David Brooks Says

by Corey Robin on December 18, 2013

Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on that odd column of David Brooks, which John already posted about. (Thanks to CT commenter Marcel for pointing me to the Yglesias column.)

David Brooks says:

We are in the middle of…a dangerous level of family breakdown.


David Brooks says:

It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites. The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids. Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.


David Brooks says:

I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families.


David Brooks says:

It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities. This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.


David Brooks is getting divorced.

{ 127 comments }

1

Anderson 12.18.13 at 5:24 pm

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?

2

marcel 12.18.13 at 5:30 pm

Noticing all the correctly closed links in the first 2 lines of this post, I bet that you guys have a preview command so you can avoid stupid mistakes, like this or this. This 2nd class citizenship for the rest of us has got to end!

What do we want?
A preview option!
When do we want it?
NOW!

3

Ronan(rf) 12.18.13 at 5:32 pm

Marcel
I didnt want to be the one to tell you, but the second link in your 48 aint working either

4

P O'Neill 12.18.13 at 5:34 pm

Another of the BoBo quotes from MY

They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room.

Is the drive around Bethesda to take kids to piano lessons really longer than the time a low-income worker in SE DC spends on the bus journey to a job?

5

Salem 12.18.13 at 5:39 pm

I see a lot of people crowing about this, but I confess I don’t understand what point – presumably against Brooks – is being made. From a Brooksian perspective, isn’t this just one more data point showing “a dangerous level of family breakdown” and a need for “structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly”?

6

CJColucci 12.18.13 at 5:40 pm

So Oscar Wilde was wrong?

7

marcel 12.18.13 at 5:48 pm

Ronan(rf)[1]: Then my point holds a fortiori!

8

marcel 12.18.13 at 5:49 pm

Rona(rf) Also, what does the (rf) stand for? I’ve been wondering.

9

marcel 12.18.13 at 5:50 pm

Apropos Anderson’s[1] take, If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess…

Seeing all those (in the older meaning) gay divorcees all around me and all the fun they are having certainly enthuses me about getting divorced myself. Just like letting gays have equal rights suddenly makes gay men much more attractive to me, so much so that I just might have to um…

And while we are all experiencing our moment of schadenfreude about Brooks, how is that nobody here has piled on Ross Douchebag about yesterday’s steaming pile?[2] Continuing the above line of argument — from Anderson, remember? — seeing all these young women who no longer make demands on young men before intimate congress infuriates me. When I was at UChicago[3] [4] nothing like that was going on, at least not that I was aware. God, what we would have given to join them (i.e., young women) rather than beat.. bakc then. Can I have a redo?. Or maybe I’m supposed to join with Douchebag. Now I’m getting all confused.

[1] Hope this link works!
[2] I’m looking at you, John and Belle… Also Tedra who has been notable by her absence.
[3] I know, I’m mixing up columnists here.
[4] I graduated shortly before Brooks arrived.

10

Ronan(rf) 12.18.13 at 5:52 pm

@8
My surname F*tzgerald (I’m hiding the i for privacy )

11

Corey Robin 12.18.13 at 5:56 pm

Salem: “I see a lot of people crowing about this, but I confess I don’t understand what point – presumably against Brooks – is being made. From a Brooksian perspective, isn’t this just one more data point showing ‘a dangerous level of family breakdown’ and a need for ‘structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly’?”

Matt Yglesias, whose post I linked to, explains what the point is very well. Should clear things up for you.

12

Salem 12.18.13 at 6:24 pm

CR: Actually, Yglesias’s column seemed particularly bad in that respect. As I understand it, the heart is:

“Is the Brooks family breakdown consigning them to misery? Does he need a good dose of bourgeois paternalism from the rest of us? Or does he recognize now that money is really useful in papering over lots of different kinds of problems, and maybe working class kids would be better off if they and their parents had more of it?”

Now, maybe Brooks himself has changed his mind about everything, but I don’t see why any of this is contrary to what he argued earlier. Does he need a good dose of bourgeois paternalism from the rest of us? Of course, he said in the quote right above that we all do! Is the Brooks family breakdown consigning them to misery? Condemning to misery is too strong (and anyway, I don’t know how old his children are), but I imagine a Brooksian can claim that, all things being equal, they can be expected to have significantly worse life outcomes.

Frankly, I find this line of argument bizarre. Suppose Mavis Crooks, a wealthy pundit, wrote: “Society is too lax on health and safety, as a result of which many people, primarily the poor, are forced to work in dangerous working environments, whereas the wealthy have better conditions.” Then, later, Mavis loses her hand in a workplace accident. How on earth would this undermine her argument, or make her need to engage in self-reflection? I suppose you could argue that she should realise that the unsafe working environment isn’t just a problem for the poor, but if in fact these accidents disproportionately affect the poor (and they do), then you can see why that’s her focus.

Were I to be uncharitable, I would suspect that this is just a lot of people who hate David Brooks for other reasons, and now just crowing at the fact that he is getting divorced.

13

Marc 12.18.13 at 6:37 pm

Only if you believe that divorce is some act of God, rather than a mutual decision between two people that a relationship isn’t salvageable. His entire point was that we needed social pressure to keep marriages intact, the implication being that people were getting divorced even though they shouldn’t.

Well, does that apply to him? Or only to the helots?

14

Mao Cheng Ji 12.18.13 at 6:49 pm

Salem, but in his quotes in the post above he contrasts the decadent “common people” against the disciplined “meritocratic elites”. Leaving for a moment aside the falsehood of it, he is definitely a proud member of the latter group, so how come he’s getting divorced?

15

Corey Robin 12.18.13 at 6:51 pm

Salem, actually the heart of Yglesias’s argument is this: “My anecdotal experience growing up in affluent circles in Manhattan was that parental marriage disruption is very hard on kids, even on rich kids. But that’s hard meaning that it’s sad, not meaning that it’s a substantial barrier to the kids going to college and maintaining a high socioeconomic status. My guess is that Brooks’ kids will find their parents’ breakup to be pretty upsetting but that they’ll also get along fine in life, possessing all the various advantages that come from being David Brooks’ children. But based on Brooks’ previous writing I take it he disagrees and sees marital stability per se as the key to the elite class’s ability to reproduce itself.”

In other words, Brooks believes that divorce and family disruption is a major casual factor making people poor and keeping them poor. The example of Brooks’s own life, Yglesias is saying, shows that that is not the case. The main thing that makes poor people poor is that they don’t have much money; the main thing that keeps them poor is that they don’t get much money. When rich people divorce, their kids’ material life chances aren’t affected.

That’s why your Mavis example is all wrong. Brooks is not saying: “Society is too lax on health and safety, as a result of which many people, primarily the poor, are forced to work in dangerous working environments, whereas the wealthy have better conditions.” Brooks is saying: “Poor people have bad health and safety practices. They don’t brush their teeth, they don’t take showers. As a result, they work in dangerous working environments and get hurt.” And then we find out that Brooks also doesn’t brush his teeth or take showers. Yet his working environment is safe. That would be the more suitable analogy.

16

Bruce Wilder 12.18.13 at 7:05 pm

Brooks’ premise, as MY points out, was (and pretty much always is, afaict): It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.

The elites, in Brooks’s telling are virtuous (phenomenally productive), and the masses are villains, who live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

MY is pointing out that, if you have substantial resources — was the couple’s new $4 million home just too small for the two to them? — divorce is merely sad for the couple and their children, while, for poor people, divorce can be economically devastating, curtailing investments in a child’s education, etc.

Much of the economic elite in Brooks’ New York and Washington circles are irresponsible parasites working hard every day as vampire squid. Brooks, himself, is, at best, a hackish drone with an elastic relationship to truth. The policies of this self-congratulatory elite have devastated the economy, taking jobs, homes, pensions, and education away from the poor and middle class, to fund their own lavish Gilded Age II lifestyles. And, then, Brooks apologizes for the devastation, with pieties about bourgeois values.

Is there anything else needing explanation? I’m here for you.

17

Nine 12.18.13 at 7:11 pm

What on earth is a “postmodern neighborhood” ?

18

Bruce Wilder 12.18.13 at 7:12 pm

Slum

19

Platypus 12.18.13 at 7:21 pm

Those elites (of which I am a member) have not made themselves phenomenally productive. They have made themselves phenomenally capable of reaping disproportionate reward for their and others’ production. That’s a problem, not an achievement.

20

Salem 12.18.13 at 7:47 pm

Marc: Only if you believe that divorce is some act of God, rather than a mutual decision between two people that a relationship isn’t salvageable. His entire point was that we needed social pressure to keep marriages intact, the implication being that people were getting divorced even though they shouldn’t.

Well, does that apply to him? Or only to the helots?

Firstly, I don’t know anything about David Brooks’ marriage, but you know very well that divorce is very often not a mutual decision. And, as you also know, the destructive behaviour Brooks is against is not merely divorce per se, but all the behaviour that leads to divorce – adultery, spousal violence, substance abuse, etc etc. Secondly, divorces – and decisions generally – are definitely not acts of God, but rather are shaped, in part, by the institutions and structures in which those decisions are made. And it’s precisely those institutions and structures which Brooks wants to change – look at the quotes. He isn’t saying – “Look at those helots, who don’t know how to behave.” He’s saying “It is a tragedy that we have a broken society such that people are encouraged to behave this way – the government needs to help them.”

