Tag Archives: David Brooks

Double standards

Double standards are fun.  We need them in order to get by in life.  All you Irish people, eager for the liberation of Northern Ireland from the hated British (sorry British), might stop to consider that the IRA is a terrorist organization.  And just this week, Spike Lee was in Naperville (a Chicago suburb) to give a speech for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, amid protests (about Lee's racist portrayal of Italian-Americans) from Italian-Americans.  He quipped: "this really burns my canoli, perhaps yous should be protesting 'Jersey Shore.'"  Well maybe that was a paraphrase. 

I mention this because I ran across some rather quality content on the internet on this very topic.  It turns out that when it comes to crazed right wing white people, some people can be very understanding; however, when it comes to crazed non-whites it's a different story.  The following seems right to me:

That said, conservative columnist David Brooks, in an astonishingly superficial argument, wrote in the New York Times that those who drag politics into public debate over the killing of political figures and government officials are leveling “vicious charges” and lack empathy for the mentally ill. Brooks gravely wagged his finger at those — he singled out MSNBC commentator Keith Olberman, former Senator Gary Hart, and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas — who have argued that violent rhetoric from the Tea Party and Sarah Palin set the table for the Tucson shootings. (Of course Congresswoman Giffords herself chastised Palin for putting her district in the now-infamous gun-sight crosshairs. Does Brooks include her, too, in excoriating “vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness”?)

How sugary is Brooks’ argument? Compare it to what he wrote following the shooting rampage that took place at Fort Hood in November 2009. In that murderous incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan was ultimately charged with killing 13 and wounding over 30. Hasan, a Muslim psychiatrist, was clearly disturbed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (he was about to be deployed to the latter) and his deteriorating mental state had been a concern to officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

That was before Hasan snapped. Despite documented psychiatric worries, the issue of terrorism quickly dominated public discussion of Hasan’s act.

At the time, Brooks derided talk of Hasan’s mental state and characterized those who brought it up as casting “a shroud of political correctness” over the Hasan “narrative.”

“The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality,” Brooks intoned. “It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.”

The war narrative.  I can be embraced by anyone.

Read the rest.  It's worth it.

The weekender

In a lot ways the pseudo-reasonable ramblings of David Brooks inspired our work here.  It's a pleasure, then, to see our analysis echoed by others:

There is no pleasure for the pundit quite like the neat, clear-edged dichotomy. I have felt these pleasures myself. But few columnists fall for it quite as regularly as The New York Times' David Brooks, for which it seems to provide a sense of order and clarity in a messy world always hurtling toward chaos. Today Brooks tackles a fascinating theme in economics: the notion of mechanical policies or solutions to what ails us. The irony here is that Brooks' dichotomy, which the Times headlines "Two Cultures" in a glib reference to C.P. Snow's now ancient (and glib) dichotomy between science and the humanities, is as clankingly mechanical as the mechanistic tendencies he claims as the province of dreaded liberal technocrats.

Here's David Brooks from 2004 (see here):

There are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don’t shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats.

New York Times–the breadth of reporting, the insight.  I think I might order up the Weekender (click this link–hilarious).  Now in case one is inclined to object that it's hard to write a 750 word op-ed twice a week, I'll agree with you.  It probably is hard to come up with something engaging, refreshing, and enlightening.  But if this is what you come up with, then, maybe, paraphrasing Kant here, "metaphysics punditry isn't for you." 



Up hill, both ways

David Brooks looks with nostalgia to a time when surgery was done without anaesthesia and draws some important lessons.

Burney’s struggle reminds one that character is not only moral, it is also mental. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in public but also inside the head, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts.

She lived at a time when people were more conscious of the fallen nature of men and women. People were held to be inherently sinful, and to be a decent person one had to struggle against one’s weakness.

Character has always been mental.  But anyway, Brooks wants to draw an analogy between remembering something painful that happened to you and facing up to facts that do not correlate with your general political orientation.  These I think are completely different things.  It's one thing to remember a terrible experience and quite another to be self-critical in your beliefs about the world.  You're not morally wrong for having suffered a painful experience, and you're not morally obligated to remember the pain of surgery.  Unless, of course, you're the doctor.

You can fool some of the people all of the time

Here's David Brooks in 2009:

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

Now again Sunday:

There are liberals who call conservatives racist as a matter of tactics, too. That happens, as well. Listen, I was out jogging, you wouldn't know it to look at me. I was out jogging (LAUGH) you wouldn’t know it to look at me, I was out jogging on the mall. I was at a Tea Party rally, Tea Party rally. Also there was a group called the Back– Black Family Reunion, celebration of African American culture. I watched these two groups intermingle. Sitting at the same table, eating– watching concerts together. Among most of those people, there was a fantastic atmosphere of just getting along on– on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Thought that was funny–the line about running.  I guess it's funny because Brooks looks like every guy his age who engages in some kind of light sporting activity–so it's not surprising that he's a jogger.  Anyway.  The first passage continues:

Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism. Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

First, let me make one quick point about race.  There's no reason to believe that celebrating African-American culture puts you at the opposite side of the political and cultural spectrum from the tea party types.  Many African-Americans are culturally conservative Christians, some even fiscally conservative Republicans. 

