June Carbone: Why David Brooks Misses the Real Source of Moral Decay – Thirty Years of Class Warfare Against the Working Class

By June Carbone, Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of the Constitution Law and Society University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

The New York Times told two separate stories earlier this week, with no apparent recognition that they might be related. On September 12, David Brooks published a column decrying the moral “relativism and nonjudgmentalism” of the young. On September 13, a front page story announced that “Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade,’” explaining how the economic decline of the bottom half of the population over the past decade has grown worse during the financial crisis.

What do the two stories have to do with each other? Brooks writes as though the country has – or should have – a set of shared values. Yet, he ignores class and cultural differences in the way values are formed and expressed. In doing so, he fails to address the most critical question the country faces: how can we maintain a sense of shared values when the institutions that support one part of the country flourish at the expense of those critical to the part of the country in decline. In short, the decline of the middle class and the soaring poverty rates the second story describes are far more significant issues than anything in Brooks’ column.

Brooks misses the connection between the two because he conflates a centuries-long phenomenon – the development of modernism — with more recent changes that are appropriately a source of concern: the decline of community. Studies of the difference in values between modernists and traditionalists emphasize, as does Brooks, the importance of community. These researchers find that traditionalist communities, whether they consist of specific church groups, developing world nations or working class neighborhoods, tend to be characterized by close kin networks, while modernist communities have networks more likely to be defined by something other than blood ties. These differences mean that the source and content of moral transmission varies: modernists tend to rely on individualized internalized values transmitted within private networks while traditionalists depend more on the health of institutions that articulate and reinforce pubic values.

In the United States, the differences between kin based traditionalist networks and individualistic, modernist ones tend to be strongly associated with class. In the Italian-American community of my youth, for example, my father simply moved in with my mother and grandfather when they married. We lived next door to an aunt and uncle. Another aunt and uncle and three of their four grown children lived on the next block. My mother spoke to her sisters every day. I never had a babysitter to whom I was not closely related. And we all attended the same church. I realized only as an adult that while we all identified as Catholics, our views ranged from deep devotion to profound skepticism. Yet, we were imbedded in close-knit family networks that tended to reinforce Catholic teachings about acceptable behavior.

All that changed when my cousins and I attended college far from home. We have each made individual decisions about what church to attend and what identities to embrace. I have had far more intense discussions about my moral and philosophical views with my college-educated colleagues than I ever did with the family members or co-religionists of my youth. The discussions occur in part because we do not share the same assumptions about the source of values.

This selection, articulation, and promotion of individual values takes more effort than my home community’s allegiance to a particular religion or ethnicity. It also requires respect for the views of others. The ability to combine strong individual values with tolerance in a diverse society is what education for democracy means. It is a critical legacy of the Enlightenment and the foundation of modernist societies.

In contrast, traditionalist approaches, which rest on morality that is “revealed, inherited and shared,” require strong institutions. Institutional leadership, rather than individual virtue, is necessary to combine group allegiances with public tolerance and to mediate the tensions between group interests and membership in a broader society.

What Brooks doesn’t tell you is that the real crisis in contemporary American society is the weakening of the institutions that serve those on the losing end of the American economic ladder. One of the startling observations in the Moynihan Report of the mid-sixties was his finding that as jobs disappeared from rustbelt inner cities so, too, did church attendance. A half century later, Brad Wilcox has found the same thing among the working class more generally. With economic decline that has disproportionately affected traditionalist America, the institutions that produced cohesive communities, including churches, schools, families and civic organizations, are in decay. Modernity with all its faults, however, is not the principal source of the problem. And the risk Brooks does not acknowledge is that attacks on modernity in the name of morality often become attacks on tolerance. Let’s address the real sources of institutional decay and stop conflating the challenges of the last few years with the cultural changes a millennia in the making.

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  1. Luke Lea

    Well, some good points here, but the author conflates “dissolving community values” and “falling incomes.” True, both are affecting the working classes (let’s get rid of the “middle-class” euphemism) but solving one does not necessarily solve the other.

    A new blogger who calls herself hbd* chick covers the importance of kinship in traditional societies with high degrees of inbreeding. Too much outbreeding, she shows, leads to a kind of libertarian individualism which works well for the true middle-class (those who make their livings with their college-educated brains) but is no help for those who do it with their hands and their feet.

    The latter now live in large impersonal conurbations in which, thanks to mobility, traditional forms of kinship and neighborhood have practically disappeared.

    (Hbd* chick also shows the downside of too much inbreeding. Consanguineous marriage patterns in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan lead to clan- and tribal loyalties that trump individual rights and responsibilities of the citizen to the state.

    But too little, not too much inbreeding seems to be the source of our problem. She suggests we look for a golden mean. Unfortunately that would be impossible to achieve inside three generations. Until then we must depend on kin substitutes of some kind — don’t ask me what?