So yes, that should definitely apply to him.

That’s why I made the analogy to a workplace accident. A workplace accident isn’t an act of God either – like a divorce, it’s not a result anyone chose going in, but it’s not a random occurrence, it’s an outcome of the institutions and structures in place. If there are a lot of accidents going on, it’s not necessarily bad luck, and it’s not necessarily because the workers are careless, but it is a sign that maybe you should change the safety rules.

Corey Robin: In other words, Brooks believes that divorce and family disruption is a major casual factor making people poor and keeping them poor. The example of Brooks’s own life, Yglesias is saying, shows that that is not the case… When rich people divorce, their kids’ material life chances aren’t affected.

But what example? How do you know this won’t hurt his children? Yes, if you assume that David Brooks is wrong, that divorce isn’t a major factor in life outcomes, then the fact that his children won’t be hurt is evidence against his position. But of course David Brooks is wrong if that’s your starting assumption. Where’s the new evidence that would change anyone’s mind? It’s not like Brooks is the first wealthy person ever to get divorced. If one of Brooks’ children grows up to be chronically unemployed, will you change your mind, and say “It must have been because of the divorce, Brooks was right all along?” Of course not, you’ll say it’s pure anecdote – and you’d be right to do so.

Bruce Wilder: The elites, in Brooks’s telling are virtuous (phenomenally productive), and the masses are villains, who live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

If it’s about virtue and vice, why does Brooks say the problem is “organizations and structures”? You make this weird segue in which you say Brooks is describing the masses as villains, and the nature of their villainy is… they live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive. What? Brooks is in fact arguing the exact opposite of the position you take. He doesn’t blame moral villainy at all, he’s saying they have a bad environment. And look at Brooks’s remedy – it’s not “Punish the helots,” or even “Pull your socks up,” it’s societal and governmental intervention to fix those communities and provide better structures and incentives. And frankly, this is a rather left-of-centre approach to problems of negative behaviour, which had it come from anyone other than David Brooks would be enthusiastically applauded on this board.

21

LFC 12.18.13 at 7:48 pm

P O’Neill @4
Is the drive around Bethesda to take kids to piano lessons really longer than the time a low-income worker in SE DC spends on the bus journey to a job?

Your question is probably meant rhetorically. However, in case it isn’t: As someone who grew up in Bethesda (from age 8 to 18) — albeit a long time ago, before substantial parts of it were invaded by multimillionaires — I can tell you that the answer is no.

22

Salem 12.18.13 at 7:50 pm

Ack, messed up html.

Bruce Wilder: The elites, in Brooks’s telling are virtuous (phenomenally productive), and the masses are villains, who live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

If it’s about virtue and vice, why does Brooks say the problem is “organizations and structures”? You make this weird segue in which you say Brooks is describing the masses as villains, and the nature of their villainy is… they live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive. What? Brooks is in fact arguing the exact opposite of the position you take. He doesn’t blame moral villainy at all, he’s saying they have a bad environment. And look at Brooks’s remedy – it’s not “Punish the helots,” or even “Pull your socks up,” it’s societal and governmental intervention to fix those communities and provide better structures and incentives. And frankly, this is a rather left-of-centre approach to problems of negative behaviour, which had it come from anyone other than David Brooks would be enthusiastically applauded on this board.

23

Zamfir 12.18.13 at 8:09 pm

According to Brooks, they can’t help it that they are lazy and morally decripit. So sad.

In the mean time, who gets to make decisions? Not them of course, even though it’s not their fault that they are failed human beings, but the hippies’ fault. Better to leave those decisions to the virtuous people. Who already are in power. Isn’t that convenient!

Now, perhaps Brooks will start to consider himself as a disorganized person with lack of self-discipline, and give up his money and influential position to a more virtuous person from the lower classes. Or perhaps not, and he will find other reasons why the masses are unworthy (however much it’s not their fault, but the postmodernists’ fault)

Who knows which way it will go?Though I am willing to take bets.

24

MPAVictoria 12.18.13 at 8:21 pm

“The policies of this self-congratulatory elite have devastated the economy, taking jobs, homes, pensions, and education away from the poor and middle class, to fund their own lavish Gilded Age II lifestyles.”

I wish I could have this written in the clouds over Wall Street and D.C.
Bravo Bruce.

25

MPAVictoria 12.18.13 at 8:24 pm

“What on earth is a “postmodern neighborhood” ?”
It is where people live in their Heidegger Bungalows, Foucault Townhouses and Derrida Apartments.

26

oldster 12.18.13 at 8:29 pm

“societal and governmental intervention to fix those communities and provide better structures and incentives,”
meaning,
“hectoring single women, being a professional moral scold of other people’s private lives, and doing anything, any desperate thing, to distract attention from the causes of economic inequality. Say anything, so long as you manage to exculpate the richest among us.”

Indeed, he does not merely engage in moral hectoring in order to distract us from the root causes of the problems. He actually hectors us if we so much as *mention* the root causes:

“It’s wrong–wrong! I tell you, wrong!–to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.”

Sorry–this guy has always been a despicable apologist for the elites, telling his own false morality tales in order to protect the wealthy predators from just punishment for their crimes. Nothing left-of-center about this guy–he may pretend to cite sociology now and then, but it always turns out to support the Republican cause du jour.

27

Anderson 12.18.13 at 8:32 pm

Since I actually filed for divorce on Monday, I guess I’m not cut out for the upper tribe. (He really wrote that: “upper tribe.”) Oh well, back to the Pabst.

28

PatrickinIowa 12.18.13 at 8:40 pm

What Brooks has done, to correct the analogy, is inveigh against unsafe workplaces, and then lose a hand to a machine that he refused to have repaired. Remember, Brooks is always the manager, never the worker.

Which, in his mind, is why he’s better qualified to tell workers how to live their lives than they are to decide how to live their lives.

29

Bloix 12.18.13 at 8:58 pm

Brooks married his college sweetheart at age 25 and stayed married for 27 years. Presumably his kids are in their early 20’s or at least away at college. His divorce fits a modern pattern in which unhappily married parents stay together until the kids have moved into young adulthood. The delayed divorce has become something of a middle-class norm that values the raising of children over personal fulfillment.

Brooks’s sin is not that he’s broken up an institution for the rearing of children. He appears to have done the opposite: he and his wife maintained a stable situation until the work of child-rearing was more or less complete. He is not like a man fathering several children with different mothers and committing to none of them.

What’s puzzling about Brooks is his recent chest-thumping praise of married life as the source of happiness. Is he a hypocrite or did he not understand his own marriage? Given that he’s something of celebrity we may find that we learn more about his marriage than we ever wanted to know.

30

Collin Street 12.18.13 at 9:08 pm

Is he a hypocrite or did he not understand his own marriage?

Almost certainly he didn’t understand his own marriage. It’s not like he understands any other form of social relationship: if it worked ever, at all, it was by chance.

31

Schadenboner 12.18.13 at 9:25 pm

Plenty of people of good conscience fail to understand their own marriages. I find this crowing over what is presumably a personal tragedy rather unbecoming.

Brooks is an asshole and a courtesan to the mighty. We should tackle the ball not the man.

32

Mao Cheng Ji 12.18.13 at 9:35 pm

Do not judge lest ye be judged.

33

Bruce Wilder 12.18.13 at 9:38 pm

Salem, if you want David Brooks to be logically coherent, you will have to take that request up with him. I doubt you will get a response. David Brooks doesn’t do logical coherence. (Did I mention that he’s a hack?)

I quoted Matthew Yglesias quoting David Brooks. David Brooks says the rich have “have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids” while the “lower tribe” “are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms” If you would click through from MY’s links to the David Brooks’ column, Great Divorce, from which those quotations are taken, you will see that he makes a couple sentence gesture toward a national service program in which the top fifth would hang out with the bottom third long enough for the elite’s values and practices to rub off. In another Brooks column linked by MY, Brooks gestured vaguely at the “entitlement reforms” of Simpson-Bowles.

David Brooks plays a word association game, combined with a tone-prosody of seriousness, using emotive phrases to evoke a projective response from his readers. The reader is not supposed to think critically, or — God forbid! — act; the reader is supposed to nod, and come back in a couple days to read another column, and, of course, in the meantime, think conservative thoughts. There’s no political program, beyond complacent endorsement of whatever nonsense conservatives are pushing. One of the columns MY links to is rationalizing disappointment (from a conservative viewpoint) with Obama and the other is touting the work of the right-winger, Charles Murray.

My use of the term, “villains”, in its archaic sense, as a synonym for serfs, may have been a challenge to some readers’ reading comprehension skills, for which I offer no apology.

34

Main Street Muse 12.18.13 at 9:48 pm

Another Brooksian view of our world from one of Yglesia’s links (called The Great Divorce): “Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe.” (http://nyti.ms/1i2leYC)

Tribes – upper and lower… with the upper being “phenomenally productive.” Yes, at theft, fraud and a very, very skewed sense of values – shared by Brooks.

From the same disgusting essay: “The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.”

First of all, I’d love his data for the divorce rate in that upper tribe of his – I’ll bet it’s not as pretty a picture as Brooks likes to paint.

Second, a return to the 1950s? That pre-feminist, pre-civil rights era where women were drowning in that “problem with no name” and it was okay to murder a 14-year-old for smiling at a white girl? Those were the days! At least those were the days for those lucky enough to be “upper tribesmen.”

