David Brooks: Shut up

David Brooks falls prey to "The Big Shaggy."

Why does David Brooks still have a column at the NYT when he stinks up the place with press releases like this? In this week’s digression, Brooks fawns over Bill Wilson, founder of AA. Brooks evidently found his inspiration in the pages of Wired.  You know, a lot of people find something to write about by reading other things and then making facile comparisons in a few brief, infelicitous sentences — they’re called blogs. That Brooks maintains a recurring place of power on the NYT‘s Op-Ed page….

Even when he has an idea, he can’t render it with any integrity. For instance, look at this piece where he discusses the role of the humanities in shaping civic life and human character. It displays his typical obstuse “aw shucksterism,” but then he puts it all in the garbage with “The Big Shaggy,” his idiotic name for the impulsive, often uncontrollable element in human nature. I should written about this earlier, but I’ve just been so underwhelmed.

The humanities:

…improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose). You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo.

Yes, you can maintain your lock on Grayskull with your memos. And while drafting these memos you can also rely on the humanities’ ability to

…give you a familiarity with the language of emotion. In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod. Branding involves the location and arousal of affection, and you can’t do it unless you are conversant in the language of romance.

This strangely instrumental application of the humanities seems gleaned from some online executive MBA. Finally, the humanities grant you access to the great wealth of human comparison!

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia [this is telling, isn’t it? MW]; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

I’m not sure anyone that looks at war as an either/or can claim to “think more precisely” than less classically trained proles, but whatever. Brooks then gets to his point:

Finally, and most importantly, studying the humanities helps you befriend The Big Shaggy.

And that great repertoire of comparisons comes to the rescue, like on a horse ridden by some guy in a metal suit. From the past.  Yes, I agree, David, but The Big Shaggy? What about Mr. Hyde? Anyway, the point, I think, is that our lives are most often led at the edge of our desires, and that  can be dangerous as we often don’t wholly understand why we act the way we do. So, for instance, if you are a politician and you’ve read Gibbon you won’t have an affair in a hotel room in Brazil.  The humanities give us this sorely needed perspective. They make us better. Sure. Fine. Shut up.


2 Responses to David Brooks: Shut up

  1. Brendan says:

    I must admit that I read the guy all of the time–he always finds new and inane ways of annoying me, and I must admit that I sorta enjoy it–it’s probably some perverse Irish Catholic thing. When he introduced his rather silly concept of “The Big Shaggy” in that dumbass column, my brain immediately started playing Shaggy’s “Mr. Boombastic,” which made it 500 percent better. Try it yerself:

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