Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lunch With David Brooks

David Brooks deserves all the criticism he's getting for his column in the New York Times, "How We Are Ruining America."

Brooks writes:

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

...As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

...I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.
Oh, good grief.

What a load of crap!

This is a perfect response:

It makes sense that the bizarre, materialistic, superficial guy that gushed about Obama being presidential material because of the crease in his pants would be so obsessed with a goofy gourmet sandwich shop and other idiotic garbage.

The right baby carrier?

Give me a break!

Brooks lives in a strange bubble.

Not all of us are slaves to the BS that apparently rules his life.

It's crazy to state that "American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class."

"Completely illegible"? A person needs to have grown up in upper-middle-class America in order to feel comfortable in a gourmet sandwich shop? That's a positively loony assertion. Odds are at least some of the employees of the gourmet sandwich shop don't have more than a high school diploma in terms of education.

Without a doubt, having parents with money is an advantage, but that doesn't guarantee success. Furthermore, the "right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes" are utterly irrelevant. Those things matter to Brooks and goofs like him but they don't mean anything to most.

Brooks needs to learn that eating a "Padrino" or "Pomodoro" doesn't make him special.

He believes the crap that he revels in signals "You are not welcome here." That's so funny. He doesn't understand that we don't want it. He doesn't realize that we aren't the least bit impressed.

His warped mindset isn't ruining America. It's ruining him.


Anonymous said...

Signalling is not just an upper-middle class or HNWI thing: Third-wave feminists and other progressives "virtue signal" when they tweet out #resist and #nastywoman and #shepersisted as indicators that they are #woke. Just like business professionals have their abbreviated codes and buzzwords, a la "Let's run the RFP up the flagpole." Just like white rural working class share the same weekend rituals of hunting and attending religious services and country music. It's all to demonstrate that you are "in," and reaffirm it to your groups and yourself.

Brooks's point--which interestingly you barely address--is how signalling entrenches class differences. Sure, they're surmountable: if you want to know more about Italian charcuterie, go inside a fricking store and sample the meat. It's free for Christ's sake. But what do you do (1) about friends in your own socioeconomic class and microgroup within that class who could care less what the difference is between coppa and soppresata and might accuse you of being uppity and (2) living in an insecure environment where you are wondering where your next meal is coming from and not the finer points of the difference between imported and domestic prosciutto. Or more bluntly, when an African American student overachieving is accused of "acting white?" That type of behavior is signalling too. The more detailed signalling gets, the harder it is to keep up if you're not in the "in" crowd.

Making fun of David Brooks (and let's face it, he's dweeby enough to be a prime target) does not make class inequality and the societal structures that support it disappear.

Anonymous said...

This with David Brooks and the 99 percenter begs for a parody with role reversal. You have a non-yuppie taking a yuppie out to lunch, say with a little money supplied by winning a smallish lotto prize. (like a $2000 prize) It would go something like this;

I took my Silicon Valley friend (or relative) out to lunch at a Mom and Pop burger/hotdog stand. We drove there in my car and he asked why I didn't ride a bike everywhere like he does at home in San Fransisco. He explained how he rides a $10,000 racing bike while riding in my car I bought for half that. He mentioned it's great exercise but couldn't understand that a car v bike accident will prove that the bike loses. In the restaurant, he asked about the lack of kale, and other ingredients I never even heard of. I explained that we non-yuppies like to keep it simple because we have tastebuds that work. Once we finished eating, we got back into the car when he said I needed more exercise. At that point I mentioned that I'm on my feet all day and the last thing I want to do is put more miles on my screwed up knees unnecessarily and bicycles are the commuting method of last resort. Similarly, we non-yuppies are way less likely to have a dog of a useless breed.

We talked later about the economy, and he says it's great. Meanwhile, we 99 percenters know better. Either the economists (who are also yuppies) are lying or they are getting their information from that big dish in Puerto Rico aimed at Kepler 452 Bravo.Because the economy always sucks.