Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’

Not my birthday

July 31, 2013

Yesterday felt like my birthday, only it wasn’t, not even close.

The biggest reasons it felt that way was that I got a laptop computer, and there’s a bunch of some of my favorite flowers in my dining room, perfuming it.  And I didn’t (directly) pay for either.

The flowers are lilies from my garden, four Star Gazer blooms and seven white lily blooms.  The Star Gazer lilies I did buy last year, but here they are again this year, re-sprouted — I didn’t do that.  The white lilies I don’t know who planted.  They seem to appear sporadically, some years and not others, and neither Willy nor I could remember choosing them or planting them.  They surprised us ten years ago, the summer he died (I remember asking him about them and cutting one for his room), and here they are again.

The laptop is my first.  I know I’m late to the party, but I only even got this one by being backed into it (I’m typing this post on it);  my father’s computer stopped working, both CPU and monitor, and I kind of need computer access while I visit my mother (including during next week’s trip) — wouldn’t make much sense not to be able to pay her bills electronically while I’m there in NJ, when I can do it while I’m up here in Massachusetts.

So I asked Tony to find me something used and appropriate (pretty basic), and he did, and my mother offered to pay for it.

But it wasn’t the payment issue that made it feel like a present — somehow getting it reminded me of getting a bicycle for my birthday, the same kind of thrilling.  And I’m no technophile, so I don’t think it had to do with the laptop itself.  So, too, with the flowers.  I love their robustness and scent, how they perfume the house even beyond the room they’re in, but somehow when I just look at them, especially when the sunlight is bathing them, I feel so thrilled, way beyond what I can explain.

I do notice birthdays this time of year.  Jonas’ official one is next week, and maybe because he has birth certificate issues (it’s quite legal and proper, but it is court created, not a record of the facts of his birth), I think of President Obama’s birthday, too, which I think is even sooner (his birth certificate issues were manufactured in a quite different way, of course).  Then there are two other gentlemen born around the same time as Obama — same year, I think — who, or whose work, have loomed large in my life:  Richard Shindell and David Brooks.

So happy birthday to all of them, while I enjoy my computer and flowers, for whatever reason.


Calls in the morning

June 22, 2013

Last night I wrote a comment in connection with dueling.  I was joshing David Brooks about his predilection for codes of behavior — he was decrying his hero Hamilton’s death as being the result of uncivilized behavior — sort of — and yet, as I understand it, dueling was a highly structured and accepted mode of interaction with its own etiquette.  For me, it is an opportunity to point out the limits of championing adherence to codes as David Brooks often seems to do.

I was trying to reference the scripted nature of the behavior, quoting, “My seconds will call on you in the morning.”

So this morning, I was awakened by the phone ringing.  The one in my bedroom doesn’t have a caller ID screen, so I picked up, having been trained for years to receive phone calls at odd hours regarding family emergencies.

It was the investment broker.  On a Saturday morning.

The coinciding of the comment and call is allowing me to find some humor in having been unceremoniously awakened (this was hours ago).  It triggered my internal emergency response system, which I am not happy about.  It resonated with past unpleasant phone calls, some of them emergencies.  The humor gives me a way to create a little distance from my reaction.

Is the main event finding God or just finding?

May 3, 2013

I’ve been trying to make this point for years, especially after reading The Social Animal by David Brooks.  We have a strand of mental capability that is not the thinking mind or the emotional reactive part of our mind.  I made the point in my comment to his column in the NYTimes for today, I tried to make the point to him directly after he spoke at Harvard a couple of years ago.  My results are a lesson for me to remember that people need to come to their own realizations themselves, however much my own task may seem to me to be to keep repeating my understanding and modeling it.

This part of our mental apparatus that I’m talking about is what gets an airing during meditation and it’s the part through which we commune with the forces beyond us and within us that are greater than ourselves (God, if you like).

I often think it’s more important that people learn to locate this part of themselves and to use it than it is that they “find God” with it.

