Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rich Little Poor Man

Mary Pickford in Maurice Tourneur's The Poor Little Rich Girl, 1917.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Moral Bucket List', New York Times, April 12 2015:
The people I admire most are leftist women (Dorothy Day, George Eliot, Frances Perkins) whose lives follow a pattern of stumbling, defeat, recognition, and redemption, and moments of pain that they turn into occasions of radical self-understanding, facing their imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. These are the people we want to be.
Obviously a promo for the new book, The Road to Character, to be released by Random House on Tuesday, $28, in the culmination of a long and stumble-free career as a right-wing man in a path smoothed by wealthy patrons, isolation from criticism and unpleasantness, and an extraordinary ability to deny that any of his mistakes ever actually took place, teaching other people how to be humble.

He wrote his book
to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.
It's not an example we should follow—we should just keep on enjoying all the money we get for doing work we are wryly aware of not being qualified for and pushing our patrons' agendas of assessing less in taxes and fighting more wars and despoiling our home, the Earth—but it's bound to be edifying to look at them.

My point here is not snark—I'm not really suggesting that Brooks is a hypocrite for not emulating Dorothy Day, throwing his comfortable life over and moving to a slum to dedicate himself to the poor (not that I don't think he's a hypocrite at all). But the leftism of the three women he has selected is not an accident: it's about what they learned through their travails, that it takes, as they say, a village, a collectivity, a truly representative government, to make justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. The political attitudes they lived by were not a debate-team position but acquired, earned, through all that stumbling, defeat, and redemptive recognition, and if you go on working, like Brooks, for a diametrically opposed political view, then what are you studying them for? You haven't learned anything at all.

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