David Brooks really does seem to be getting weirder. Or is it just me?
What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
Suppose the government started applying this Brooksian litmus test to products it pre-clears for sale on the market. ‘Yes, it’s a new sort of iPhone, I see. But does it encourage enjoyment of nature? Will it subtly make its users more temperate and prudent? If so, how so?’
Suppose you couldn’t legally sell something without making a showing, in a government office, that it fosters appreciation of the higher things in life.
Would it be legal to build suburbs? Would consumerism be permissible? What about capitalism?
Obviously Brooks is proposing no such utopian overturning of the established order. But, since not, what’s the point of picking out weed for failing to pass extraordinary muster, winning the approval of Brooksian would-be Philosopher Kings? (Isn’t weed more likely to promote appreciation of nature than capitalism, if it comes to that?)
“In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.
Paul Krugman is off today.”
I like that subtle dig at Krugman! Oh, we know what he’s probably ‘off’ on today!
Why is this interesting? I’ve said it before, and this column is a good example. In US politics, the conservative imagination is so loopily half-utopian. Prominent liberal pundits, by contrast, don’t go in for this sort of half-baked (no pun intended!) goofiness. (Maybe that’s why they don’t get invited onto the Sunday morning shows. They are less entertaining.) But maybe this is just my liberal bias. A challenge for our conservatives readers. Can you provide examples of liberal pundits who are as prominent as Brooks, who are as goofy as Brooks? That is, they defend some concrete policy proposal by sort of half-flying off to some vague Cloud Cuckooland, based on principles they would never seriously propose ratifying in the real world, because they obviously don’t even believe those principles?
UPDATE: Before someone points out that Brooks is just defending the status quo, I would point out that ‘lesser pleasures’ sort of gives away the game. Marijuana has always been banned on the grounds that it is somehow dangerous and bad, not that it is a merely ‘lesser pleasure’. The idea of organizing society around the banning of lesser pleasures, for the sake of higher pleasures, is a highly radical one.