Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vampire of the Vanities

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

The conventional wisdom that the writing of New York Times columnist David Brooks sucks has taken on a whole new meaning with his most recent mishmash of a piece, titled The Big Decisions. The fact that he deliberately hides the conservative source of the funding for the author whose book on "transformational research" he peddles is just one of the problems with the column (more on that later.)

It's what poses as the subject matter. Let Count Brookula speak for himself:
Let’s say you had the chance to become a vampire. With one magical bite you would gain immortality, superhuman strength and a life of glamorous intensity. Your friends who have undergone the transformation say the experience is incredible. They drink animal blood, not human blood, and say everything about their new existence provides them with fun, companionship and meaning.
Would you do it? Would you consent to receive the life-altering bite, even knowing that once changed you could never go back?
The difficulty of the choice is that you’d have to use your human self and preferences to try to guess whether you’d enjoy having a vampire self and preferences. Becoming a vampire is transformational. You would literally become a different self. How can you possibly know what it would feel like to be this different version of you or whether you would like.
Vampire Hunter D then seamlessly segues into how the choice to become a vampire is similar to the choice of becoming a parent, or joining the military. He shares links for a North Carolina philosophy professor named L.A. Paul and her alleged research into the "transformative experience." As Brooks tells it, she has concluded that life's major decisions are better made with your gut than with your rational mind. In other words, you should be more like George W. Bush, who readily admits to having invaded Iraq based upon his intestinal rumblings. Brooks seizes upon the Orwellian discovery (in the halls of academe, no less) that ignorance is strength, and he enthusiastically slithers into another one of his favorite haunts: the mysticism of moralism. (for thee and not for him and his ilk.)
Our moral intuitions are more durable than our desires, based on a universal standard of right and wrong. The person who shoots for virtue will more reliably be happy with her new self, and will at least have a nice quality to help her cope with whatever comes.
Totally maddened by this drivel, I then clicked on Brooks's link to his philosopher to see if he was just making this shit up. And way, way down at the bottom of her page, in small print, is the notice that a billionaire's trust fund (the Templeton Foundation) has awarded her and some Notre Dame professors a multi-million-dollar cash grant to delve into "transformations". From there, it is ridiculously easy to follow the money into the true, religious right anti-science agenda of this grantor. (Whenever you feel puzzled by a David Brooks column, it is always best to look beyond the gobbledygook and search for the cash connection. You will usually not be disappointed.)

 I will let my published comment to his column tell the rest of the story: 
 Following the links to L.A. Paul and her book, we learn that her research on the "transformative experience" is funded by a $4 million grant from the Templeton Foundation.
As Nathan Schneider wrote in "The Nation," this billion-dollar foundation also finances research on the "virtues" of the free market, intelligent design, and the inclusion of religious curricula in medical schools. It donates heavily to such conservative think tanks as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
 Templeton's written purpose "is to encourage the top 1/10 of 1% of people and thereby encourage all people that progress in spiritual information is possible, desirable, can be done, and will be done."
Enter David Brooks, and his endless advice to the elite lovelorn, coupled with his relentless moralizing to the huddled masses.

In today's edition is the very subliminal message that all of you ladies on the Pill, or who might (gasp) even be contemplating an abortion, just go ahead and take the plunge into parenthood and maybe even some Brooksian nirvana on the side.

Left behind in the new "sharing" economy? Consider joining the military. Because let's face it, they're the only jobs the GOP is willing to fund.
 How vampires factor into all of this is anybody's guess. Maybe it's because the GOP make it their life's work to coddle the plutocrats sucking the rest of us dry.
David Brooks is an integral part of the corporate-funded media/political/academic nexus, which is in the business of hiding the perfidy of late capitalism within the muddy churn of the "marketplace of ideas." It remains unaccountable to the public, because its various agendas are rarely in the public interest. It is just surprising that Templeton is so honest about its true purpose of instructing the elite how best to "trickle down" its plutocratic gospel to the masses. Brooks is the power broker, selling the agenda of the robber barons of free market conservatism -- which is now in especial overdrive with the imminent arrival of Pope Francis on American shores. The pope, you may recall, made a recent reference to capitalism as a great big pile of steaming dung.

Thus does David Brooks turn to "spirituality" as co-opted by neoliberal vulture capitalists, movement conservatives, and other "thought leaders" suffering from a galloping case of Dark Ages nostalgia. And he gets paid mega-bucks to do it, while more real journalists are being eased out of newsrooms every single day. But, as Brooks glibly says, at least they'll be "left with a nice quality to cope with whatever comes."

The subtext of his Cotton Mather-lite column is "Go &%@% yourselves, plebes!"

Always look for and read the fine print. Always follow the money. Whenever possible, disinfect the vampires with the sunlight of exposure.

(A necklace of nice quality garlic bulbs wouldn't hurt either.)


Meredith NYC said...

I haven't read Brooks column, and i admire your strong stomach to absorb it and construct a good retort--exposing the money path. I confess I didn't read Bruni's column either, only the headline and some comments, and then posted an impulsive negative comment, saying I'm up to here with this crap.

Brooks's hypocrisy, so evident to most of his commenters, doesn't bother the Times. It turns Times readers' stomachs. But who have they got that is the true other side of the spectrum, to balance this out? Morally, politically? Progressive readers aren't getting their due. We deserve better. In fact many of the comments are consistently better than many of the columns.