  2. LifelongLib

    What isn’t mentioned is that in an individualistic society that lacks traditional institutions, government is the only agency that can provide the services the institutions used to. Contrary to the usual rhetoric, such a society needs more government, not less.

    1. BetaSheep

      True. There was a time when organizations like the Masons, Oddfellows, Knights of Pythias, Woodmen of the World, plus many more provided the social safety net for members of their community and not the government. Sadly, these organizations have fallen by the wayside.

  3. CE

    I don’t think that that cohesive communities have anything to do with fiscal decline. American communities have 1000 reasons to no longer be cohesive, through ups and downs cultural cohesiveness has been changing and will continue to change despite economic fortunes.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As she points out, this relationship was first detected in the 1960s. How many of the factors you say you can cite were operative then? This seems to be a strong correlation (it was first detected in specific communities suffering a decline in fortunes). The onus is on you to make a counterargument rather than reject the data.

      It has been demonstrated in other studies that unequal societies are characterized by weaker social bonds, so there is corroboration from research with a different focus.

      1. Siggy

        My observation is that social class in America is defined by Income, Education, Family Standing, and Religious Affiliation.

        With respect to individuals; while they will seek aglomeration, they require autonomy, accomplishment and recognition.

        When class mobility is constrained, financial failure tends to have a greater and more deleterious impact. What occurs is that upper classes gravitate toward profligacy and avarice. When the upper classes fail, what the vibrant society requires is the replacement of the entrenched upper cjasses with new, moral individuals.

        A much ignored attribute of America has been its embrace of class mobility. Once the classes become immobile, class warfare ensues and it appears that that is where we are today. Tax the rich is the rallying call.

        It may well be that the rich are not paying their fair share and that a better way is available. I suggest that we review the entire tax code, not merely the marginal rate applicable to incomes above $250,000.

        As to moral decay, a government that misrepresents its adventures in the Middle East, WMD and assorted special interest programs leads the populus to immorality. Misreporting Repo105 as a sale must be legal because no one has called us to task for it.

        The basis of morality is not exclusive to the church or the government. Morality is found within the family. It is found in the profound understanding of why it is that we seek to group. What survival benefit attaches to specialization.

        Ms Carbonne has an interesting point of view and it is a beginning. The answer to her challenge lies in the basis of our economic and cultural systems. On the economic front we have taken the path of econometrics and the presumption of a beneficient and all knowing government. Yet that which is our government is populated with people. Some competent, some moral and some otherwise. Our current problems arise out of the fact that we are being guided by people who care little about the body politic and very much about themselves.

      2. Black Smith

        Pure and simple: job churn. It started in the 60s and has only gotten worse. Sure American is great because if you want to get up and move somewhere for a better job you can do it. But when “getting up and moving,” even across town, is something everybody is doing with each new job then communities are shattered.

        Am I incorrect in assuming that minimum wage employees are the first to lose jobs in a downturn?

        If I’m wrong then educate me. I’m very curious about this.

        1. Dan The Man

          I would tend to agree with you. My group of friends and family seemed to grow apart as a direct effect of the majority of them going away to college. Advances in transportation and job specialization certainly have an effect. Most importantly the psychology of the modern parent has been “Go out there into the world and find yourself” The parents willingly sacrifice their desire to keep you in the tribe in exchange for success(somewhere else)

        2. Ray Phenicie

          I believe you are correct about the low paying jobs being the first to go:
          File clerks can be dispensed with easily but not so higher paid tech folks who keep the IT systems running. First echelon management will also exit first in a crunch but third and fourth tier directors will still have departments to manage even if less populated.

          Also, the article missed a phenomena that I noticed some time ago and this is just anecdotal but the likes of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln could never happen today. Both men received very little formal education and had lots of on the site job training at law offices and rose relatively high in those fields based on their close to the ground experience. Interestingly enough, Lincoln cut his legal teeth, figuratively speaking, on tangled up land titles and mortgages!

    2. justanotherobserver

      don’t have _any_ reason ? That seems absurd, of course there are reasons why fiscal decline could cause weakening bonds. At the very least stress caused by lack of necessities in life are likely to make people depressed for starters.

      As for those thousand reasons – you might want to list one or two. Just saying…

  4. Fraud Guy

    I would think that the greater cause of moral relativism has been the promulgation of a “me first” attitude by leaders in the political and business classes, where those affected by their actions (i.e., the lower 98%) see that the means to security and reward are not garnered by hard work and dedication, but shifting morals, lax legal standards, and outright theft and cheating. (See “The Cheating Culture” by David Callahan.) At some point, being constantly subjected to negative reinforcement will encourage people to follow suit, above and beyond the perennial percentage of people who will try to take advantage of any system.

    1. PQS

      +1 again. Anytime I hear someone with all the benefits of being in the upper class start to complain about the lack of morality amongst the lower classes, my first instinct is to reach for a mirror to hold in front of his/her face.

