Friday, November 16, 2012


In today's column, David Brooks says a few reasonable things about the societal changes that have lowered the percentage of "traditional" households in America (heterosexual marriage, kids, regular church attendance) -- although he says them in his own peculiar way:
The surest way people bind themselves is through the family.... Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like.

But the two-parent family is obviously not the only way people bind themselves. We are inevitably entering a world in which more people search for different ways to attach. Before jumping to the conclusion that the world is going to hell, it's probably a good idea to investigate these emerging commitment devices.
"Emerging commitment devices"? Sounds like a Mitt Romney euphemism for battery-operated gizmos he and Ann keep under the bed.

Seriously, though, I'm glad Brooks seems more or less accepting of parenthood in "non-traditional" households. And I'm glad he favors generous family leave policies.

But he's still not comfortable with people who don't settle down, marry, pick a parish, and breed, breed, breed:
At some point over the past generation, people around the world entered what you might call the age of possibility. They became intolerant of any arrangement that might close off their personal options....

Why is this happening? ... People are less religious. People in many parts of the world are more pessimistic and feeling greater economic stress. Global capitalism also seems to be playing a role, especially, it seems, in Asia.

Many people are committed to their professional development and fear that if they don't put in many hours at work they will fall behind or close off lifestyle options....

The problem is not necessarily a changing family structure. It's people who go through adulthood perpetually trying to keep their options open.
I've quoted passages from throughout the column, and you can see what truly horrifies Brooks: the fact that people might not wed or breed because they like having -- gasp! -- options. "Personal options"! "Lifestyle options"! How dare they pursue these! It's not behavior suitable for an adult!

Except that the party Brooks supports, the GOP, keeps telling us that freedom is the most important thing of all, and that wanting to be successful and rich is the highest human calling -- what is that other than the pursuit of "lifestyle options"? When the Alex P. Keatonism of the Reagan/post-Reagan era -- which still hasn't ended -- leads politicians of both parties to say that society is functioning well when it creates more and more millionaires, then people pursuing materialistic "lifestyle options" are just being good, upstanding citizens, right?

Brooks does invoke "global capitalism" as a reason people might sacrifice marriage and family and immerse themselves in work. He implies that this is a Foxcomm thing, seen more in Asia than in America. Well, conditions are much harsher in Asia, but capitalism drives people to work long, lonely hours here, too. I know a lot of people, most of them childless, who burn the midnight oil for less-than-exorbitant pay in Manhattan offices, just because tight, inflexible deadlines and inadequate staffing are part of the corporate culture here in America. That's how you keep your job. There aren't many other options.

Brooks has a pretty soft life -- as far as I know, he's never had that sort of grind-it-out dead-end desk job. So he has no idea that the "options" people cling to as they work hard and breed less can be quite limited.


Victor said...

One of the reasons, dear Davie boy, that so many people of my late-Boomer generation DIDN'T get married and settle down, was that what we saw in the jobs we had, from the early '80's on, showed us that we'd never have the job security that our parents had.

Companies that merged, let people go, etc.

I went through mergers and take-overs, and NEVER SAW ONE THING that was beneficial to the workers.
When Time merged with Warner, they changed the hours from Time's 9-5, with a paid lunch, for a 40 hour week, to an 8-5 schedule, that didn't pay for lunch - all WITHOUT a pay raise for anyone but the lowest lever employees. They made us Supervisors and Managers work the new hours, with NO change in salaries - except to adjust our Time salaries a tad, to compensate for the fact that our Warner counterparts were more highly paid. And that was nowhere near the same amount for the extra time we HAD to be there - and, of course, nowhere near the hours that we were really working.

We, or at least I, saw that the work environment was changing.
I gave notice, and left, shortly after that.

I went back to bartending for a decade, and came back to the corporate world in 2000 to an entirely different working universe. A much worse universe. And at roughly the same salary as when I left - accounting for inflation.

I left again in late 2008 because of the growing lack of any consideration for employees. ANY consideration.
Time Warner sucked much worse in late 2008 when I left, than it did in early 2000 when I rejoined the company.

So, dear Davie, you want people to marry, settle, and multiply?
Give people secure, decent paying jobs, and pensions.

And THAT ain't gonna happen?

Companies are to busy squeezing every penny out of their customers, and their NOT highest-level "leaders."

Bulworth said...

Towards the end of the column he says something about how A Life of Unfettered Choices isn't really the best thing.

This after his party has been crying for four years about having their "liberty" and "freedom" taken from them by Obamacare or the stimulus, or by Obama's very existence.

This rhetorical shell game by conservatives has been most confusing. We want freedom! No, those people have too much freedom.

I give up.

Unknown said...

I am nearing 50. A family member asked me in passing the other day about what my preparations for retirement are looking like. BEST LAUGH I'D HAD IN WEEKS...Options? I am just hoping to stay gainfully employed (I am a mid-level IT worker) until I drop in the traces sometime in my 70's. Retirement - *chuckle*

M. Bouffant said...

Brooks' use of the word "bind" pretty much sums it up.

He wants everyone "bound" to their jobs, like serfs to the land, while he sits in his multi-million dollar mansion meeting a few deadlines a wk. & no doubt getting huge sums for delivering speeches full of this bullshit.

Yastreblyansky said...

Hey Monsieur Bouffant,

He also said "enshrouded" !