Ste-vo said...

Thank you Karen for your excellent evisceration of Mr. Brooks. For a long time, my most loathed NYT columnist was Thomas Friedman, but I have moved beyond him. I am sure it was that illuminating little book by Belen Fernandez, "Thomas Friedman: Imperial messenger at Work," that I received for donating 10 bucks to some group.I keep hoping that someone would do the same for David, but alas, i will just have to keep hoping.

I too wrote a comment to "The Big Decisions" op-ed and to my complete shock/surprise it was APPROVED by the Coment Police. Here it is: "You are back and obviously refreshed from your two-week vacation. Unlike, as is being reported, most Americans who are too afraid to take a vacation for fear of.....who knows what they are afraid of, but I dare say it is something that has been rampant since the trickle-down economy has been in vogue. And I forgot how much I enjoyed the comments of Larry Eisenberg, Craig Geary, Jack Mahoney and Karen Garica. Hopefully you guys are as reinvigorated as our Mr. Brooks."

I should have also included in that list, Matthew Carnicelli of Brooklyn, NY, but his comment appeared later in the day and I can only subject my self to his David's blathering once a day - twice a week.

So consider it.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Add environmental writer Bill McKibben to the We Loath Brooks Club. In a review of the encyclical by Pope Francis on anthropogenic climate change, McKibben admits he is in awe of the document. It's so remarkably different from the usual papal bull.

"Instead of a narrow and focused contribution to the climate debate, it turns out to be nothing less than a sweeping, radical, and highly persuasive critique of how we inhabit this planet—an ecological critique, yes, but also a moral, social, economic, and spiritual commentary."

Oh-oh. Say the word 'moral' and David Brooks will dutifully pop up to make sure you're on the right path. McKibben is ready, however. He goes way out of his way at least four times to call Brooks one of the great hacks running interference for suicidal idiocy.

"Brooks, for instance, makes the centerpiece of his attack on the encyclical the notion that the promising technocratic approach is, fortunately, expanding fracking, because burning natural gas produces less carbon than burning coal. This is scientifically obtuse (as I [previously] explained in these pages, an emerging body of evidence shows that fracking instead liberates vast quantities of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas), but in any event the extent of the damage we’ve already done to the climate means we no longer have room for slightly less damaging fossil fuels…."

In closing, McKibben puts Brooks right up there on a high pedestal in the conservative pantheon beside the gods Reagan and Thatcher.

"Brooks, Reagan, and Thatcher summon the worst in us and assume that will eventually solve our problems—to repeat Brooks’s sad phrase, we should rely on the 'low motivations of people as they actually are.' ”

Speak for yourself, David.

Pearl said...

Meredith: Two great comments from you in Krugman's latest. Bernie could run rings around Krugman on any economic topics by telling the true facts which Krugman doesn't bother to investigate. And readers of the usual anti Bernie columns are still angry about the NYTimes role in downplaying Bernie's role and preventing important information to be broadcast. And elsewhere I find similar criticism about attacks or ignoring Bernie's role in this race to the Presidency, which will hopefully be forced to change before long.
You spelled this out in your comments.

Pearl said...

"Hillary Clinton’s Rivals Critical of Democratic Party Politics"

At last, a decent report of the results of the
democratic debate yesterday in the NYtimes, which indicates revolt among some of the Democratic runners for the presidency. And it was printed without disallowing non subscribers to the paper to be cut off from the article.

I think we are making headway and the usual excellent comments from readers follow.
I think Bernie made some excellent comments that electrified many in the audience.

Meredith NYC said...

Thanks Pearl. And some of the replies to my comment re PK were very good.....a few lines from different replies:

"The NYT has given precious little news about Sanders’ positions while presenting him as a quirky, leftist Don Quixote, good for a laugh but not to be taken seriously, But with daily coverage of Trump reality show.

I suspect that Krugman stands to possibly gain extremely high influence in the next Democratic administration - most especially if it is Hillary or some other establishment Democrat. He is, after all, a fairly high ranking part of the establishment of the party and the country.

If he makes no mention of Bernie Sanders in the near future, I will begin to suspect that Prof. Krugman, too, has been bought by the monied elites and is playing a very tricky game at their behest."

I said this also ----Let’s start doing public street protests demanding the NYT and mainstream media shape up and do right by the public.

Meredith NYC said...

Also Pearl..... I just read the article you linked to –Clinton’s Rivals Critical of Dem Party Politics. Good, with plenty of good comments. (So many comments, so little time!)

I saw part of O’Malley’s speech ...was impressed with him. Good points criticizing the Dems re debates---their number and timing. Why aren’t they competing right now with the Gop debates? I don’t get it.

Also NYT....Bernie Sanders’ Success in Attracting Small Donors Tests Importance of ‘Super PACs’. Says ...when a Vermont legislator offered to set up a super PAC ... Mr. Sanders told him to “kill it,” ... because did not want to be beholden to “the millionaires and billionaires.”

The Times does have a few interesting articles that I missed, been busy and also read mostly the op ed page. Maybe not a good idea, considering the quality.

Pearl said...

Also Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Clinton lapdog, who was scowling at the democratic debate when more debates were called for (she was trying to limit it to four) was roundly criticized by several readers for her "leadership" in the Democratic party. I have always disliked her and her right wing approach to the democratic party with her personal attacks on anyone opposing her views.Good to read about her unpopularity among many democrats.