Friday, September 06, 2019


In his column today, David Brooks tries to give voice to a representative modern-day Internet extremist of no particular political persuasion (or, rather, of all possible political persuasions). In Brooks's view, today's extremists are Dostoevskian Underground Men. They're warped by -- naturally -- the same societal forces Brooks has been decrying ad nauseam for years.
To know anything about me you have to understand the chaos at the core of my innermost being. I was raised without coherent moral frameworks. I was raised amid social fragmentation and division, the permanent flux of liquid modernity.

Adults in my life have not been trustworthy. Friends have not been trustworthy. Women reject me. I passed through school unseen. You have no idea how ill equipped I am to deal with my pain. I was raised in that coddling way that protects you from every risk except real life....

I yearn for order. Blunt simplicities. Politics provides the Manichaean binaries I can’t find anywhere else, and so I make everything political. Own the libs! Smash the racist right! A war of pure good and pure evil....

Online war is a force that gives life meaning. Hatred gives me that delicious simulacrum of power. Did you really think you could raise me on gourmet coffee and yoga pants and I wouldn’t find a way to rebel against your relativism and materialism? Didn’t you observe the eternal pattern — that if you try to flatten a man to the bourgeois he will rebel by becoming a fanatic?
To quote a better writer (though who isn't one?), today's Underground Man is depraved 'cuz he's deprived (spiritually). Gee, Officer Krupke...

Is that really the reason that there are young people online who want to smash everything they see? Well, it's a theory. But here's what I want to know: How does Brooks explain the existence of the nihilists who weren't born in our fallen age of gourmet coffee and yoga pants?

What formed the soul of Rupert Murdoch, who's injected poison into the political discourse of three continents for nearly seventy years? What about the soul of the late Roger Ailes, who devised the ultimate delivery system for Murdoch's poison?

What made the Koch brothers the way they are? It certainly wasn't cultural liberalism. How about Mitch McConnell? I'm pretty sure he didn't grow up getting participation trophies while his parents shopped at Whole Foods.

Brooks's young Underground Man says,
... I see a world in which my opponents are elite oppressors and my kind are oppressed. They have their exclusive cliques and I am disdained. And here we get to the ultimate injustice: Why are they recognized while I am not? This is the molten core from which my indignation flows. The status quo does not respect me, and therefore I despise it.
Hasn't that been the message of the Republican Party since the rise of Fox and talk radio, if not since the rise of Nixon? That society is run by liberal elitists at their Georgetown cocktail parties? That everyone else, even right-wing billionaires, belongs to an oppressed class? (Remember all the plutocrats who warned a few years back that the Occupy movement and calls to reduce inequality were the moral equivalent of the rise of Hitler?) This is the worldview that Republicans and the right-wing media have weaponized for decades.

And what's the result? The economy, on its present course, will never work well for the young. Most jobs will never pay decent wages. Student debt will continue to be a crushing burden. Climate change can't be addressed, or even acknowledged, because the GOP and the fossil fuel industry won't allow it. The gun lobby blocks regulations that 90 percent of America supports. And then there's racism, police brutality, the demonization of immigrants, and much more.

The elderly, powerful nihilists who run the country don't want these problems solved because they prefer the status quo, even if the world burns. Some young people hate these old nihilists and the world they've made. Others echo the old bastards and want to take their lib-owning nihilism even further.

Yoga didn't make this happen. The dominant nihilists of our era did. Their third wives might do yoga, but they don't. Tell us what made them the way they are, David.

No comments: