And Now A Word From The Ivory Tower

Oh see, now I never would have thoughtthis was our exact problem, but David Brooks schools me otherwise:

Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following. Democratic followership is also built on a series of paradoxes: that we are all created equal but that we also elevate those who are extraordinary; that we choose our leaders but also have to defer to them and trust their discretion; that we’re proud individuals but only really thrive as a group, organized and led by just authority.

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

I guess we all imagined those massive institutional failures of the past 10-15 years, like the failure of our intellgence community to keep the homeland safe, the failure of our government to keep us out of unnecessary wars, the failure of our banking institutions to protect us from financial ruin, or the failure of our media to adequately inform us about the important stuff. Or how about the failure of our very political system to “elevate those who are extraordinary” in the first place.

Stupid plebes. Why can’t you just go back to your small little lives in Iowa or Tennessee or wherever the fuck you people come from and just bake a pie? Leave all the important stuff to us important people with the important lives. If you need to know about something, we’ll be sure to let you know in the New York Times and Washington Post. Until then, go watch “Dancing With The Stars” and “American Idol.” When we need you we’ll call.

You know, there’s been a rash of this stuff lately. I think we the people have hit a nerve with our betters.Power isn’t dead, Sally Quinn. You just don’t have it anymore. We don’t need to stop advertiser boycotts, Sean Hannity and Ed Schultz, you need to stop being misogynist assholes.

We don’t need to shut up. We need to makemore noise. This is the great democratization of the public discourse and it seems some people don’t like it. Trying to see the downside here. Nope, can’t find it.

18 thoughts on “And Now A Word From The Ivory Tower

  1. Banging pots and pans and blowing whistles have become features at many rallies I’ve seen. The people in Montreal are doing it, the SEIU people who cleaned the building I worked in when I was employed at Verizon in Boston did it. Does it make your complaint more valid? No. Does it increase the likelihood that your concerns will be addressed by the management assholes? No. Does it cause the gummint to quake in its collective boots? No.
    What then does it do? It makes your cause visible to a much wider group. The purpose of picket lines is NOT to change the minds of the bosses; it is to change the minds of their customers. It is to damage their reputations (such as they may still be intact) within the community. Most unions and “causes” do not have the massive PR budgets that people like AT&T, US Steel, GM and the like may boast. What they do have are thousands of vocal and pissed off members. When I worked at Verizon, in the union, every time there was a strike or plans to have one, the company rolled out its big gun ad agency to tell their side of the story. The union got 3,000 people to come in, on their own time, for a rally on Summer Street, in front of the Verizon NE HQ.
    Two things make management/gummint change. The first is the bottom line cost of the activity becoming unsustainable to the shareholders or constituents. The other is being bloodied in the public relations arena.
    Do not sit down, do not STFU.

  2. …how about the failure of our very political system to “elevate those who are extraordinary”
    What, you don’t think Dubya was ‘extraordinary’?
    In the same way, Bobo is ‘extraordinary’.

  3. What Davy B. is really saying is “Why doesn’t anybody listen to me anymore?!?!” Maybe because you’re part of the parade of gold-plated Epic Fails we’ve had in the last forty years of so?

  4. He’s saying, “hey plebes! When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you! Now where’s my fucking monument!”
    And via Twitter I read something insane Richard Cohen wrote today as well. Someone must have slipped some LSD into the Villager Scotch supply.

  5. So David Brooks thinks the REAL problem is that Americans don’t trust their institutions anymore. Jesus H. Child-Molesting Christ, I wonder what couldpossibly have given him that idea.

  6. I’m seeing this same mindset up and down the line in business and government. Have not yet heard the concept uttered in a meeting yet, but will respond appropriately if/when I do.

  7. The abuse of power is never the problem. The real problem is always the uppity people who refuse to tolerate the abuse and have the unmitigated gall to object to the abuse.
    Brooks has been right once about one thing; himself. He said that, although he is a narcissist, as all columnists must be, he considered many of his columns to be half-baked failures, which he rushes into print before they’re ready.

