David Brooks | Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is – The New York Times

” . . . When I think of the wise people in my own life, they are like that. It’s not the life-altering words of wisdom that drop from their lips, it’s the way they receive others. Too often the public depictions of wisdom involve remote, elderly sages who you approach with trepidation — and who give the perfect life-altering advice — Yoda, Dumbledore, Solomon. When a group of influential academics sought to define wisdom, they focused on how much knowledge a wise person had accumulated. Wisdom, they wrote, was “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.”

But when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realizations.

Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.

Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle. They see our narratives both from the inside, as we experience them, and from the outside, as we can’t. They see the ways we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus uncertainty — and understand that our current self is just where we are right now, part of a long continuum of growth.

I have a friend, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke and learned at age 35 that she had stage IV cancer. In real life, and on her podcast, “Everything Happens,” I have seen her use her story again and again as a platform to let others frame their best story. Her confrontation with early death, and her alternating sad and hilarious responses to it, draws out a kind of candor in others. She models a vulnerability, and a focus on the big issues, and helps people understand where they are now.

People only change after they’ve felt understood. The really good confidants — the people we go to for wisdom — are more like story editors than sages. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to reconsider it so you can change your relationship to your past and future. They ask you to clarify what it is you really want, or what baggage you left out of your clean tale. They ask you to probe for the deep problem that underlies the convenient surface problem you’ve come to them with.

It is this skillful, patient process of walking people to their own conclusions that feels like wisdom; maybe that’s why Aristotle called ethics a “social practice.”   . . . “

David Brooks | The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“What is the quintessential American act? It is the leap of faith. The first European settlers left the comfort of their old countries and migrated to brutal conditions, convinced the future would be better on this continent. Immigrants all crossed oceans or wilderness to someplace they didn’t know, hoping that their children would someday breathe the atmosphere of prosperity and freedom.

Here we are again, one of those moments when we take a leap, a gamble, beckoned by the vision of new possibility. The early days of the Biden administration are nothing if not a daring leap.

I asked Anita Dunn, one of President Biden’s senior advisers, to reflect on the three giant proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure and the coming “family” plan. What vision binds them together? What is this thing, Bidenomics? Interestingly, she mentioned China.

This could be the Chinese century, with their dynamism and our decay. The unexpected combination of raw capitalism, authoritarianism and state direction of the economy could make China the dominant model around the globe. President Biden, Dunn said, believes that democracy needs to remind the world that it, too, can solve big problems. Democracy needs to stand up and show that we are still the future.

I asked Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, where our vulnerabilities lie. It is in our public goods, she said, the degradation of our common life.

“The model of the past 40 years has been to rely on the private sector to carry the load, but that sector is not best suited to deliver certain public goods like work force training and infrastructure investment,” she told me. “These are places where there is market failure, which creates a role for government.”

Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said that Bidenomics has three key prongs: an effort to distribute money to those on the lower end of the income scale, an effort to use climate change as an opportunity to reinvent our energy and transportation systems, and an effort to replicate the daring of the moon shot by investing big-time in research and development.

Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.

Bidenomics is a massive bid to promote economic dynamism. It’s not only the R&D spending and the green energy stuff; it’s also the massive investment in kids and human capital.”  . . .

David Brooks | Joe Biden Is a Transformational President – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

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Credit…Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

“This has been one of the most quietly consequential weeks in recent American politics.

The Covid-19 relief law that was just enacted is one of the most important pieces of legislation of our lifetimes. As Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine, the poorest fifth of households will see their income rise by 20 percent; a family of four with one working and one unemployed parent will receive $12,460 in benefits. Child poverty will be cut in half.

The law stretches far beyond Covid-19 relief. There’s a billion for national service programs. Black farmers will receive over $4 billion in what looks like a step toward reparations. There’s a huge expansion of health insurance subsidies. Many of these changes, like the child tax credit, may well become permanent.

As Michael Hendrix of the Manhattan Institute notes, America spent $4.8 trillion in today’s dollars fighting World War II. Over the past year, America has spent over $5.5 trillion fighting the pandemic.

In a polarized era, the legislation is widely popular. Three-quarters of Americans support the law, including 60 percent of Republicans, according to a Morning Consult survey. The Republican members of Congress voted against it, but the G.O.P. shows no interest in turning this into a great partisan battle. As I began to write this on Thursday morning, the Fox News home page had only two stories on the Covid relief bill and dozens on things like the royal family and cancel culture.