And I wonder if the emphasis on belief in God, or not, has gotten us distracted.  I do think that if we stumble into communing with God, we become much more aware of this part of us, so finding God is a tempting goal.  But I think it can also lead to the dead end of people thinking they’ve found God when what they are doing is thinking about the idea of God and finding God and imagining it and intellectualizing it.  And people who try to provide shortcuts to finding God may unintentionally induce people into mistaking the process of the shortcut for the dynamic that occurs when the goal is reached.  And beyond that, we lose a lot of people who find belief in God a dealbreaker but who would be fine with locating and using this piece of mental apparatus, I think.



Going against the grain

September 25, 2012

I get a lot out of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but I don’t always agree with everything in them, even if I am grateful for them and respectful of his abilities.  This morning’s is an example.

I disagree that God initiates in a relationship with us, unless, of course, we want to split hairs.  What I see is that God’s love is there all the time, what initiates the relationship is when we somehow become open to that love.

While I’m at it, at criticizing people whose work I enjoy and whose presence I am grateful for, I will take this example of where I disagree with Fr. Rohr to show where I disagree with David Brooks and today’s column of his on conservatism.

I don’t think what I said about God’s love always being present is anything new, wouldn’t surprise me if Rohr says it too, I could even have gotten it from him.  Nor is our openness as key anything new, especially to more eastern spiritual traditions, I think.  But overall my approach to spirituality is a little more radical a change than David Brooks would apparently advocate, a little less prudent and incremental and respectful of continuity and tradition — I want to jettison our conceptualization of God as a cranky parent, for instance, and I want everybody to remember that everybody learns, eventually, to merge their humanness with the divinity within them — that everybody eventually becomes enlightened.  Nobody does it for you.  And that the basic tools are the same for everybody, regardless of their stage in the process — willingness, becoming more self-aware, becoming more open, getting out of the way, listening, following guidance.

What I see is, to track David Brooks’s idea that conservatism is focused now only on one of its components, is that to clear the runway and get lift, we need to do more than take baby steps, we need to do something more like leap into space.  (…we/Fling our souls into the/Pitch dark again, and/Wait for the stars/To shine.)  Faith for me is the concept that if we do, we will be borne aloft.  Metaphorically, of course; I am, after all, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer.

Because if we don’t take enough of a leap, we fall back, I think, we revert to a prior stage, even get more stuck in it for having tried to progress beyond it and not accomplished that goal.  There are risks to taking small steps when larger ones are called for.

On the other hand, to end on a more conciliatory note, as I assume Rohr and I agree on the fundamental importance of love and its eternity, maybe my spiritual approach is sufficiently rooted in tradition to pass muster with David Brooks’s notion of what kind of change is helpful.

Creative destruction, Shiva, and praxy

July 18, 2012

I’ve got the concept of creative destruction in the context of capitalism in my head from reading people like David Brooks, and the praxy part from reading people like Richard Rohr on the contrast between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  Shiva comes in as my go-to shorthand for referencing creative destruction in spiritual matters.

This is my post on gnosis misunderstood through attempts at external transmission, which I said I would put in its own post.

If we take Shiva as pointing to a concept of creative and transformative destruction, a concept we might understand through internal insight, through gnosis, we can wonder what might follow from perceiving the concept through only external and intellectual means.  If we actually internalize the concept, I think we become more open to incorporating it into our own journey.  Journeys include actual experiences and doing things — Father Rohr’s praxis, I believe.  I think the upshot may be our willingness to experience creative destruction in our own lives, to take The Fall.

If we have only heard about or understood the concept behind Shiva and perceived creative destruction through our cognitive apparatus, by which I mean our intellects (I have in mind here, by reading about the concept and thinking about it with our conscious minds alone), then we might only incorporate the idea of it into our lives.  In that case, we probably only talk about it rather than experience it.  That, I think, leads to theories and discussions such the role the role of creative destruction in capitalism.

So what? I guess is a question I should address.

People who insist on never taking the fall inflate on the spiritual plane like a balloon and like an obese person on the physical plane.   They may buy larger clothing but the internal build up within them impedes aspects of their lives.  They also need accommodation from others and in real sense push this onto others.  It’s not that there’s anything “morally” wrong with any of this, it’s just that it shifts around needs and burdens.  (People with other eating disorders, including anorexics, I think do the same.  I have lived with both — obese people and anorexic people.  I also often think the depiction of the Buddha as fat is significant — he may be reflecting back to us our own spiritual condition.)  At the extreme, a person who only uses words and never experiences becomes both an empty shell and toxic dump.  The fall allows a person at a certain stage in their development to engage in osmosis, if I can call it that: an exchange of what’s inside them with what’s outside of them — they become a permeable membrane.  This development allows a person to continue to develop spiritually, is my understanding.

