually mean, please. I’ve actually seen/heard a number of jokes which touched on suicide and which struck me as amusing, and because you made the claim that the topic can’t be funny, I am now half-inclined to regard you as a humorless bluenose who deserves both resistance and mockery. Had you instead said that those jokes are irresponsible, or that those jokes trivialize a topic which needs to be taken seriously, I doubt anyone would have disagreed at all.

    If you actually have serious concerns for someone’s safety, it is not the time to be writing skewering satire. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be linking that the one to the other.

    Goodness gracious, I shudder to think what might happen if you ever saw a screening of Dr. Strangeglove, which jokes about genocide, or went to a performance of Avenue Q. Or saw any film by Quentin Tarantino, or watched any TV comedy made in the last 20 years, or… well, encountered just about any sustained attempt at humor dating from the 1960s or later which wasn’t produced by a religious group. Even Disney has been guilty of sustained moments of dark humor. Why, if you realized for a moment just how pervasive black humor is in modern life, your faith in humanity might be so shattered that — ah, I suppose this post had better end here to avoid harming your delicate sensibilities. Otherwise you might — oh, sorry, did it again.

  24. says

    The Vicar

    Discussing whether or not michaelbusch is a “humorless bluenose”, or if his choice of words was the most fortunate one sounds a rather sterile pursuit and I won’t delve into that. But, if the fact that “those jokes are irresponsible” is not under dispute, then I would ask you to be consistent and refrain from making suicide jokes in the same breath.

    (I realize this might already be getting too off-topic, so we may continue this in the Thunderdome if you wish.)

  25. says

    @#29, dõki

    But, if the fact that “those jokes are irresponsible” is not under dispute, then I would ask you to be consistent and refrain from making suicide jokes in the same breath.

    I didn’t say I didn’t dispute it, just that nobody would have said anything, which is not the same thing. I wouldn’t bother disputing someone who says “calamari is the nastiest food in the world” either, even though I don’t agree. But if someone says “you can’t discuss calamari any more in a restaurant, it’s not food” then they are being dishonest and just asking for an in-depth discussion of deep fried rubber bands squid tentacles.

    Tell me, are you seriously defending someone who came in and told the owner of the blog that there were topics he just plain couldn’t mention in passing? “So long as men can do this, they’re free!”

  26. nullifidian says

    #20 The Vicar:

    And, for that matter, too self-important to commit suicide — David Brooks would react with horror to the idea of suicide; after all, how would the world ever manage to get along with him?

    Not that this observation needs such support, but we do have documentary proof of it.

    I haven’t read Hecht’s book on suicide, which is ultimately the source of this drivel, but I did read her article in the CHE and so I would probably find it as annoying and sanctimonious as her ‘moderation’ style. Everything about her CHE article fairly shouted that she was opining on something about which she knew nothing, but that’s hardly the exception when it comes to the issue of anti-suicide polemics.

  27. nullifidian says

    #27 michaelbusch:

    Trivializing suicide is a very harmful thing to do.

    And I can’t think of anything more trivializing of suicide, not to mention patronizing, than to use it as a excuse to sanctimoniously saddle up your high horse. Speaking as someone who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress and has tried to kill himself three times, I was able to take PZ’s post in the proper spirit, and I do not need someone like you to act offended on my behalf. When I’m offended, I’m quite capable of expressing my disgust personally. If you failed to see anyone taking PZ on for his egregiously offensive misstep, it might be because most of us, including those with psychiatric disorders, weren’t offended.