Somehow low-key Joe Biden gets yawns when he promotes progressive policies that would generate howls if promoted by a President Sanders or a President Warren.

This moment is like 1981, the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, except in reverse. It’s not just that government is heading in a new direction, it’s that the whole paradigm of the role of government in American life is shifting. Biden is not causing these tectonic plates to shift, but he is riding them.”  . . .

It has become a covid lockdown tradition here for us on Friday night to watch the PBS News Hour with Judy Woodruff, and with analysis near the end by David Brooks and now Jonathan Capehart. Then Judy ends with a video collage In Memorium of 5 people who have died recently of Covid-19, with photos and stories submitted by their families. It is breathtakingly sad.
In the 7 or 10 minutes of Brooks and Capehart, Brooks usually summarizes his op-ed from that same Friday’s NYT in one or two sentences, which is quite a feat of discipline and taciturnity. And what a great column he wrote. (above)

By David Brooks | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.

It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.

One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.

These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.” . .

Brooks goes on to say that what scientists say works, is integrating neighborhoods, schools, teams and organizations. Social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote decades ago about a contact hypothesis.  Only doing things together changes prejudice and minds.

Opinion | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.”

Opinion | The Sidney Awards – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Getty Images

“This has not been a great period for free expression. The range of socially acceptable opinion has shrunk, as independent-minded journalists and experts have been eased out of their jobs at places ranging from New York magazine to Boeing and Civis Analytics for saying unorthodox things. The esteemed scholar James R. Flynn wrote a book called “In Defense of Free Speech” which was in turn canceled by his publisher for being too controversial.

Fortunately, a range of people from across the political spectrum have arisen to defend free inquiry, including Noam Chomsky, Cathy Young, the University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, Caitlin Flanagan, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Jonathan Haidt, John McWhorter, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch and magazines like Quillette and Tablet.

Rauch was the subject of an interview by Nick Gillespie in Reason magazine, called “How to Tell if You’re Being Canceled,” which gets the first Sidney of 2020, the awards I give out for the best long-form essays of each year. Rauch was an early vocal champion of the movement for same-sex marriage, which was led by people who, in the early years, said things that seemed shocking and offensive to others. All they had back then was their freedom of speech, Rauch observes.

In Reason, he takes up the argument that certain ideas should be unsaid because they make other people feel unsafe. “The emotional safety argument, I argue, is fundamentally illiberal, and there is really nothing about it that can be salvaged. It is just inconsistent with the open society,” Rauch says.

“The notion here is that emotional injury is a kind of harm like physical injury, and because it’s a kind of harm it’s a rights violation. The problem is this is a completely subjective standard, and it makes any form of criticism potentially subject to censorship and cancellation and lumps science into a human rights violation.”

Opinion | Mark Shields and the Best of American Liberalism – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist,  Dec. 17, 2020

“Every Friday evening for the last 19 years, Mark Shields and I have gathered to talk politics on the “PBS NewsHour.” When people come up to me to discuss our segment, sometimes they mention the things we said to each other, but more often they mention how we clearly feel about each other — the affection, friendship and respect. We’ve had thousands of disagreements over the years, but never a second of acrimony. Mark radiates a generosity of spirit that improves all who come within his light.

This week, at 83, and after 33 years total on the show, Mark announced he was stepping back from his regular duties. Friday will be our final regular segment together. I want to not only pay tribute to him here, but also to capture his conception of politics, because it’s different from the conception many people carry in their heads these days.

We are all imprinted as children and young adults with certain ideas about the world, which stay with us for the rest of our lives. Mark, like many who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s — including Joe Biden — was imprinted with the idea that politics is a deeply noble profession, a form of service, a vocation.

Mark’s father was the first Catholic to serve on their town’s school board. The first time he saw his mother cry was when Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Mark went off to Notre Dame and then served in the Marine Corps, before working as a congressional aide.

This was the mid-60s. Evidence that government worked was all around. The G.I. Bill had worked, though mostly for whites. Mark had served with Black Marines because Harry Truman had the courage to integrate the military. Mark saw the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

There was never a moment when passing this stuff was easy, but everybody took for granted the legitimacy of the system, treasured the country and the way it worked. “The two hallmarks of American politics are optimism and pragmatism,” Mark told me this week, pointing to the optimism of F.D.R., J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan.

To this day Mark argues that politics is about looking for converts, not punishing heretics. You pass bills and win campaigns by bending to accommodate those whose votes can be gotten.

