Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Dishonorable Schoolboy

I start most Sunday mornings by reading a Sunday sermon, usually Frank Rich’s New York Times column on the Bush Administration and its sins. Father Frank’s sermons resemble one another, which makes them very reassuring. The Bush people did last week more or less what they did the week before, which gives the world a certain horrible orderliness.

Father Frank was stressing the tangled web of alliances wrought by American stupidity, and my eyes wandered into the next column where everything is always perfectly simple - the column written by David “Schoolboy” Brooks. Schoolboy was expounding on some half-learned lessons from evolutionary biology (actually he’s doing evolutionary psychology, but whatever): the “content of our genes” make us do bad things, this has always been true, it will always be true. Hence the Schoolboy title, “Human Nature Redux,” and the capitalized clichés from Steven Pinker and Thomas Sowell (lumped together with Adam Smith and Edmund Burke), half-baked together in a Schoolboy Pie.

I was reading along waiting for the pie’s razorblade to appear, but where was it. “Today, there really is no antinomian counterculture - even the artists and rock stars are bourgeois strivers. Today, communes and utopian schemes are out of favor.” What the hell is he going on about, I asked myself. I always approach Schoolboy knowing that he is actually the most ambitious of NYT columnists, since he does The Culture and is always saying We Moderns or We Americans or We Humans are Really Conservative. In other words, Conservatism has nothing to do with Bush, Rove, Iraq, or shortsighted, obnoxious, selfish financial elites. These for Schoolboy, never forgetting his intro philosophy class at the University of Chicago, are fallen faded images of Platonic Conservatism, which is infinitely great, and universally True.

Back to that paragraph about Today: “People are mostly skeptical of social engineering efforts and jaundiced about revolutionaries who promise to herald a new dawn.” Hmm, I think, Schoolboy has written that exact sentence in about 150 columns already. But then the razor-blade appears: “Iraq has revealed what human being do without a strong order-imposing state.” Ah ha! Schoolboy Sez: I didn’t chop down the cherry tree, an Iraqi did!

Of course the Iraqi debacle is the Right’s solo show, much more so than was Vietnam, and they have lied big time to make it happen. Now they are doing the most desperate, high-intensity, bullet-sweating blame-shifting in recent history. It wasn’t our clinically delusional stupidity and wholly wrong philosophy of life. It was the Iraqi People. Since Schoolboy is the Right’s pop philosopher, he deepens the stakes: It’s the weak, lazy, quarrelsome, violent Iraqi people, as tied to unpoliced human nature itself. The Schoolboy’s Solution is more force from above, not less. And since the Iraqis are living in a Hobbesian state of nature, that means more American force.

Calling Brooks “Schoolboy” makes him far more innocent than he actually is. He’s a product of the Right’s think tank networks, which produce knowledge that justifies preconceived conclusions: funders endow these think tanks knowing that all research will confirm conservative doctrine, or at most update it. It’s this same process of fixing the facts around the policy that delivered Iraq on a silver platter. Schoolboy has been operating like this since he graduated from college. So today he writes a column that is a justification for the failure in Iraq, but makes it sound like a scholarly mediation on human nature.

Why does this crap work as well as it does? Well as my friend Andi says, “People Is Dumb.” I would add that Americans is dumb about social causality. Schoolboy can be a great cultural philosopher because thirty years of Schoolboy-type pseudo-scholarship has cut our cultural IQ in half. He’s so much more pleasantly brainless than Father Frank.

Fr. Frank has a causality tale to tell, but first you have to read 14 paragraphs of fairly intense prose. Here’s the good father main point: “What makes [Mr. Bush’s] spin brazen even by his standards is that Iran is in fact steadily extending its influence in Iraq - thanks to its alliance with the very Iraqi politicians that Mr. Bush himself has endorsed.” What! That’s quite a neck-snapping Space Mountain hairpin turn, Fr. Frank! Fr. F. spends the next paragraphs explaining himself by discussing the only slightly hidden anti-U.S. political ties of Bush pal Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Iraqi president Nuri al-Malaki, and the former US-installed Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari. Are we actually Schoolboy dumb enough to be unable to take this in? Delivering us therefore to “Iraqi Redux,” aka war with Iran?

My Sunday thanks is as follows; thank you, Fr. Frank, for trying to save us from being Schoolboy dumb.

PS. For another exercise in Recovered Causality, see today’s Louis Uchitelle’s NYT Week in Review piece, “Nafta Should Have Stopped Illegal Immigration, Right?” Turns out that free market economics didn’t revive the Mexican economy but hurt it. Turns out that the free market didn’t reduce illegal immigration to the U.S. but increased it. Woah, Fr. Louis, too fast, you’re hurt my neck!

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