Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Scared Senseless

Photo via LaffyTaffyDaphne.

David F. Brooks ("Liberal Parents, Radical Children") has been chatting up people who run organizations in blue states:
When I meet someone who runs an organization in a blue state, I often ask: Do you have a generation gap where you work?
I don't know why he only "often" asks the question. It would have more statistical validity if he asked it every time. We can't really tell whether the answer represents anything.

Is he doing a formal study of people who run organizations in blue states? Is he comparing them to people who run organizations in red states? Does he ask the red-state bosses if they have generation gaps, or not?  If not, why not? If yes, why doesn't he tell us. I mean, if there's a generation gap in blue states but not in red states, that's interesting. But if there are generation gaps in both kinds of states, then maybe it's just normal. I'm saying, how are we supposed to read this information?

Also what kinds of organizations? Any kind? Baseball teams? Garden clubs? Nonprofit companies? For-profit companies? Newspapers? Political parties? Labor unions? Lay confraternities? Sororities? Well, something like that; he's studying certain types of corporate entities, that do certain types of business:

The answer — whether the person leads a college, a nonprofit, a tech company, an entertainment company or a publication — is generally the same: Yes, and it’s massive.
And they all have generation gaps, which are substantial according to his informants, who run them. And who aren't in red states, where things might be different. Or not, you know.
The managers at these places, who are generally 35 and above, are liberals. They vote Democratic and cheer on all the proper causes of the left. But some of the people under 35 are not liberals, but rather are militant progressives. 
Most of the managers are 35 or up. All of the managers are liberals and vote Democratic. All of them cheer on proper leftist causes. Do any of them cheer on improper leftist causes?

Some of the people under 35 are not liberals. Evidently not including those managers who are under 35, since all managers in blue state organizations are liberals, regardless of age. So it's non-managers who are militant progressives. Do all of them cheer on improper leftist causes? I'm just trying to get a grip on the situation here, excuse me.
The older people in the organization often have nicknames for the younger set: the Resistance, Al Jazeera, the revolutionaries. The young militants are the ones who stage the protests if someone does something deemed wrong.
Ah. The managers and the over-35 non-managers (I suppose some of the over-35 non-managers are not liberals) make up nicknames for their younger colleagues. One of these is after a news organization that is not in a blue state but in the emirate of Qatar. Another is after people on Twitter who wish Hillary had won, or possibly people who fought the Nazis in occupied France. The under-35s, at least the non-managers and non-liberals (an overlapping set) organize protests. When they deem something wrong. When they think somebody has done something wrong they protest against it. In a staged manner.

None of this is completely familiar to me, as a person over 35 who works in an organization in a blue state with a somewhat managerial status. I don't mean I'm not a liberal with an enthusiasm for proper leftist causes. I'm sure I am, more or less. Most of my colleagues probably are too. I may not be enough of a manager to know the details on that, and I don't think I know about anybody backing improper leftist causes. Nobody ever stages protests, which may mean that nobody ever does anything deemed wrong. My wife, who works for fairly large university, was organizing a protest against an appearance by racist psychologist Charles Murray a while back, and recently a threatened appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, although she's considerably over 35 at this point. Why do you suppose that is? Nobody in my shop has ever threatened us with a visit from Milo Yiannopoulos. I would deem it wrong if they did, especially since he really doesn't have a clear connection with anything we do, I think. But I'd probably just go home if he showed up. I always have plenty of leave time available for emergencies like that.
If a company fires an employee for writing an inappropriate memo or uttering an inappropriate phrase, it’s usually because there’s been a youth revolt.
If you fire somebody in one of these blue-state organizations you're a manager, so you're a liberal, most likely over 35. Once a guy in my company, well over 35—he's retired now—got hauled into HR for harassing a cafeteria employee. I'm certain he wasn't hitting on her because he's gay, but that's not saying he couldn't have bullied her or created a hostile work atmosphere. I think she was over 35 too. The under-35s seem to work really hard. I have not seen a youth revolt, though 15 years ago you used to hear relatively young—under 35—people complaining about inappropriateness.
If a speaker is disinvited from a festival or from campus, it’s often because of a youth revolt. If a writer is fired for a tweet, or an editor has to resign from a literary review because of an unacceptable article, it’s often because of a youth revolt.
Unless he's conducting a sociological inquiry to find out what happened to Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis University or Kevin D. Williamson at The Atlantic or Ian Buruma at the New York Review of Books. There must be a Resistance at The Atlantic! NYRB must have an Al Jazeera among the under-35s! Who knew? The Resistance at The Atlantic does research for David Frum and line edits Ta-Nehisi Coates. They are both over 35, and therefore liberals, who back proper leftist causes. Does Coates back an improper leftist cause? Like reparations for slavery? Is that proper or not?
This generation gap is completely unsurprising. At pivotal moments of cultural change, such gaps open up, as the older generation breathes in one atmosphere and the younger generation breathes in another. After the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Midge Decter wrote an outstanding book called “Liberal Parents, Radical Children.” We’re seeing a similar chasm today. 
If it's unsurprising we should all stop worrying about whatever it is. Decter was all about emotion recollected in tranquility. The turmoil was over, so she wrote an outstanding book. I think she lived in a mostly blue state and was over 35 while her children were not. Was young John Podhoretz a militant progressive back in the day? Did he organize protests when somebody made an inappropriate remark? Just asking. I realize it was a different time, when the militant progressives may have engaged in completely different activities. After all, they didn't have Twitter.

All right, I'll come clean. I think every word in this column is fiction. I don't believe Brooks has ever asked the manager of a blue-state enterprise if they have a generation gap in their organization, or a red state either. I think he's working on more of a thought experiment: "If I asked a lot of blue state organization managers whether they have a generation gap, what would they say?" Or a speculative reconstruction. Brooks might as well be that kid who tweets about visting "hipster coffee shops" where all the Democrats are in love with Donald Trump. He—Jacob Wohl, the kid who organized the horribly botched conspiracy to accuse Robert Mueller of sexual assault—comes from California, which is a blue state, and he's only 21 or something, but he doesn't seem to back any improper leftist causes or belong to Al Jazeera.

I think Brooks is trying to imagine an explanation of the mystery of NYRB, and he may be worried about his own status. What if this happens at the New York Times? Does the New York Times have its own under-35 Al Jazeera organization? What if Brooks writes an unacceptable article? What if he utters an inappropriate phrase?

So I guess we've got him really scared, comrades. Scared senseless, if you know what I mean. I could go on and on, but that's all you really need to know from this column.

Update: Steve M finds the humor in Brooks siding this week with the "meritocratic individualists" he hated last week, so that's something else.

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