Dear Mr. Brooks: The program you are looking for is the draft

I want a job at the New York Times.  It is clearly a place that pays people to be stupid.  David Brooks gives Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 a very nice review.  Coming Apart claims that there is a big divide between rich Americans and poor Americans.  I like Charles Murray, and think he is frequently brilliant, but the heads up for him here is that there are always divides.  They’ve been by class, geography, politics, culture, etc.  To look at income and NASCAR in 2012, is awfully limited.

But I was talking about Brooks.  Brooks is horrified by the divide and has a rousing, and “NYT stupid,” conclusion:

I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.

If we could jam the tribes together, we’d have a better elite and a better mass.

And there you have my post title.  In the years between WWI and WWII and Vietnam, the big mixer-upper was the draft.  No draft, no mixing up.  We don’t have a new cultural divide.  We have an old, 19th Century era cultural divide.

Some are thinking the draft might be a good thing, but I don’t think our military deserves to have foisted upon it a random sampling of the current younger generation.

By the way, if you’re thinking that this is an unusually sour and snarky post, even by my standards, you’re right.  Both Brooks’ column and Murray’s premise rubbed me the wrong way.

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  • Michael Adams

    I am badly rubbed as well, but, Brooks can do that on most any day. It’s a further bit of evidence of his stupidity that he does not see that we get the elite view any time we turn on the television, and most of the times that we turn on the radio. I got it for twenty years in church. My kids would have gotten the same line in the public schools, and did hear it in some of their private schools.

  • David Foster

    There was no draft in the years between WWI and WWII. It was eliminated after WWI and not restarted until 1940, after the successful German invasion of France.

    Maybe you mean the years between WWII and through Vietnam? 

  • David Foster

    The statement that people were more equal in the Old Days needs to be qualified. It may be true that the steelworker and the CEO of US Steel in 1955 were closer together in income than today’s Apple tech support specialist and the CEO of Apple. But consider their working environment. Both the Apple CEO and the tech support specialist work in air-conditioned offices and are not exposed to any serious physical discomfort of danger. Looks different when you consider the 1955 case, where the CEO did work in an air-conditioned office while the steelworker functioned in the very hot, dirty, not-very-healthy, and often quite dangerous environment of a steel mill.

    One of the reasons why parents in those days put so much emphasis on having their kids “get an education” was that they saw a very considerable divide between the blue-collar and white-collar worlds of work. 

  • JKB

    I propose that 50% of any gentrifying neighborhood, be allocated for low rent housing for the mass.  That way, the new elite can rub shoulders with the poor, as well as the drug dealers, addicts and the homeless.  They can get started right now in DC, Brookllyn, Queens.  With some urban planning they could return Greenwich Village to it’s yearned for gritty state.

  • Earl

    JKB: That would stop the gentrifying in its tracks, of course.  No sane person with the means to eliminate the “grit” would put up with it….but the “gentry” don’t wish to pay the price required for “grit elimination” simply in order to live in accord with their (hypocritical) utopian views.
    As I’ve gotten older, I have less and less patience for being rubbed the wrong way by gross stupidity and utopian (totalitarian) dreams.  So I don’t read Brooks.
    The question for society is this: What is our military for?  If the defense of the nation is the primary role, then the draft is a terrible idea.  If it’s just another government program for the accomplishment of the utopian ideals of our masters, then have at it!
    Just don’t call yourself a “conservative” if you harbor any such plans….or even think that they “might be a good idea”.

  • Karl

    And of course, there’s this reponse (hat tip: Instapundit)
    If New York Times columnists think a service program requiring people to spend a few years mixing with the other tribe, perhaps they should be the trail blazers.

  • Ymarsakar

    Rubbing evil is rather un-hygienic book. This is why I recommend, for your mental and spiritual health, not to read the New York Times or Leftist propaganda, any more.

  • pst314

    So David Brooks wants everyone to be forced to work for several years on projects chosen by the state.
    For a “conservative” he sure is eager to militarize our society.
    Maybe that’s because he imagines an America where the commissars are all people like him, and all wear well-tailored suits with perfectly creased pants.

  • Libby

    I read that Brooks excerpt and I wonder why he assumes that no “tribes” are mixing and why he thinks forcing others to mix is so wonderful. Outside of Manhattan people do mix in all kinds of places. We manage to meet a variety of people through work, our son’s (public) school, activities, and especially church.
    I suggest he focus on getting outside of his own bubble and quit with the social engineering. Those of who mix don’t need some elitist’s help, and those who don’t want to mix shouldn’t have too.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “…but the “gentry” don’t wish to pay the price required for “grit elimination” simply in order to live in accord with their (hypocritical) utopian views.”

    Methinks that Earl has just perfectly defined the Democrat Left, from its aristrocrat wannabees to its  OWS offspring.

