In fact, you never know when the Columnist is joking, which allows him to get away with quite a lot. He writes patent falsehoods. A young reporter calls him and points them out. The Columnist asks, don’t you get jokes? He says, “Is this how you’re going to start your career?” A Columnist does not expect to be fact-checked. He interprets it as a threat, from a would-be future Columnist.
But the Columnist learns that it doesn’t matter. The Columnist’s work is fantasy, an extensive anthropology of fictitious creations, and other serious people are enchanted. For the serious, a good Idea doesn’t need supporting evidence. The Idea is its own justification. The Columnist moves from his magazine of Ideas to his rightful position as official Columnist at the last newspaper.
Of course the Columnist knows he didn’t just get this job for his Idea. The Columnist got this job because the last newspaper is liberal, or perceived as liberal, but wants very, very much to also be fair, so one or two of its columnists are conservative. But you have to be a very specific kind of conservative to fit in at the last newspaper, whose most important readers are sensitive, liberal and rich (not coincidentally, just like everyone the Columnist writes about). You have to be a “not-too” conservative, preferably an erudite one who claims his conservatism from, say, Burke. You have to support the Republican Party most of the time but be careful to concede that they’ve perhaps gone just a bit too far some of the time.
In this unjustly successful phase the Columnist will be one of the most influential people alive. Or at least “influence” will be something else he projects, alongside “seriousness.” Our Columnist may not have started intending to become The Columnist. He may have preferred to be a humorist or essayist or maybe even a simple Ideas magazine editor. But no one turns down a column, and now his time is occupied with Sunday show panels, the follow-up books, debates of world-shaping importance (conducted only with other Columnists of his stature), and Ideas Festivals. (The Columnist spends the Bush years being wrong about Iraq.)
By now the Columnist uses the word “modesty” a lot, as in, “A few decades ago, pop singers didn’t compose anthems to their own prowess; now those songs dominate the charts.” The Columnist’s take is widely praised, and he even wins an award for civility.
Soon, there is even a serious president. The president immediately takes to the Columnist. They bond over their shared habit of mentioning having read Edmund Burke. They are both of them more serious than they are liberal or conservative. The president wants very much to be the sort of president the Columnist likes, and the Columnist wants very much to be the sort of Columnist the president reads. It seems like a perfect relationship.
But the Columnist is secretly already in decline. His party no longer even bothers to put forth the pretense of pretending to take the Columnist seriously. While the Columnist is writing “modesty manifestos” the powerful people he is supposed to have a channel to are all talking Breitbart, not Burke. Of course they had always liked Rand more than Burke anyway, but they had once thought, like the president thought, that they needed to protect their alliance with the Columnist in order to preserve their legitimacy among the serious. It turns out that ignoring the columnist does no damage to the brand. No power is lost when the party spurns the Columnist. The president still talks to the Columnist, but the president no longer acts like his world resembles the Columnist’s world.
But a Columnist is secure for life. His influence can wane, and the fun can go out of his work, but he will always be taken care of. He will be asked to teach at a prestigious school. His lack of expertise in any subjects beyond meeting deadlines and the projection of seriousness won’t be a problem, of course. Projecting seriousness is a useful tool for future elites. He will call his course something like “Modesty” and while he will prepare himself for snarking from the uncivil mob he will insist that there is nothing inherently ridiculous about assigning his own work in a class on “modesty.”
He teaches them seriousness. They teach him Macklemore. He studies his small sample of young people, unrepresentative of anything but their own class backgrounds, and as he always does he extrapolates to the whole. He uses their work for his column, and they dutifully keep up the charade that these specific young people stand in for the entire world of young people.
He gets to know these kids. And he realizes, or decides, that he hates them. They’re unjustifiably self-assured. They’ve got atrocious taste in everything, especially music and politics. They’re all unaware beneficiaries of a cushy life of grade inflation. These people are going to succeed him? This miserable bunch, these kids who’ve mistaken their performance of overachievement for actual achievement of any kind?
