Archives for : July 2017

Comrade Brooks Reads Books

I haven’t posted for months. Why? …I ask myself.
I could say: I was trying to hold down two jobs; my wife and I had to move; I was focused on an exhilarating 4 month seminar mounted by the New School of Analytic Psychology. But really…I just couldn’t see that could I add anything to our national discourse. Social media has been pulsating with fear and loathing. There was no need for me to pile on and hurl my puny imprecations at the president* or his toadies. It took the MSM years to recognize the feckless shallowness of George Bush but there has been no such lag time for this administration. Even the three conservative columnists at the New York Times (Brooks, Douthat and Stephens) have expressed, with vehemence, their distaste for the president* and their fears for the nation and their Party.

This post was propelled by David Brooks opining on other matters. Mr. Brooks likes to share his readings and the other day he filed another book report, this one headlined “How We are Ruining the Nation”. Based on his reading of two recent books, his piece describes how the educated, American upper middle class “rigs the system”. Their wealth and time is invested heavily in their children’s education and upbringing; they cultivate their kids. They use residential zoning restrictions to “keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.” They use their purchasing power to clothe themselves in cultural codes that exclude those outside their class:

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

Though this is largely a seventeen year old “insight” drawn directly from his book about bourgeous bohemians (“Bobos in Paradise”), he does take a big step. He can now recognize that beyond how people symbolically accessorize their status, there are also very real political and economic “structures” which support class differentiation. If you substitute “the bourgeoisie” each time Brooks uses “upper middle class”, his op-ed piece reads like an old-timey Marxist analysis.
Two years ago I wrote about Brook’s delayed advance into 19th century social theory (see my posts here and here); so… progress noted. Although he wants “latte liberals” to know that they are complicit in our economic and political shit-show (and they are), he owns his membership in this class; so…degree of self-awareness noted.

This American bourgeoisie that is now investing heavily in their children has grown up with post-Reagan neo-liberalism (summarized here). As working adults, they have not been offered the defined benefit pensions their grandparents worked toward. They have 401K’s that are subject to the Wall Street casino or they have hit a jackpot at the tech craps table because they happened to be where “the market” happened. However much they may decry the fact, they know that there is no American foundational commitment to a social safety net. They can see that the American “middle class” has been hollowed out. They know in their bones that the caprice of “the market” will decide their children’s fate so their offspring need to be educationally armed and socially groomed. Even if they are “latte liberals” who are uncomfortable with the current distribution of wealth, they rationally recognize that precarity is now the “nature” of our economic and social order. Profit is an unquestioned good; there are only winners and losers in “the market” and the accumulation of wealth by dispossession is the system’s inherent logic. Like the bourgeoisie at all times and all places, they don’t want to slide backward.
Should the following readings make their way onto Mr. Brooks’ reading list, perhaps his vision would clear:

A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism, David Harvey. (downloadable here) An essential primer on who we are today.

For a New Critique of Political Economy, Bernard Stiegler. An eclectic critique of the “systemic stupidity” of our consumerist economy nee culture.

The Case for Reparations, Ta Nahesi Coates. A chilling review of how residential zoning and redlining killed the wealth of African Americans.

I am going to end this post with a paragraph from Nikil Saval in n+1 which I wish I had written myself:

Few moments in history have been so crowded with narcissists: incapable of acknowledging the existence of others, unwilling to permit state and civil society—with their strange, confusing, downright offensive cult of taxes, regulations and public services—to impede their quest for monopolizing the mind, muscles, heart rate, and blood of every breathing person on earth. The Mormons, with their registries of the unsaved, have beaten Silicon Valley to the hosts of the dead—but it’s safe to assume that this, too, will not last.