David Brooks wrote another article last week in his long running “the peons have ruined our fine aristocracy” column in the New York Times. In it, Mr. Brooks decides to sit backwards in his chair and rap to us young-uns about the importance of being a team player and how we should use our innate navigational skills to get through this tragic time of ruinous national debt. Furthermore Mr. Brooks wants us to go against our ingrained predilection towards being self-centered and truly apply ourselves in the workplace in order to make this country a better place.
Please. From anyone else this message would be just another run of the mill, poorly written, generation gap-exposing article. From David Brooks however, this article reaches the apex of recent condescending atrocities from the elite wing of the “me” generation analyzing and chastising people my age. If Brooks really wishes to call the kettle black in whining about those of us born in the 1980’s and 90’s, he needs to be much more specific. When exactly has my generation done something so mindlessly self-interested as to deserve these sort of unwarranted generalizations (especially from a man who usually spends his time dick-riding the Chief Priest of Ayn Randism with his glowing reviews of Paul Ryan)?
Lets look in the arena of politics. My generation has been able to vote en masse in one presidential election, in which we largely supported a person who promised a return to the society oriented policies of the New Deal Coalition. In doing so we both rejected the warmed over trickle down policies of the GOP by not voting for McCain, and the corporatist wing of the Democrats by abandoning the front runner for our parents, Hillary Clinton. Brooks’ thesis fuller falls apart in examining the methods that we employed in getting Obama elected. Through embracing older forms of disciplined grass roots organizing and combining new technologies we achieved the sort of high level team work that Brooks believes we still have yet to discover.
Brooks is full of shit in a myriad of ways, but lets focus on his cause and effect calculus as to how we arrived in such dire straits as young people. My generation was not cognizant during the boom years of the 1990’s and the brief post-Cold War realization that America should not be run as a garrison state. Rather the awesome parts of the 1990’s were firmly the time ruled by Generation X. Instead my generation got to go to high school during both the Columbine freak-outs, a recession (that never actually ended), and of course the continuing national security aneurism that has become the all consuming monster of our national economy. As a result we have a generation that has actually largely rejected the pessimism and biases of our predecessors. We have almost universally embraced gay rights, we are entering public service in much larger numbers than previous generations, and we are serving in a volunteer military that our parents actively worked to avoid at all costs. Where is the selfishness?
Brooks mentions briefly that our “elders” and their “baby boomer” ideology have not “served” us well, but he misses just how badly he and his ilk screwed us, and he is blaming the wrong baby boomer group entirely. Lets get one thing clear, the hippies were fucking annoying, but their impact on contemporary society is meaningless. The new left coalition that Brooks is subtly chastising for raising such rotten kids (i.e. us) broke down due to its inherent disorganization, the fact that the War in Vietnam was accelerated under a Democratic president, and white resentment. Their power lasted roughly from 1960 with the election of Kennedy, to 1968 when Johnson left office.
Since the election of Nixon, far right ideologues been firmly in power. Thee three Democrats that have been in power since have platforms that resemble ones from GOP politicians in the 1950’s. Post-Johnson, the cult of selfishness has reigned in American society to the point where trying to provide people healthcare or regulate carbon in the atmosphere can be thought of as a communist plot. Abbie Hoffman did not ruin our society, it was Ralph Reed.
So how did Mr Bobo’s in Paradise come to believe that it is our generation, and not the ones that elected both Reagan and Bush twice, that should come to represent the essence of spoiled self-centeredness? Is it because we invented Facebook (which is really just the easy to use versions of the Geocities “make your own website” of the 1990’s)? Is it because we choose to embrace what little is left of the sexual revolution by having consensual sex without the attachments of traditional misogynist ideals of what constitutes a relationship? Or is this article the result of another poorly formed idea coming from a person who went to the Thomas Friedman school of journalistic research?
Brooks claims that we as a generation are happy to delay our development into adulthood and are more intent with exploring our own possibilities as individuals than to settle down and start living a productive life. Apparently Mr. Brooks never had the “fun” of leaving college with the largest per capita proportion of individual debt that Americans have ever seen for people our age. He also thinks that we just love returning to the care of our parents so that we can better expand our assumed birthright to limitless possibilities in the world. I can’t speak to what it must have been like for young David to leave college for the first time and work at his first job, but I can say that a year working as a temp warehouse worker for slightly above minimum wage in order to pay back my crippling student loans is not the sort of lesson that I necessarily needed to figure out that all is not right in the world (as a side note Mr. Brooks: we could give a rat’s ass about the size of the national debt; rather we care where the money is spent).
My generation has already experienced enough “problems” to facilitate our individual callings- the preferred method of psychological development that Mr. Brooks believes he patented in his brilliant piece of pop sociology. My generation has the awesome duty of dealing with the loss limbs and PTSD of the war that we did not want. My generation was faced with either taking on giant amounts of debt to go to college or face the impossible task of getting a job in this country with just a high school degree. My generation is the one that was the full recipient of the golden shower that is 30 plus years of “trickle down” economics and deregulation.
When we want advice from an extremely protected member of the elite (who has somehow survived a dying industry) we will ask him. Until then, David Brooks can go to hell.