David Brooks once said on the PBS NewsHour that while he didn’t relish the idea of having his wisdom tooth pulled, he knew it was necessary and willingly had it done.  That sort of attitude I think is also necessary in respect to experiencing the fall.

To put it another way, I think we need at some stage in our journeys to dance with Shiva, and willingly.

Suicide response on the op-ed page

April 16, 2012

David Brooks and Paul Krugman now have each made an attempt in their respective op-ed columns to respond to the issue of suicide.

I’m not sure what I expected them to say.

Brooks was in favor of addressing it with a reminder that we are not good at predicting how we will feel in the future.  Maybe the person whose suicide prompted his address was able at the time to stand up to his urge to kill himself and his wife, but that is not my experience of suicidal people — in my experience, they seem to be victims of large forces welling up within them that are larger than their cognitive apparatus and force of will can withstand.

Krugman goes for the big picture of what will help the economy in Europe and hence business owners and would-be-employees.  I don’t disagree that a systemic solution is needed with an intervention way back in the steps that bring individuals to the brink, but what are individuals to do in the meantime?

I can’t say I have a more effective response to suicidal people.  The ones I’ve known ended up hospitalized and were helped by medication.  I was impotent in the face of their despair to help them — they were beyond my reach, it felt to me, when I tried.  Both came back from the brink, although both tend to stray in that direction to this day, despite on-going medication.

I guess my conclusion is that op-ed columns can only address some issues in a limited way.   They are probably the wrong means to address particular suicides.  My sense is that suicidal situations include multiple contributing factors.  Teaching vulnerable to have healthier attitudes towards the future earlier in their lives might help, prodding slumping economies out of depressions through particular economic policies might help, I’m not against any of that.

I think maybe for me, the event of a suicide is a manifestation of forces beyond our control in the universe in a context in which we don’t (nowadays, at least) see “evil.”  I think the force(s) involved may well be the same as the force(s) involved in explosive rather than implosive behavior, where many people are happy to see “evil.”  So maybe our approach to suicide is a start at addressing our unhelpful attitude toward forces beyond our control that result in damage.

Other people’s sense and sensibilities

April 10, 2012

I remember sitting with my father and watching an opera broadcast with him one night not that long ago, probably the last time I visited, and thinking, “Wow, I’m enjoying this more and in a different way than usual.”  Some time later it occurred to me that I was probably picking up on how he enjoys opera.  It’s kind of interesting, especially since he tends to see family members as extensions of himself, with similar tastes (including in food) — I experienced that as a reality, in a way.

I had a similar experience yesterday watching and listening to an interview with David Brooks from last December on C-SPAN2 Book TV.  Maybe it was the length, because while I didn’t listen to it all at once, I coaxed my computer to allow me to listen to it for large chunks of time.  Somewhere during that time, the David Brooks worldview in terms of politics and the social sciences made sense to me — I could see it that way.  It’s a nice place to live.

But those experiences for me are fleeting.  I go back to my world, and my worldview, and to my own sense and sensibilities.  I don’t enjoy opera the way my dad does, and to live my life, I need a different worldview from David’s (I think I’d have crashed and burned long ago with his).  But it’s good to be reminded of other ways of experiencing the world and that other people do experience the world differently.

It reminds me, a little, of how a younger widow I met in a grief group talked about wondering how other families spend their evenings.  I can’t remember now if she looked in windows, rang doorbells, or just wondered, but I resonate with the idea of discovering how other people live their lives.

Controlling libertarians

February 22, 2012

I give David Brooks credit for trying to make sense of people who want very little government involvement in things like business and finance but are comfortable with government involvement in things like contraception and bearing children without being married.  It came up in his Conversation with Gail Collins today, and I still can’t link (still waiting to hear back from WordPress), but here’s the address:

The passage I guess I would focus on is,

As to your larger point, I do think it’s consistent to be economically libertarian and socially paternalistic. In fact I’d argue dynamic capitalism requires a stringent and coherent social order to help guard against its savageries — tight families to educate children, anti-materialist values to police rampant consumerism, a spiritual public square to mitigate the corrosive culture of greedy self-interest.

