What is your “privilege?” Have you “checked your privilege?” Today, we all get a very special privilege: Helping David Brooks—a designer fleece draped atop a Volvo—do his fucking job.
The “old paradigm” was that a newspaper columnist would have actual ideas and write those ideas in newspaper columns, to be argued about, until one day they died or joined a think tank. In the new paradigm, though, you can spend an infinite amount of time as a columnist for the world’s most prestigious newspaper just publicly chewing over issues that you do not have any actual ideas about. Good gig.
Anyhow, David Brooks is a white man. Thoughts on this? Anyone?
How much are you in control of your own opinions? I ask this sincerely because, as you’ll see, I’m trying to think this through and I’m not sure how.
This is the intro paragraph to a column in the world’s most prestigious newspaper. What follows, because this column is by David Brooks, is a five-cent tour of what a few prominent thinkers of the past century have had to say about this topic—the sort of intellectual overview you might get from reading the Barnes & Noble BACK TO SCHOOL: CONTEMPORARY THINKERS row. (Are Hannah Arendt, George Orwell, Nietzsche, and Foucalt cited by name? Yes they are.)
These great thinkers are cited, specifically, to plumb the depths of the eternal question: Does David Brooks have to feel guilty about being a white guy? Or what?
Now we are at a place where it is commonly assumed that your perceptions are something that come to you through your group, through your demographic identity. How many times have we all heard somebody rise up in conversation and say, “Speaking as a Latina. …” or “Speaking as a queer person. …” or “Speaking as a Jew. …”?
Now, when somebody says that I always wonder, What does that mean? After you’ve stated your group identity, what is the therefore that follows?
What it means is that the speaker is a member of a group. What therefore follows depends on the words that are spoken next. You can gain a lot of insight on this topic by listening to those words—or even, if you are feeling brave, by speaking directly to a queer Jewish Latina. (YOLO!) Happy to have been able to help you with this, David.
Further questions for us about your own job?
Today, group labels matter a lot. When you read discussions of op-ed writers you see that we’re often not thought of as individual thinkers, but as spokesmen who are here to represent a point of view. People get upset when a certain group is not represented on the page.
I’m searching for a line here, a distinction. Under what circumstances should we embrace the idea that collective identity shapes our thinking? Under what circumstances should we resist collective identity and insist on the primacy of individual discretion, and our common humanity?
Let me stop you right there David Brooks. I think I understand what you’re trying to ask here. What you’re trying to ask is: Why do so many people call me, David Brooks, a tepid uninteresting white guy not deserving of my lofty position in the media? Right? This is the subtext here. And we can help you with this one too, David. The answer is: Because you are a tepid, uninteresting white guy not deserving of your lofty position in the media. This fact clearly mystifies and distresses you. After all, are you not a nice guy? Do you not have good manners? Do you not offer up your useless pop sociology analyses of current events in an unfailingly earnest way? Do you not keep your fleeces fresh and clean? Yes. You sure do. But David, what you seem incapable of understanding is that only a tepid, uninteresting white guy not deserving of his lofty position in the media would ever write a column publicly wondering how to feel about being a tepid, uninteresting white guy. The very existence of this column is a testament to your intellectual failing. You have wasted all of our time on a free therapy session for yourself. The answer that you are hoping to tease out from the public is, “You are a unique thinker, David Brooks, and the fact that you are a tepid white guy should not be held against you, because you come up with insightful ideas that transcend personal identity.” The problem is that you resolutely fail to come up with insightful ideas that transcend personal identity. Instead, you come up with columns like this that could only be produced by—or be of interest to—a tepid, uninteresting white guy.
I’m a columnist and I’m supposed to come to a conclusion, but I’m confused.
Please get this guy a real job. Please.