As if we already didn’t face a cornucopia of crises, now “we live in a country in epistemological crisis, in which much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality.” Worse, “this is not just an American problem. All around the world, rising right-wing populist parties are floating on oceans of misinformation and falsehood.”
Eeek! Oh, wait. This latest apocalyptic caterwauling is from David Brooks, a social commentator who once LARPed as Nostradamus by prognosticating Senator Barack Obama would be a “very good president” based upon his “perfectly creased pants.” So, count me among the skeptical when it comes to the babbling Brooks’ assessment of Republican populism.
Nonetheless, though curiosity killed the cat, it no longer matters since climate change will kill us all in less than a decade according to Brooks’ beloved credentialed (if not accomplished) class, many of whom religiously watch weathercasts while awaiting the End Times. Ergo, let’s take a peek at Brooks’ critique of we lesser lights in his November 28 New York Times column, “The Rotting of the Republican Mind.”
Brooks commences with a cursory list of reasons why he believes Republicans are cognitively degenerating: the belief Joe Biden won because of fraud; climate change denial; and objections to mandatory lockdowns and masks.
Here’s my executive summary: Brooks is peeved we don’t listen to him and his ilk.
Brooks’ bill of particulars is instructive for its omissions. Where is his inclusion of how the Left still believes—despite all evidence—that Russia and Trump colluded to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton? Where is his inclusion of the Left’s anti-science hysterics about an impending climate doomsday? And where is his inclusion of the Left’s refusal to concede the massive societal damage, including deaths, of the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns?
Ah, but Brooks is writing about why Republican populists are mentally disturbed. It avails him naught to discourse upon when and why his elitist, leftist credentialed class is wrong, because he wants us brought to heel so as to heed them.
I know what you’re thinking. I urge you, however, not to jump to conclusions about Brooks, especially when he can support his “analysis” by citing not just any essay, but a “remarkable essay that Jonathan Rauch wrote for National Affairs in 2018 called ‘The Constitution of Knowledge.’” I confess to having not read this essay, as life is short. (Nor, for that matter, have I seen the crease of Rauch’s pants, which may or may not be short.) But here are Brooks’ pertinent takeaways.
First, some really smart people should determine what the rest of us can think: “In democratic, nontheocratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, teachers, journalists and others who disagree about a lot but agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge.” Guess who’s not in this group?
Secondly, this “epistemic regime” is censorious, boasts about it, and demands more power to silence more people: “This ecosystem, Rauch wrote, operates as a funnel. It allows a wide volume of ideas to get floated, but only a narrow group of ideas survives collective scrutiny. ‘We let alt-truth talk,’ Rauch said, ‘but we don’t let it write textbooks, receive tenure, bypass peer review, set the research agenda, dominate the front pages, give expert testimony or dictate the flow of public dollars.’” Guess who isn’t part of that “we”?
Who is part of this “we”? The Left’s sanctimonious charlatans who purport to be our betters; and who disdain the constraints the First Amendment imposes upon their power to mute Americans, cancel their careers, and, most of all, violate their freedom of conscience—that cohort is absolutely included. Gee, could this be why Republican populists aren’t fans of Brooks and his illiberal “epistemic regime”?
Au contraire les paysans! Brooks argues that our bitching stems not from sincere objections to the elitists’ policies and practices, but merely due to our envy of their success. We covet their “money and status,” and their “ever more prosperous metro areas.” Worse, we peons carp about how our tax dollars subsidize their meritless largesse. The gall!
Undaunted by our deplorability, Brooks lordly deigns to diagnose why we are assholes:
While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities. In 1972, people without college degrees were nearly as happy as those with college degrees. Now those without a degree are far more unhappy about their lives.
Now, why would that be? Is it because elitists in the epistemic regime have advocated and profited from incessantly trying to destroy everything we cherish, including our communities, as they outsourced jobs while demanding ever more of our tax dollars for the privilege of having them screw us? On this, Brooks is coquettishly mute. But, as befits him, he has a milquetoast socialist remedy: therapeutic socialism sans Mussolini. As Brooks writes:
People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural, and political power. Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center calls this the “Density Divide.” It is a bitter cultural and political cold war.
The only density divide is the one between Brooks’ ears. It is not jealousy of our self-anointed betters that is the bone of contention. It is the inane and injurious decisions they attempt to foist upon us. One does not need grifting conspiracy theorists and/or the dark web to make the citizenry of a free republic founded upon liberty and equality loathe elitists whose toxic imbecility and totalitarian tactics are endangering everything we hold dear.
Still, Brooks wonders why “millions of people have come to detest those who populate the epistemic regime” and why “millions not only distrust everything the ‘fake news’ people say but also the so-called rules they use to say them.” Here’s a hint, David: Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Not that Brooks will take the hint. His power of projection is on a roll:
For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low-status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.
Here’s another hint: you and Cass-wipe just described the Left, especially in the era of Orange Man Bad.
But hold your horses—especially you rural deplorables—Brooks is about to reveal his path for our redemption. “That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it,” he writes. “And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.”
Yes, we lesser beings need to hang around more with our betters so we can know why we suck; and who we should aspire to be like. All the while, we should be grateful when they deign to take measures to fix us—you know, like the way a vet fixes a dog. Unsurprisingly, Brooks concedes it may take a while for us to submit and for everything to become hunky-dory because we are such low-rent ignoramuses. “Rebuilding trust is, obviously, the work of a generation.”
There, Brooks may be onto something. We Republican populists will never trust elitists like Brooks, who completely lack self-awareness, engage in projection, denigrate dissent as paranoia, and pine for the primacy of an unquestioned and unchallengeable “epistemic regime.” But, hey, that’s on us, because we are too paranoid, insecure, and envious of our betters to let them tell us what and how we can think or what we can even discuss—right, Brooks?
One of the best epitaphs for the dead-end elitist conceit of Brooks and his ilk comes from Roger Kimball: “This is funny. But not intentionally. Which means that it is also sad.”
True, but for my part, I am fonder of an epithet I learned from my father, who grew up in an orphanage and went on to earn a master’s degree in special education. He had a term for folks like Brooks and others from his elitist epistemic regime: “educated idiots.”