He went on to work on and run political campaigns, for people like Bobby Kennedy and Ed Muskie. He came to deeply respect those he worked to elect, including presidential candidate Mo Udall: “Just a great human being.” Vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver: “He had the best relations with his family of any candidate I have known. His kids revered him.” And Gov. Jack Gilligan of Ohio: He “believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.”

After decades in journalism, Mark still puts the character lens before the partisan lens. He has been quick to criticize Democrats when they are snobbish, dishonest or fail to live up to the standards of basic decency — often infuriating some of our viewers.

I don’t know if it was midcentury liberalism or the midcentury record of the Boston Red Sox, but Mark instinctively identifies with the underdog. Every year he invites me to do an event with him with Catholic social workers. These are people who serve the poor and live among the poor. They have really inexpensive clothing and really radiant faces, and in their lives you see the embodiment of an entire moral system, Catholic social teaching, which has its service arm and, in Mark, its political and journalistic arm.”   . . . . .

Through out the Trump presidency, my lady and I have stayed tuned to the PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff, which we tape, and often watch in the middle of dinner. During the pandemic, we became more faithful, and our favorite nights were Friday, ending with Mark Shields and David Brooks, and the weekends, reduced to 30 minutes, and with the firm thoughtful voice of Hari Sreenivasan. 30 minutes requires better discipline, and Sreenivasan often covers climate change around the world. Shields and Brooks have been spectacular, if you can follow Shields, who speaks quickly and mumbles. But tonight is his last regular appearance. Mark Shields is retiring at the age of 83. As this Brooks essay reveals, Mark Shields has the heart and ballast of a saint, and he speaks with the wit and intelligence of general. Please join Kathleen and me, in watching the final 10 minutes of regularly scheduled Shields and Brooks, sometime between 7 and 8 pm, Eastern Time.

Here is a comment I strongly recommended:

Socrates
Downtown Verona, NJDec. 17

A beautiful, poignant ode to a friend. And we should also note a very important context. The “PBS NewsHour” is still a reflection of the way news was reported for many decades in this country before the rise of cable TV and partisan news. The “PBS NewsHour” has always practiced – and still practices – the Fairness Doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission that was introduced in 1949 that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present policy issues of public importance and to do so in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. When the FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine policy in 1987 under Republican Ronald Reagan, it precipitated a long slow decline of news quality and accelerated the flow of one-sided opinion, misinformation and disinformation that passes for ‘news’ today. Had the Fairness Doctrine remained in place, Americans would be much better informed, less polarized and much more willing to forge common political ground to move the nation forward with good old-fashioned boring public policy that is more than an empty basket of tax cuts. Shields and Brooks always represented respectful ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ perspectives. Restoring the Fairness Doctrine would be good for the country and our national sanity.

14 Replies1223 Recommended

Opinion | Will We Get the Coronavirus Relief We Need From Congress? – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“If we can’t get a Covid-19 relief package through Congress in the next week or two, we’re sunk. It means we have a legislative branch so ideologically divided it can’t address even our most glaring problems. It means we have representatives so lacking in the willingness and ability to compromise that minimally competent government will be impossible, even under a President Joe Biden.

The problems a basic relief measure would address couldn’t be more obvious. Under current law, up to 12 million Americans could lose their jobless benefits by year’s end — a wretched Christmastime for millions of families, which could spawn a wave of depression, morbidity, family breakdown and suicide.

Millions of people could be evicted from their homes. Thousands more businesses may close during the long winter months before a vaccine is widely available. These are not failing, unproductive businesses. These are good, strong businesses that would have provided jobs and opportunity for millions of Americans for decades if they hadn’t been hit by the pandemic.

Wendy Edelberg of the Hamilton Project calculates that if nothing passes, the U.S. economy will be $1 trillion smaller in 2021 and $500 billion smaller in 2022.

The means to prevent this suffering are also glaringly obvious. We did it less than a year ago with the CARES Act. All we have to do is pass a version of what we did before. How hard can this possibly be?

The $2 trillion CARES Act was one of the most successful pieces of legislation of modern times. Because of the lockdowns, U.S. economic output contracted by a horrific 9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the first quarter. But because of the CARES Act, disposable household incomes increased by 10 percent. The personal savings rate increased by 34 percent in April.

I don’t love big government, but government is supposed to step up in a crisis, and with the CARES Act, it did.

