David Brooks | America Is Falling Apart at the Seams – The New York Times – And my response

Opinion Columnist

“In June a statistic floated across my desk that startled me. In 2020, the number of miles Americans drove fell 13 percent because of the pandemic, but the number of traffic deaths rose 7 percent.

I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Americans be driving so much more recklessly during the pandemic? But then in the first half of 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle deaths were up 18.4 percent even over 2020. Contributing factors, according to the agency, included driving under the influence, speeding and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Why are so many Americans driving irresponsibly?

While gloomy numbers like these were rattling around in my brain, a Substack article from Matthew Yglesias hit my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.”

“. . . But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.

What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful and challenging column. You do have a blind spot, or malfunction, like the EVSE I use to charge up my two electric cars, or one electric car, and a Prius Prime, which is only electric for 25 miles in the summer. To fix the EVSE, when some widget seizes up, the manufacturer said, turn off the breaker, and hit the unit with a rubber mallet really hard. And it worked. I wonder if a rubber mallet would unstick you. I’d like to add to your thoughtful short list of the usual suspects, climate change and the sixth extinction, and the world overpopulation which are the cause of both. My adult daughter says she might not have any children because of these environmental crises. My adult son son says nothing I do for mitigation matters, since we have probably already passed the tipping point, and human life on the planet is probably doomed. I write about this stuff, with weird dark thoughts intruding on my brain, when awake and asleep. One sick thought, is that the pandemic has failed, because it hasn’t killed enough people. I admit this is a dark and ugly thought, but so is driving thousands of non human species into extinction, which is real, and going on this century, and accelerating. Are we committing an unforgiveable sin against other forms of life?
David blogs at InconvenientNews.Net
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In addition,  one irony of this sin of human overpopulation and consumption, and of our poisoning the water, the air, the land, and the atmosphere, is that according to the late scientist Edward O Wilson, if we kill off over 50% of the world’s other species, which is where we are headed, the human species will probably not survive. During the 5th and last great extinction in the geological record, when the dinosaurs died off, so did probably about 95% of the world’s other species at that time.

Rebecca Solnit | Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies – The New York Times

Ms. Solnit is a political essayist.

“When called upon to believe that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya, millions got in line. When encouraged to believe that the 2012 Sandy Hook murder of twenty children and six adults was a hoax, too many stepped up. When urged to believe that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor with no basement, they bought it, and one of them showed up in the pizza place with a rifle to protect the kids. The fictions fed the frenzies, and the frenzies shaped the crises of 2020 and 2021. The delusions are legion: Secret Democratic cabals of child abusers, millions of undocumented voters, falsehoods about the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine.

While much has been said about the moral and political stance of people who support right-wing conspiracy theories, their gullibility is itself alarming. Gullibility means malleability and manipulability. We don’t know if the people who believed the prevailing 2012 conspiracy theories believed the 2016 or 2020 versions, but we do know that a swath of the conservative population is available for the next delusion and the one after that. And on Jan. 6, 2021, we saw that a lot of them were willing to act on those beliefs.

The adjective gullible comes from the verb to gull, which used to mean to cram yourself with something as well as to cheat or dupe, to cram someone else full of fictions. “Not doubting I could gull the Government,” wrote Daniel Defoe in 1701, and Hannah Arendt used the word gullible repeatedly in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published in 1951. “A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility,” she wrote. That is, among those gulling the public, cynicism is a stronger force; among those being gulled, gullibility is, but the two are not so separate as they might seem.”

Lori Teresa Yearwood | The Bill for My Homelessness Was $54,000 – The New York Times

Ms. Yearwood is a reporter covering housing for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

“My descent into homelessness felt as though it happened in the blink of an eye. It was as if one moment I was standing in a meadow next to my horses, stroking their manes, and the next I was lying inside a plastic garbage bag on a park bench, wrapping clothes around my shivering body.

