The Nature of Black People

Hi, I’m David Brooks. Again. Like the rest of you, I too am deeply disturbed by the fact that black people keep rioting. I sometimes find myself almost wanting to weep with admiration when they protest peacefully, but now it seems that every time I open a bottle of overpriced wine at one of my social gatherings, the topic immediately turns once more to ‘The Negro Problem’. No matter how long I let the wine breathe, it always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Of course, my liberal friends tell me that what the poor need is more money, but America has been incredibly generous to these people, and, as always, they have not performed well for us. Indeed, we’ve given them the equivalent of $14,000 a year, and yet they continue to squander their allowance.

It’s true that we don’t give them the money directly. And, to be fair, a large amount of that money is eaten up by Medicaid. But I am not persuaded. After all, I don’t directly have the cash value of my stocks, but having them nonetheless provides a great cushion to my rich sense of self.

Recently at one of my soirees, a self-avowed communist pointed out that America, unlike nearly every other OECD country, except Turkey and my beloved Israel, actually spends more on its wealthy students than its poor. As she spoke, her male companion sipped my wine and complained generally about its notes of bourgeois self-satisfaction and hints of class antagonism. Done with her own diatribe, he continued on about how I’m missing the bigger picture—within OECD countries, the U.S. is near the bottom in terms of spending on social benefits, but it’s at the top in terms of inequality. He then complained about how the rich spend more on their kids’ education than any other economic class does, and how poor people with college degrees do about as well as rich high school dropouts. They both then began yammering about exploitation, alienation, capitalism, racism, and so on, so I ignored them.

You see, the real problem here is that poor people have a failed moral ecology. The Freddie Gray’s of the world are more likely to go to jail than the ballet. What they need are tutus, not handouts. Sure, jobs are all well and good, and there may be some logic in the notion that providing a fair chance at an equal education and a decent job might do something to reduce the incredibly high unemployment rate among African Americans, which could also have a negligible effect on other issues, such as seeing a point in going to school in the first place. But in the end, we don’t have a jobs or an education problem: we have a morality problem. These people are systematically corrupted. According to David Simon, whose brilliant show, “The Wire,” provides white people with all they really need to know about race in America, black people have even started to say incredibly indecent words to the very police who are murdering them. One fears to imagine just how far they can sink.

So what should we do? I’ve thought a lot about this in the last couple of hours, and I am at a loss. Unfortunately, nobody else seems to know either. Aside from W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Franz Fanon, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Robin Blackburn, Cornel West, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a whole host of other thinkers, academics, and activists who have been raging on about this issue for the last few hundred years, it seems that we don’t have a single person who can show us how to begin to tackle these intractable issues. Hopefully, that person will show up at my next dinner party.

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We Are All Jews Now

Hi, I’m David Brooks, and things are serious. Not serious in a somber way, how music can sometimes make us feel, but serious in an existential way, as when we see images that disturb us to our very core. Lately, one can’t help but turn on a television or open a laptop and see these sorts of images. Whether it’s a shot of a beach in which four children are killed by rocket fire, or a man being shot by a sniper as he shifts through rubble to find survivors, the world, it seems, is on fire, and there’s little the viewer can do but sit in anguish and watch.

The current war in Israel has been going on since mid-June.   We all know the story: three Israeli teenagers were hitchhiking home when they were abducted. One doesn’t need an actual investigation to know that it was Hamas, so Israel rightly started Operation Brother’s Keeper, arresting over three hundred Palestinians and killing five. Given the clear moral ecology of the situation, things should have stopped there. But Hamas has no such moral ecology—a terrorist group, they target civilians and believe unambiguously in a doctrine called political Islam, a radical view of the world that sees no difference between political and religious control. So, without provocation and for entirely ideological reasons, they began indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel, knowing that their own people would suffer for it.

Rather than remaining a mere victim, Israel then did what it had to do: it fought back. Some may think that Israel’s response is disproportionate, and the numbers are disturbing. Over six hundred Palestinians are dead now (most of whom are civilians, a third being children), and, tragically, twenty nine Israelis have been killed, two of whom, sadly enough, are civilians. While that balance might look off to some, just war theory tells us otherwise. As Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer pointed out recently, proportionality in just war theory means that the costs in casualties are proportional to the threat being confronted, not that equal numbers of people are killed. Given that Hamas has been firing generally ineffectual rockets into Israel’s Iron Dome as its citizens cower in their safe houses and bomb shelters, Israel had to use its advanced weaponry to respond. And given that Hamas uses its own civilians as human shields, Israel has found itself passively killing large numbers of them with the ethical precision that only American weaponry can provide. On paper, 609 to 29 might seem like an unfair ratio, but theoretically it makes perfect moral sense.