35

Bloix 12.18.13 at 9:52 pm

30, 31 – I’m not willing to say that. There are plenty of rich-and-famous middle-aged men who find that they are a hell of a lot sexier at 50 than they were as scrawny dweeby unknowns of 25. So I’m not going to speculate about his marriage – I’m just pointing out that he and his wife provided a stable environment for their children for a quarter of a century.

36

MPAVictoria 12.18.13 at 9:55 pm

“My use of the term, “villains”, in its archaic sense, as a synonym for serfs, may have been a challenge to some readers’ reading comprehension skills, for which I offer no apology.”

I mean you are free to use whatever obsolete vocabulary you like but don’t be surprised when people misunderstand you.

/Totally agree with you on Brooks.

37

Schadenboner 12.18.13 at 9:55 pm

@35, I wasn’t referring to you, Bloix. I actually agree with you on the probable reasons and yours is by a mile the least-leering of the comments on it.

It reminds me of the joke about the centenarians who show up in family court to file for divorce. The judge asks them why they want to be divorced, they tell the judge “Well, we wanted to wait until the children were dead…”

38

Kevin 12.18.13 at 9:59 pm

Hey Bloix, are you one of his kids?

39

Bloix 12.18.13 at 10:27 pm

Actually I’m a 50-something middle-class man who’s been married for 25 years and raised two children, with all the stresses on a relationship that entails, who has seen a number of marriages that looked better than my own fall apart once the kids were grown. In my case the restoration of the relationship between the two of us as the primary focus of our marriage has been reasonably successful, but for a lot of people, after 25 or 30 years of full attention on work and the kids and nothing else, there’s just not much left.

The kind of marriage Brooks celebrates was not very much like modern middle-class marriages. Dad didn’t invest much in child-rearing and didn’t expect mom to be all that much in the way of companionship, except to listen and take his side. And if he cheated once in a while the wife was expected to cry and maybe walk out and then come back and put up with it. By the time the kids were grown – all four or five of them – Dad was too worn out (and drunk, probably) to care much about sex or companionship and mom was just happy not to have to put five dinners on the table every night. None of that stuff is true anymore. A lot of people get to 50 or 55 and say, this can’t be all there is. I’m fit and healthy and I’ve got money in my pocket and 15 more good years to try again. It doesn’t surprise me much that Brooks finds that he can’t live the life he thought was best.

I don’t know why my marriage seems to be working when other peoples don’t. Maybe it’s because my wife and I are ugly and boring and not rich and don’t have a lot of options. Maybe it’s because we’re timid and unwilling to take risks. Maybe it’s because we really do love each other and want to live the rest of our lives together. I’m not judging people who get divorced.

40

MPAVictoria 12.18.13 at 10:36 pm

“I’m not judging people who get divorced.”

Neither are the other posters here, or at least that is how it seems to me. They are judging someone for being a hypocrite and a tool of right wing interests, not for getting divorced.

41

Hansel 12.18.13 at 10:37 pm

This is a remarkably ignorant post and set of comments. So, Brooks is getting divorced. Do you know what his role in that divorce was, or what he thinks about it? Perhaps he did everything in his power to prevent it, and continues to regret it. Regardless, as has been pointed out above, he has been married for several decades and his children are likely now adults. A very different situation from the one that he writes about. Most importantly, of course even if Brooks himself had been terribly irresponsible and hypocritical, that would do nothing to undermine his basic point of view. It might make him a somewhat less tolerable public spokesman for his point of view, and it would also increase the gravity of the story. But whether Brooks’ was the world’s best or worst husband would neither prove nor disprove his theory. There is more than a little petty and pathetic about posts and comments like these.

42

CJColucci 12.18.13 at 10:52 pm

How do you know this won’t hurt his children? Yes, if you assume that David Brooks is wrong, that divorce isn’t a major factor in life outcomes, then the fact that his children won’t be hurt is evidence against his position. But of course David Brooks is wrong if that’s your starting assumption. Where’s the new evidence that would change anyone’s mind? It’s not like Brooks is the first wealthy person ever to get divorced.

Well, yes, Brooks isn’t the first wealthy person ever to get divorced. That’s sort of the point. Matt Yglesias knows a lot of children from affluent but broken families. So do I, so does Corey, and so, I think, do you. Speaking only for myself, I also know a lot of children from non-affluent broken homes. Mostly, the former manage a lot better than the latter, and, by and large, do OK; the latter have it a lot harder. While I would not hold my anecdotal knowledge, or that of others, up against rigorous study, I am unaware of any such study that contradicts what we see in common life.

43

Corey Robin 12.18.13 at 11:01 pm

Over at my blog, Gordon Lafer writes: “Re: ad hominem calling attention to Brooks’ own divorce. One of the reasons that it’s important is that the whole argument on the other side, the argument Brooks is making, is itself entirely ad hominem — except that it’s ad hominem about imaginary people instead of actual individuals. Anytime anyone has tried to prove some version of the ‘culture of poverty’ idea — that there’s a causal relationship linking economic things like poverty/unemployment/lack of health insurance/education to cultural or behavioral things like divorce, having kids young, doing drugs, single parents, etc. — they never line up statistically. There’s always too many poor people who are employed, married and not doing drugs, and too many rich people getting high and divorced who remain bourgeois. The whole thing is ungrounded in reality and therefore unprovable in statistics. It’s just a moral-imaginary way of dissing someone else’s life. So to come back to Brooks and ask ‘and what about you, you big fuck?’ seems entirely morally and methodologically appropriate.”

44

john c. halasz 12.18.13 at 11:09 pm

@36:

I thought to remark on B.W.’s etymology, but I decided, nah, why bother? Either people get it or they don’t and selective reading is by no means unheard of in these comments.

45

oldster 12.18.13 at 11:11 pm

You scum have no right to judge. What you don’t realize is that when your betters get divorced, they get a better class of divorce. You couldn’t possibly understand.

They get an upper-tribe divorce, not like those despicable lower-tribe divorces that are ruining society.

Now go back to your second job working at Walmart. Your betters are working far harder than you could imagine, shuttling their offspring to piano class.

46

Bloix 12.18.13 at 11:17 pm

Okay, so Corey Robin is demonstrating once again that he can’t follow an argument. The answer to “what about you, you big fuck?” is, “I raised three kids in a stable family environment for 27 years. I didn’t father three kids by three different women who I drop in on once every month or two to disrupt their lives and then disappear for a while or maybe forever. That’s what about me, you stupid piece of shit.”

47

matt 12.18.13 at 11:20 pm

Salem: ‘If one of Brooks’ children grows up to be chronically unemployed, will you change your mind, and say “It must have been because of the divorce, Brooks was right all along?”’

This would only be an anecdote, but one that indeed perfectly supported Brooks’ theory about class structure. Yglesias is assuming to the contrary, and quite reasonably, that Brooks’ kids will turn out just fine, socio-economically speaking. Because it seems very likely that David Brooks is going to do what it takes (ie, spend the money) to keep his kids comfortably housed and put them through school. Moreover, it seems extremely likely that David Brooks himself knows that his divorce isn’t threatening his kids economic well-being, nor his own “productivity”, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have divorced. Get it?

48

Ronan(rf) 12.18.13 at 11:27 pm

@39

Are you not trading in cliche and caricature a little there? You’ve just created a narrative around Brooks marriage (apparently) solely from a few occurences within your own social circle.

49

oldster 12.18.13 at 11:27 pm

The sensible, sober, Burkean view on divorce:

‘Hem! There’s a sanctity in this relation of life,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘and—and—it must be kept up.’

‘No no, dunnot say that, sir. Mine’s a grievous case, an’ I want—if yo will be so good—t’ know the law that helps me.’

‘Now, I tell you what!’ said Mr. Bounderby, putting his hands in his pockets. ‘There is such a law.’

Stephen, subsiding into his quiet manner, and never wandering in his attention, gave a nod.

‘But it’s not for you at all. It costs money. It costs a mint of money.’

‘How much might that be?’ Stephen calmly asked.

‘Why, you’d have to go to Doctors’ Commons with a suit, and you’d have to go to a court of Common Law with a suit, and you’d have to go to the House of Lords with a suit, and you’d have to get an Act of Parliament to enable you to marry again, and it would cost you (if it was a case of very plain sailing), I suppose from a thousand to fifteen hundred pound,’ said Mr. Bounderby. ‘Perhaps twice the money.’

‘There’s no other law?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Why then, sir,’ said Stephen, turning white, and motioning with that right hand of his, as if he gave everything to the four winds, ‘’tis a muddle. ’Tis just a muddle a’toogether, an’ the sooner I am dead, the better.’

You see? In the good old days of true, Burkean conservatism, only the right sort of people got divorced. Not the factory hands, only the owners, and the aristocracy. And they got the right sort of divorces, too.

Brooks is a proud maintainer of sober Burkean conservatism. His divorce is doubtless of the right sort.

50

Ronan(rf) 12.18.13 at 11:28 pm

“I raised three kids in a stable family environment for 27 years. I didn’t father three kids by three different women who I drop in on once every month or two to disrupt their lives and then disappear for a while or maybe forever. That’s what about me, you stupid piece of shit.”

Yeah, you’re doing it again. Trading in caricature and cliche. an you quantify how prevelant this phenomenon is?

