Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Savvy Tribe Is Savvy

David Brooks tells a horrifying tale of human suffering.

[meow meow meow]

[Fanny] Burney’s struggle reminds one that character is not only moral, it is also mental. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in public but also inside the head, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts.

Let's take a look at Brooks.

Not exactly Gladiator, is he?

You know you're in trouble when the elite start talking about suffering, because it will not be theirs. It seems modern society is self-indulgent and has self-esteem, both of which are equally bad.
In this atmosphere [of self-esteem], we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.

So the problem is that we depend on the herd to tell us what to think. We believe what we want to believe, and ignore what doesn't fit in with what everyone else is thinking or what we don't want to see. Naturally Brooks decides that the source of this problem is that we are so well satisfied with our own opinion that we don't bother with anyone else's. This is all well and good except for one little problem: We change those home-grown, self-satisfied opinions to fit in with everyone else. People who have Brooks' type of preening self-esteem don't do that. Look at Megan McArdle; she is satisfied with an Authority Of One, and while she does not form her own opinions, once formed they are fixed forever.

But Brooks, servant of the power elite, cannot or will not admit that people err when they submit to Authority, of course. Another reason must be found, one that flatters the elite and condemns liberals, for liberals are seen by the elite to be suffering from far more self-esteem than they deserve. Very generally speaking, liberals are seen as people who want to help other people, and who then feel good about themselves for being good people. This is vanity and ego to the elite, who claim these characteristics for themselves alone.
But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

Brooks, court jester of the Savvy Tribe, is above both liberals and conservatives. This is practically the definition of this tribe: those who despise the stupidity of the right and the pacifism of the left. Note that stupidity and pacifism are both seen as evidence of mental feebleness. The elite, they tell themselves, are neither weak nor stupid, and thus Libertarianism was born, suckled by oil and gas money until it grew into a sickly, deregulation-obsessed child.
There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.

What is the connection between tax cuts and victimization? Another characteristic of the Savvy Tribe is the inability to flesh out arguments, which is not surprising since they start with a problem, skip analysis, and go straight to a solution that just happens to help the elite and make them feel good about themselves.
To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate.

Wow, that is so true. All those foolish people out there who never think, never see the weaknesses in their arguments because they refuse to acknowledge anything that doesn't fit into their world-view. Who supported war without considering real-world consequences, who threw their support behind bought-and-paid politicians, who attacked the poor for being victims of the elite. Can you believe those people?
A few people I interview do this regularly (in fact, Larry Summers is one). But it is rare. The rigors of combat discourage it.

Larry "Women have 78% percent of the brains of a man." Summers? Larry "What 7.7 million in Wall Street payoffs?" Summers? Larry "We are all Friedmanits now." Summers? That guy?
Of the problems that afflict the country, this is the underlying one.

No, the underlying problem is the slavish habit of obedience and submissiveness, of tribalism that forbids dissent. It is elites who pay their servants to whip the other servants and tell them that they're bad and wicked and lazy and deserve to poor. It sure as hell isn't self-esteem.

One day, David Brooks will be carved up and fed to the elite as the Sunday Roast, while they all exclaim at how pink and tender the meat is, and how soft the brains.


Anonymous said...

D.Brooks: "The surge worked! Bush was wise!"

Not so fast, bubi. Notice what happened the last day or so in oh-so-peaceful Iraq? 60 dead doesn't sound like the surge "working" to me.

Geez, talk about someone with cognition difficulties...

Kathy said...

Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.

Better than what? Worse than what?

I don't question my opinion of the surge, because my opinion was proved correct, not because it would be uncomfortable.

What the Hell does Fanny Burney's (one of the Original Feminists) mastectomy have to do with public opinion in 21st Century USA?

Brooks is a clumsy mediocre writer at best. Father Loadpants.