Friday, February 7, 2014

What will people think?

David Brooks writes:
Prince Ea.
Dear Pandit Brooks: I'm 40 years old with a reasonably successful and secure career as an accountant, but it recently occurred to me that I should throw it all over and restart life as a hip-hop artist. Only I'm afraid people will talk and say I'm just having a mid-life crisis. Do you have any advice?—Flossy in Flatbush.
Dear Floss: You're having a mid-life crisis. I blame Obama: if not for the Affordable Care Act you'd think twice before giving up your health insurance and taking your FTE out of the economy. Listen to your friends and don't do it. You may wonder why I don't at least listen to your work before telling you what to do, but frankly I don't care for that kind of music so it wouldn't make any difference. Besides, it's such an unoriginal fantasy. Why don't you try something genuinely different, and at the same time less heedlessly extreme? Like, take a few months of paid leave, check into the Soho Grand, and write a book. If it doesn't work out you haven't really lost anything.
Dear Pandit Brooks: When I'm in the lobby at the Soho Grand around teatime I feel impelled to call up my friends at the Manhattan Institute and tell them a joke that would be offensive to women and members of sexual and racial minorities. Then again, there are people belonging to just those groups milling about who would overhear me and possibly judge me harshly. Should I go ahead regardless? —Li'l Potty Mouth
Dear Lillian: You don't seem to have any sense of manners. Manners, as Edmund Burke has said, are more important than laws. When you are publicly rude and ill-bred you tear apart the fabric of society. Would it kill you to take a taxi over to the Institute and tell them your joke in person? I'm sure they'd be glad to see you.
Dear Pandit Brooks: I have some unpopular opinions. Like I believe poor people are to blame for their own poverty, caused by their licentiousness, frivolity, and refusal to work hard and play by the rules. I used to really let go with that stuff when I worked for a rabidly fascist weekly magazine, but then I moved on to a somewhat more refined setting in a famous newspaper where most of my colleagues think it's in poor taste to rant that way, and now I find myself holding back and presenting myself as more of a centrist, with a lot of modesty and a hint of compassion. What do you think?—Your Secret Friend
Dear You: It's disgusting when people change their deepest moral and political beliefs just for fame or money. How shallow can you get?
Dear Pandit Brooks: It's cost me a lot, but there's one thing that I've got: it's my man. Cold or wet? Tired, you bet! All of this I'll soon forget with my man. He's not much on looks, and no hero out of books, but I love him. Friends keep telling me I need to dump this guy, and I frankly just don't know what to do. Any ideas?—Lady Dazed
Dear Lady: It really depends. If they're making fun of him on superficial grounds, as some thoughtless people do, because he's not "cool" or has unpopular political opinions, you really don't need to listen to that. But when you say it "costs" you, that suggests to me that you may have made an unwise economic decision in attaching yourself to the person in question and are perhaps not rational enough to make the choice that maximizes your personal utility. Sometimes people who know you have a clearer sense of what you're doing than you have yourself. I'm often pretty confused myself, believe it or not, even though I give people advice for a living, at least for the past 20 minutes (and counting), and I've concluded that there is no hard and fast rule for when you should listen to others and when you shouldn't. Basically, I guess you should listen to them until you're a few years older than Ross Douthat. Beyond that, if people laugh at you, you could always claim you were doing it on purpose, attracting ridicule for its own sake. It makes you likable, or so I'm told.

Elsewhere, Driftglass continues his exploration of the Brooks column as concealed autobiography.

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