Israel’s hands are tied. Though the occupation, blockade, and the wall are meant to prevent these terrible deaths, they have not. Hamas knows that the more we see civilians being killed on TV, the more we will feel for Palestinians. This moral trap is horrible in its design and all the more reason to stop them. Offered a cease fire by Israel and Egypt, Hamas irrationally chose to continue its bombardment of Israel, providing no clear alternative but more violence.  It’s tragic that Hamas has forced Israel’s hand in this way, and none of us can help but feel for the Palestinian and Israeli people who are both suffering equally because of the actions of one illegitimate group. I wish we could place the blame elsewhere, but Benjamin Netanyahu is responding in the only rational way possible.

I go to Israel about once a year. Israel is a plucky country built on courage, almost awkwardly straightforward talk, and intense self-criticism. Unlike any other country in the world, Israel is a land that constantly faces its own issues and accepts responsibility for them. Arabs are surely very generous and open, but they lack such a culture of responsibility, which allows them to do terrible things and then blame others for it.  Given this impossible bind the Israeli government faces, it’s unclear what sort of end game we can hope for, but the world must stand by a country that is once again suffering extreme victimhood due to an immoral and barbaric ideology.  Until Hamas is eradicated or at least neutralized, Israel will have no rational actors to come to the table for a real peace agreement.  If I’m right, and I hope I’m not, we can expect our screens to continue to be filled with yet more fire and tragedy, and ourselves impotent rage.

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The Xanax Recession

Hi, I’m David Brooks. I know I’ve been away for a bit, but fortunately there’s Xanax for the difficult times in-between. Today, I read another article, finally, and I am feeling especially worried about our collective future, and it’s not because I haven’t refilled my prescription. Trust me, I have. But even Xanax can’t ultimately save us from the fact that we are in an existential crisis, one with no historical precedent and one for which there is no easy solution.

Back when things were good, there were two visions of the future (there were only two—I checked Wikipedia on this). On the one hand, you had the communist delusion of peace, love, equality, and collective happiness. On the other, you had the very rational vision of capitalism, with a dash of democracy, which was to be ruled by fierce competition and debilitating religious guilt.

Of course, for us only one vision could prevail. Americans, you see, have never had any interest in socialism. They have all always been happy with the democratic creed, which for a long time gave them a sense of mission, community, and cohesion.

Then came the cold war, and we won. But that’s the problem: in winning, everybody lost their sense of vision. Nobody, it seems, believes anything anymore. That’s what Mark Lilla says, and I fear he’s somewhat right, even if he’s just making it worse by pointing it out.

You see, here’s the problem: once we lost our grand, unifying and completely shared biblical point of view, we lost the point of democracy along with it. We used to promote democracy all around the world, but now we have stopped our mission of economically and militarily imposing our views on others whether they like it or not, and we are left alone with ourselves and our system of capitalism. What is most depressing is that when we look at what we have within our own borders, it feels very empty.

Indeed, there are no more democratic heroes; nobody cares if Christians are persecuted. Some might argue that much of this has to do with the notion that those heroes never really were all that heroic, or that there are, in fact, a great many voices crying out against the systematic persecution of people. It might even be proposed in some quarters that, contrary to Lilla’s argument that we are in an age of dogma, the slow and very deliberate construction of an ideology of libertarianism has finally come to fruition. What is actually true, these people argue, is that we really do believe in a grand vision, and in it we only see our individual selves competing, buying things, and posting on Facebook.

As reasoned as these positions are, I think they are mistaken. True democracy requires Christian principles of morality because freedom is too much for the little people to handle, and true democratic governments need to be ruled by selfish marketplaces because no ideas about the social good can ever lead to a better way of living. Until the two Bibles, The New Testament and The Wealth of Nations, can once again unrelentingly dominate the world, people will be lost in constructing their own meaning. They might not make us happy, but at least they’ll give us a purpose.

So I think it’s time we confront this very troubling question: if we aren’t focused on making other countries submit to our worldview, how will we ever know if it’s the right one?

