This is nothing like the attention Paul VanderKlay pays, but the man of the cultural moment certainly seems to be Jordan Peterson. As some one outside the moment (and basically wanting to remain that way), I found Patrick Mitchell’s review of Peterson useful. Not surprisingly, David Brooks connects some of the dots.
Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.
What strikes me as particularly relevant to the age is the insistence on fundamental truths about humanity, not just about our gender tendencies, but our seeking meaning as a necessary condition of our life — that’s a variant of Abraham Heschel’s approach, that we possess the moral duty to explain the wonder, the ineffable we encounter. Both Brooks and Mitchell highlight the realist, the tragic sense of life, this too, coming as an echo of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Ours is a conservative age, if not a reactionary one, and in that framework Peterson provides the essentialist and ethical voice necessary for its navigation, a voice with strong appeals to conservatives. The same voice, its fundamental humanism also offers the alternative to the tawdriness of expression and sloppy ideas that marks so much of the conservative ruling class.
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Is the President as bad as some say? David Brooks suggests that all depends…. While the administration collapses or perhaps reverts to a plutocratic mean, how does one resist, or think about the day after, the n+11? Much depends on whether one sees this administration as something altogether new, an Americanized version of hard right kleptocrats everywhere, or as an echo of another era. Is this the regime of Jackson or of the Gilded Age?
Brooks opts for the latter. What is needed is the restoration of sound government, of good government, of the Mugwumps (though he doesn’t use that word). In short, a government that Jerry Ford could love.
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The sudden fall of Paula Deen is, if anything, breath-taking. And to fall because of a an ancient racial slur — surely injustice is at work? Bill Vis comments
Paula Deen is older than me and was born and raised in the south. The furor by younger people shows a profound lack of understanding of the world she and I grew up in. Was it right? Something I am proud of? Of course not! But to condemn someone in her mid-sixties for being a product of the society in which she was a child is grossly unfair.
Was it unfair what happened to Paula Deen? In a sense, absolutely, the same way it was unfair what happened to Detroit autoworkers. She got caught in an ebbing tide.
Her problem is not that she was brought up a certain way, but that she could not adapt to the present rapidly changing make-up of US society. David Brooks’ column , A Nation of Mutts captures much of the new dynamic, about the shift from Euro-America to a New America. In this landscape, the older folkways are now peculiar, particular to the individual. And perhaps especially those of the South,with its own complicated history on race. To participate in cultural leadership or take a culturally visible role such as Deen had done requires that one be able to present oneself as culturally open. Her inarticulateness — her real sin — then doomed her.
But it may not have been just a few ill-chosen words.
Adding to the conflagration may be our own politics. The national political scene is dominated not only by an open hostility to a representative of this new America, President Obama, but also by a retrenchment of conservative ideals. There’s a dynamic there between the political and cultural concerns of the conservative base so firmly anchored in the white Baby Boom generation and the New American mixed identity of the President. In this mix, Deen’s comments however old, even her southern identity give her the appearance of some one on that conservative side. There’s already enough heat in the politics, her misstep provided the oxygen that consumed her.
In the The Great Divorce, David Brooks , picks up the theme of the two-caste society, the separation of elites from the lower classes with an ambiguous middle caught. This, of course, is the favorite territory for Charles Murray. Brooks writes,
Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” describes the most important cultural trends today and offers a better understanding of America’s increasingly two-caste society.
Brooks picked up on the growing trend in Bobos in Paradise, and an interesting article on the education of the elites in The Atlantic (“The Organization Kid”). Interesting to trace this split back to the Vietnam era, and the division between New Left and Labor. As we came out of the 70s (this, the time of the Yippies and the Yuppies), the counterculture became more its true, class-oriented self. Wendy Wasserstein captures some of this shift in The Heidi Chronicles.
Murray however, is a more complicated character, in part for his alliance with the AEI. Their policies did contribute to this split (another story).Both Murray and Brooks still indulge in a kind of privileged perspective, both seeing that somehow it is the moral duty of the elites to remedy this split. That doesn’t strike me as exactly right, not with 50 percent in the middle unaccounted for.