Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Brooks Biopsy - On Paradise Drive

What follows is a more or less accurate transcriptions of my thoughts and feelings as I skimmed through another David Brooks tome in search of gold.

(Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Now I see why no one mentions On Paradise Drive, this thing is embarrassing even by Brooks' standards. My God, the prose, it reads like Erma Bombeck fucked Don DeLillo. No way I'm even skimming this bastard. Let's just skip to the index, figure out how many times he managed to quote Burke this time and call it a day. What the f..."buddy sex"? Oh, I've got to see this. Page 165...oh, a heading that reads "Fuckbuddies." Classy. I get it Dave, you can be vulgar too, you're not like those aristocratic types. Great, almost ten goddamn pages on the "hookup culture." Well, it was every bit as real as the meritocracy.

Hey, this next section is headed "Character." There's a coincidence. I wonder if he has the same non-advice for the Kids These Days as he would a decade later. That would be a hell of a...

...oh, you motherfucking liar. Goddamn it)

The students in America's colleges are bright, lively, funny, and generous...Their commitment to community service is one of the marvels of the age. Their volunteer work may have started out as a way to impress admissions officers, but their interest in it has transcended shallow careerism...
...It is not that they have bad character or no character. I haven't yet seen a machine that allows us to peer into a generation's souls and measure whether they are deep or not. We are right to be skeptical about generalizations on the moral health of America's youth. But we can observe their public lives and the way they conduct themselves in social situations. It is not too hard to see that at the very least, talk about character has been crowded out amid all the rush, bustle, and achievement.
On the whole, college students are articulate on every subject save morality. When you talk to them about character, you notice that they are hesitant to say anything definitive, as if any firm statement about which lifestyle choice is conductive to firm character development might break the code of civility...
...Although today's colleges impose all sorts of rules to reduce safety risks and encourage behavior, they see passing along knowledge, not building character, as their primary task. (p. 173-175, emphasis added)

You know, it's so rare you can definitely prove that someone is an asshole. So rare, in fact, that I'd like to take a moment and bask in the sputum-green radiance of what I unearthed. It's hard to know where to start, really. There's the obvious contradiction in play - the exact same youth cohort went from good-natured if somewhat disheveled kids in 2004 to moral vacuums forever perched on the edge of sociopathy in 2015. There's the hypocrisy - Brooks condemning in 2004 that upon which he would base an entire book a decade later ("We are right to be skeptical about generalizations on the moral health of America's youth" unless someone's ready to publish us doing that).

But those are early courses, the soup and salad to the main course that's staring us right in the eye. Here we see David Brooks in 2004 - well before the humility course or the Niebuhr obsession or the angst-ridden columns about his own dismal life - discussing things that today he claims he only began to think about recently. And not just the same ideas, but the same rhetoric and even some of the same exact words.

How was it that I ended that last post?

He walked down the road to character, met himself eight times and found the promised land which was right back where he started.

I never dreamed that this was a statement that I even could prove and yet here it is, proven. Long before his study of the Great Men of recent history, Brooks already knew how it was going to end. There it is. Behold it in all its judgmental, cranky, duplicitous glory.

And that's all I have to say on our dear friend Dave, unless someone wants to listen to me do a dramatic reading of some of the more nauseating bits of prose from On Paradise Drive. Leave a comment if you want to hear something you can't unhear, skillfully enunciated in my rough and nasally baritone.

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