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The Big Brother

Hi, I’m David Brooks, and fortunately for you I got rip-roaringly stoned last week. Being so high, I was able to make some fairly clear judgments about what you people down below need. First, it’s clear that democracy is in crisis. Now that we have no communists to oppose, aside from Obama, Americans and Europeans are dissatisfied with the effects of the system they so passionately fought for. No less, other democracies, like South Africa, haven’t figured out that secretly stuffing ballots is much less efficient than publicly buying votes, but they’ll surely come around to the American way eventually.

Worse still is that things are great economically: productivity has been on the rise in many countries, bringing great wealth and happiness to common people such as yourself. This is the good news. On the other hand, governments are becoming less productive, at least in Britain, the only country I looked up, which is the bad news.

So, as the title of a journal I briefly glanced at indicates, we are facing a question: what is the best way to make sure our actually existing democracy doesn’t turn into a real democracy, which would be the really, really bad news for people like me?

On the back flap of Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s book, The Fourth Revolution, I was struck by how a couple of people pointed out the overwhelming positives of guardian states such as Singapore and China. They have an inconsistent and meager safety net, so poor people are left to rot if they are not particularly good at anything; their best students are forced into government service and iPhone production, whether they like it or not; and their retirement system, which includes what barely passes under the definition of ‘pension’, leaves workers pretty much on their own. If that’s not the pursuit of happiness, then I clearly don’t know what is (unfortunately, the definition wasn’t included on the back flap).

Of course, there are some downsides. There’s a bit of absolute corruption, and local government tends to be dictated by the state, but I think those downsides are really net plusses. If you think about it, which might be hard for you, wouldn’t you rather have your children go to school six days a week for extremely long periods of time and then suffer a high tendency towards suicide? No less, isn’t it clear that having almost no pension system is better than having a well-funded one? The one semi-poor person I talked to for a few minutes told me that his fellow poor people would certainly want these things, and I’d argue that’s proof enough.

So how do we bring our dying democracy back to life? The simplest and final solution is to simply kill off the inferior system we currently have. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the problem is that there’s just too much democracy in Washington—all of that earnest political discussion has gotten in the way of real progress. I’m fairly certain from my cursory readings that there is no essential issue with how capitalism itself works. The problem is all of those interest groups in Washington. We should simply replace them, including that especially irritating member, the people, with absolutely powerful councils that will negotiate great, sweeping changes from on high. But councils on their own are ineffective. Using the most advanced methods of propaganda, they will have to indoctrinate the masses with their ideas so thoroughly that resistance will be minimal. We already know from Fox news and Hitler that if you repeat something often enough and with little rationality, not to mention the full force of ideological state apparatuses, people will get worked up and act.

It’s at that point that we can really start watering our grass roots democracy. Once the people have been brow-beaten into docile conformity, they will be poised to act according to the whims of the grand elite. As their Guardians, we will make sure they understand that democracy is nothing other than the smooth functioning of markets in the interest of the ruling class. They will then hunger voraciously for charity, compete viciously for entrance to charter schools, and scramble desperately to return all public services back to the market.  Only then will they understand how work doled out from the Makers of the market place will set them free.

Our country used to be innovative, and we can be again. A malleable, unthinking workforce has always been the necessary grist for the mill of democracy, or markets, which are essentially interchangeable concepts. So call it trickle-down Guardianship, or call it autocracy. I like to call it the future.

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Stairway to Kevin

Hi, I’m David Brooks, but you obviously knew that. What you didn’t know is me, for you’ve never really smelled me. I mean stood right next to me and took a deep, explorative inhale of all my bodily, emotional, and intellectual prowess, like my dog Bobo does. See, I’m a journalist of the highest order, and though I’m self-deprecating at times, I don’t really mean it. I’ve read four or five studies in my lifetime, and almost as many books, so I know that great journalism, at least my own, is superior to them all. Those that I haven’t read were dismissed according to the measured whims whooshing around in my cavernous intellect. Now, in inferior readings, the data indicates that abortions and teen pregnancies are falling, and evidence is pointing to certain clear reasons, like the increased use of IUD’s and sex ed classes, as indicators. The fact that kids are having more sex than ever, of course, is yet another indicator of our general moral decline, but at least the rabble aren’t reproducing.  But that’s only research—it can give you good ideas about how to solve serious social ills, cure diseases, and steer policy for the betterment of an entire nation or even world, but those things are just a bunch of abstract, shallow talk.

You see, people don’t get pregnant in multiples—they do it on their own, one by one, all alone in their room, or in a back alley, or in the car while traffic is really slow. Numbers and systematic analysis are great for the little people, but the highest form of knowing can’t be found in mere digits. No, despite certain arcane and thus useless arguments that span the history of philosophy, science and mathematics, numbers cannot take you to those pinnacles of understanding where I reside.   I tell you, it’s very lonely up here sometimes.

