Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Use your mentality

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Peasant Wedding, 1567, from Todorf's Pinterest.

Shorter David Brooks, "The End of the Two-Party System", February 13 2018:
All of humanity, or most of it at any given moment, shares this thing I call an unconscious mind-set, and back in the good old days of the early 1990s, which I observed first-hand from Brussels when I was nothing but a young sprout myself, employed by the Wall Street Journal, the unconscious mind-set of the world population was an abundance mind-set, which means that everybody thought stuff was abundant, thanks to democratic capitalism, prejudice was falling away, and everywhere you looked was a win-win situation, except Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, as I now have come to understand it, had a scarcity mind-set, that is to say one in which stuff seems to be scarce, and therefore they were attracted to authoritarian populism, acquired a warrior mentality, regarded each other as enemies, and saw every situation as zero-sum. This is exactly what happened to us in 2007, when stuff became scarce over here. Now we too have acquired warrior mentalities, have become nasty and brutish, if not actually short, and bitterly partisan. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm afraid we may end up with—a European-style multiparty system!
Or maybe that's supposed to be a happy ending.

It's funny to think he was living at the time in the world's most pathologically multiparty system, where the distinctive division between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking populations means there are parties that are enemies with each other even though they agree on all important policy points, and yet there's nowhere in the world that can communicate more of a sense of abundance as fast as you can say beer and a bowl of mouclade, and this has been going on for a hell of a long time, when you think about it, since the 16th century or earlier, in which that in-between area has never been able to acquire a political unity and been subject to horrible military incursions from Spain, from France, from Germany, but life has most of the time been unbelievably good (somebody should write a study of how much Flemish painting shows men and women being really comfortable in big groups together, making music or playing cards or just eating and drinking, as if they'd achieved some kind of secret freedom from sexual anxiety).

As to Brooks's apparent nostalgia for the "abundance mentality" in the US, and the absence of a "warrior mentality", from impeachment through the Iraq War to Katrina, from when he got back in 1994 until 2007, when the mortgage crisis apparently kicked us all out of the Garden...

There is no point in arguing with David Brooks any more, I'm afraid, I mean he's not writing about anything that's a thing. He uses the words "mentality" and "mind-set" sixteen times (eight apiece) in today's column, "scarcity" and "warrior" eight times each, "abundance/abundant" four. He's a little like a polysyllabic Trump, murmuring his magic words to keep some fear or other at bay. There's no such thing as a shared unconscious mentality. There isn't a thing that's a "mentality" at all, except in Cole Porter's sense of the word ("Use your mentality,/Wake up to reality!" which is what I almost want to shout at David Brooks).

It might be fun to talk about whether we could ever have a multiparty political system here (some of you will in the comments, no doubt), but it won't start on these premises, that all the un-Trumped and semi-un-Trumped conservatives, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins, Andrew Sullivan and Erich Erichsson, Jennifer Rubin and Ross Douthat, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, will walk out of their ongoing cocktail party fights arm in arm to found the New Tories under the motto King and Country (Ross might like that one).

Oh, also, there's a silver lining in all this suffering:
The Trump era has produced a renaissance in conservative writing. National Review is a more interesting magazine now than at any time in its history.
Rich Lowry is our canny Leonardo and Andrew C. McCarthy the strenuous Michelangelo—David French a sweet Raphael, and Jonah a bumptious Bruegel, of course. Victor Davis Hanson is the hell-haunted Hieronymus Bosch. Anybody else wants to play, I'm sure there are lots of funnier ones.

This mouclade is French, from the Charente region, but you get the picture.

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