      You first. Log in your own eye and all that.

  5. Middle Seaman

    Whenever someone puts down young people, you know the following: it’s nonsense, this someone protects his establishment and the morality in question is an ad hoc pile of garbage that has nothing to do with morality, reality or history.

    Why argue with such pigheadedness?

    1. neo-realist

      I’ve been guilty of being critical of (those) young people who don’t vote and believe politics are stupid. That’s the kind of rationale that gets people like Bush II and Scott Walker elected.

  6. Linus Huber

    Let me add another thought. In most things we have developed a higher distance between sellers and buyers, between employers and employees, between institutions and individuals, between tax payers and beneficiaries thereof compared to prior periods in history (this IMO allows also the looting of banks as we have individualized ourselves and can avoid the pressures by the society around us). It is like a jigsaw puzzle with many aspects that supported this development, like increase in world trade, the development of the credit bubble, the financial support to the poor etc. that allowed the development of an upper class who lives kind of segregated from the average joe. If, however, things turn down economically (which I suspect), many aspects of this development may be questioned, people will get closer again and some kind of care for society as a whole has to return. Those who simply look out for their personal benefits will be made outcasts.

    I welcome any comment on my thoughts.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      FWIW, my mother, whose parents lost everything they had in the Depression (they had their money in 3 banks and got 3 cents on the dollar in the end, and lost their house as a result) said the Depression was not so terrible, people pulled together and were considerate of each other. However, her father managed to stay employed (he ran amusement parks, which held up pretty well, they were a comparatively cheap form of entertainment). Having a job no doubt made a huge difference.

      1. K Ackermann

        In my research into the GD, I find what you describe to NOT be the general case as the depression wore on.

        The poor were often victimized by a plethora of social indignities, violence, and discrimination.

        1. Capo Regime

          Generally there has always been human suffering–not just during the great depression. Ives is not making a general case but rather noting a specific anecdote based on pretty good data (Mother). Similarly, my parents are products of the depression but were fortunate that their parents where skilled (dentists, buthers) that they would up making a good bit of money despite not being native English speakers.

          The plural of anecdote–data.

          Don’t just say people are wrong or disagree–offer a countefactual or understand that even in the worse of times, many do allright.

      2. Siggy

        I am a child of the depression. Having a job made all the difference in the world. Having an educated father meant even more. Having a hard nosed, central european mother meant even more.

        When Iasked my mother whether it was better here than europe, she was emphatic, better here than there and all because with eduction and a hard work you could move up. You could own the means of production and have some control over your destiny.

        1. bill

          I have a few thoughts on the GD. My grandfather had six siblings. The farm his family owned didn’t generate enough income to keep them all in shoes. Starting at the age of seven, my grandfather hired out to neighboring farms with his horses, so that his sisters would have shoes to wear to school the following year. At the age of eighteen, while working in a coal mine, he severed the three middle fingers of his right hand. It was a two hour ride to town. He refused to see his mother or sisters at the hospital, to spare them the pain of “his mistake.” His biggest regret in life was being unfit for normal military duty at the start of ww2. He manned the guns on the golden gate bridge. He worked as a gas station attendant for two years before starting out on his own. Financed by his employer, he built a ten wheeled truck from the ground up and began hauling livestock. When he died, his personal net worth was seven figures. And I could only guess at what his business is worth today. He worked day and night long after it was required. He lived a working class lifestyle after he was wealthy. He never trusted bankers or the govt. He didnt turn his children into worthless parasites with his money. He worked because he loved to work and could remember times when his family was hungry. He was a great businessman, but he was also very generous with people down on their luck. The greyhound station was next store to his shop.He found a young man off the bus sleeping in his shop one morning. He didn’t call the police, he gave the kid a job, and ended up sending him to a technical college to learn diesel mechanics. That man still works for the business twenty years later.
          Contrast all of that with what you see today. Alot of people cant even find their boot straps. The wealthy arent looking to raise people up, they are doing whatever it takes to keep folks down. The govt.and its big business policy, has made my grandfathers story nearly impossible to replicate. What do you do when your best effort doesn’t move you forward? Most of us are so scared of the future that we are paralyzed, at least I am. I know why I cant find my bootstraps. I have never known real want. I have never gone hungry or been looked down on for being hungry. I am guessing that my children will become great people for living through the next twenty years, as they will likely know both hunger and want. My hope isnt for me anymore, its for them. sorry so long and personal, just my observations.

    2. LA Crystal

      I responded briefly to another of your posts just moments ago and expressed a similar observation regarding this distance, but I was probably not very clear about my views. In my opinion there is simply not enough distinction in major media between the ‘small business owner’ so often used in rhetoric and the MNC shareholder when discussing ‘business’ or the economy. So many of today’s shareholders don’t actually even know what they own in their 401ks.