Speaking of which, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten high. I know that I said a while back that I’ve been there and done that, and that most of us do not have a strong enough moral ecology to pick up a bong and really toke away responsibly, especially single mothers and black and brown people, but being none of those types and having known someone who knew one of them once, I’m pretty confident that I can, once again, be your Prometheus and light up to bring back to humanity yet more great knowledge from the nether regions of my mind. I don’t know where I’m going with this piece anyway, so let me get out my old high school bong and some high-grade marijuana I just happen to have and see what happens.

Hold on a sec. Ok. Uh huh, yeah, that feels familiar. Hmmmm. OK, I’m tingling now, which is pretty awesome. No, this is some really intense shit. I’m definitely getting deep now. I thought I was totally fucking brilliant, but this is amazing! Whoa, and this is not creeper pot, it’s coming on fast, like really, really

fassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Oh shit, sorry man, I totally just left my finger down on the keyboard and watched it. Those squiggly lines, like right after one another, it’s like an ocean of waves and shit, just, like, crashing up on each other without really touching, which is totally like how I get off. Man, I miss my wife. Why didn’t she understand? It was just a website. Jesus, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, getting deep! Duuuude, now I’ve totally got a thought—it’s like, it’s like I’m just making this shit up…but it’s so fucking good. Speaking of fucking good, Stairway to Heaven is such an epic song. I mean, does that shit ever get old? I don’t think so, man. It’s only like a few minutes long, but it feels like a full-on lifetime journey. Man, my stoner friend Kevin and me used to totally listen to that song in high school and talk about deep, spiritual shit. I full-on miss Kevin. Kevin, if you’re reading this, we should hook up!  We could toke up, listen to Stairway, and talk about that Augustine saint dude. You would totally dig him.  His was one of the two books I totally read in college, or I went to the lectures, like a couple, I think, and one was all about loving people really closely—like knowing their fear by smelling it, you know? I tried that, but it creeped people out. What’s wrong with smelling people while hanging out? They so judged me for that, and I wasn’t poor or black or anything.  Jeez, college was rough. Kevin would understand. Dude, I’m really fucked up now. Weed did not used to be this intense.  I think I’m gonna cry.

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I, Like Piketty, Am Queasy-Marxist

Hi, I’m David Brooks, and like a fine wine, that fact only improves with age. As I noted, again, in one of my past editorials, I teach a course at Yale, and I only pointed it out to establish, again, my humility and vast, cavernous knowledge. I also recently wrote about this Picketty person, who responded to me in some online second-tier news publication. Of course, being French, he had to choose a publication called Salon. But let’s get to the point. I argued irrefutably, as I’m sure you recall, that Picketty absurdly assumes slow growth for a long period of time, to which he says:

“I do my best to respond to them in the book. As a general response, let me say that I don’t know what the future value of the growth rate and the rate of return will be. It could be that we manage to get a lot higher growth that we’ve had in the past. It could be that we are all going to have so many children, and we are all going to be making so many new inventions, that the growth rate will be 4 or 5 percent, and will be as large as the rate of return. . . . You know, this could happen. But it would really be an incredible coincidence.”

You know what an incredible coincidence is? Students arriving at Yale and finding my course still has an opening. In any case, I read the entire introduction to Capital, and it’s clear that this is yet another Frenchman pontificating about abstract generalities. For instance, as I wrote about Africa last week, it’s obvious that once you get really, really productive, massive growth just follows. Piketty says there aren’t any “natural forces” that will bring us high growth and wealth for all, but he forgets the magic of capitalism, which only slows down when you start taking taxes away from wealthy people like me. Why tax the rich when you can use that money to promote growth? There’s no clear evidence that supply-side economics doesn’t work, and the more I have, the more likely I am to hire poor people to clean up my enormous lawn. What creates all of this fantastic growth in places like Africa is not increased taxes, nor is it a fair distribution of wealth. No, it’s the deep inter-connectivity created cell phones. Sure, developing nations may be a tad bit different than other nations that have already gone through that phase, and maybe Nigeria’s birthrate is growing while ours, like most advanced countries, is declining, but who needs babies, or even direct experiences, when you have an iPhone, which is not all that different from actually having a baby.

