David Brooks’s complacency, on display in “Why Our Elites Stink,” makes me fantasize about rocking his world until he looks out of an Edvard Munch painting. (‘Alas, even if I could this would be an impossible task.)
No self-respecting body who had ever done any real intellectual toil could possibly write the way Brooks does. “I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined.” “I’d say” — at least he’s explicit that this is pure ipse dixit. But, then again, at least ipse dixit means something. This isn’t even dixit. There’s no sense given to who the “meritocratic elites” are; to what it is for them to not be (at any rate, “mainly”) corrupt; to why you can’t be, not just mainly, but wholly corrupt while also being ambitious and disciplined. Needless to say, there’s no evidence for what he says either. (First, how could there be it’s nonsense? Second . . . there’s just no fucking evidence.)
Whatever. Like a dump of shit he’s made his say-so. But does he do anything with it? Oh no. It’s a mood — the elites are alright — followed by the prescription that we should “keep the current social order, but . . . give it a different ethos and institutions that are more consistent with its existing ideals.”
Now, how we keep the current social order but also change its institutions and ideology (what sounds a lot to me like changing, uh, the current social order) is puzzling. So too is the distinction, which would be casuistic if it wasn’t just Brooks being random, between ethos and ideals. Worse, though, is that it doesn’t seem to occur to Brooks that there is a gap between his premise (however you spell it out) that the elites are alright and his conclusion (however you spell it out) that the social order should be safeguarded.
For example: imagine a world, far removed from the habitat of conference calls during Piano recitals that Brooks writes to preserve, in which swathes of people labor (when they can find work) in conditions of poverty and exploitation. Grant Brooks the assumption that, in this world, the elites are alright (really ambitious and disciplined and only a teensy bit — if even that! — corrupt). Does the alright-ness of the elites in this imaginary world vindicate the swathes of poverty and exploitation? Or is that thought, instead, a retard?