In fact, it happened over the course of 12 devastating months from 2013 to 2014. The house I was renting in Oregon burned down. My mother died of a cancer that, until a short time earlier, no one knew she had. My family fell into a bitter dispute over her inheritance and ostracized me. My beagle died. I was emotionally burdened to the point of being unable to run the business I had owned for nearly a decade, let alone pay my rent. Eventually, I was told to pack my bags and leave the new place I had rented after the fire.

My journey into homelessness was traumatic, but it was also incredibly expensive, and that’s what I want to focus on here. By the time I walked away from that park bench two years later, I had accrued more than $54,000 in debt.”

Peter Coy | A Spirit of Gratitude Is Healthy for Society – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“Greetings as we approach the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving celebration. The Pilgrims in 1621 had much to be thankful for. They had arrived a year earlier with “no friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure,” in the words of their leader, William Bradford. The Wampanoags, hoping the white settlers would help them fight other tribes, helped them survive the harsh winter. The wary allies celebrated that fall with a feast of turkeys, ducks and venison, although probably not cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.

What does giving thanks have to do with economics? A lot, actually. I apologize if this sounds like an imitation of a David Brooks column, but the truth is that a spirit of gratitude motivates precisely the behaviors that a successful economy requires, particularly patience and generosity. For this newsletter I interviewed David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University (about 35 miles from where the Pilgrims landed), who is one of the leading authorities on the social effects of gratitude.

DeSteno’s recent papers include “Gratitude Reduces Consumption of Depleting Resources,” completed last year with Shanyu Kates, and “The Grateful Don’t Cheat: Gratitude as a Fount of Virtue” written with Fred Duong, Daniel Lim and Kates and published in Psychological Science in 2019. He published a book this year titled “How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion.” I also recommend a talk that he gave at Google in 2018 on the topic of gratitude.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Peter Coy. I just sent the following to your newsletter email:
I just turned 69 yesterday, and it is very tempting to say, What is there to be grateful for? I quickly smile, to communicate the intended humor, and my loving partner chirps back, Well, consider the alternative. I’m grateful for a beautiful partner, house, family, and friends. I’d like to include neighbors, but they refuse to speak to me, for not being just as Republican as they are, or something. I was never good at keeping my opinions to myself.
I am grateful for having Peter Coy in my life, first at Business Week, which I have subscribed to for decades, and now, at the New York Times. I deeply respect journalists who work hard to figure things out and explain them. That is what I aspire to do every day, as I read and write about climate change and the sixth extinction.
I’ve just added to my new manuscript, a joke reported the other day by Thomas Friedman, that he heard at the Cop 26 climate summit in Glasgow. Two planets are talking to each other, One looks like a beautiful blue marble, and the other a dirty brown ball. “What on earth happened to you?” the beautiful planet asks the brown one. “I had Homo Sapiens,” answers the brown planet. “Don’t worry,” says the blue planet. “They don’t last long.”
Yours, David
Author of: “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-Century Vietnam” Blogging at: InconvenientNews.Net,

David Brooks | Imagination Is More Important Than You Think – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato gave the impression that imagination is a somewhat airy-fairy luxury good. It deals with illusions and make-believe and distracts us from reality and our capacity to coolly reason about it. Aristotle countered that imagination is one of the foundations of all knowledge.

One tragedy of our day is that our culture hasn’t fully realized how much Aristotle was correct. Our society isn’t good at cultivating the faculty that we may need the most.

What is imagination? Well, one way of looking at it is that every waking second your brain is bombarded with a buzzing, blooming confusion of colors, shapes and movements. Imagination is the capacity to make associations among all these bits of information and to synthesize them into patterns and concepts. When you walk, say, into a coffee shop you don’t see an array of surfaces, lights and angles. Your imagination instantly coalesces all that into an image: “coffee shop.”

Neuroscientists have come to appreciate how fantastically complicated and subjective this process of creating mental images really is. You may think perception is a simple “objective” process of taking in the world and cognition is a complicated process of thinking about it. But that’s wrong.