  • David Foster

    The biggest single cause of the Divide is excessive emphasis on education-based credentialism. Any serious analysis of the problem will need to pay good attention to this factor.

  • 11B40


    Back in the ’70s, as part of a team-building exercise, I told my sweetheart that we were like the famous heyday Yankee battery, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, to which she replied with all her female intelligence, “And I’m Yogi, right?!” With that kind of education, I can’t help but wonder, but not for very long, which tribe Mr. Brooks thinks himself part of while so caring for the other.

    The ending of the military draft was the beginning of the hollowing out process. I’m sorry to read the Bookworm sees it as an infliction upon our America 2.0 military. We’ve now spent 10 years fighting in two third world countries that the Wermacht, which wasn’t exactly an all-volunteer outfit, would have rolled over in weeks. It seems that the “unglory” days of Iraq when enlistments were un-voluntarily extended and tours of duty similarly stretched have found their assigned memory holes. So, hey, let’s cut another 80,000 or so troops, that’ll work. While I can certainly see how our flag and general officers would see it similarly, in those spare moments when they’re not concentrating on their next star, their credibility on the subject is long gone, like the proverbial turkey through the corn. When a 60 year old Secretary of State biddy asks the military if they’re not using the army can she borrow it, I think the bottom of the barrel has been reached.

    In terms of foreign affairs, America today much reminds me of the stereotypical films of the African lion contesting over his kill with a pack of non-laughing hyenas. Some members of the pack will go after the lion, others the kill, but none of them have any intention of doing the lion any good. When President Obama first showed his graying head on the national scene, I opined that, in my Bronx neighborhood, he would have been known as “Lunch Money”. I think most of the world has also realized that.



  • Rick Z

    As quite possibly the only Jewish Republican Deadhead CPA in Marin County who happens to be a Vietnam-era veteran, I can honestly say all this class division and tribalism talk is a bummer, dude.

  • Tonestaple

    I heard Charles Murray interviewed for an hour or two on Bill Bennett’s radio show this week, and I don’t think Brooks really got the point.  From what Murray said (and I haven’t read the book yet), the problem isn’t the divide as much as it is the values represented by each side of the divide.  The “Fishtown” values do not include marriage, having two parents to bring up a child, drug use, etc., none of which is good for society.  The problem is the “Fishtown” values spreading like a contagion so that no one raises an eyebrow at an out-of-wedlock birth any more.

    So a draft of any kind is not going to work.  The problem of the divide is its breadth between the lower and the upper.  Unless someone can convince the children of the lower side that as they grow up, they need to avoid the toxic behaviors of their parents, this will just keep getting worse.  But I don’t know who’s going to do that although I’m pretty sure a draft won’t accomplish a thing.

  • David Foster

    A story that I think is relevant here…

    A few days ago I had dinner at a somewhat expensive (but not VERY expensive) restaurant in the DC suburbs. After showing us to our table, the hostess, observing that I was wearing black slacks, asked if I’d like her to bring a black napkin to substitute for the white one that was already on the table.

    To match the slacks, don’t you know.

    I kid you not.

    I don’t know what % of customers of this restaurant have such a precious aesthetic sense that they would place a significant value on napkin/pants color matching, but the management of the place evidently thought it was a nontrivial number.

    Most likely, the customers who are in this category would not mix well with people of lower socioeconomic classes…. 

  • Karl

    From what Murray said (and I haven’t read the book yet), the problem isn’t the divide as much as it is the values represented by each side of the divide.
    Theodore Dalrymple says the same thing.  People living at the bottom have different values and social norms than people living in higher strata.

  • Bookworm

    The thing is that this values divide is also nothing new.  Maybe it’s exacerbated by pop culture, but it’s always existed.  What made America different from Europe was that one could cross the line from one class to another.  If Murray is saying people can’t cross the line anymore, that’s a new problem, making us more like the stratified old world.

  • Danny Lemieux

    One divide that Murray inadvertently highlights is the divide among conservatives and Democrats regarding the root causes of poverty: Democrats believe people behave badly because they are poor, conservatives believe people are poor because they behave badly.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Left in this nation is powerful because they have figured out that they got a lot more influence by blackmailing and bribing people, than blowing them up with bombs. This has allowed them to create an alliance where they can get guys like Murray to carry the torch, thinking “it’s for everyone’s good”. Of course, in the end only the Leftists get any “good” out of the deal, and purge the rest of the cannonfodder that ever thought otherwise.

     You guys know how this work.

  • Ymarsakar

    Danny, I think conservatives should modify that belief given new revelations. People are poor because Democrats behaved badly. Which causes the poor to behave badly. Just like Obama being a mad dog makes all the other dogs in the pack also mad with rabies.