51

CJColucci 12.18.13 at 11:40 pm

Calling a pompous, self-righteous, hypocritical prick a pompous, self-righteous, hypocriticial prick is not an ad hominem fallacy unless it is followed by a “therefore…” When it isn’t, it’s just good fun. Not to mention true.

52

Bloix 12.18.13 at 11:44 pm

#48 @Ronan(rf) – I don’t know anything about Brooks’ marriage. Who’s leaving who? Did someone have an affair? Have they been estranged for a long time? Is this mutual? Is he relieved or torn up? I have no idea.

What I do know – anecdotally, true – is that delayed divorce is a thing. I suspect it’s more common than it used to be for a whole list of reasons applicable to middle-class people: more women work and can manage financially without a husband; families have fewer kids to support; people are healthier longer; people expect more out of their later years; divorce is no longer stigmatized.

Brooks of course is not middle class – he’s rich. The rich have been divorcing for a long time without much in the way of consequences. (Hey, unfair! The rich get to do stuff that the rest of us can’t afford to do!) But Brooks is not divorcing like a rich person – he’s divorcing in a middle-class way.

Anyway, what I was trying to say was that Brooks liked to celebrate the horrible fifties-style marriage as a model for poor people today. It doesn’t surprise me that he can’t manage that kind of life. I don’t know why he can’t, and I don’t know if he was a hypocrite or a fool for saying that others should.

53

Ronan(rf) 12.18.13 at 11:47 pm

Bloix, put it this way.
The problem with Brooks is that he speaks in such banal generalisations that his opinions have no practical value. Take the one people are talking about here, this idea that poverty and societal breakdown is the result of family breakdown, absent fathers etc. That’s fine.
But he doesn’t offer any specific prescriptions on how to solve this (greater access to abortion, family planning services, investment in childcare etc) instead he creates some meaningless sound-bite about how ‘the elite need to set an example for the poor.’ This is his prescription, and to my mind it’s impractical and foolish.
One, of many, reasons it’s impractical and foolish (many, many reasons) is because Brooks himself couldn’t abide by it, as a member of the elite. In his world his marriage is not only *his* business, it’s survival is for the good of society. It’s an example to others, not just his kids. So here, he’s hoist by his own petard.

54

oldster 12.18.13 at 11:53 pm

“he speaks in such banal generalisations that his opinions have no practical value.”

They have immense practical value for the conservative project. They lull the median voter into a chin-stroking daze of inactivity. “David Brooks is so moderate, so thoughtful. He sees that our country has problems, and he sees that there is nothing anyone can do about them, except to blame the blahs for their wanton immorality. I’m so glad I listened to him on NPR! I had been considering the possibility that the US has been systematically looted by the Koch Brothers and the Wall Street gangsters, but now I see that I was wrong. I’m so glad he explained it to me!”

He’s useful, alright–immensely useful to his paymasters.

55

Bloix 12.18.13 at 11:56 pm

#50 – actually I was just putting myself in Brooks’ place to answer the question that Gordon Lafer asked him. The phenomenon that Brooks attacks is failure to form stable families for child-rearing. He claims that stable families result in better kids less poverty. Robin claims that Brooks’ divorce shows that he’s a hypocrite in demanding that others maintain stable families for the purpose of child rearing – which is precisely what Brooks has done . He also attributed happiness to life-long stable marriage (implicitly claiming that he was a happy guy), but happiness is a different thing.

But you want numbers so here are some numbers:

“One in five of all American moms have kids who have different birth fathers, a new study shows…

Women with children from multiple fathers tend to be disadvantaged compared to other moms. “They are more likely to be under-employed, to have lower incomes, and to be less educated,” Dorius says. “Further, this type of family structure can lead to a lot more stress for everyone involved…” …

Dorius found that a multiple-father type of family structure was more common among minority women, with 59 percent of African-American mothers, 35 percent of Hispanic mothers and 22 percent of white mothers reporting children with more than one father.

Women with low income and little education were also more likely to have children with different birth fathers…

“While these women tended to be poorer than others to begin with, their whole lifetimes continue to be disadvantaged,” she said.

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42364656/#.UrIzlE0o5jo

56

Anderson 12.18.13 at 11:59 pm

51: my first impulse is to add that comment to the sidebar of my blog, but perhaps I’ll sleep on it first. Well done.

57

Bloix 12.19.13 at 12:03 am

#53 – we’re cross-talking.
Look, Brooks is a schmuck. He’s a foolish and pliable man who’s made a fortune out of being the reasonable face of an evil and borderline insane political movement (the modern Republican party). He’s the NYT-NPR conservative.
And his past statements about marriage and the family reveal that he’s either hypocritical or a clueless about his own marriage – as to that, I suspend judgment.
But his divorce bears no resemblance to the kind of family relationship he’s bemoaned as being part of the cause of poverty. That’s all I’m saying.

58

Corey Robin 12.19.13 at 12:30 am

Bloix: In none of the Brooks comments does he specify that family breakdown is bad so long as it occurs during child-rearing years; that is entirely your own import. Here are some of the quotes: “We are in the middle of…a dangerous level of family breakdown.” Not “dangerous level of family breakdown during child-rearing years.” He says “but they [the elites] have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates.” Not “low divorce rates during child-rearing years.” He writes, “They [poor] live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods,” not “disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods during critical child-rearing years.” There’s only one comment from Brooks in the OP that comes close to your stipulation; otherwise it’s a generic culture of poverty argument. The good norms of bourgeois families — they don’t divorce (again, at any point in their lives, not just in child-rearing times), they are responsible, .etc. — make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. The poors, not so much.

Of course he’d like to salvage his divorce by saying it’s different from all the other divorces he’s been bemoaning all these years. And in one big way he’s right: he’s rich, so his divorce won’t have the effect he claims it will have. That’s all anyone in saying here.

59

Hector_St_Clare 12.19.13 at 12:54 am

Re: “Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe.”

Yes, it couldn’t possibly because men in the lower ‘tribe’ tend not to have the steady incomes and jobs that would help make them attractive husbands.

Why do people listen to this clown? He’s a fundamentally unserious person. Yglesias is too, but less so than Brooks (which is a remarkably low bar).

60

garymar 12.19.13 at 1:06 am

My use of the term, “villains”, in its archaic sense, as a synonym for serfs…

I would have gotten it if he had spelled it villeins..

61

strophariad 12.19.13 at 1:27 am

Salem, 12:

Brooks could learn from Crooks. With such language as “are forced”, “environments”, and “conditions”, she seems to understand that misfortune often results from impersonal forces beyond the sufferer’s control. I also imagine she grasps, better with one hand than two, that, because such circumstances cannot be overcome by changes in personal values or effort, risky environments and limited opportunities call for more than bourgeois paternalism. And she, like many, may feel that to advocate perseverance instead of solutions is inhumane.

Maybe if Mavis engaged in reflection after her accident, she would find motivation to put her money where her punditry is, spending some of her wealth on actual health-and-safety improvements, making her single hand more productive than both ever were, a moral but practical conclusion that Brooks’s rhetoric is unlikely to reach or even imply.

I doubt Brooks will ever get it, but some of his apologists, someday, reflecting on Mavis’s insights, may come to understand that those of “the lower tribe” need nutrition, housing, health-care, education, and leisure a damn sight more than they need Norman Rockwell, the Protestant ethic, and admiration for their virtuous overlords. From there the reasonable might even reason that the benighted undertribe, with more resources and opportunities and less anxiety and resentment, would be more likely to adopt healthier attitudes and behaviors.

Anyway, idealistic as it may be, articulating this, the priority of necessities, seems more worthwhile than, say, face-saving efforts on behalf of someone who, for example, advises students that the best use of college is choosing a spouse. It may be more charitable, too, than the interpretive good-will you’ve demonstrated here.

62

roy belmont 12.19.13 at 2:27 am

I’ll raise a glass of 2buck Chuck to both Anderson and David Brooks. It can’t be fun to lose a marriage, however necessary the divorce may be.
Brooks’ position contains a general truth, that family disintegration and poverty and crime rates are statistically linked, the same way family stability and economic well-being and positive citizenship are linked, but it ignores the diametrically opposite experiences of being an affluent father – not parent, father – and a poor one. And how much guilt the despair of poverty centers on the father.
It attacks manhood in visceral, atavistic ways. When your family’s barely enduring or failing to endure economic hardship, and you’re the dad, it’s almost all your fault.
Poverty disintegrates.
There’s a Darwinian catch, that the ones who aren’t breaking under the pressure are fitter for the condition, and the system. Horrible logic that leads equally directly to feral gangs, or to a kind of voluntary enslavement.
You can’t refute that without repudiating the system that’s creating and maintaining the imbalance, the same system that’s rewarding, in Brooks’ ghastly phrasing, the “upper tribe”.
There’s nothing static yet about the imbalance, it’s increasing, and moving toward total polarity.
It looks like the expectation of the “uppers” is that as total polarity’s achieved the “lowers” will have no means of redress but subservient begging, or rebellion. And surveillance algorithms will nip any possible revolutions in the bud.
The flaws in that expectation are getting clearer by the day.

63

Straightwood 12.19.13 at 3:11 am

Unfortunately David Brooks seems to have secured a lifetime appointment at the NY Times. No excess of sophistry or error can dislodge him. From cheerleading for war and torture in Iraq to blaming the poor for their own misery, Brooks remains the faithful defender of the powerful against the weak. His nauseating blend of junk sociology and right-wing dogma has run past its shelf life, and the breakup of his marriage is a spectacular demonstration of the stupidity of praising the behavioral superiority of the rich. I earnestly hope that his wife strips him of as much of his ill-gotten wealth as possible, and I firmly resolve not to read one more word of his rubbish.

