David Brooks: I Am An Asshole, and Therefore Secretly So Are You

David Brooks cannot bear how superior everyone sticking up for victims of child sexual abuse is these days:

First came the atrocity, then came the vanity. The atrocity is what Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing at Penn State. The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.

First up: Advocating for action to stop sexual abuse as it occurs, and then strenuous laws aimed at preventing it from ever happening again, comes across as morally superior BECAUSE IT IS. If it’s now out-of-bounds smug to say we should as a society better protect the powerless from those who prey upon them, smug sounds pretty good to me.

Second: It’s entirely possible to say that someone in such-and-such position should have done something, while also acknowledging that in that same position, you don’t know what you would have done.

But even if you can’t say precisely what you would have done, you should at least know whatshould be done. And every time you say it out loud, you move us all a little farther away from the place where we riot in favor of an institution that enabled sexual abuse. The entirepoint of talking about the people who didn’t see, or saw and didn’t act, or acted but not strongly enough, is to reinforce the idea that passivity in the face of evil isnot okay.

So of course along comes David Brooks to talk about how that’s just a normal human reaction, so, you know, whatevs. It’s interesting that he assumes that all outrage on the part of “a zillion commentators” (obviously notthis very good one that makes the same point without the smarm and judgment) comes from a place of vanity. What else could possibly motivate such outrage?

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How couldtheyhave let this happen?”

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

Brooks prefaces this, his oh-so-brave contrarian stance, with a few grafs that blither on about how we used to acknowledge our sinfulness but now kids have self-esteem so we can’t do that anymore. Or something.

As to David’s other examples: The problem in the wake of our torturing innocent people in secret prisons was not insufficient self-examination. It was thatwe were torturing innocent people in secret prisons and needed to not ever be doing that. David Brooks, now so concerned that we turned away from our inner angels, spent much of the past decade studiously not mentioning theinnocent man shipped off to Syria to be tortured.

I assume he didn’t say anything at the time because he didn’t want to appear superior.

A.

7 thoughts on “David Brooks: I Am An Asshole, and Therefore Secretly So Are You

  1. dr2chase says:

    Ugh. I went and read the article, because there is one itty-bitty part of it that is right, which is that lots of lots of people will defer to authority (see Milgram, experiment), and we are in fact not necessarily the reliable strong moral creatures that we might hope to be.
    But then he spouts this vile bit of excrement: “We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness.” Just like when Milgram ran his experiment, apparently — 1961.
    And then this: “The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib…” If you don’t like war crimes, don’t be a cheerleader for an unnecessary war. THAT was the proper question after Abu Ghraib (well, it was one proper question, there were quite a few others, none reflecting well on Brooks).

  2. joejoejoe says:

    A lot of people have some first hand evidence that they are not completely helpless. My niece is a hostess at a Greek diner and if you come in drunk or act the fool you get tossed. She has been doing that job since she is 18 and is about 5’2″ tall. Teachers who go the extra mile to help students that have all manner of horror stories outside school. Being a friend who sits in a waiting room while somebody you love has cancer surgery. Taking care of an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s or worse. Not every human being on this planet is entirely unfamiliar with courage. I’d argue most people have at least found a handful of courage LOTS of times in their life. Doing the right thing isn’t an entirely theoretical thing if you actually give a shit about the world. You get a lot of chances to step up every day.

  3. thebewilderness says:

    He really does seem to think that his evasion and self deception is perfectly natural. Perhaps he truly is ignorant of the fact that millions of people who have been faced with just such a choice actually knew what the right thing to do was and did it.
    He always creeps me out but this creeps me out way more that usual.
    He simply will not stop displaying the underside of his nature week after week after week.

  4. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    So, presuming that one of the current crop of “torture is a-ok!” GOP candidates happens to get elected, David Brooks has now given the American Public carte blanche to haul the fucker out of the White House and beat him/her to death with shovels.
    Because otherwise it’s standing back and watching the horror unfold while doing nothing to stop it.
    Thanks David. We’ll hold you to that.

  5. Jude says:

    Also, we should note that Brooks, ever the mendacious asshole, conflates the bystander effect, where individuals freeze or don’t take the in-hindsight-proper course of action at the time of an event with a decade-plus-long coverup. The former is a fog-of-war situation where sometimes people make incorrect choices. The latter is a years-long criminal fucking conspiracy.
    I don’t know how to say that any more plainly: The PSU football program and school administration, when made aware of rapes committed by someone attached to said program and school, engaged in a criminal fucking conspiracy to shield him and themselves from any blame or repercussions.
    If saying that makes me smug, then just call me Smuggy McSmugfuck. I can live with that.

  6. pansypoo says:

    bobo would have been a ‘good german’ during hitler is what he is saying. just as he was a good bushie.

  7. spocko says:

    “The PSU football program and school administration, when made aware of rapes committed by someone attached to said program and school, engaged in a criminal fucking conspiracy to shield him and themselves from any blame or repercussions.”
    Dear Smuggy McSmugfuck:
    Well said.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: