Friday, December 13, 2019

David Brooks Columns I Never Finished Reading

Maybe that's what it's about. Via Kevin A.Thompson.

I started in the middle of the Brooks of the Week ("The Politics of Exhaustion"), where this stood out on purely methodological grounds:
People in the exhausted camp are tired of having politics thrust in their face every hour. As Ryan Streeter of the American Enterprise Institute has found, young people who are “lonely at least once in a while” are more than seven times more likely to be active in politics than those who are socially active. Those who are exhausted have other things to do. They want to restore politics to its rightful place, and find meaning, attachment, entertainment and morality in something else besides Twitter wars and election campaigns.

People who are "lonely at least once in a while" are the opposite of those who are socially active? And those who are socially active are too exhausted to be active in politics and need to limit themselves to more morally significant activities, while loners are full of political energy and having a great time on Twitter? Reader, no. Brooks doesn't link the study, but it's not hard to find a reference to it, and that is not what it says:

One reason young people get involved in politics might be loneliness. In a nationally representative survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, 18- to 35-year-olds who are lonely and socially active (it is possible to be both) choose to volunteer for political organizations and campaigns at seven times the rate of their peers who are not lonely (22% vs. 3%). Conversely, socially active young adults who are not lonely choose to volunteer for faith-based organizations at six times the rate as their lonely peers (24% vs. 4%). 
My bold. The distinction is between two different kinds of socially active young people: those who deny that they are ever lonely even once in a while, and those who don't deny it. Something like three quarters of all of them don't volunteer for either kind of activity (some are engaged in civic organizations, or schools, but the "full report" gives such scanty information I have no idea how many), but for those who do, the deniers are overwhelmingly more likely to volunteer for religious organizations and those who acknowledge their loneliness are overwhelmingly more likely to volunteer in politics. That sounds like a definitely significant result, but my first choice for interpreting it would be to suggest that Millennials who volunteer for religious organizations are in crazed denial about the possibility that they could ever be lonely, in effect cult members, while the political ones aren't.

This is borne out by a couple of other results of the survey: the more frequently you go to religious services, the less often you feel lonely, which doesn't seem super-surprising

and the more time you spend with people of different religious backgrounds than your own, the more willing you are to admit to occasional loneliness, which is a bit more suggestive of that cult concept, the possibility that you might be more able to notice you're lonely if you hang out with people who don't belong to your cult

except the statistics don't look all that significant at first glance (no, I am not running any tests and I don't have enough info about the survey to guess whether it's even slightly worth doing).

It looks like a shitty study and AEI was too embarrassed to publish it in a serious way, but I would just like to submit that even if it was decent, the inference Brooksy seems to want to draw from it, that people with adequate social lives are too exhausted to talk about politics and people who are not too exhausted to talk about politics are weird-ass loners, is not evidenced. Driftglass found something in the column worth mocking, so by all means check that out, but I've had enough.

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