Piketty then blathers on about evidence: “a lot of evidence suggesting that even if we try to promote innovation as much as we can, and even if we try to increase growth rate as much as we can – and I am certainly in favor of any policy going in this direction – that even if we do that, that’s not going to bring us to a 4 or 5 percent growth rate. We are still going to be somewhere between 1 and 2 percent, at least for productivity growth.”

In response, I would point to this evidence: simply by looking up some statistics about Africa on Wikipedia, which is how I prepare for my Yale courses, his whole case is destroyed. Now he may be an economist, but he is French, and as I pointed out a while back, that makes him introspective, puerile, and lazy.

It’s true, I do sometimes worry that we (and by ‘we’, I mean incoming college Freshman at UCLA) are too focused on economic success rather than having a rich inner life. Certainly, the declining moral ecology of stoner single-mothers is a great cultural warning sign. I’m sure, however, that along with the fantastic productive increase in places like Nigeria and China, the populations are finding the time and desire to read great books, contemplate big ideas, and spend nights in rapturous conversation while trying hard not to urinate, just like we all did, college grads and factory workers alike, in the golden age of America. Never mind that taxes were high, college was cheap, productivity was increasing, and economic inequality was lower back then. The point is that Piketty, for all of his French intellectual powers, cannot understand that there is no great contradiction between a single-minded focus on productivity and a deep intellectual life, or that technological advances surely mean a hard and rising growth for all, such that one can have one’s Johnson and eat it too.

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Stop Pikettying on Me

Hi, I’m David Brooks, and thank God, because there’s a specter haunting the beloved capitalism that brought me, through sheer force of my unbelievable work ethic, into the four-million-dollar mansion in which I now write this. As I compose, I’m staring at a painting I recently commissioned—it’s a beautifully rendered image of a pair of boot straps. The painter, one of those classic starving artists I, like my rich friends, love to give charity to, entitled it “Bullshit,” but I thought that a more accurate title was “Me,” and so I changed it. I even drew a little picture of my face above the boot straps, and I dare say it’s as good as the artist’s. He doesn’t know, but that’s what property is all about.

Speaking of which, a few people are getting all uppity about capitalism again. Not the stoner poor, or even middle-class folks. As they know, we’re treating them just fine through our job creation, decent wages,  and excellent charity work. What I’m talking about are the young coastal professionals, who every now and again start to fret because they aren’t next to me in the upper economic echelons. They see me at a party, with my fine suit, immense gravitas, and fantastic glasses, and think, “he has no trouble paying for his kids’ college fund to Yale—heck, it’s probably free because he taught there.” (Note: I did teach there—it was an absolutely fabulous course on humility).

So here comes Piketty, and despite the fact that I have only a vague idea of how economics work and haven’t, like many of my fellow critics, actually read his book, it’s clearly wrong. First, it talks about slow growth, but innovation is everywhere, and everyone knows that innovation leads to massive growth for  everybody, so after reading the first page, I was like, what’s up with that, Piketty? Second, he talks about concentration of wealth in family fortunes, but they’ve declined before, and Bill Gates has given loads away and is nearly middle-class now. I didn’t read any further, but the huge caverns of my mind understood.

Of course, I completely ignored the central thesis of his work—that the natural state of capitalism is to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few when governments or events like wars don’t intervene, which is why, thank God, or Mammon, or whatever, we’re in a second gilded age. I also ignored the broad sweep of his massive investigation into tax records, and just history in general, because as the wise saying goes, ‘rich people who ignore history tend to feel a whole lot better just before the icky revolutionary part repeats itself’.

But, my wealthy comrades of the world, let’s unite. We can easily appear to change things and keep our money by, first, upping the inheritance tax a tad. Add a couple of percentage points and then talk about death and farmers a lot. Two, add a small consumptive tax—pay a couple grand extra for that jet plain or Maserati: you can cover it, and you can then go on about how you give back to the people while you fly over them.

But most of all, just keep talking the way you have for the last forty years: tell the proles that free markets and trickle-down economics are the only way for job makers to help all the little takers. Tell them to increase productivity and things will be fine. Tell them that government and labor interventions never help workers and only hurt job creators. Tell them that the Great Depression and The Great Recession, never mind all of the other Great Moments in between, are just a part of the magical deregulatory creative destruction that makes their lives better. And then tell them to read some Ayn Rand, for it is simple enough that even a graduate from a public school could understand it. Because, as we all know, an unregulated market is the only way to raise all boats, not just the yachts that are smaller than mine.

And since I’m so charitable, you can freely read the rest here.

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