Haven't had one of these in a while:Bye-Bye, Bootstraps
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: August 3, 2006
In all healthy societies, the middle-class people have wholesome middle-class values while the upper-crust bluebloods lead lives of cosseted leisure interrupted by infidelity, overdoses and hunting accidents. But in America today we’ve got this all bollixed up.( Throught some screw-up in the moral superstructure... )
On the one hand, Brooks is certainly having fun with this -- all those *clever* literary and cultural allusions -- but he is making a serious point, too. Infamous article about middle-age slackers aside, there has been a lot of talk recently about the "disappearance of the middle class" and so forth. But wait, Brooks says: the middle classes deserve
to disappear for their moral laxity; they don't want to work, and now they're getting their just due. This is hardly new, really. Isn't the central tenet of capitialism that the wealthy are wealthy by desert
and the less wealthy only so because they don't work as hard? What he's fighting, I suppose is the class-warfare tenet that America now essentially is ruled by a plutocratic aristocracy. It isn't an aristocracy, however, because these people actually deserve
their positions of wealth and influence due to their hard work.
Such paragons of the aristocratic work ethic as Paris Hilton aside, perhaps it is true that the nouveau riche are starting to outnumber old money at the present. Isn't this the quintessential cycle of capitalism, though? Some people work (or cheat) hard to build up their fortunes, and their children live the life of ease and inactivity. My generation is supposed to be the most shiftless and self-entitled yet: don't worry, David -- within a generation or so all will be put "to rights" as far as the upper classes are concerned.
Of course, as he makes clear with that oh-so-hilarious-and-au-courrant final comment, this only really affects the men. Those upper-class women are still just spending their husbands' hard-won money on interior decorating and designer clothing to impress the help.
I know that this isn't really his main point: what Brooks really wants to draw our attention to is the moral decline of the middle and lower classes. And I think he correct in his essentials: the old bourgeoisie work ethic is disappearing. But I've read Weber and I found him convincing; it seems clear to me that this does come from a decline in traditional Protestant Values. I've been sort of hoping for a decline in those, actually, and really, I can't blame these middle-aged men. (Brooks somewhat misrepresents their cases, in fact: they did not simply stop working, but lost their jobs and have given up looking). Why should anyone spend his life working a 9-5 meaningless job for two weeks of vacation a year? That horrifies me. It's all very well to talk about laboring in one's Vocation: a vocation to medicine, to teaching, or to the law, or to computer programming, fine. But a vocation to staffing a call-center? To stocking shelves at Wal-Mart?
Education I think is the culprit. When you start thinking about it, you do wonder why you are wasting what little time you have. If you want us to be happy with menial jobs, you can't teach us Plato and Thoreau -- has anyone ever envisioned himself as a man of bronze in the ideal republic? But bring back Horatio Alger and vocational schools and perhaps you can train a new generation to be happy. And I'm surprised that Brooks, who is usually so quick to decry the 'feminization' of society that leaves no place for male needs and innate programming, isn't pointing out that there are fewer and fewer places for the lone man to be active and, well, 'manly.' Perhaps that will be next week's column: our society is geared towards female dominance at the expense of male morals.
It's a bit irritating, to, that while he will exult in the continued im
morality of wealthy women, he only indirectly praises the way that these middle-class wives are fulfilling their duties to their families in sticking by their men. Although this must be one of the few times in history that a conservative commentator isn't blaming us (yet) for the decline of society.
So I hope someone gets a hold of a transcript for the recent Rowling-Irving-King interview. I really want to know exactly what Rushdie asked and what she answered.