I’ve take a pleasant break from reading David Brooks, that armpit-sniffing pundit of note for the NYTimes and well-modulated, never angry, almost robotic voice of PBS fame. It’s been nice not having to think much about Bobo because he put on his Green Jacket last week, but duty calls. David Brooks wrote another crapacious column and now he must be punished.
As is always Davy’s style, it contains false choices, weighs them against each other, and then mushily he divides the difference and says that is where The One True Path lies. But what actually lies is David Brooks. And darlings, he does it beautifully.
Today’s topic is living a life that is well-considered. Now aside from the faux Brit-speak, what Brooks says/lies is that everyone has a basic choice in life:
- You can lead a life well-planned
- You can lead a life that reacts to your context
He cites an example for the well-planned life, a Xristian conservative, Clayton Christensen. Christensen, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, writes an essay in the Harvard Business Review that Bobo admires. Christensen is so dedicated to Christ that he during his undergrad years, he would forgo his basketball team’s games on Sundays (he’s the starring center, Bobo tells us breathlessly). And when studying at Oxford (he was a Rhodes Scholar), he dedicated a whole hour each evening to praying and contemplating instead of studying economics. He wanted to understand his place and role in the Universe. A regular Thomas Aquinas, he is.
Christensen claims it helped him plan his life.
Then the fun begins: Bobo compares the real and monastic Christensen, fully grown now with children of his own to a present-day fictional 24 year old:
The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency, and asks, “What should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context, and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?”
Well, Bobo, perhaps the well-planned life also includes the luck of the well-planned birth? Someone who had the luxury and access to better schools, parents who were involved, money, etc., who can then go to Harvard become a Rhodes Scholar and spend an entire hour a day contemplating their role in the Universe while studying economics at Oxford. Because, you know, every good Xristian should be studying economics; I think it is one of the commandments, but I could be mistaken.
Anyway Brooks compares the very real Christensen to a fictional person of another generation in a different time — a classic Brooksian gambit.
Let us consider another 24-year old, a real one, though he remains nameless in The View From Your Recession at The Atlantic:
I’m an American in my early 20s, the ink on my Ivy League diploma not yet dry, plunging into my first job. I’m writing to say that I am doing just fine in the recession. My company is hiring, the economy is still growing at an impressive clip, and the hope and optimism that tomorrow will be even better than today is palpable.
I can say this because I didn’t follow my fellow college grads to Wall Street in search of money that was so abundant and so certain that it seemed too good to be true (as it turned out to be). While my friends went to Manhattan; I went to Mumbai, opting for a management trainee program at an Indian conglomerate that is looking for Americans to bring fresh ideas into the company.
How refreshing! Andrew Sullivan’s correspondent is also abroad, it’s just that there was no opportunity in America, and so he went to India.
I would be lying if I said every day weren’t a challenge in matters corporate, cultural, and even culinary. India is a sea of cultures wildly different from my own, and it is still a developing country that is rife with mind-numbing “Slumdog”-style poverty. Communal and class tensions simmer and occasionally boil over, exploited by greedy politicians for their own short-term gain. And I am getting paid Indian wages; while I live very comfortably here, the US government considers me to be living below the poverty line (which, as it turns out, doesn’t stop my beloved alma mater from asking for money!)
Oh, the joys of living on local wages in the third world. And how amusing that his ivy-league alma mater is hitting him up for spare Rupees.
You see, Bobo, sometimes you can arrange to have a well-considered and planned life, but then reality gets in your way. Something like the Great Recession pops up–you know, the result of the great lie you and your ilk have foisted on the innocent and unsuspecting over the last 30 years that deficits from tax cuts don’t matter and that rising tides lift all yachts–and wipes out those plans, and you find yourself, literally living in the third world on third world wages, because there is no future for you or your generation in the United States. It should also be noted for the record that our unnamed correspondent only got the job through connections, which not everyone is going to have.
David, please explain to me how to split that difference.
The Summoned Self, by David Brooks