Tuesday, November 27, 2018


David Brooks writes today about the menace of the kids:
When I meet someone who runs an organization in a blue state, I often ask: Do you have a generation gap where you work? The answer — whether the person leads a college, a nonprofit, a tech company, an entertainment company or a publication — is generally the same: Yes, and it’s massive.

The managers at these places, who are generally 35 and above, are liberals. They vote Democratic and cheer on all the proper causes of the left. But some of the people under 35 are not liberals, but rather are militant progressives. The older people in the organization often have nicknames for the younger set: the Resistance, Al Jazeera, the revolutionaries. The young militants are the ones who stage the protests if someone does something deemed wrong.

If a company fires an employee for writing an inappropriate memo or uttering an inappropriate phrase, it’s usually because there’s been a youth revolt. If a speaker is disinvited from a festival or from campus, it’s often because of a youth revolt. If a writer is fired for a tweet, or an editor has to resign from a literary review because of an unacceptable article, it’s often because of a youth revolt.

... When the generations clash, the older generation generally retreats. Nobody wants to be hated and declared a moral pariah by his or her employees. Nobody wants to seem outdated.
Brooks's sympathies are clearly with the elders -- which is odd, because here's how he describes them:
The older liberals tend to be individualistic and meritocratic.... Boomers generally think they earned their success through effort and talent.
The civilization-preserving elders are "meritocratic"? But I thought David Brooks hated our meritocracy. He's certainly devoted quite a few column inches over the years to telling us why it's fatally flawed. Here was Brooks last May:
The real problem with the modern meritocracy can be found in the ideology of meritocracy itself. Meritocracy is a system built on the maximization of individual talent, and that system unwittingly encourages several ruinous beliefs:

Exaggerated faith in intelligence. ...Many of the great failures of the last 50 years, from Vietnam to Watergate to the financial crisis, were caused by extremely intelligent people who didn’t care about the civic consequences of their actions.

Misplaced faith in autonomy. The meritocracy is based on the metaphor that life is a journey. On graduation days, members for the educated class give their young Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” which shows a main character, “you,” who goes on a solitary, unencumbered journey through life toward success. If you build a society upon this metaphor you will wind up with a society high in narcissism and low in social connection....

Misplaced notion of the self. ...If you base a society on a conception of self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized; that puts little emphasis on the sorts of moral systems that create harmony within people, harmony between people and harmony between people and their ultimate purpose.
And so on. Brooks favors meritocracy in the abstract -- after World War II, it gave Jews, non-whites, and members of the poor and working class the opportunity to run with the big boys -- but he hates it in practice because, in his view, it encourages meritocrats to concern themselves primarily with what's good for themselves and their families, not society as a whole.

But now, in Brooks's telling, along comes a new generation of young people who do care about society as a whole -- and he's appalled.
The younger militants tend to have been influenced by the cultural Marxism that is now the lingua franca in the elite academy. Group identity is what matters. Society is a clash of oppressed and oppressor groups. People who are successful usually got that way through some form of group privilege and a legacy of oppression.
The children of the meritocrats have broken out of the prison of meritocratic narcissism -- and Brooks hates it.

In May, Brooks expressed despair because, as he put it,
the new meritocratic aristocracy has come to look like every other aristocracy. The members of the educated class use their intellectual, financial and social advantages to pass down privilege to their children, creating a hereditary elite that is ever more insulated from the rest of society. We need to build a meritocracy that is true to its values, truly open to all.
Now, as Brooks writes today, a new generation believes that "People who are successful usually got that way through some form of group privilege" -- but the people who believe that, according to Brooks, are an existential menace.

Brooks didn't like the liberal elders, but he's making his peace with him, now that he has a new, leftier enemy to blame.

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