If David Brooks wants to close the cultural gap in America, he should preach what his class practices: education, jobs, marriage, & children, in that order.
David Brooks has been ridiculed (and rightly so) for offering readers this steaming heap of arrogance:
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
Arrogant people live in a world of assumptions. He’s assuming his friend is overwhelmed by sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro.” You know what I’m assuming? I’m assuming she’s shocked and disgusted by the price tags attached to those pretentious concoctions of bread and cold cuts.
I don’t know whether you’d call me cheap or thrifty, but the fact is that I really hate paying lots of money for attitude rather than product. Indeed, I often find that attitude doesn’t taste very good. I still haven’t recovered from a Michelin meal a few years ago at which the chef served a positively insulting “foam” amuse-bouche consisting of chocolate, lime, and something nasty I couldn’t identify. My bouche, I have to say, was not at all amused. People who commit criminal culinary acts against chocolate should be called out, rather than feted and enriched.
All of which is to say that, when I go into a pretentious restaurant and my eyes bug out, it’s not the French or Italian dotting the menu that shocks me, it’s the prices. I’d rather have a good BLT for $10 (the average price in Marin) than some pricy “Padrino” sandwich for $20 (the average for any sandwich shop that has things such as “Padrino,” “Pomodoro,” and capicollo on the menu).
Perhaps David Brooks’ friend with “only a high school degree” (his nasty phrasing, not mine) baulked at paying an ungodly sum for a sandwich. Moreover, even if she knew that Brooks, who “took” her to lunch, was paying, she might have been raised as I was — not to impose financially upon ones host. That’s good manners, not an inferiority complex.
If you’re interested in my bona fides, in addition to living (and being intensely grateful for) a very upper middle class life, I have a college degree, a graduate degree, and was raised in a home of ridiculous European-style pretension and sophistication. The family money may have vanished during WWI and WWII, but the pretension lived on. My mother had been taught how to dine with royalty and, damn it!, I was going to learn that skill too.
(By the way, if you’d like to ensure that your children do not flap their arms like chickens when handling their knives and forks, tuck paper napkins under each arm at the start of the meal and encourage them to keep the napkins in place with the promise that it will earn them dessert. It’s amazing how adept you can be using just your hands and wrists and elbows to dine, rather than throwing your shoulders into the mix.)
Some have been saying that Brooks’ snobbery and condescension aside, he has a valid point about the fact that America’s middle and upper classes have developed a culture of manners that deliberately excludes those from other classes. Perhaps.
The real sin that America’s elite commits, though, has nothing to do with fancy homes and obnoxious food choices. Instead, it lies in this self-styled elite’s refusal to preach what it practices.
The road to the middle class in America is a relatively simple one: do well in school, graduate (whether from high school or college), get a job, get married, and only then have children. Oh, of course it helps to stay married, at least until the children leave home.
That formulation is the magic ingredient for being middle class. Any fool can master a pompous nouveau riche, nouveau sophisticate menu with just a few minutes of study on the internet. Making the long-term commitment to a high demand, but also high reward, lifestyle is a more serious thing.
But will Brooks’ fellow jumped-up social mushrooms share the magic secret of their success? No!
David Brooks and his ilk claim, of course, that they won’t do so because . . . well, let’s see if I can think of all the “becauses”: political correctness, microaggressions, white privilege, subconscious racism, cultural relativism, Black lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, ghetto culture matters, feminism (“a woman needs a fish like a man needs a bicycle”), patriarchy, blah, blah, blah. In other words, it’s not their place to tell minorities and illegal aliens how to live their lives.
Interestingly, while these self-aggrandizing bourgeoisie are unwilling to preach a lifestyle they practice — one that not-coincidentally leads to economic stability — they are perfectly happy to preach everything else to those who enjoy less affluence. They tell them to abort their children, abandon heat and air conditioning (something elites won’t do), give up their fossil-fuel burning cars (with the elites getting subsidized electric cars), smoke pot, hate police, and resist an actual education in useful subjects in favor of a curriculum that agitates aggressively against hard work, honesty, and free market capitalism.
You know what I think? I think that America’s middle- and upper-middle-class is living the Big Lie: Just like any other “in” group, they want to ensure barriers to admission in order to maintain both their profits and status. They know that if Americans were actively encouraged to embrace the path to wealth (education, work, marriage, in that order), suddenly the middle class in America would lose its elite status. They wouldn’t be special anymore.
The fact is that, if Brooks’ smug little cohorts would start preaching what they practice — and started this preaching in all the institutions they control, from Hollywood, to the media, to America’s schools — things would change very rapidly. Formerly “second rate” colleges, once crowded with young people from intact homes in which education matters, would start challenging the eminence of the Ivy League, in which education has long taken a back seat to Alinsky-style indoctrination. Even high school reeducation camps might start to feel competition from formerly insignificant high schools.
The things that Brooks thinks are important measures of people’s worth and self-worth are, in fact, inconsequential, superficial fads. What matters are the underlying values, and he and his ilk are determined not to share those values outside of their insular, arrogant group.
I wish I could meet David Brooks’ lunch companion and tell her to stop wasting her time with such an awful, smug, condescending, arrogant little man — nasty traits he makes worse by dressing them up in faux compassion (note his “confession” that he was “insensitive”). Nobody needs friends like that.