Perception — the fast process of selecting, putting together, interpreting and experiencing facts, thoughts and emotions — is the essential poetic act that makes you you.

Bret Stephens | Why Wokeness Will Fail – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“American history is, in many ways, a story of grand protests. They generally come in two types.

There are protest movements that, even in ferocious dissent, believe that the American system is ultimately geared to fulfill its inner promises — of equality, unalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness, e pluribus unum, a more perfect union. This is what Frederick Douglass had in mind when, in an otherwise scathing indictment of America’s hypocrisy, he called the Constitution a “glorious liberty document.”

And there are protest movements that have turned against the system, either because they don’t think the system can meet its promises, or because they never agreed with the promises in the first place. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock,” Malcolm X said memorably. “The rock was landed on us.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Bret Stephens. The clarity here of your analysis is magnificent, such as your juxtaposition of Frederick Douglas vs Malcolm X. You prove to be a friend of social progress, and left wing Democrats and wingnuts should take notes. It is not enough to be right in a democracy, you also have to talk into the comfort zone of the middle majority.

Thomas B. Edsall | ‘It’s Become Increasingly Hard for boys and men to Feel Good About Themselves’ – The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

“Is there a whole class of men who no longer fit into the social order?

A decade ago, Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan, economists at the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore, concluded in their paper “The Trouble With Boys: Social Influences and the Gender Gap in Disruptive Behavior”:

Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavioral deficit. Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly. For example, the gender gap in externalizing problems when the children are in fifth grade is nearly twice as large for children raised by single mothers compared to children raised in traditional families. By eighth grade, the gender gap in school suspension is close to 25 percentage points among children raised by single mothers, while only 10 percentage points among children in intact families. Boys raised by teenage mothers also appear to be much more likely to act out.”

David Brooks | How the Brain Shapes Reality and Imagination – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“You may think you understand the difference between seeing something and imagining it. When you see something, it’s really there; when you imagine it, you make it up. That feels very different.

The problem is that when researchers ask people to imagine something, like a tomato, and then give some of them a just barely visible image of a tomato, they find that the process of imagining it is hard to totally separate from the process of seeing it. In fact, they use a lot of the same brain areas.

And when you stop to think about it, that makes some sense. Your brain is locked in the pitch-black bony vault of your skull, trying to use scraps of information to piece together the world. Even when it’s seeing, it’s partly constructing what’s out there based on experience. “It turns out, reality and imagination are completely intermixed in our brain,” Nadine Dijkstra writes in Nautilus, “which means that the separation between our inner world and the outside world is not as clear as we might like to think.”

Bravo David Brooks.  Don’t let the bastards get you down. Many of the top commenters do not see any relevance between this column and the problems we face today. Brooks lets his readers connect the dots, and some of them can not.  I am currently reading, “Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer, a famous member of Hitler’s inner group. Still in the beginning of this biography, the connections between Hitler, Trump, and the essay by Brooks are apparent. People who are depressed and scared are easily manipulated by someone who sees their fears and wants to turn them against some enemy or enemies, to relieve them of their suffering. The complexity of the human mind, which naturally mixes facts with fantasy, is fertile for such charlatans.

Here are two of my favorite comments.

Hannah M
Baltimore Sept. 3
Times Pick

Genuinely surprised to see so many people comment that this is an indulgent or throwaway topic. My first thought after catching the column’s drift was—exactly! This is the science that explains why we’re so polarized as a country, why it feels as if people are living in side-by-side realities. Fear is the emotional basis for many of our “rational” stances and decisions—for white Trump supporters, the fear of losing power and being “replaced.” This science is a mechanism by which we could admit when we’re wrong and start to come out of delusions—and that reconciliation is what has to happen for democracy to continue here (if you’re in doubt, read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson). Just because it isn’t likely that Americans will start to learn about this science and apply it to themselves doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely relevant.

