There's a debate in our culture about what really makes us happy, which is summarized by, on the one hand, the book "On the Road" and, on the other, the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." The former celebrates the life of freedom and adventure. The latter celebrates roots and connections. Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection. It's a Wonderful Life was right... According to research by Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, and others, the daily activities most closely associated with happiness are social -- having sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with friends. Many of the professions that correlate most closely with happiness are also social--a corporate manager, a hairdresser.Apparently freedom and adventure are incompatible with social connection. Who knew? So we definitely shouldn't try to pursue them. And apparently Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and Allen Ginsberg were not into having sex and rarely had dinner with friends. Who knew?
But speaking of "It's a Wonderful Life", Brooks is the person who wrote this:
It's easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.Brooks is trying to discredit populism using the inane argument that it is divisive -- just like racism! So apparently it's bad to criticize any group of people whatsoever. Now, if you've ever seen It's a Wonderful Life, and who hasn't, you'll know that it's an essentially populist tale, pitting a local, caring, socially-involved businessman (Jimmy Stewart) against the more heartless capitalism of Mr. Potter. Here in the 20th century, who do you think is the Mr. Potter laying waste to local communities? Well, it's the entire system of globalized capital, but Goldman Sachs is a good stand-in.
I simply do not see the point of David Brooks. I guess it's to have a conservative who is housebroken and can turn a phrase adequately enough that he'll be acceptable in the pages of the New York Times, but I can't imagine anybody who wants to read this incoherent pablum. Is it people who want to be reassured that they were right to put aside their youthful longings to be a beatnik? Hm, yes, maybe that's it. The New Yorker piece starts out with an exceedingly long and apparently pointless portrait of some very upper-crust elites (summer in Aspen, etc, attending Davos, grinding their own spices, that kind of thing) -- and I guess Brooks is also working to reassure his readers that they don't have to worry about not measuring up to that standared either. OK, now I think I get it -- he exists to bring comfort to boring middle-aged, middle-class, middle-management, middle-of-the-road white people that it's OK to be that way. Your life may be dull and static, you may envy the rich, the hip, and the activist, but David Brooks is there to tell you really have the better deal. In terms of politics, his purpose is to try to take the wind out of the sails of any possible political movement for change.