64

Belle Waring 12.19.13 at 3:25 am

Anderson, I’m sorry to hear you’re getting divorced. That’s shitty all around even if the eventual outcome is happier people 2 years down the road. Best luck.

Bloix, I do think you’re allowing your (perfectly natural) feeling that you wouldn’t want people talking smack about you behind your back if you happened to get divorced for reasons they could never understand color your views. See, none of that means we shouldn’t be talking smack about David Brooks. David Brooks has repeatedly, with po-faced seriousness, and to the actual detriment of America’s well-being (if he lulled anybody to sleep when they had their hand on the regulatory tiller somewhere, and I do think he did) talked smack about every other damn person getting divorced in America who made less than $200,000 a year. And quite without hedging. As Corey notes, he didn’t say ‘the problem is that people do this during crucial years of child development,’ or ‘people do this because they are entirely victims of societal forces.’ No, he has gone on at length to say, rather, ‘the upper tribe of Americans are meritocrats who practice marriage virtuously, and if they get divorced–[here we may insert, it's rare, they have good reasons different from the reasons the lower tribe has, etc.]‘ while ‘the lower tribe get divorced at alarming rates (psss–because they are sluts and stuff), and are creating a new underclass of children whom it may be difficult or impossible to educate.’ He’s just gone around, giving talks along with Bill Clinton at glittering dinners while the wait staff glide around thinking bitter thoughts, talking shit about other people’s divorces all the goddamn time, for at least…10 years? 15? He is a useful idiot preaching economic Calvinism, in which the number of nannies a family employs is a demonstration of their moral worth. Since, in a just world, it would be acceptable for David Brooks to be drowned by a deadly hippopotamus, it can hardly be the cause that it is wrong to talk shit about his divorce, the former being so much more serious than the latter.

65

Alan White 12.19.13 at 3:37 am

“Tribes”?? Who can take anyone seriously who thinks such atavistic lingo drumbeats into our emotions to identify with his own self-identified intelligentsia as authoritative? Talk about ramified condescension.

As if being married automatically underwrites axiological grounding of social status and functioning. Jeez just give me an honest adulterer anytime. I offer my own instance, and my ex- as well. This myth of the family just gags me as some sort of grounding explanans of the downfall of society–especially one as abjectly plutocratic as ours, where people like Brooks are literally employed to be magicians and force the illusions to be focused anywhere else but on money.

I could wish him well–but I won’t.

BTW I came from the poorest of the poor in the white South, and am only here on CT from public education leading to a PhD, thanks to food stamps, and surviving on no health care until I was employed by my university in my late 20s. If not for government programs I would have had no opportunity to have what I have, and to pay back in taxes my gratitude.

What grates on me is that Brooks is actually more rational than most conservatives. As Spiros says–DOOM.

66

Royton De'Ath 12.19.13 at 3:53 am

Frankly, it’s bloody hard to understand what the hell Brooks is banging on about. Little wonder that so many stories are being constructed on his behalf (whichever side of that particular process that we, each, might be beavering away in our various Comment Mines).

I reckon, though, that he might just be gifting to Us All, a bit of Christmassy flapdoodle – something vaguely along the lines of Orwell, sort of like “Politics, Aspiration and Brookian Language”. He must know the following GO gem by heart and must avidly hold to its principles; so he’s just gotta be yanking our chains, just funning us?

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.

(Orwell, G., 1946)

As to the OP. Divorce, family breakdown and all. The man actually makes a living out of this f*ckwittery? Thank the Invisible Alpha-male in the Sky for people like Annette Lareau:

Americans tend to resist the notion that they live in a society of social classes. Most people describe themselves as middle class. When asked about social divisions, many readily discuss the power of race, but the idea of social class is not a systematic part of the vocabulary of most Americans. Nor is there a set of widely discussed beliefs, as in earlier decades, of the importance of eliminating poverty or narrowing gaps in social inequality.

Looking at social class differences in the standards of institutions provides a vocabulary for understanding inequality. It highlights the ways in which institutional standards give some people an advantage over others as well as the unequal ways that cultural practices in the home pay off in settings outside the home. Such a focus helps to undercut the middleclass presumption of moral superiority over the poor and the working class. And a vocabulary of social structure and social class is vastly preferable to a moral vocabulary that blames individuals for their life circumstances and saves the harshest criticism for those deemed the “undeserving poor.”

(Lareau, A., 2003. Unequal Childhoods: 256-257)

Brooks does talk about class. Give him that. But. It’s clear, in the most ungenerous and pernicious terms. Unenlightened Swab.

67

faustusnotes 12.19.13 at 3:56 am

Bloix is always willing to defend the indefensible. Brooks’s articles on divorce in the “lower tribes” are despicable. Now he’s getting divorced, are you surprised people are taking the piss? He has written multiple articles judging the lifestyles – the personal relationships – of others. Should he expect others not to judge his?

68

Anderson 12.19.13 at 4:31 am

64: thank you, Belle.

69

PatrickfromIowa 12.19.13 at 4:36 am

Poverty and broken families are indeed correlated. I’m thinking it’s as likely that poverty destroys marriages and families at the same time as it destroys people and life possibilities. There’s a feedback loop, of course, but the point of Brooks’s quite contemptible writings on the correlation is to prevent anything from being done to interrupt that loop.

We’ve had centuries of self-regarding attempts to end suffering by hectoring and punishing those who suffer. It’s time to try something else.

70

Philosofatty 12.19.13 at 6:12 am

C’mon, Brooks is full of shit, but Bloix is right. Brooks isn’t talking about childless singles or childless divorced couples here. The point of underscoring low affluent divorce rates is to make a contrast with unwed parents in the postmodern slum tribe, and talk about what kind of environment kids grow up in. Broken homes underwrite “poverty culture” specifically by being so bad for the kids. That is explicitly the mechanism that Matthew Yglesias identifies and is poking at in his post, because Matthew Yglesias reads the Brooks piece like a normal person and not someone antecedently committed to parsing it as not having to do with childrearing at all. However, if Brooks stayed married til his kids were out of the house, it really does go some way toward dispelling the charge of hypocrisy on that narrow thing. Maybe there is a critique distilling some of his other weird sayings about marriage that goes through, but this ain’t it.

71

Hey Skipper 12.19.13 at 8:16 am

Has anybody here read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart?

72

Straightwood 12.19.13 at 9:48 am

@64

I would pay serious money to watch Belle demolish the useful idiot, Brooks, in an extended conversation.

73

Niall McAuley 12.19.13 at 9:56 am

It’s too infuriating to read Brooks, I have to stop and breathe and remind myself that in 800,000 years, my great-to-the-nth grandchildren will be eating his.

And they’d get away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Victorian time traveller!

74

Katherine 12.19.13 at 10:30 am

The delayed divorce has become something of a middle-class norm that values the raising of children over personal fulfillment.

And as a child of such a middle-class couple, I say, divorce away and get some personal fulfillment. Growing up in a family where your parents don’t love each other and there’s little other than barely-restrained conflict in the air is NOT a healthy family life. Getting divorced and trying for happiness is not selfish, it’s sensible.

Sticking around in a situation of unhappiness, and bringing your children up in that atmosphere may seem on the surface to be selfless, but it leaves your children without any model of a healthy adult relationship that they can take into adulthood.

I know that’s a very personal and individual experience, but if anyone’s think of recommending parents stay together for the sake of the children, just shut up.

75

aussie sunshine 12.19.13 at 10:46 am

Does Mr Brooks think the government doesn’t have much to do with families and kids development at present ? Letting multinational mega- companies determine the world kids grow up in is a big influence on them .

” The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities. This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave ..”
I’m not familiar with Mr Brooks but I’m getting the impression that he is some kind of conservative so Im a bit worried by what he means by that statement .

“and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.”,and “It’s not enough just to have economic growth ..”
We should be grateful he could get those words past his lips. !

76

Manta 12.19.13 at 1:04 pm

Corey@43:
“Anytime anyone has tried to prove some version of the ‘culture of poverty’ idea [..] they never line up statistically.”

I would be interested in reading more about it: can you recommend some (not too long) reading?

77

Katherine 12.19.13 at 1:40 pm

Also, divorce does not necessarily=instability. A family that has divorced parents can be very stable. Certainly, there will be a period of change, but divorce does not have to lead to chaos in a child’s life. Just like there are many different kinds of marriage, there are many different kinds of divorce.

And while we’re at it, divorce isn’t the same as having a “broken home”.

Why yes, I am in the process of having a divorce, and I do have a child. And we (myself and my ex-partner) are trying very hard not to be the stereotypes that so many people thoughtlessly throw out. I daresay that our “broken” family is a lot more fixed and stable than some people’s marriages.

78

currants 12.19.13 at 1:43 pm

@55: does anyone else find that whole list of stats–arranged around/described in terms of women–irritating, to say the least?

79

rea 12.19.13 at 2:11 pm

I don’t understand why so many in this thread assume that Brooks’ divorce comes after his children are grown up. There is not a lot about his children online, but a little googling on the terms “David Brooks” and “children” leads to a column about how his then 9-year-old son disagreed with him about Obama’s speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention.