9 Replies334 Recommended
David
Lexington, MASept. 3
Times Pick

I appreciate Brooks’ sketch of open questions and debates in cognitive neuroscience and in theory of mind. It points toward the possibility of a radical, experiential shift in understanding the self. Buddhist teaching grounded in mediation and articulated in Madhyamaka philosophy has a lot to say about the un-findability of the conventional self. My favorite short summary comes from Kalu Rinpoche: “You live in a world of illusion. There is a reality. You are that reality. When you realize this, you realize you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”

228 Recommended

David Brooks | What’s Ripping American Families Apart? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

At least 27 percent of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family, and research suggests about 40 percent of Americans have experienced estrangement at some point.

The most common form of estrangement is between adult children and one or both parents — a cut usually initiated by the child. A study published in 2010 found that parents in the U.S. are about twice as likely to be in a contentious relationship with their adult children as parents in Israel, Germany, England and Spain.

The Cornell sociologist Karl Pillemer, author of “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them,” writes that the children in these cases often cite harsh parenting, parental favoritism, divorce and poor and increasingly hostile communication often culminating in a volcanic event. As one woman told Salon: “I have someone out to get me, and it’s my mother. My part of being a good mom has been getting my son away from mine.”

” . . .  I confess, I don’t understand what’s causing this. But social pain and vulnerability are affecting everything: our families, schools, politics and even our sports.

A friend notes that politics has begun to feel like an arena where many people can process and regulate their emotional turmoil indirectly. Anxiety, depression and anger are hard to deal with within the tangled intimacy of family life. But political tribalism becomes a mechanism with which people can shore themselves up, vanquish shame, fight for righteousness and find a sense of belonging.

People who feel betrayed will lash out at someone if there is no one there to help them process their underlying hurt. As the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr wisely wrote, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”    -30-

David Lindsay:  Thank you David Brooks for this sad but helpful essay.  This is another of your masterful organizations of excellent sources. You ended it with, “People who feel betrayed will lash out at someone if there is no one there to help them process their underlying hurt. As the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr wisely wrote, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
I hope you now write just about the idea in the last sentence by Richard Rohr, who happens to be one of my most important teachers on religion. He helped me to return to Christianity, through the big tent and environmentally conscious teachings of Saint Francis of Assis in his book, “Eager to Love.”
David Lindsay Jr is a writer and author who blogs at InconvenientNews.Net

Ezra Klein | What if the Unvaccinated Can’t Be Persuaded? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I hate that I believe the sentence I’m about to write. It undermines much of what I spend my life trying to do. But there is nothing more overrated in politics — and perhaps in life — than the power of persuasion.

It is nearly impossible to convince people of what they don’t want to believe. Decades of work in psychology attest to this truth, as does most everything in our politics and most of our everyday experience. Think of your own conversations with your family or your colleagues. How often have you really persuaded someone to abandon a strongly held belief or preference? Persuasion is by no means impossible or unimportant, but on electric topics, it is a marginal phenomenon.

Which brings me to the difficult choice we face on coronavirus vaccinations. The conventional wisdom is that there is some argument, yet unmade and perhaps undiscovered, that will change the minds of the roughly 30 percent of American adults who haven’t gotten at least one dose. There probably isn’t. The unvaccinated often hold their views strongly, and many are making considered, cost-benefit calculations given how they weigh the risks of the virus, and the information sources they trust to inform them of those risks. For all the exhortations to respect their concerns, there is a deep condescension in believing that we’re smart enough to discover or invent some appeal they haven’t yet heard.

If policymakers want to change their minds, they have to change their calculations by raising the costs of remaining unvaccinated, the benefits of getting vaccinated, or both. If they can’t do that, or won’t, the vaccination effort will most likely remain stuck — at least until a variant wreaks sufficient carnage to change the calculus.”

Ezra Klein is professionally delicate. The comments are far more direct and forceful. Time for sticks. No vaccination, no more access to public events, no more access to government services and payments, no more health or life insurance. Carrots don’t work, but sticks do.