The world has been worried about David Brooks for a while. He’s always freaking out about why can’t people find Happiness? Why can’t they find Meaning? Why do “the masses,” as he calls them, do Suicide and Drugs and Reality TV and Brexit?
“Anybody who spends time in the working-class parts of America (and, one presumes, Britain)” he writes, “notices the contagions of drug addiction and suicide, and the feelings of anomie, cynicism, pessimism and resentment.”
Having identified the ailments—and there is good evidence that poorer people are more vulnerable to addiction, among much else—Brooks “diagnoses” the underlying cause:
“What’s also been lost are the social institutions and cultural values that made it possible to have self-respect amid hardship—to say, ‘I may not make a lot of money, but people can count on me. I’m loyal, tough, hard-working, resilient and part of a good community.’”
The problem, according to Brooks, is that poor people today are not Nicolas Cage in the movie It Could Happen to You. Sure, Officer Charlie Lang didn’t make a lot of money as a cop, but that didn’t stop him from being a Loyal, Hard-Working Man Who Kept His Word when he promised a beautiful waitress half of his lottery winnings.
There’s something toxic going on that makes The Masses refuse to be Officer Charlie Lang.
Here are five of Brooks’ ideas of how to rectify this situation:
1.Today’s workers need to remember that Olden Days were hard too. For example, “Life in, say, a coal valley was never a bouquet of roses.” This is a very smart, insightful comment and I’m glad I read it in the New York Times today. It really illuminates what life in a “coal valley” was like, which was not a “bouquet of roses.” David Brooks has definitely worked in a “coal valley” so you can take his word for it.
2.”We all have a sense of what that working-class honor code was…” Yes, “we all” have a sense of the working class “code of honor” that certainly hasn’t been gained from watching It Could Happen to You starring Nicholas Cage. And it is definitely that lack of working-class honor that is causing the addiction—not the fact that many working class peoplecan’t get jobs with health insurance, or are experiencing physical pain, or are mandated to crazy “treatments” that don’t do anything.
3. One of the important values that poor people have forgotten is a “culture that values physical toughness.” Of course! Why don’t today’s poor people just lift weights behind the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts to build up the muscles they wouldhave if they worked in a factory? That would stop their addictions and suicides. That’s why poor people in jails and prisons are David Brooks’ kind of poor people. After all, people call Rikers Island “gladiator training school.” They value “physical toughness” and that’s why they don’t suffer from addiction or suicidality.
4.”Most of all, [the honor code] has been undermined by rampant consumerism, by celebrity culture, by reality-TV fantasies that tell people success comes in a quick flash of publicity, not through steady work.” It’s true: If poor people were offered a steady, lucrative gig writing their opinion once a week for a local New York paper they probablywould only want it if their name would appear in big letters or something, because they only care about publicity. If they had ever gotten to live in David Brooks’ $4 million dollar home, they would have probably just turned it into a giant, tacky TV room.
5.”There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world.” It’s good how David Brooks doesn’t need to bother with silly examples. Anyway, his whole column serves as an example of how an older person like David Brooks is self-disciplined (he finished this whole column), respectable (it’s in The New York Times), and very bigoted (not all the time but “often”).