Since summer, as the economy has deteriorated, Congress has been gridlocked on how to pass a supplemental relief package. At times Nancy Pelosi has been rigidly uncompromising, as if not wanting to hand Donald Trump a victory. But the core problem is that Republicans have applied a dogmatically ideological approach to a situation in which it is not germane and is in fact ruthlessly destructive.

Some Republicans act as if this is a normal recession and the legislation in front of them is a conventional Keynesian stimulus bill. But this is not a normal recession. It’s a natural disaster. The proposals on offer are not conventional stimulus. They are measures to defend our national economic infrastructure from that disaster over the next five brutal months.”

David Brooks, largely describing the work of Jonathan Rauch. “The Rotting of the Republican Mind,” – reactions

I’m still grappling with, and excited by these two articles I have referenced or posted, by David Brooks, largely describing the work of Jonathan Rauch. “The Rotting of the Republican Mind,” is about fake news and conspiracy theories become the tools of dangerous populists, despots and dictators. I am now looking at the comments to the Brooks piece, here is a sampling. The most popular comment:

Dan B.Southern CaliforniaNov. 27Times Pick

It is not the Democrats who have systematically deprived people of quality healthcare, education and a living wage. It is the Republicans. How do you convince voters that their economic success is being sabotaged by those who they put and keep in power?59 Replies3699 RecommendedHere is one that I have mixes feelings about:LlenzBostonNov. 27Times Pick”Why would the internet have corrupted Republicans so much more than Democrats, the global right more than the global left?” Because Republican economic policies contribute more to the growing wealth gap – the disenfranchisement of everyone but the very wealthy – the Republican party can only maintain power by fleecing a large portion of the electorate. They know it’s easier to fleece people with less training in critical thinking, such as those without college degrees, or people who were raised to take the words of the Bible literally, without question. They knew their marks and groomed them perfectly for someone like Trump. Cynical emotional appeals to people opposed to abortion and gay marriage all too easily gave way to an outright disinformation strategy, fashioned by Fox and weaponized to full extent when the internet came along. The flood of disinformation available due to the internet is destabilizing governments around the globe. Honestly, if we don’t figure out a way to address this problem, we’re tanked.

32 Replies 2871 Recommended

DL: We can quickly fix a lot of fake news on Fox, by returning an law turned off by Ronald Reagan, the Fairness Doctrine of the FCC, that requires any news organization if they put forth an side of an argument over Federal airwaves, they are required to put forth the other popular or competing arguments as well. They have to give the other side equal time. FCC fairness doctrine – Wikipediaen.wikipedia.org › wiki › FCC_fairness_doctrine”The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.”

Here is a comment that is full of promise, though I don’t know how easy to accomplish:A. W.Brooklyn NYNov. 27Times Pick

A third thing that can be done is to shift education’s focus from rewarding students for the answers they give to rewarding them for the questions they ask . If we train our youth to challenge information offered them from their earliest years they will be better equipped to ask the urgent questions needed before voting. Spitting back facts on exams to get a good grade does not hold a candle to learning to ask the teacher, “ How do we know that is true?” A student body that is used to asking this question is more likely to become a thoughtful citizen. And to be clear, training in this way doesn’t require a college education. It can be done at the earliest levels in our classrooms. As a former elementary school teacher I asked my students to challenge my statements. And bit by bit they did. I had to prove where my information came from and they had to decide whether to believe me because I was the authority in the classroom or because my answer to their questions conformed to their growing sense of how we should access truth.

32 Replies 1281 Recommended

Opinion | The Rotting of the Republican Mind (second half) – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“. . . .  People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power. Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center calls this the “Density Divide.” It is a bitter cultural and political cold war.

In the fervor of this enmity, millions of people have come to detest those who populate the epistemic regime, who are so distant, who appear to have it so easy, who have such different values, who can be so condescending. Millions not only distrust everything the “fake news” people say, but also the so-called rules they use to say them.

People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community. Paradoxically, conspiracy theories have become the most effective community bonding mechanisms of the 21st century.

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set. He and his media allies simply ignore the rules of the epistemic regime and have set up a rival trolling regime. The internet is an ideal medium for untested information to get around traditional gatekeepers, but it is an accelerant of the paranoia, not its source. Distrust and precarity, caused by economic, cultural and spiritual threat, are the source.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief. The only solution is to reduce the distrust and anxiety that is the seedbed of this thinking. That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it. And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.

Rebuilding trust is, obviously, the work of a generation.”   -30-