He hates them, and he hates, too, the people he imagines them growing into. He imagines them becoming the kinds of people he has always hated, in fact. People who’d helped to erode his status signifiers and people who mock his seriousness. People who write for Web sites. Web sites! And the people writing for Web sites have no deference for the Columnist. He has always dismissed these Web sites, but he now worries they are where new columnists will come from. Younger men, with more marketable sensibilities, adopt his patented method of Idea generation, and generate more buzz than he can now manage. People realize that the Columnist speaks to a constituency of one. Seriousness is still a valuable trait, obviously, and the Columnist will be welcome at Aspen every year for the rest of his days. He will not go hungry. But the Columnist sees this world just beside his own, where his seriousness is disrespected, even scorned. This world is the problem, he decides.
Now the Columnist decides he’ll write a column just for his constituency of one.
He writes a column for himself. The column is about those terrible kids. It is about those awful Web site writers. It is about everyone the Columnist knows professionally and socially. Of course, most of all it is about the Columnist. Because the Columnist is an expert in conflating unrelated or irrelevant elements in order to craft an Idea, he will conflate all of the things he hates into one subject, and then he will imagine that subject’s decline into irrelevance and existential dissatisfaction. (The column is self-hating, but he is still the Columnist so it is also still self-aggrandizing. The Columnist makes sure to recognize and praise his own modesty and humility, compared to the relentless assuredness of those kids and those Web site writers.)
There are still jokes. There is a joke about Macklemore, a reminder of the column he had those kids write. There are slightly exaggerated observations of the habits and foibles of the Columnist’s hyperspecific socioeconomic and regional milieu, of the sort he’s always made. Indeed, the central joke is very nearly one he’s already made. But the Columnist is no longer lightly ribbing. The Columnist is trying to inflict damage. But no one really understands why, or whom the column is directed at.
Of course, the column that the Columnist wrote for himself, that makes no sense to others, gets buzz. The Web site writers tweet about it on their iPad Airs and the Ideas magazine writers discuss it and drive traffic to it. The Columnist takes no pleasure in the buzz. Death approaches. But until it arrives, no one will ever take away the Columnist’s column. (“Hack list #4: David Brooks,” Alex Parene, Salon.com)
- - - - -
A parody of what was this close to a suicide note. eh, one doesn't kick a man when he is already on the ground weeping, curling reflexively into the fetal position.
A parody of what was thisclose to a suicide note. eh, one doesn't kick a man when he is already on the ground weeping, curling reflexively into the fetal position.
That depends on the man. I'm not convinced that it is desirable to let published professional sycophants know that, however low they may sink, they can still look forward to a peaceful final convalescence and respectful obituaries.
@Graham Clark The left accuses the right of malignant intent; the right accuses the left of the same. When will we learn to look one another in the eye and search for the common ground that unites us all, recognizing that true moral monsters are few and far between? Most of us are just products of our upbringing, our traumas, our failures, our transgressions. We all bleed the same. We stick to tribal codes because therein is social safety; it takes a moral giant to break down the walls between tribes and I don't see any on the horizon today in this country. Sad.
@lauralooch @Graham Clark ANd sometimes when there are two sides to a story they are not both entitled to equal weight. It is sad when some people insist that talking this way about every screwball idea is "fair and balanced"
@peaceofmind @lauralooch @Graham Clark I never said that all arguments should have equal weight. I was making the assertion that most humans are NOT moral monsters and should not be treated as such. That does NOT mean the argument and the moral structure that helped spawn it should not be carefully deconstructed and exposed. But we do a disservice to everyone to assume a malignant nature when ignorance or blindness are probably to blame. Most people will be willing to deconstruct their own moral life under two conditions: absolute crisis or the gentle prodding of a friend/spouse/therapist. Warlike behavior just makes the walls go up.
