Let’s say someone very well known for his virtue turns out to have some hidden vices–an anti-prostitution crusader himself sees prostitutes. Few could really be surprised by that–such hypocrisy is familiar to all. Well, maybe not to David Brooks. Recent events have led him to ponder the depths of human failings. He comes up with one basic answer–successful hypocrites suffer from from being nerds. He writes
They go through the oboe practice, soccer camp, homework marathon
childhood. Their parent-teacher conferences are like mini-Hall of Fame
enshrinements as all gather to worship at the flame of their incipient
success. In high school, they enter their Alpha Geekdom. They rack up
great grades and develop that coating of arrogance that forms on those
who know that in the long run they will be more successful than the
beauties and jocks who get dates.
They also stand too close to other men:
Then they go into one of those fields like law, medicine or politics,
where a personís identity is defined by career rank. They develop the
specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole:
the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first
names; the subtle skills of effective deference; the willingness to
stand too close to other men while talking and touching them in a manly
Seems like the military, with actual ranks, ought to have been mentioned. Moving on, however, I’m beginning to wonder whether this is meant to be some kind of confession on David Brooks’s part, as this has a not too subtle ring of irony to it:
And, of course, these people succeed and enjoy their success. When
Bigness descends upon them, they dominate every room they enter and
graciously share their company with those who are thrilled to meet
them. They master the patois of globaloney ó the ability to declaim for
portentous minutes about the revolution in world affairs brought about
by technological change/environmental degradation/the fundamental
decline in moral values.
Still More confessional:
But then, gradually, some cruel cosmic joke gets played on them. They
realize in middle age that their grandeur is not enough and that they
are lonely. The ordinariness of their intimate lives is made more
painful by the exhilaration of their public success. If they were used
to limits in public life, maybe it would be easier to accept the
everydayness of middle-aged passion. But, of course, they are not.
And he’s not really trying with the evidence here yet. Here’s the evidence (as best as I can surmise). First, such people are inelegant when drunk–David Brooks has seen it!
I donít know if youíve seen a successful politician or business tycoon
get drunk and make a pass at a woman. Itís like watching a St. Bernard
try to French kiss. Itís all overbearing, slobbering, desperate
wanting. Thereís no self-control, no dignity.
Add to that a semi-oblique reference to some recent embarrassments:
So when they decide that they do in fact have an inner soul and itís
time to take it out for a romp … . Well, letís just say theyíve just
bought a ticket on the self-immolation express. Some desperate lunge
toward intimacy is sure to follow, some sad attempt at bonding. Welcome
to the land of the wide stance.
Finally, they have pictures of themselves on their walls!
I once visited a home in which the host had photos of himself
delivering commencement addresses lining the stairway wall. Iíve heard
countless presidential candidates say they are running on behalf of
their families even though their entire lives have been spent on the
campaign trail away from their families.
I doubt the "countless" there. Brooks has only been alive so long. In any case, we all love explanations for cinematic hypocrisy. But there are good explanations (the ones that refer to stuff that’s real) and bad ones (the ones that just are pulled out of one’s hat). This one–so it seems–belongs to the latter category.