I kinda like David Brooks, ‘kinda’ being the key word. I think he’s going through some serious soul-searching, part of which he’s eager to share with us as general thoughts on morality, and a part of which that is so personal that he’s yet afraid to mention. But it’s hard not to notice that many of his recent columns are a manifest of some personal transformation, perhaps due to collapse of his previously held beliefs. Let’s not be too harsh on him with our ever-ready schadenfreude.
A few critical thoughts on his newfound enlightenment. He’s known to zero in on the morality, especially the morality of the poor. But from his elevated position as an elite thought leader, the examination of habits of others, especially those at the bottom of social ladder, has to start with introspection. It is only after we, the elites, those for whom everyday grind comes in the form of first-world problems, take a gaze onto ourselves that we should be allowed to pontificate on the lack of morality in others, less fortunate. I’m still waiting on David Brooks to do that. I do believe that his efforts and thoughts are genuine and that he really wants to be a better man. But in order to lecture us on how to be better people he first has to face and admit his own faults. Perhaps even in a separate Mea Culpa column. He came close, like in a recent column excoriating modern GOP, but if he were truly honest with himself he would put a partial blame on himself as an earlier cheerleader and apologist when his party kept taking one wrong turn after another.
What I appreciate is his the effort, however. That shows, partially, the admission of the problem in the first place.
What we’re talking about here is not the issue of what’s legal or not. The discussion transcends the legal boundaries: some illegal things are harmless, and some legal things are harmful to a greater society. What he (and I am too) is concerned about are the issues of right and wrong and his main complaint is that we have nowhere to learn that, not in a university, not in a workplace. Our current morals stem from, as Brooks says: “…a big relativistic strain through our society that if it feels good for you, then who am I to judge?” There are no judges but those in public courts that can only interpret the civic law, not moral code. But the civic law, in many cases, will often absolve big companies of their obligations, without extending the same courtesy to an average schmo. Thus we, as a society are inarticulate in the matters of right and wrong and are also squeamish talking about it, because the language of right and wrong sounds too religious, too pious for our fast, competitive and thus hostile to thought way of life. It has a very unpleasant, monkish, Dostoyevskian flavor to utter in a polite company.
We can’t ask of Appalachian meth-cooking, dole-grabbing hillbillies to become virtuous if we don’t ask the same of the Wall Street or the politicians. That’s why it would be nice to see Brooks to take on the privileged first. It is only by their own example, by their new virtuous way of life that they earn the right to lecture the ‘unwashed’ on how to lead moral lives.