  8. I think Wisconsin is the prime example of what Brooks identifies. How did this happen? WE, and we are WE and there is no way around it, elected Scott Walker – TWICE! Banging pots and pans is a really terrific idea, but I’m not sure it will solve everything. And to imply that government used to protect us from all the horrible things, don’t forget history. The US Civil War makes Vietnam, Iraq, etc. look like blips. The Great Depression makes the current economy look pretty nice. Government has always been a pretty lame attempt at keeping things going. Brooks isn’t dumb. He has some points. I sure don’t have any answers, but am not about to jump on someone who is interested in examining the problem.

  9. Ron,
    No. Brooks’ solution is abhorrent. “Just respect your betters and trust us, shut up and stay in your place.” That’s neither a solution nor even a viable diagnosis of what’s wrong with the country. Hell yeah I’m gonna jump on that. If that’s fine with you, well, you get the democracy you deserve then.
    And enough with the Wisconsin thing. Walker is still in office but the state legislature is no longer in his hands. People conveniently forget that.

  10. But he’s not examining the problem — he’s providing cover for his buddies whose failures in leadership (banksters? handcuffs?) caused this cynicism to become near universal. Feh.

  11. “Walker is still in office but the state legislature is no longer in his hands. People conveniently forget that.” You have to wait until November to claim that. The Senate is out of session and there are more elections in November that could return the Senate to the Republicans in Wisconsin.

  12. Brooks indeed does not say “Just respect your betters” etc. Not at all. He references the paradoxes inherent in electing leaders. It really is about how democracy works. All “the people” get is the vote and free speech, or what it has morphed into. If you want to live in this democracy, you HAVE to deal with it. It is all we have.
    I think part of the problem is the level of ignorance the general public has attained when it comes to the affairs of the commons, propelled there by the demise of the equal time rule under Reagan. Leaders and prominent spokespersons are no longer allowed to talk. They must shout. The subtleties, and the important stuff LIVES in the subtleties, are lost in shouting.
    In Wisconsin, Walker has office for 2 1/2 more years. The current State Senate has office for 4 more months and doesn’t meet again this year in regular session.

  13. After the decimation of the country caused by a combination of greed, lack of adequate regulation, and a systematic program of disinformation to the American public…
    The problem is that the public have lost their trust?

  14. Brooks is just providing cover and roiling up the waters. If he were really interested in fixing the reputation of the institutions, he’d be arguing for reducing big-money influence and increasing real grass-roots participation, instead of exactly the opposite.
    Public institutions with damaged reps are just fine and dandy for these guys.
    Un lupo disse a Giove: – Quarche pecora
    dice ch’io rubbo troppo… Ce vô un freno
    per impedì che inventino ‘ste chiacchiere… –
    E Giove je rispose: – Rubba meno. — Trilussa
    A wolf protested to Zeus: “Some sheep
    say I steal too much… something ought to be done
    to prevent them making up these rumors…”
    Zeus replied: “Steal less.”

  15. Well, Ron, we listened to our “betters” for forty years, and what did it get us? Vietnam, Watergate Iran-Contra, Enron, Long term Capital Management, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Great Meltdown of 2008…and now some of them want to attack Iran (of course, neither they nor their kids will ever have to worry about being in the line of fire–I refer you to the Romney clan…)
    If elites have to SHOUT because people don’t listen to them, its because after forty years we, the Littlepeople, have learned the hard way that the “elites” are arrogant, greedy, deceitful…and quite often ignorant and incompetent. And we have suffered for it…while they did not, and even profited.
    So frankly, why should they be listened to when after all is said and done, they have done nothing to DESERVE being deferred to?
    So if you wish to be a True Believer and march when the elites say “march,” go ahead. But the rest of us won’t be here with you.

  16. (thanks for discussing) I don’t think Brooks is saying “shut up, listen, and behave.” I think he is saying something is wrong, and fixing it is not as simple as saying the people in power all suck. With that approach, the people in power will always suck and always have sucked. But what does that get you? How many of “the elites” do you personally know? Or are you taking it from some other “authority” that “the elites” are arrogant deceitful etc. etc.? The “elites” who I have met and talked with seem sort of like regular people.
    It is more subtle than that, and I believe that is what Brooks is talking about, though he obviously didn’t make his point clearly enough. There needs to be dialogue between leadership and those who are led. That is not happening. That is what Brooks is saying. I think he is saying open your mind a bit.
    Of course, if you are saying you don’t believe in democratically elected leadership, then I did misunderstand everyone and I apologize. Perhaps I am a “true believer”. But I’m not sure what the alternative is.

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