      There is precious little understanding among the 50% in Congress who are millionaires with the people they are supposed to represent.

      IMHO, every war hawk there ought to be tasked with delivering the bad news to a fallen soldier’s family, visit the amputee ward at the MD hospital where maimed soldiers faced such difficulties simply getting to/from medical appointments from off-base horrific temporary housing. They should probably take a C-Suite exec from Haliburton or Boeing with them.

      Lucky are those who are not bowling alone these days.

      1. justanotherobserver

        Case in point – Eric Cantor and his ridiculous assertions about finding cuts to offset disaster relief.

        What a heartless bastard – and yet his district will love him for it.

        Explain how people like Eric Cantor and Boehner and Grassley continue to show up in office and you will unravel the psychological pestilence which destroying the country.

        It’s not just an American phenomena – Berlusconi anyone ?

  7. Glenn Condell

    The whole point of a pundit like Brooks is to miss the point, at least the points that matter to the class he represents and probably feels he is part of. I think he sees the truth far more clearly than he would ever dare commit to paper. He’d be out of a job if he did.

    He’s smarter than he looks I reckon. (Not so Friedman, IMHO, quite the reverse)

    I wrote this on another blog 5 years ago, my dislike of Brooks having stemmed from his Iraq war cheerleading. Still seems about right to me:

    David Brooks is a vile parody of a pundit, who in less dangerous times might be fodder for a few laughs but whose establishment toadying in times like these poses a threat to the democracy he pretends to uphold. He is, like Tom Friedman, neocon front of house, good cop to the administration’s bad cops, a soft and sunny muffler to cover the hard and ugly realities of US realpolitik, a well-paid diversionary mouthpiece.

    Other than that he’s fine.

    … he’s determinedly beta male, unthreatening to anyone with a pulse, relentlessly avuncular and carefully low-key, ‘sincere’ even. Brooks has a bald spot that I imagine to be evidence of a hundred patrician hands thanking him for a job well done.’

    ‘Let’s address the real sources of institutional decay’

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for Brooks to join you.

    1. Mel

      I didn’t understand the animus against David Brooks; I only knew him then from his Friday shots on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. I guess there was an awareness that if he said the kind of things he wrote, Mark Shields would have disassembled him live on camera.

  8. YankeeFrank

    I’m not exactly sure what the point is here — okay, so as incomes drop, people stop attending church. So what? Since when do religious people or more accurately church attendees have a lock on morality? Please. The “study” Brooks uses as his prop was funded by the Lilly Foundation, which provides research to conservative think-tanks. I’d love to see the actual questions and scenarios they presented in this study, and also the actual answers given, not some paraphrased bullshit. Brooks is a total douche who spends his time generalizing about people in order to prop up his preconceived notions. His thinking is not smart, it just apparently sounds smart to a lot of people who think they themselves are smart as he flatters their prejudices with his “insights”.

    Now I’m not saying there hasn’t been a decline in “community”, and I do agree that some of that has to do with the class war that is ongoing. But much more of it has to do with the fact that many people find the communities and families they were born into narrow and provincial. The world is much more open today and we can create our own communities with those who actually do share our values.

    And, if morality is truly failing it isn’t among the working classes. Its among the wealthy who think the world is made for them to buy and sell, and who treat each other and those less wealthy as commodities that exist to further their egotistical goals. But then again, the wealthy have always been that way, so I don’t really buy the notion that there is a deterioration in morality — morality has always been an inconvenience for the wealthy, and for many others what they consider moral is really not. The loudest moralizers tend to be repressed racist misogynists.

    1. aet

      Trying once again to start arguments between Americans, so that nothing gets done, and things can remain the same.

      Is Mr Brooks complaining about the “moral relativism” of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who turned out on the streets to protest their government invading Iraq, so as to start Iraq War #2?

      I think that Mr Brooks himself is the one who’s displaying ‘moral relativism”…after all, the human rights set out in the US Constitution are only for American citizens, right?

  9. attempter

    I won’t bother going into how this poster pretends to think Brooks is honestly mistaken rather than a systematic propagandist of kleptocracy. She may even sincerely be that ignorant. After all, she’s a system propagandist as well, but the “progressive” variety.

    But this part requires a response:

    The ability to combine strong individual values with tolerance in a diverse society is what education for democracy means. It is a critical legacy of the Enlightenment and the foundation of modernist societies.

    This cherry-picked definition leaves out what democracy actually is, direct community self-rule and full participation by the citizen.

    By contrast, liberalism wants to eradicate the essence of citizenship, community, civil society, and true democracy, replacing them with, as the poster admits, “strong individual values”, i.e. the bourgeois ideology. The only difference between it and “libertarianism” is that it places more of an emphasis on the fraudulent pseudo-democracy exalted in pieces like this. Meanwhile, “tolerance in a diverse society” in practice means nothing more than that there should be social liberalism among the wage slaves, but not that the wage slaves should overthrow their enslavement.