80

oldster 12.19.13 at 2:26 pm

Look, rea, when you raise a child in a properly stable, upper-tribe, Burkean home environment, there’s no reason why a 9 year old can’t become a mature, socially productive 30 year old in only 5 years.

Say a prayer for the poor kid–as much as I’m happy to see his dad suffer, I honestly can’t bring myself to snark about the poor damned 14 year old collateral damage.

81

Mao Cheng Ji 12.19.13 at 2:42 pm

Clearly Brooks’ 14 year-old is now ruined. However, I’m sure Brooks, unlike those low-tribe savages, agonized a lot over his fateful decision.

82

oldster 12.19.13 at 3:09 pm

Well, I think Yglesias’ point is the important one: the 14-year old will probably face some tears and turmoil and therapy, but in fact his socio-economic status is pretty much guaranteed to be rosy for life. He’ll still go to Yale and get a high-paying job on Wall Street and make a ton of money.

That’s the real deep hypocrisy at work in Brooks: he claims that what determines life-outcomes has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with personal virtue. And he claims to know something about sociology. But in fact the sociological literature shows that life-outcomes, in today’s post-Reagan, class-war economy, are almost entirely determined by your parents’ economic status.

The Republicans do everything they can to loot the non-wealthy and guarantee that the children of the wealthy will be wealthy, and Brooks has done everything he can to help.

And part of what he has done to help is to say, “there is no class warfare–it’s just the fault of those shiftless poors for being shiftless.”

83

Straightwood 12.19.13 at 3:24 pm

The most infuriating thing about Brooks is that his writing appears to be deliberately fraudulent. The abundance of sophistry in his arguments suggests that he is aware of his logical lapses. I believe that the epiphany he had while eating off silver plates with the Buckleys was not a new understanding of political philosophy, but discovering that defending these people would be a great racket. He writes this junk because it pays well and he can get away with it. In short, I believe he is a mercenary hack who deliberately generates bogus propaganda to defend the plutocracy. No punishment is too severe for this kind of charlatan.

84

Belle Waring 12.19.13 at 3:55 pm

Straightwood: that’s very sweet of you! No one would welcome the opportunity more than I.
Katherine: I’m so sorry to hear you too are going through getting divorced, and with a kid whom I know to be pretty young. I am glad to hear that you and your ex are doing your best to keep your child’s life stable and I will be thinking of you also.
rea: how dast you bring facts into a discussion concerning Mr. Brooks! Next thing we know you scallywags will be pointing out that everything he says in his book “Bobos in Paradise” is false, such as his chucklingly good-humored account of trying to ask where the ‘best restaurant in town’ was in a variety of places in the alleged Midwest, I think, was where he allegedly visited, and being directed to the supposed Applebees or the Red Lobster, and try as he might to spend more than $20 on an entree (or a meal, he waffles) he failed, order howsoever many strip steaks as his gall bladder and the purse of the New York Times would tolerate. And then some rapscallion found out that the ‘surf and turf’ meal at Red Lobster, consisting, as so many things in life (such as the foam used to protect electrical wiring on underwater drill rigs, and your alcoholic uncle’s nose, and miniature marshmallows) of equal parts steak and lobster, cost $28, and who was laughing then! But do you know what David Brooks said? He said, ‘you don’t understand humor!’ Also, ‘is that how you want to start your career, all snarky?’ So think twice before you bring any facts to the thought leader guy, pal, is what I’m saying, bub.

85

Tim Wilkinson 12.19.13 at 3:55 pm

“there is no class warfare–it’s just the fault of those shiftless poors for being shiftless.”

and the bizarre use of the term ‘tribe’ seems to have been adopted so as to avoid mentioning ‘class’ by name. I suppose the usage is meant to be so odd as to be regarded as a jocular bit of whimsy or something, but it’s hard not to observe that membership of a ‘tribe’, taken literally, is an inherited characteristic. (Even derived, more metaphorical, senses of the term invoke ideas of group loyalty – which applied to the relevant aspects of reality would mean class co-operation, solidarity and exclusivity.)

86

oldster 12.19.13 at 4:05 pm

Yes, the use of “tribe”. It’s one of those cases where someone who ought to know better, instead believes that he knows *so much* better, that he could not be accused of anything unseemly.

We just went through this with Richard Cohen, who thought that his unquestionable reputation for liberal rectitude (that he hears from voices in his head) would insulate him from any charge of impropriety when he wrote that “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex” at the thought of interracial marriage. How could anyone possibly think that he, Richard Cohen, could be racist, just for saying this? Wasn’t it manifest that he was only giving voice to the unenlightened prejudices of people far more benighted than himself?

Brooks is an old master at that con as well: publicize the ugly rhetoric of the Republican id, but pretend to do it in scare-quotes, so that you maintain your plausible deniability. “It’s those other people–the low-class people in Applebees–who think that the blahs belong to a different tribe. Not me! I’m far too enlightened to look at the world that way. I’m just putting things into terms that they would understand, and representing their Weltanschauung. There: how could anyone who knows that word be a bigot?”

87

Hector_St_Clare 12.19.13 at 4:32 pm

Re: What grates on me is that Brooks is actually more rational than most conservatives.

Eh. I have much more respect for the up-front religious argument “Divorce should be forbidden because God says so in Mark 10″ than I do for arguments that ‘divorce is bad because it causes poverty and inequality’. The latter is just provably wrong. The former, not so much.

88

DBW 12.19.13 at 4:35 pm

While Brooks is a hack, this thread and the previous one strike me as a whole lot of throwing the baby out with the bathwater–that is “culture” is dismissed wholesale as a smokescreen–a concept useful only for defending privilege and stigmatizing poverty– in favor of the reality of “economics” by numerous commentators here. The rich do alright because they’re rich; the problem of poverty and its reproduction has nothing to do with culture, and is simply a matter of economics. It’s 1975 again and we’re “blaming the victim” to even mention culture. The distinction between the concept of culture as mere “ideology” and the reality of material facts couldn’t be drawn more starkly–it’s almost old-school Marxism at work. I don’t want to give Brooks too much credit, but at least he seems to be interested in the relationship between economic class and culture, and tends to see those things as bound up with one another, even if many of his formulations are based on unsupported and generalized claims about “upper” and “lower” tribes and other nonsense. Brooks’s writing is full of critical appraisals of the ironies of American upper-middle class life (see Bobos in Paradise, for instance) in terms that make him a cheap knock-off Daniel Bell , so it’s hard to see him a simply a disparager of the ways and mores of the “lower tribe”. If so, why is he writing in such acerbic terms of “thought leaders,” who are certainly not of the “lower tribe”?

89

LFC 12.19.13 at 4:48 pm

DBW:

Brooks’s writing is full of critical appraisals of the ironies of American upper-middle class life…, so it’s hard to see him as simply a disparager of the ways and mores of the “lower tribe”. If so, why is he writing in such acerbic terms of “thought leaders,” who are certainly not of the “lower tribe”?

A comment in the previous thread by Peter G. @19 made the point that Brooks is inconsistent here:

One hand: his columns have been shaming the winners of the meritocracy game for years, as shallow, calculating, insincere, etc. Other hand: at other times the same people are moral exemplars for an entire nation.

90

Cranky Observer 12.19.13 at 4:56 pm

DBW @ 4:35,
Indeed. For example, from 1850-1970 both NYC and the City of Chicago had a culture of providing universal free public education to all children (and no small number of adults) within their borders, and did so at a decent average and often very high level. And “we” agreed to pay the taxes, build the infrastructure, and provide the moral and cultural support to make that possible. Then around 1970 “we” decided to start cutting that support drastically and let our public school system rot both physically and culturally. I wonder why that happened? Anything to do with a certain 1954 court ruling working its way through society?

91

DBW 12.19.13 at 5:13 pm

LFC:
Yeah, I don’t think anyone has accused Brooks of having a coherent sociological vision.

92

oldster 12.19.13 at 5:13 pm

DBW–

“throwing out the baby with the bathwater” only in the sense of “we’re talking about X on this thread; we have talked at length about Y on other threads.”

There are plenty of people around here willing and able to talk your ear off about culture and its effects on culture.

But right now we are discussing a guy whose role in the propaganda-sphere it has been to *pretend* to be an expert on culture, and then brow-beat anyone who brings up economics. Remember:

“It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.”

Thou shalt not discuss class warfare! Thou shalt only talk about culture, and then in a way that insists that our tribe is doing it right, and their tribe needs to be scolded, hectored, and impoverished, while we plunder their pensions and shred their safety net.

If this thread seems a bit one-sided, it is because we are discussing someone who has insisted on one side.

93

Alex 12.19.13 at 5:43 pm

They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to…

Drink. The limit. The edge of a nervous breakdown.

94

Barry 12.19.13 at 6:54 pm

Sounds like a redo of Hogarth as Beer Street and Wine Lane

95

Chris Grant 12.19.13 at 8:07 pm

“the ‘surf and turf’ meal at Red Lobster, consisting, as so many things in life (such as the foam used to protect electrical wiring on underwater drill rigs, and your alcoholic uncle’s nose, and miniature marshmallows) of equal parts steak and lobster, cost $28″

Can someone explain this to me? (Be gentle.)

