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.

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.

David Brooks | Democrats Need to Confront Their Privilege – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“One of the Democratic Party’s core problems is that it still regards itself mainly as the party of the underdog. But as the information-age economy has matured, the Democratic Party has also become the party of the elite, especially on the cultural front.

Democrats dominate society’s culture generators: the elite universities, the elite media, the entertainment industry, the big tech companies, the thriving elite places like Manhattan, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 2020, Joe Biden won roughly one-sixth of the nation’s counties, but together those counties generate roughly 71 percent of the nation’s G.D.P.

As the Democrats have become more culturally and economically dominant, many people at tippy-top private schools and super-expensive colleges have flamboyantly associated themselves with the oppressed. Thankfully, that has moved society to more aggressively pursue social and racial justice. Unfortunately, a tacit ideology — sometimes called wokeness — has been grafted on to this pursuit.

It includes the notions that society is essentially a zone of conflict between oppressor and oppressed groups, that a person’s identity is predominantly about group identity and that slavery is the defining fact of American history.”

David Brooks | Moderates and Progressives, Get Together! – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The Biden administration is in mortal peril. Hemmed in by circumstances, the Democrats bet nearly their entire domestic agenda on the passage of two gigantic bills, the trillion-dollar infrastructure package and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Both are now in serious trouble because Democratic moderates and progressives aren’t close to agreeing on what should be in the bills, how much they should cost or even when they should be voted on. If these bills crumble, the Democrats will fail as a governing majority, and it will be far more likely that Donald Trump will win the presidency in 2024.

We don’t want that, so the question is, how can moderate and progressive Democrats create a package they both can live with? The best way to do that is to build on each side’s best insights.

The best progressive insight is that we need a really big package right now.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
While I have enjoyed many of the critical comments, David Brooks makes a number of good points. I particularly like his fear that the Biden team will not pass anything, if they aren’t careful. While the outcome eludes me,
I had a bad feeling when the Democrats refused to pass the first infrastructure bill, till they saw success for the 3.5 trillion package through budget reconciliation. The Republicans were outraged, and for once, I was sympathetic. My instincts tell me that the Biden Team should pass the infrastructure bill first and alone, as a clean win for the country, and for bi-partisanship. It also makes the process of trying for the second bill, in some ways simpler. If critical leverage is lost, someone please explain that.
What is needed, is probably all of both bills, but that does not mean they have to all be tied together. Mitigating climate change now, and preventing the return of Trump, are both very important. Just passing the infrastructure bill, will make the Biden team look like winners, and leave the 3.5 trillion bill on the table, to be passed in toto, or possibly in tranches. In the latter case, I would put all the climate change mitigation elements at the top of the to do list.
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

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

David Brooks | The American Identity Crisis – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

For most of the past century, human dignity had a friend — the United States of America. We are a deeply flawed and error-prone nation, like any other, but America helped defeat fascism and communism and helped set the context for European peace, Asian prosperity and the spread of democracy.

 

Then came Iraq and Afghanistan, and America lost faith in itself and its global role — like a pitcher who has been shelled and no longer has confidence in his own stuff. On the left, many now reject the idea that America can be or is a global champion of democracy, and they find phrases like “the indispensable nation” or the “last best hope of the earth” ridiculous. On the right the wall-building caucus has given up on the idea that the rest of the world is even worth engaging.

Many people around the world have always resisted America’s self-appointed role as democracy’s champion. But they have also been rightly appalled when America sits back and allows genocide to engulf places like Rwanda or allows dangerous regimes to threaten the world order.

The Afghans are the latest witnesses to this reality. The American bungles in Afghanistan have been well documented. We’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost thousands of our people. But the two-decade strategy of taking the fight to the terrorists, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has meant that global terrorism is no longer seen as a major concern in daily American life. Over the past few years, a small force of American troops has helped prevent some of the worst people on earth from taking over a nation of more than 38 million — with relatively few American casualties. In 1999, no Afghan girls attended secondary school. Within four years, 6 percent were enrolled, and as of 2017 the figure had climbed to nearly 40 percent.