The left accuses the right of malignant intent; the right accuses the left of the same. When will we learn to look one another in the eye and search for the common ground that unites us all... We stick to tribal codes because therein is social safety; it takes a moral giant to break down the walls between tribes...
I will mention some of the repellant qualities of the above comment - the cliché bathos ("When will we learn to look one another in the eye"), the middlebrow behaviorism ("We stick to tribal codes because therein is social safety...") - simply to note them.
I rather doubt that you actually want the American public to "search for common ground", because while the right and the left have profound differences, one thing the vast majority do agree about is that people like you - centrists who dislike both sides because neither wants everything they want, and wish for a party that would combine the right's economic conservatism with the left's social liberalism (that is what you mean by "break down the walls") - should have less money.
@Graham Clark Oh God, I'm trying to argue with a sans-culotte. Get your guillotine off my f87king lawn.
@lauralooch@Graham ClarkYou make an excellent point Mr. Huntsman! How are we ever going to make progress if the plebes can make fun of professional assholes with impunity?
You know what's sad? That shit you just typed.
I apologize if this is Mr. Manchin as opposed to the other guy.
Oh God, I'm trying to argue with a sans-culotte. Get your guillotine off my f87king lawn.
This probably does reflect what you actually think of the working class, but unintentionally. I suggest you look up the phrase "sans culotte". (It seems to me that the word you wanted here was "Jacobin" or, more accurately yet, "Montagnard".)
That aside, I will say this for the more unctuous variety of libertarian: The madder you get, the better - or, at any rate, the less bad - your prose becomes.
@lauralooch @Graham Clark There is a mindset that one can split the difference....and all good things can come from compromise.
And I am sure that the third way people will insist that cutting that damn baby in half will solve everything.
But there is this thing called objective reality where the correct answer is about you and you happy compromisers ignoring....by absolute empirical evidence that right wing economic policies have been a disaster, bankers have caused terrible suffering, those two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing but cause power vacuums in those regions....and that compromising on social issues...like abortion, will only lead to banning contraception.
The middle ground isn't a place to find happiness Laura....but with critical thinking looking at objective reality will do more to find common ground than capitulating to people who basically are more interested in getting more money and power, than helping the most people.
This common ground crap is for people to lazy and too cowardly to stand for what is right.
@lauralooch @Graham Clark
Most of us are just products of our upbringing, our traumas, our failures, our transgressions. We all bleed the same.
I think that there aren't any true moral monsters out there, not even Hitler, who was starved and tightly swaddled as a child, experienced daily whippings with a bull whip, saw his mother as a death-dealing medusa, and who believed his own sperm might poison the blood of his female partners.
I don't know if I should just nod at your vision of a collective brotherhood, though -- "bleeding the same blood," sounds like it plays more to conservatives' vision of things rather than progressives', who surely aren't as prone to float themselves as if broken and bloodied "on the cross," like the doomed warriors in 300 (have to think about this one, though; it doesn't actually seem to apply to Dave Eggers, Miranda July or Spike Jonze, for instance).
And the part about "sticking to tribal codes because therein is social safety," awaiting a "moral giant to break down the walls between tribes" … hmmm.
I think the problem with this is that when I encounter someone thinking this way, I'm not sure just how present they are. I imagine them petting these poor broken, vulnerable, unpresuming souls, and thereby giving themselves some succor -- for it's a multiple of their bruised childhoods that actually seem to populate these places.
And this waiting for a giant moral man to arrive, scares me a bit. I feel like I could point out that they don't have to wait, that there's plenty they can actually do now, but if they had to attend to me I'd be an irritation. As if lost in a reality-balking vision -- like Monty Python's Lancelot -- we're still in that part of the narrative where there's nothing we can do, even if we, like, actually can. The righteous king only arrives when we've accumulated enough despair for this to feel a glorious miracle -- a lesson that you should never, ever, lose hope.
We're not all of the same blood. Conservatives just like it when we show submission and make ourselves pliable. Progressives show in their infuriating impishness, that they’re not about to partake in the con.