    A quote like this demonstrates the point:

    What Brooks doesn’t tell you is that the real crisis in contemporary American society is the weakening of the institutions that serve those on the losing end of the American economic ladder.

    Let’s see: Robbery victims are actually “losers” who were unable to climb a “ladder”. This ladder is a law of nature, necessary and morally normative to boot. (This fraudulent ladder is also claimed to still exist, although even if it ever did exist, it’s long since been pulled up.) These assault victims “losers” shouldn’t fight back and take their polity, their economy, their futures in their own hands. They shouldn’t act as true citizens of a true democracy. No, they should wait meekly and passively to be helped by “institutions”. And if these institutions are mysteriously “weakened”, these passive losers should only sit and maybe whine about it a little, nothing more. (Also, “jobs disappeared”. Don’t you just hate the way things like that naturally and agentlessly happen?)

    I think that sums up the liberal pro-capitalist astroturf.

    Meanwhile, “modernity” is nothing more than the ephemeral fossil fuel binge. It’s an ahistorical blip. That includes all the alleged laws of nature implied in this post about globalization and how bourgeois sociopathy is the new humanism. Thank god, all that will prove to have been a delusion of the period, however silly and superficial today’s scribblers are about seeing them as “cultural changes of millennia”.

    Modernity with all its faults, however, is not the principal source of the problem. And the risk Brooks does not acknowledge is that attacks on modernity in the name of morality often become attacks on tolerance. Let’s address the real sources of institutional decay and stop conflating the challenges of the last few years with the cultural changes a millennia in the making.

    Kleptocracy is the only source of the problem. This includes its propaganda, the liberal variety at least as much as the conservative.

    1. JTFaraday

      Well, I do think you’ve hit on the fundamental ambivalence at the center of this post. ie., ostensible concern with the decline of the middle/working class and the relationship between communal breakdown and said decline, and the poster’s personal conviction that individualist value-creation is superior to said “traditionalist” communities, and the very definition of an educated, indeed “enlightened” person.

      I actually think that is precisely this ambivalence that has fostered ostensibly “educated” middle class acquiescence in the attack on “working class” jobs, in the sense that such people are not really worth defending. Indeed, destroying the mind of such communities is a worthy end.

      Not saying that this poster would agree with such an attack if it were put to her in that way, but that’s also not the way it works. It doesn’t get put to a vote. People just vote the neo-liberal line, D-Party. It just a general lack of concern.

      Now that the chickens are coming home to roost at higher level in the collective high rise, we’ll get more squawking about how that’s not what they meant.

      Frankly, in my own personal experience, over a few generations, my urban immigrant family put more distance between each other based on delicate dance between where they could find a job and where they could afford to live. I don’t know what that has to do with “traditionalist” vs. individual value creation.

      On the other hand, I’m sure there was a different kind of communal breakdown all across Michigan and the rest of the rust belt, where blue collar “middle class” jobs *were* positively under attack, en masse.

      1. allis

        J. Faraday, you have put your finger on so much…including perhaps the rise of the Tea Party.
        “…acquiescence in the attack on “working class” jobs, in the sense that such people are not really worth defending. Indeed, destroying the mind of such communities is a worthy end.”
        Sadly, all too true.
        Anyone who has known and worked with “working class” people has a different understanding from those who only know “educated middle class” life styles and values. If you’re an “educated folk,” just try to convince other educated folks that working class people are neither idiots nor weaklings. An interesting, if depressing, exercise.

    2. inhofe

      You’ve hit the nail on the head attempter.

      People who either worry about values or about weakened institutions are kleptocrat strategists wringing their hands about what they see as an inevitable uprising against their theft.

      To them there is a natural order of things, a “great chain of being” as it was called during Elizabethan times, with the poor on the bottom. The poor on the bottom must be kept in their place at all costs.

      Once you agree on that the only things left to disagree about are the means: whether it’s values or institutions or wage slavery.

  10. annie

    david brooks’s function at the times is to generate letters to the editor and pieces like this one. he’s always fundamentally wrong and can drive someone with a brain mad with perpetual disagreement. the only response is never to read him.

    1. inhofe

      That’s right annie. But you have to go further. You can never read articles like this responding to him.* It supports him indirectly by making his views known indirectly.

      If everyone ignores him, and ignores everyone who responds to him, and so on down the line, eventually he’ll disappear from everyone’s consciousness.

      The only other solution for a person like David Brooks is to construct a tiny wire framed free speech zone in the most remote part of the Alaskan tundra and let him speak from there.