Second, watch that next paragraph closely.  Let me rephrase: at least one person sees every conflict through the prism of race, and, many have argued that all the hostility toward Obama is driven by race.  That little slip there of the quantifier–many argue that all is your hollow man.

As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with these arguments can tell you–some that some of the animosity toward Obama is driven by race.  The rest of the animosity, of course, is driven by his being a foreign-born muslim.

In all seriousness, no one maintains that the only reason many conservatives oppose Obama is race.  There is, of course, the matter of disagreement over the policies–a fact which everyone recognizes. 

Now back to the tea-partiers.  Accusations of racism have rightly been leveled against some of them.  That some of them do not engage in open race war when they encounter African-Americans does not negate that claim.  That only negates the claim that all tea partiers are itching for perpetual race war.  And no says that.   

Tribunals of the moribund

I'd call this column by David Brooks a complete waste of space.  He signals as much from the get-go:

When historians look back on the period between 2001 and 2011, they will be amazed that a nation that professed to hate bureaucracy produced so much of it.

Will they now.  I think he means historians will be unsurprised that a party that professed to hate government produced so much of it. That question, however, has already been answered–see Reagan, Ronald. 

It just gets dumber:

When historians look back on this period, they will see it as another progressive era. It is not a liberal era — when government intervenes to seize wealth and power and distribute it to the have-nots. It’s not a conservative era, when the governing class concedes that the world is too complicated to be managed from the center. It’s a progressive era, based on the faith in government experts and their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

I think that claim there–the central conceit of this piece–ought at least to gesture in the direction of evidence.  Sure, he's predicting the future, but his prediction would have some teeth if for instance he at least faked some kind of Rasmussen poll.  Besides, from where I sit, financial and health reform measures had significant popular support–if anything, people wanted even more from the reforms than politicians were willing to offer.

The real mystifying thing here is Brooks's straw-man alternative to popular support–a group of technocratic know-it-alls setting panels for the moribund and such.  It's just trivially the case that implementing anything will involve some degree of assessment and measurement.  And that will always involve nerds.  Historians will not be surprised by that.  Even the Egyptians had a class of nerds.


Pundit versus pundit

It's annoying that most premier leftish or left-leaning pundits never really argue for anything–they explain.  They don't explain the cogency of their view either.  They explain different sides in a debate without making an argument for which side is the correct one.  Go read just about any column from E.J.Dionne and you'll know what I mean. 

This has really never been the case with Krugman.  Here's an excellent example: 

Arguments From Authority

A quick note on David Brooks’s column today. I have no idea what he’s talking about when he says,

The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years

Funny, I thought we had a perfectly good explanation: severe downturn in demand from the financial crisis, and a stimulus which we warned from the beginning wasn’t nearly big enough. And as I’ve been trying to point out, events have strongly confirmed a demand-side view of the world.

But there’s something else in David’s column, which I see a lot: the argument that because a lot of important people believe something, it must make sense:

Moreover, the Demand Siders write as if everybody who disagrees with them is immoral or a moron. But, in fact, many prize-festooned economists do not support another stimulus. Most European leaders and central bankers think it’s time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it — as do many economists at the international economic institutions. Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?

Yes, I am. It’s called looking at the evidence. I’ve looked hard at the arguments the Pain Caucus is making, the evidence that supposedly supports their case — and there’s no there there.

And you just have to wonder how it’s possible to have lived through the last ten years and still imagine that because a lot of Serious People believe something, you should believe it too. Iraq? Housing bubble? Inflation? (It’s worth remembering that Trichet actually raised rates in June 2008, because he believed that inflation — not the financial crisis — was the big threat facing Europe.)

The moral I’ve taken from recent years isn’t Be Humble — it’s Question Authority. And you should too.

It's especially rare for columnists to address each other by name.  Brooks, in his usual dichotomous fashion, has set up a false bifurcation (here are two sides, whoa, this one is crazy wrong–and it's adherents make weak arguments–therefore this other one is the one we should go for).  For an entertaining comment on Brooks' dichotomizing, read this at the Daily Kos.

Krugman doesn't call him on that, rather he calls him on his total reliance on a limited set of authorities (and his disregard for the arguments Krugman and others have made).  Without judging the efficacy of Krugman's claims, I would say that this is a textbook case of good criticism: find the key inference someone makes–in this case an argument from authority–and raise a meaningful question about it.

Moar please.  

A couple of items

In case one is interested in how philosophers have reacted to David Brooks' piece (mentioned here yesterday), then they can go over to the Leiter Reports and comment.

In case one is interested in bad arguments in general–as we are–then one can go badarguments.org to practice identifying them.  Have fun.

Finally, if one has been following George F. Will's scientific escapades (discussed by us here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here), one might be interested in the following article published in yesterday's Washington Post.  Here's a critical passage:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

If only the article were distributed as widely as Will's various factually and logically challenged op-eds.  Here's Tom Toles (of the Washington Post!) on George Will:



General philosophical post today.  It doesn't seem David Brooks has read Aristotle.  Had he read Aristotle, he would have not written this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.


UPDATE.  Ok, on the strength of a conversation with one of the commentators here, I will add the following two paragraphs (directly from above) to make the Aristotle point clearer.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.

Now discuss (again).