96

SamChevre 12.19.13 at 8:56 pm

Cranky Observer @ 90

Then around 1970 “we” decided to start cutting that support drastically

Evidence please? Something showing spending per student would be good–I somehow missed the point in the per-student spending trend line where it decreased dramatically.

97

LFC 12.19.13 at 9:19 pm

Cranky Observer @90
Anything to do with a certain 1954 court ruling working its way through society?

W/r/t NY and Chicago, which are your examples, my guess would be: only to a limited extent. Brown might well have spurred some white flight to the suburbs, though there were various other drivers of that, I think. Then in 1974, in Milliken v. Bradley, the Sup Ct effectively ruled out cross-district busing — i.e., suburb/central-city. That was the death knell for any hope of substantial desegregation in many large Northern urban school systems. Many Southern school systems wound up being considerably more desegregated, or such is my impression.

98

DBW 12.19.13 at 10:49 pm

Oldster@92:
Well, if the response to Brooks’s one-sided proclamations is to insist, no it’s the other one-side, then I think my point stands. Your explanation sounds a lot like “he did it first, so I’m justified in my equally one-sided view.” Instead of saying that Brooks gets the relationship between culture and economic class wrong, and that it might be better to characterize that relationship in X or Y way, I see a whole lot of dismissal of the very idea that culture has anything to do with issues of economic class, and that its primary use as a concept is ideological–to bash the poor for their pathological behavior or to celebrate the rich for their virtue. Even Brooks doesn’t consistently use the culture concept in this way. I guess the question for me is what it is about David Brooks that brings out the economic determinism in his critics? Why shouldn’t his critics respond to glib faux sociology by providing a more sophisticated sociological and cultural vision, rather than fall into the trap of saying that culturalist arguments are mere obfuscation preventing us from seeing the simply reality of economic forces? Of course, maybe David Brooks isn’t worth arguing with, but two long threads about him suggests that’s not the response he provokes.

99

Andrew F. 12.19.13 at 10:54 pm

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more clearly erroneous post by Yglesias, much less one that carries such a repugnant odor of resentful malice.

In one column Brooks references vast behavioral gaps between the top 20% and the bottom 30%, among other things, to explain what he views as the growing polarization of American society.

By way of describing the argument, Brooks mentions lots of things. Divorce rates, out-of-wedlock-birth rates, labor force participation rates, social involvement, and hours spent watching TV are some of the examples Brooks tosses out in one of the columns. In another column he writes that it’s not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else’s. It’s that they lack the social capital to enact those values. He also claims that [i]f any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we’d be much worse off, too. Finally, he notes the importance of early childhood development, writing that the recent research details how disruption breeds disruption. This research includes the thousands of studies on attachment theory, which show that children who can’t form secure attachments by 18 months face a much worse set of chances for the rest of their lives because they find it harder to build stable relationships.

Yet, oddly, Yglesias maintains that [b]ut based on Brooks’ previous writing I take it he disagrees and sees marital stability per se as the key to the elite class’s ability to reproduce itself…. This is a bizarrely narrow and therefore weak misreading of the very columns Yglesias links to in his post.

Brooks’s own divorce has zero bearing on whether some children of the top 20% benefit substantially from the social environment in which they are raised and whether some children of the bottom 30% are substantially harmed by aspects of the social environment in which they are raised. It’s as though someone tried to respond to the social capital arguments of Bowling Alone by triumphantly noting that Putnam recently joined/quit a softball league.

Mind you, Yglesias’s post isn’t about the argument. It’s a nasty attempt to ascertain Brooks’s “self-awareness” by pulling sentences out of a few 700 word columns in the context of Brooks’s divorce. And it’s fairly clear where Yglesias pulled his own post from. He should retract it and then either apologize or admit to some deficiencies in his own self-awareness.

100

Chris 12.19.13 at 11:01 pm

I don’t doubt that Brooks is getting divorced for reasons that are good and sufficient to him and/or his current spouse. But you might think that the experience would convince him that the lower tribes are also not just waking up one day and saying “I think it would be fun to get divorced today”, that their divorces also grow out of real problems in their lives and those problems will not go away if they don’t get divorced. In some cases the problems will get worse if they don’t get divorced.

Some of those problems, of course, would go away if they had money like Brooks’s (although obviously not all, since it didn’t work for him). Bourgeois values are no substitute for a bourgeois pocketbook, and the actual facts on the relative importance of the two to outcomes for children is pretty clear, if Brooks would bother to look at it.

101

MPAVictoria 12.19.13 at 11:08 pm

“Bourgeois values are no substitute for a bourgeois pocketbook”
Brilliant!

102

Straightwood 12.20.13 at 12:22 am

If you step back and look at the big numbers on income distribution in the USA, around 1980 you see the results of a concerted political effort to cap the income of the middle and lower classes and direct the fruits of all further economic growth into the pockets of the 1%. This effort was abetted by the creation of a cadre of propagandists posing as researchers, independent journalists, and “commentators.” David Brooks is one of them.

Almost every one of his columns asserts that nothing should be done to change the just and natural concentration of wealth in the hands of the upper “tribe.” He cherry picks references to economic statistics and sociology research to support this position, while disregarding all contrary data. Brooks is a disgusting hack who masquerades as a thoughtful observer. He has earned a reserved place in the ninth circle of Hell.

103

Belle Waring 12.20.13 at 12:49 am

Christ Grant: it being late at night, from my point of view, I was being pointlessly surreal. The night is from my point of view; the surreal is more objective, probably.

104

oldster 12.20.13 at 12:54 am

Being surreal is never pointless; after all, spandex tabasco sauce car parks.

105

Belle Waring 12.20.13 at 12:55 am

DBW: this is a comments thread on a blog post, in which we are discussing how a widely and quite properly loathed figure has written something so spectacularly awful that, even when one taken into account the oozing pile of sludge he’s created thus far, still one has to think, “this is it. This is the fucking topper.” Not a few of us think the man has actually gone nuts, like, ‘I’m getting divorced and I’ve started eating xanax like popcorn, and now the brakes are off, they’re really off, and I can bang this thing out in 25 minutes, I can beat my previous record.’ This is not the minutes of a meeting for the preparation of the fucking Moynihan Report.

106

William Timberman 12.20.13 at 1:00 am

Belle Waring @ 103

If your comments here are any guide, you are never pointlessly surreal. Having rowed along in your wake from Pogo’s swamps to Lee Kwan Yew’s novus ordo seclorum, I gotta say such new voices make for a very joyful noise to at least one pair of very old ears. Long may you wave….

107

LFC 12.20.13 at 1:25 am

@Andrew F
I read M.Y.’s column quickly and found it a bit snarky, but not carrying a “repugnant odor of resentful malice.” Brooks has often hammered on — to quote one of the very sentences you quote — the “lack of social capital” as an explanation for poverty. Lack of “social capital” is a euphemism for a set of behaviors Brooks believes to be dysfunctional (for lack of a better word), incl. (as you note) high divorce rates, low employment rates, high dropout rates etc. But it apparently doesn’t occur to Brooks that one key thing that poor people in poor neighborhoods lack is money. Or if it does occur to him, he manages not to mention it very much.

Of course “some children of the top 20% benefit substantially from the social environment in which they are raised and … some children of the bottom 30% are substantially harmed by aspects of the social environment in which they are raised.”
But a key aspect of those social environments is money, or the lack thereof. This point would seem obvious but Brooks manages to obscure it (or obfuscate it).

Yglesias doesn’t claim that Brooks’ divorce invalidates Brooks’ arguments. Rather, Yglesias claims that Brooks’ arguments are invalid and mentions Brooks’ divorce by way of illustrating one way those arguments are invalid, i.e., they unduly neglect or minimize the *economic* contexts in which social “behaviors” take place.

Yglesias’ statement that Brooks views “marital stability per se…as the key [emphasis added] to the elite class’s ability to reproduce itself” is a bit overstated, but if one replaced “the key” with “one of the keys” or “a key” it would be accurate enough, and this doesn’t affect the basic gist of M.Y.’s column. So I don’t think an apology or retraction from M.Y. is called for.

108

LFC 12.20.13 at 1:38 am

@DBW 98
What Belle W. said @105.
Or to put it another way, the point here is not that “culture” is always used ‘ideologically’ or must be used in that way, but that Brooks uses it in that way.

As to “what is it about Brooks that brings out the economic determinism in his critics?” — the more relevant question wd be: How can someone who has expended so much energy arguing that what the poor lack is “social capital” not expect to bring out the ‘economic determinism’ in his critics?

The problem w Brooks is that many of his sources themselves have fairly transparent ideological agendas. He has rummaged in often dubious sociology, which (as Straightwood observed) he has used selectively, and the result is predictable.

109

mattski 12.20.13 at 2:19 am

@ 72

I would pay serious money to watch Belle demolish the useful idiot, Brooks, in an extended conversation.

Demand Theory of Value.

Just saying.

110

DBW 12.20.13 at 4:30 am

Belle Waring: Got it. Look, I have no brief for Brooks–he’s a smug hack in my book, too. I just think that the best counter to bad (evil, if you want) thinking is better thinking. As far as I can see, Brooks’s critics oblige him by tending to fall into the very stereotype of the left critic he sets up. But since you think I’ve misplaced my comments, and they are not appropriate for a comments thread on Crooked Timber, I’ll head on over to my prep session for the Moynihan Report. I’m running about 50 years late.