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT comment:

This is a complicated essay by David Brooks, and I’m afraid he might have more good points than bad ones, but he fails to convince this reader, becasue of the dearth of real facts and knowledge of Afganistan. His first major mistake, was leaving out Vietnam in the first paragraph. He says we are keeping the Taliban at bay with little cost and almost no casualties, but what exactly are the numbers over the last five years. We already spent over a trillion dollars in Afganistan, because we wasted $2 trillion in Iraq, in a war that was a tragic mistake. I am knowledgeable now in the history of Vietnam, and our dive into that civil war was also an unmitigated disaster, based on a complete lack of appreciation for Vietnamese history and culture. What real experts in Afganistan’s history and culture think that there is any force in Afghanistan strong enough to stand up to the Taliban, without a lot more treasure by the US. The Taliban appear to be the most determined, and disciplined in this war, just like the Vietnames communists under Ho Chi Minh were. If that is not a fair comparison, who can explain in detail, why the forces we have supported have any chance with light support against the Taliban. Our side appears to be better at corruption and graft, than at fighting the Taliban.

David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth Century Vietnam” and blogs mostly at InconvenientNews.Net.

David Brooks | A Practical Guide to Building Trust – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Distrust is a cancer eating away at our society. It magnifies enmity, stifles cooperation and fuels conspiracy thinking. So the question is, how do you build trust?

Within organizations, trust is usually built by leaders who create environments that encourage people to behave with integrity, competence and benevolence.

That’s not just a matter of character, but of having the right practical skills — knowing what to do in complex situations to make people feel respected and safe. Here are some practices leaders have used in their companies and organizations to build trust:

Assume excellence. The more you monitor your employees’ behavior, the more distrusted they will feel and the more distrustful they will become. Leaders who trust their employees may tell them what to do, but they let them manage their own schedules and fulfill their responsibilities in their own ways. In the 1980s, Hewlett-Packard allowed engineers to take equipment home without a lot of formal paperwork, because they had confidence they would bring the stuff back.”

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:

Thank you David Brooks for another deep and challenging column. I see the paparazzi commentors here are furious that you don’t finger the Republicans, but they miss the the clear waters, in their pain and anger. Here is one of my favorite of your paragraphs: “Answer distrust with trust. People who have learned to be distrusting will resist your friendship because they assume you will eventually betray them. If you keep showing up for them after they have rejected you, it will eventually change their lives.” This wisdom alone is priceless. I inherited from my father, his six volume biography “Abraham Lincoln” by Carl Sandburg, and eventually, I read all six books. I then new Abraham Lincom better than I knew anyone in my own family. The paragraph above captures Lincoln’s political genius. He was mistreated many times in politics, and in every case reported by Sandburg, Lincoln turned the other cheek, and amazed his critics and enemies, by his willingness to foregive and forget, and reach out with kindness or helpfulness. It was two scoundrels who had betrayed him before, whom he treated with kindness, who allowed him to become the candiate for president of his new Republican party, at its ugly and divided convention. There are hundreds of examples of this advice, Answer distrust with trust, in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.

David Brooks | The Great Unmasking – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

For millions of Americans, the next six months are going to be great. The power Covid had over our lives is shrinking, and the power we have over our own lives is growing. The image that comes to mind is recess. We’ve been stuck emotionally indoors for over a year. Now we get to sprint down the hallway and burst into the playground of life.

People in large parts of the world will still be enduring the ravages of the pandemic, but those of us fortunate enough to be in countries where vaccines are plentiful will be moving from absence to presence, from restraint to release, from distance to communion. Even things that didn’t seem fun are going to be fun. Not being able to get the bartender’s attention because the bar is packed — that will be fun! I’m a Mets fan, but going to Yankees games will be fun! (As long as they lose.) Going to age-inappropriate concerts will be fun! I don’t care if Generation Zers don’t want to sit next to some damn boomer at their Cardi B concert. I’m going anyway.

David Lindsay: This is an awkard time, when things are getting better, but in CT, ony 50% are fully vaccinated, and people are still getting sick, even a few are dying.

Here is a comment I liked, and comment to it which I also agree with.

John Brews

John BrewsSanta FeMay 27

The problem with unmasking is that it makes the unvaccinated unmasked indistinguishable from the vaccinated unmasked. That can lead to greater exposure of masked and unmasked unvaccinated. And, of course, only 95 percent (or less) of vaccinated folk are strongly immune. So they should wear a mask, but they do not know they are not strongly immune. Altogether the unmasking is ill advised, and making a jubilant celebration of it is juvenile.

239 Recommended

JJohnFloridaMay 27

@Julia Let him wear it forever. As we go on with our lives. There is risk in practically anything we do, but some level of risk has to be accepted in order to have any kind decent life and happiness. Some people will never be happy because either they don’t understand statistics or can’t accept any risk (speaking specifically in regard to Covid risk to the vaccinated – miniscule risk of anything serious happening)

33 Recommended

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.”   . . . “