      *I haven’t read the article above

  11. doom

    That Wilcox article is hilariously insane. They throw 150 bonking-related horrors (cohabitation!!) in a bucket with unintended pregnancy and mush it all together to prove a loss of bourgeois values. They might try a thought experiment: free reversible vasectomies for anybody who wants one. See how well those links hold up. What you would see is that people respond to economic exploitation by cutting fertility. If it weren’t for America’s furious and futile counter-bonking efforts (anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-polyamory, anti-sex ed), we would adapt to mass impoverishment with a demographic crash like Russia’s, along with Lithuania’s high regard for recreational sex as an affordable leisure activity. But they’re terrified to contemplate that level of fun.

  12. Jeff

    Having grown up in a cosmopolitan environment I think that
    people not staying put in one place, migrating to cities and living with strangers as in the college students
    testing new waters creates moral relativism.

    Decline of churches…well, these days churches are
    as likely to be the source of venality as the scourge of it…for example, we have Glide Memorial Church nearby. It’s a place where
    “all races and people, gay and straight,
    transgendered people, immigrants, HIV positive, differentially abled and returning convicts can mingle share values, hold hands and sing the praises of community…”

    I’m sorry, not quite where I’d like to drop the kids off on Sunday morning. :-(

    1. ScottS

      Haven’t read the second half of the Bible yet, have we Jeff? I know it’s a tough read, but some say that’s the more interesting half.

  13. Dan Duncan

    What a self-righteous, paternalistic load of shit:

    This selection, articulation, and promotion of individual values takes more effort than my home community’s allegiance to a particular religion or ethnicity.

    Written like a true moral dilettante: You’re congratulating yourself for merely making a selection of values.

    Madonna, fresh from the Kabbalah Centre, thinks your celebration of “a la carte morality” is premature and lacks depth.

    And then…

    “It also requires respect for the views of others.”

    WTF is the “It” here? Your particular value choices? After regaling us with your “Moral Journey” upon going away to college it would seem so.

    But, of course, the “It” also appears to mean the Modern Approach to morality writ large. And what a sweeping “It” it is:

    Modern Morality, aka, “It”.

    [And thanks for personal testimonial, btw: That whole thing about local kid going away to college and being exposed to different value systems was really unique and fresh. Thanks for sharing. So brave.]

    “The ability to combine strong individual values with tolerance in a diverse society is what education for democracy means. It is a critical legacy of the Enlightenment and the foundation of modernist societies.”

    OMG, that felt good to write! You must feel more feel more tolerant and ethical too after that flourish. But, of course, this is all part of your journey….

    “For, we must remember that those mindless Traditionalists”…uh shoot, wait a second…except Muslims…that’s different!

    Let me try again:

    “For, we must remember that those mindless non-Muslim Traditionalists…unable to cull ‘individual virtue’… are spoon-fed their morality. The Institutions that they rely on–that have endured for thousands of years–are on shaky ground. They are lost without our guidance. They didn’t go away to college, so they are unable to think for themselves. They need the help of the College Modernist who has dared to journey into the Moral Hinterland.”

    1. squash whitey

      Hey don’t forget Buddhists, Zoroastrians, animists, santeria practitioners, and cargo cultists are smarter than you, too. They could help you with your chip-on-the-shoulder fury at any hint of implicit condescension.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Oh please “squash whitey”, if that is your real name. This piece is dripping with condescension towards “traditionalist” (working class) people, claiming all true moral teaching resides in the college educated, like our dear writer, and those working class mongoloids need the church to hit them over the head with “morality” or they may roam the streets devouring their betters.

        In my experience, the petit bourgeois “educated” types I grew up around are amoral scum that only start whining when their meal tickets starts disappearing. They’ve said and done nothing for the past several years as the working class has taken the hugest hit since the depression, but because college-educated unemployment is relatively low compared to working class unemployment, they don’t really give a shit. They don’t in fact even give a shit about each other, they are just hoping its not them who lose the jobs next year. They are frightened, myopic sheep who pretend to care about minorities or whatever the fuck PC crap they’ve been fed, while never getting too angry or too upset about anything. That would seem so, ewwww… working class. There is a reason Joyce called them “the dead”.

  14. Schofield

    Pretty obvious that the human race flourishes on cooperation. Allow a small number to defect from this and use property, money and coercive power to flourish substantially better than the rest by undemocratically leeching on their labour for a prolonged period, or making them unemployed by outsourcing and then cutting their social security and health benefits and you will eventually get counter-domination in the shape of a civil war.

  15. Sauron

    Berkeley complained that philosophers first raised a dust, then complained they couldn’t see.

    Businesses treat employees as disposable, then complain there is not loyalty.

    Capital conducts a war on labour, then complains there is no demand.

    Conservatives favour economic policies that weaken the bonds of family–two incomes required to keep up, family members have to move away from hometowns to find work (like me), longer hours at work, the stress of poverty and unemployment on relationships and families, the breaking of any sense of social contract and the creation of an underclass that has little sense of being invested in society and social institutions like marriage, the stress of keeping a marriage together when one partner can only find work in one town, and the other in another and so on–then complain that traditional values are eroding.