111

LFC 12.20.13 at 4:41 am

DBW @98
Why shouldn’t his [Brooks's] critics respond to glib faux sociology by providing a more sophisticated sociological and cultural vision, rather than fall into the trap of saying that culturalist arguments are mere obfuscation preventing us from seeing the simple reality of economic forces?

Why don’t you just give us your “more sophisticated sociological and cultural vision,” instead of simply asserting that we are all crude economic determinists and trading jibes about the Moynihan Report?

112

JML 12.20.13 at 5:16 am

I think Brook’s article would read a whole lot different to the modern eye if it were written in the 1950’s about the prosperous Protestants versus the Catholics. Or the White Man vs. the Black. This is just another in a long line of pious self-serving justification for injustice that in the end culminates in assertion of divine right. Nothing new here, move on.

113

Ed Herdman 12.20.13 at 6:55 am

Actually I rather enjoyed and definitely profited from Belle Waring’s telling of the Brooksian Anabasis. Who could forget that ancient soldier’s joyful cries on finding food to sustain him on his long journey back to his home, pursued as he was on both the left by the Lower Tribes and the biogted demagogues on the right, and armed with nothing but a square face, sonorous voice, and his well-developed Seriousness?

Though I support the comments made by the musical comedy team of Schadenboner and Philosofatty (developing Bloix’s comments), Brooks’ profound and serious insight about what helps and hurts children will be surprising to exactly no one, and this is one of those cases where there is still much to be learned by piling everything on, and nothing lost. Brooks himself would approve, as this little primer of Things Brooks Is Okay With Saying demonstrates.

114

robotslave 12.20.13 at 9:57 am

OK, so I’m posting this absolutely flabbergasted that no-one has beat me to it:

David Brooks says:

That he wants to know
Why he’s given half his life
To people he hates now

David Brooks Says
What country shall I say is calling
From across the world?

But he’s not afraid to die
The people all call him Alaska
Between worlds so the people ask him
‘Cause it’s all in his mind
It’s all in his mind

[...]

He asks you is it good or bad?
It’s such an icy feeling
It’s so cold in Alaska,
It’s so cold in Alaska
It’s so cold in Alaska

 

I’m just wrecking the joke here, right? Just too dim to get aboard the subtlewagon?

115

Chris 12.20.13 at 7:41 pm

It seems to me that pointing out the economic issues that Brooks routinely sweeps under the rug is a perfectly natural counterpoint to Brooks’s own sweeping of those issues under the rug. Of course in an ideal dialectic this would eventually lead to a recognition of all the factors involved and how they interact, but if you have to start from Brooks’s position of completely ignoring money, then the first step you take away from that position almost has to be to say that actually, money is pretty important in societies like the present day US, and if you don’t have it, your outcomes are going to be miserable no matter what else you are doing.

Which is what my crack about the pocketbook up thread was intended to express too, but sometimes a detailed explanation is better than pithiness.

116

Mao Cheng Ji 12.20.13 at 8:21 pm

“It seems to me that pointing out the economic issues that Brooks routinely sweeps under the rug is a perfectly natural counterpoint to Brooks’s own sweeping of those issues under the rug.”

He is not sweeping them under the rug. They are front and center, it’s what this is all about: “It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite.

In his world everyone is paid according to their productivity, in his world this is how it should be, and in his world the “upper tribe” is phenomenally productive. In his world everything is almost perfect, except for the “lower tribe” being, alas, morally corrupt. If only the “lower tribe” stopped being hedonist assholes, everything would be totally perfect.

117

SamChevre 12.20.13 at 9:03 pm

money is pretty important in societies like the present day US, and if you don’t have it, your outcomes are going to be miserable no matter what else you are doing.

Except that this isn’t true.

The outcomes on any social measure of children from the Amish-Mennonite world I grew up in, or for children from one of the towns dominated by Orthodox Jews (such as Kiryas Joel), or for children of graduate students regardless of how little money they and their peers have, are noticeably different than those of children growing up in families with comparable incomes but weaker community structures.

118

parse 12.20.13 at 10:41 pm

robotslave, thanks so much for that. You made my day.

119

clew 12.20.13 at 11:34 pm

117: AFAICT, the Mennonite communities don’t have a lot of flowing cash, but they do have material as well as social capital. Land still counts. (Not disagreeing that social capital *also* counts.)

I suppose there’s a longitudinal study setting itself up on how well the families of grad students continue to do as the precarious period for academics gets longer and longer.
—-
What I find missing in Brooks is any analysis of how the stability of the coastal elites is like or unlike `traditional conservative’ stability. E.g, lower divorce rates might derive from (a) capstone marriages between successfully independent people vs (b) early marriages between people whose separate sex roles mean they’re not trained or rewarded for independence. Or any (c) between.

120

Ed Herdman 12.20.13 at 11:35 pm

@ SamChevre: Your anecdotal evidence is nice and useful, but irrelevant to the wealth axis in a model predicting success. The comment you’re responding too (and, on the flip side, David Brooks) isn’t singling out groups like you mention for success comparative to similar groups – it’s stating that when you go across that particular spectrum you get notably different outcomes, which is true.

So it’s not a great support of the “wealth doesn’t matter” argument to try and pick at it with equivalence stories at particular points along the spectrum, because there’s still a larger trend (based on wealth) you haven’t explained.

121

Mao Cheng Ji 12.21.13 at 2:28 am

It’s simply that the Amish and such are not part of “the salt of the earth common people”. They, to a significant degree, live outside of the power structure and thus are difficult to be “preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite”. Except, of course, by their own elite. Which is, I take it, not too predatory (i.e. “phenomenally productive”).

122

Belle Waring 12.21.13 at 4:23 am

robotslave: +10,000 YOU WIN THE THREAD!

123

zbs 12.22.13 at 6:05 am

I got here too late, but

> We should tackle the ball not the man.

In America, we cannot afford these European courtesies, it is right and necessary to tackle the man.

124

Andrew F. 12.23.13 at 11:20 am

LFC: Yglesias doesn’t claim that Brooks’ divorce invalidates Brooks’ arguments. Rather, Yglesias claims that Brooks’ arguments are invalid and mentions Brooks’ divorce by way of illustrating one way those arguments are invalid, i.e., they unduly neglect or minimize the *economic* contexts in which social “behaviors” take place.

Actually, Yglesias claims that Brooks lacks self-awareness because his divorce should cause him to question whether his arguments are sound. Thus Yglesias writes At the same time, I really do think it [Brooks's divorce] puts the question of self-awareness squarely on the table….If Brooks were a truly self-aware columnist, I think this is the issue he’d be revisiting in light of the breakdown of his own marriage.

Of course I doubt Brooks’s children lack an organized family, stable relationships with their parents, good parental role models, and so forth. Brooks mentions many different factors that are indicative of many children growing up in poverty who do lack those things – but that doesn’t imply that any one of those factors by itself causes dysfunction. Yglesias, though, absolutely needs to read Brooks’s argument this way – otherwise he has no legitimate reason, thin veneer though it is in this case, to talk about Brooks’s divorce.

Yglesias’ statement that Brooks views “marital stability per se…as the key [emphasis added] to the elite class’s ability to reproduce itself” is a bit overstated, but if one replaced “the key” with “one of the keys” or “a key” it would be accurate enough…

Styling marital stability as “the key” is what allows Yglesias to knowingly tell us that Brooks should be “revisiting” his view of the importance of marital stability in light of his divorce. It’s also not simply a “bit overstated” but fundamentally wrong. It confuses one of many broad statistical indicators (divorce) for phenomena Brooks thinks to be linked with a lack of social capital with what Brooks thinks to be a perpetuating cause of dysfunction (the actual lack of social capital).

You’d have to read Brooks with a singular lack of charity to conclude that Brooks believes only marital stability matters, and that loving parents, lots of enriching activities for children, stable relationships with children, and so on, don’t matter. Yet somehow, despite Brooks explicitly discussing many things other than marital stability that matter, Yglesias manages to pull out “marital stability is the key.” And that conveniently allows Yglesias to make Brooks’s divorce an issue.

There’s nothing remotely smart or insightful or frankly worthy in Yglesias’s post. It’s a catty gossip column in a cheap vinyl “Concerned Criticism” costume.

125

Dr. Hilarius 12.23.13 at 9:57 pm

Coming late to this party, most everything has already been said. But one aspect missed is that members of the Upper Tribe can dip into the most loathsome Lower Tribe practices without fear of moral contamination, they are after all, Upper Tribe. The Victorian upper class could engage in all manner of sin without losing their class standing. Moral prohibitions existed to keep the working people working rather than being distracted by earthly, fleshly pleasure. This attitude persists. Consider the usual debate over pornography. Upper Tribe twit: “I can enjoy it without corruption, but what about those made of less stern stuff?” Same for drugs, sex, divorce and insider trading.

126

Harold 12.24.13 at 5:58 am

Brooks is a Straussian who has fun putting on those not in the know. It’s all a joke to him. Hypocrisy is vice’s tribute to virtue, and all that. We will never know what went on behind the closed doors of his marriage – if it was a real marriage.

127

mattH 12.24.13 at 7:34 am

What’s puzzling about Brooks is his recent chest-thumping praise of married life as the source of happiness. Is he a hypocrite or did he not understand his own marriage?

Or maybe he’s more aware than we are willing to admit and he’s been rather sad for quite some time.

(Now that’s some potential schadenfreude)

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