David Brooks Has a Fever, and the Only Prescription is…More Tradition?

It’s Friday, and you know what that means: someone at the New York Times filled up the burlap sack that is David Brooks and then slowly squeezed it until a steady stream of wind, reminiscent of flatulent poetry, escaped and filled the morning air. Today, in a column entitled “How to Fight the Man,” David Brooks regales us with his theory as to why the current ideological demeanor of youthful protestors is philosophically flaccid. Basically, Brooks suggests that you become the Man. Because fighting yourself is just silly.

Brooks starts slow today, however, preferring subtlety to the sledgehammer of stupidity he wielded on Tuesday. He begins by describing this video, which I will link to but not watch because I have no interest in watching a millennial rhyme about Jesus. In any case, this ersatz poet, one Jefferson (you’ve got to be kidding me) Bethke, apparently did not have the courage of his convictions and folded like laundry when confronted with the argumentative weight of a theological blogger. Yes, Mr. Bethke could not even withstand the pressure of someone who writes about Jesus on the Internet.

This impotence, Brooks argues, is significant because it belies a great problem with today’s protesters: namely, their coddled miens and the childish conviction that experience outweighs tradition make it impossible for them to oppose authority for any significant period of time:

Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.

This seems to be a moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual.

We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.

What could Brooks possibly be alluding to here? I vaguely recall a recent protest movement that galvanized thousands of individuals and led to occupations of land in major urban areas, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of that protest. I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway, because protesting current political or cultural situations is ultimately a waste of time if you haven’t had the honor of choking on the fetid wind of the Enlightenment philosophers. But Brooks, as we all know, has some ideas about what’s going on. And as you probably guessed, it has something to do with tradition:

If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain— then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.

In other words, stop playing Xbox and smoking weed and read some Thomist philosophy. That will set your whiny, millennial ass straight, because nothing spurs social change like some post-Aquinian metaphysics.

I’ll admit that today’s column is not Brooks’s worst; all he’s really saying is “do your fucking homework.” I can’t disagree with that, as much as it pains me. What I find problematic is the implication that a countercultural ideology is somehow a waste of time unless one has a degree in philosophy. Moreover, I doubt that subservience to tradition is inherently good, especially where tradition is plainly wrong.

Also, I just saw part of that video. Someone needs to slap that wanker in the face.

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