    It’s crazy-making.

  16. JTFaraday

    “the family members or co-religionists of my youth. The discussions occur in part because we do not share the same assumptions about the source of values.

    This selection, articulation, and promotion of individual values takes more effort than my home community’s allegiance to a particular religion or ethnicity. It also requires respect for the views of others.”

    Where does this *ghastly* term, “co-religionist,” come from anyway? I was thinking I never heard of it prior to the past several years, and most certainly never heard of it prior to 9/11.

    Googling around, though, it looks to be more state of the art 19th century colonialism. My word of the day.

    1. JTFaraday

      As in the following:

      “He dipped his hand into the dish with that great trader when Mahbub and a few co-religionists were invited to a big Haj dinner. They came back by way of Karachi by sea, when Kim took his first experience of sea-sickness sitting on the fore-hatch of a coasting- steamer, well persuaded he had been poisoned. The Babu’s famous drug-box proved useless, though Kim had restocked it at Bombay. Mahbub had business at Quetta, and there Kim, as Mahbub admitted, earned his keep, and perhaps a little over, by spending four curious days as scullion in the house of a fat Commissariat sergeant, from whose office-box, in an auspicious moment, he removed a little vellum ledger which he copied out – it seemed to deal entirely with cattle and camel sales – by moonlight, lying behind an outhouse, all through one hot night. Then he returned the ledger to its place, and, at Mahbub’s word, left that service unpaid, rejoining him six miles down the road, the clean copy in his bosom.

      ‘That soldier is a small fish,’ Mahbub Ali explained, ‘but in time we shall catch the larger one. He only sells oxen at two prices – one for himself and one for the Government which I do not think is a sin.’

      ‘Why could not I take away the little book and be done with it?'” — “Kim,” Rudyard Kipling

  17. harposox

    I’ll admit, my first thought before reading this was, “Sweet Jesus, someone took Brooks seriously enough to bother with a rebuttal?” Epic waste of energy, IMHO.

    1. JTFaraday

      Well, but I think that’s because they are two peas lying next to each other in the same pod, so it stands to reason that one pea should talk to the other.

  18. Jim


    Are there any differences between between the theory of Marxism and your theory of kleptocracy?

    The more sophisticated Marxists I am familiar with have argued that the generalized cultural nihilism of capitalism came about only indirectly as a result of the socio-psychological consequences of the productivist logic of the system.

    The productivist logic supposedly undermined the possibility of individual autonomy because of the regimentation imposed by the authoritarian, profit driven logic of the factory where a worker is reduced to the level of a robot in an assembly line for the best part of the day and therefore could not be at the same time a responsible citizen and a rational member of a household.

    Does your theory of kleptocracy have its own socio-psychological explanation for contemporary nihilistic/kleptocratic behavior? If so what is it?

    Might it just be possible that our modern fragmented consciousness is only partly a result of the division of labor (the separation of thinking from doing) and it has first and foremost to do with the prior collapse of coherent community?

    If so, then people, like myself, who worry about values or about weakened institutions are not kleptocratic strategists in disguise but are trying to move the debate (on the left side of the political spectrum)beyond economic reductionism to a more serius consideration of the possible cultural and political causes of modern nihilisim.

    1. YankeeFrank

      So you are going to remove economics from your discussion of the morals downgrade? Do you think that’s wise? And when did we establish that there has been a morals downgrade? I must’ve missed that part…

      1. JTFaraday

        There is a morals downgrade. It is in the upper middle class entitlement culture, where the cultural liberal insistence on the moral superiority of the enlightened educated class provides the moral rationale for why it is, for example, perfectly acceptable for (educated) management to offshore (ostensibly uneducated) manufacturing jobs in order to supercharge their own personal bottom lines as well as that of “share holders.”

        That neocolonial drudges overseas now have the same opportunity American executive management had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (yeah right, lol) and that American labor will be required to go seek the enlightenment it neglected to get the first time around all falls in line under the leading assumption.

        This *is* cultural in the sense that the ostensibly morally justified entitlement culture is *significantly* driving this phenomenon. Purely economistic thinkers will say that such decisions are an historically inevitable matter of seeking the cheapest labor market.

        But this conveniently removes BOTH the ethical questions and the element of CHOICE from an equation nicely set up to benefit the enlightened educated classes, (until it doesn’t any more).

