Friday, September 4, 2015

Isn't it romantic? *spoiler alert*

No. It isn't.

Image by The Frumanista.
Shorter David Brooks, "The New Romantics in the Computer Age", September 4 2015:
Isn't it romantic? After all these years of anxious materialism, young people will soon start deciding they'd rather be like me. Or Dorothy Day, you know, whichever works better.
Or, verbatim:
I could imagine a time when young thinkers discard the strictures of the* academic professionalism and try to revive the model of the intellectual as secular sage. I could see other young people tiring of résumé-building do-goodism and trying to live more radically for the poor. The romantic tries as much as possible to ground his or her life in purer love that transforms — making him or her more inspired, creative and dedicated, and therefore better able to live as a modern instantiation of some ideal.
*No, Brooks is not a second-language learner, the most likely is that he typed "strictures of the academy" and then changed "academy" to something longer; leaving in the now unwanted "the" because he doesn't bother to read it over.

I'll do the secular sage, Dave, at 1600 words a week and a lifetime iron rice bowl! That's grounding your life in purer love that transforms, all right.

Half today's column is a revision of a piece from February 2014, arguing pretty much that now that computers are doing all the real work people who are no good at math are going to be in more demand. It was the subject at the time of what I still think was a very funny though longish Shorter, though it was not acclaimed by large numbers of readers. For today's version, he has a new source, from the biz self-help book list, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will (August 2015), by Geoff Colvin, senior editor at Fortune, CBS radio commentator, and author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (2010).  Another of his books is called The Upside of the Downturn: Ten Management Strategies to Prevail in the Recession and Thrive in the Aftermath (2009), and I'm starting to see some kind of a pattern here.

The second half appeals to Mark Edmundson, Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals (September 2015), who advises us, and in particular our college-age children, to return to the ancient ideals of courage, contemplation, and compassion. He puts out the argument at some length in a piece at Chronicle of Higher Education; I have no special beef with him, though he clearly has not discarded the "strictures of the academic professionalism" (he's an English professor at the University of Virginia), but only with Brooks plainly swooning over what he thinks is his own reflection in the description of the contemplative, portrait of the artist as a secular sage as Edmundson offers it in the book:
"as they enter the first phase of their lives as thinkers, they’ll have one of the greatest satisfactions a human being can have: They won’t lie. They’ll follow Socrates, and they’ll look out at the world, and with whatever mix of irony and sweetness and exasperation, they will describe it as it is to them." 
I happen to have Socrates right here with me, along with some irony and sweetness and a lot of exasperation, and no, Brooksie, no cigar for you.

The truly funny bit is at the very end, though, where Brooks hastily ties the pieces of the column together to suggest, perhaps inadvertently, that the ideals of part 2 may look like shit, but they correspond to the cash of part 1:
People eventually want their souls stirred, especially if the stuff regarded as soft and squishy turns out in a relational economy to be hard and practical.
Don't look down your nose at that idealism, brothers and sisters, look how much money I've made out of it! (Or, don't worry, Brooks-reading parents, your kid doing liberal arts at the $50K sleepaway school will still make lots more money than the city commuter student doing accounting.)

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