  19. Dan Duncan

    Things to do Today:

    1. Select, Articulate and Promote my Values.

    So let’s see, what am I going to be today?…Hmm, I’m kinda feeling Buddhisty…I’m “Thirsty for Buddhisty”…That’s catchy…What a great slogan…I should seriously make that into a website and sell “Free Tibet” bumper stickers…What a great idea!…I could even donate a portion of proceeds to The Tibet Cause…OMG I feel good about this Tibet Path…I’m getting that same tingling as when I decided to get the tattoo of Confucian wisdom–IN CHINESE!…How edgy and tolerant was that?!…A tattoo IN CHINESE!…But why did that jerk tattoo “artist” have to give me the Chinese symbol for a plate of Moo Goo Gaipan?…How embarrassing!…Breathe Deep and relax…Remember my therapist told me to stop obsessing over this…OK, just let it go…Serenity Now…But God, I’m such an idiot…Why do I make such dumb decisions?…It’s because of my Mother, that’s why…She never did accept me for who I am…God it was good to go away to college and get away from her…How I miss those days…I was so free back then…Remember when I let my arm-pit-hair grow?…The look on their faces when I came home on break wearing a tank top!…Priceless…But I can’t do that anymore…the faculty frowns on that kind of expression…In protest, I should teach class in a Burka…Let them frown on that…OH! Wait: I should also teach it, while wearing a tank top…With my Arm-Pit-Hair in full flourish(!)…I LOVE IT!…I would be a Burka-Wearing-Feminist-Muslim-With-Arm-Pit-Hair!…I’m going to be that today, instead!

    1. squash whitey

      Don’t let it get to you, that stuff only happens in schools that you or your kids couldn’t get into. They know it’s not the Western World anymore. It’s ours. We’ll give you lumpenproles lots of time to adjust.

  20. F. Beard

    Morality is very important to our money system. It is vitally important that the victims feel morally obliged to repay their debts to the government enforced counterfeiting cartel. Of course it is the existence of the counterfeiting cartel that requires people to borrow in the first place…

  21. Jeff

    Report from Marin County, California.

    The Zen Center on the way to the coast and Muir Woods.
    The parking lot has two kinds of cars, the little beat up Japanese kind with the “Coexist” bumper stickers made up of various religious symbols, a sleeping bag and lots of clothes
    piled up in every space. Next to them are the $100,000 BMWs with the Sanskrit symbols on the back window. Inside, plenty of mostly women with short grey hair and simple humble expensive clothes.

    Real organic gardening going on down the hill, massive food production going on in the dirt, fueled by young volunteers from all over the world who PAY to work there and learn.
    But the action, yes, the real heart of things, is in the simple little wooden structures where the teachings
    go on.

    Various levels of insiderness and connection. Say, why do those visiting Tibetans always end up riding around in really expensive cars and staying in really nice places as they practice their humility?

  22. Jim

    Yankee Frank

    I’m certainly not removing economic factors from my analysis. Just suggesting that other factors, in addition to economic ones are involved.

    For example, I tend to be a critic of both Big Government and Big Capital. In my opinion the liberal/left community has tended ignore the nation-building project(and its largely negative effect on local communities) which transformed our original federation into a unitary state. In my opinion this was primarily a political project which cannot be reduced exclusively to an economic component.

    My assumption is that both Big Government and Big Capital were instrumental in the destruction of community, with the process of nation-building being at least as important as commodity fetishism in contributing to social disintegration.

    From my perspective, the figure of the public bureaucrat is as guilty as the capitalist in fostering a mass society of largely disempowered individuals.

    The question of moral collapse is an issue which the liberal/left community has tended to also explain in primarily economic terms which again I think is only a part of the story.

  23. gepay

    I think it true for black communities that I have observed – where there is a steady source of jobs, there is more community. There are other influences that destroy communities. I played my saxophone with a black church service. There were no men in the choir as all the male singers were in jail for drug offenses. The music director later had a felony because someone in his apartment had smoked crack (I happen to know him well and know that he didn’t smoke crack himself.) This was found on the third time his apartment was searched – some crack residue was found in a pipe. I also think back when CIA made their Marseilles deal with the Mafia – break the leftist waterfront unions and eyes will be turned away from your contraband flowing through but – sell it in the ghettos.

  24. Fiver

    Gee. I see no evidence as yet of any “network” that even remotely matches the power for value creation/reinforcement/destruction of a family/extended family, church, schools, a company job, a strong union, a stint in the military, grass roots political activism, etc. Being part of the same group over an extended period, with enough close interaction for real bonds to form around real shared goals with real people, critically, so close as to have to take the bad from each other along with the good, became such a “great big drag” over the last couple of generations of unmatched affluence/choices that it can hardly be a surprise that it’s the Right that’s cleaning up pretty much across the board. They’ve captured, destroyed or crippled all the important social institutions, leaving what’s left of the liberal/progressive/left to natter away to each other in the ether, pretty much incapable of putting together any real numbers in any form of organized resistance because, at bottom, they, like the inert “masses” as a whole, no longer like people other than those they’ve specifically chosen to be with. It is the logical outcome for a society and politics rooted in unbridled Me-ism.

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