Free market beliefs and socially conservative beliefs require each other, so long as those socially conservative beliefs are traditional, not theological. I’m for traditional values, with government playing a small role to support them. I get worried when some politician begins trying to legislate his faith’s version of Natural Law.

That’s David Brooks talking.

My first reaction is that what Brooks is really saying is that he finds it internally consistent in himself to be both economically libertarian and socially paternalistic.  I’d guess from his columns telling other people what to do that he’s okay with, well, telling other what to do.  What I have never seen is whether he later takes responsibility for the damage when things don’t go according to his script for the other people involved.  Paternalism as I’ve seen it tends to be big on the prescriptive dictates and light on the accountability end of things, usually with some sort of declination of responsibility, whether on the basis of cluelessness or principle.

But it’s certainly less interesting to see what Brooks said as just a reflection of his own stuff.  If I look at his argument as an idea, my first question is, how did we get from paternalism to traditional values?  Paternalism is about foisting, libertarianism is about not [foisting].   The inconsistency within the Republican position of backing off on environmental regulation while trying to regulate people’s consensual adult sexual activity and medical handling of issues involving sex is the foisting part, not the values part.  Even if traditional values complement a very free market, how can we justify forcing regulation on one while being against forcing regulation on the other?  If we can be inconsistent on the acceptability of force, then it must be on the grounds of the rightness of the substance of each position: that free business practices are good and so are traditional values, so we use whatever means we need to, however inconsistent with each other, to assure our society of both.

This, to me, is like saying to a student, please choose your own courses but wear this uniform to class — you can do it, even justify it, but it’s predicated on a separate assumption that you’re right about the uniforms and the cost/benefit of letting kids choose their courses.  It’s not consistent in terms of process or in terms of a larger policy of whether students should learn to make their own choices and become more independent — it’s picking and choosing issues according to something else.

In the libertarian economics / traditional values context, it’s a preexisting belief that free markets lead to good things and unfree social choice leads to good things, it’s not about the rights of the people in either context or a consistent process for sorting out what leads to good things and what doesn’t.

Sometimes I think it’s about a view of self-control, whether someone like David Brooks trusts people to exercise it.  In a sense, Brooks is saying no, he doesn’t, but he’s relegating its coercion to the social sector in the hopes it will also control the market sector.  He could make a different decision and say, no, I don’t trust people to exercise self-control in both places and therefore will regulate both directly.  Why he chooses to regulate one directly and one indirectly is something he hasn’t maybe addressed.  I harbor a suspicion that he feels more comfortable delegating his own decision-making in areas requiring self-control, on the one hand, to sets of rules in social relations, while, on the other hand, he trusts himself more in business situations.  But I think he hides behind that delegation (in the former situation) to avoid coming to grips with the possibility that choosing an option within the social rules does not mean self-control has been sufficiently exercised — if I need to save my allowance to buy my mother a present, what difference does it make that I have used the money for something also socially acceptable, when I instead buy my friend a present?

Probably what it comes down to is that I have a different pattern of thinking, that, when mapped over David Brooks’s pattern, is incongruent — that is, he probably makes sense to himself, as much as I think I make sense.  But I enjoy trying to understand what he’s seeing, or thinks he’s seeing, in some kind of hope on my part that he’s actually seeing something very helpful that I just can’t see.

Golden Tie

January 22, 2012

I posted the beginnings of my musings on the presentation of a yellow, or gold, tie to David Brooks by a houseguest of his, that he reported during the most recent posting of the pre-NewsHour blog segment Shields and Brooks do with Hari Sreenivasan.  The tie turned out to have a label identifying it as some sort of promotional item from Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana.  The story seems to be that Daniels distributed the ties in China, and a houseguest from China gave one to David.

I commented on the NewsHour blog that the tie reminded me of white (or gold or blue) scarves given as offerings in some strands of Buddhist culture.  I don’t know too much about this custom.  I did a little bit of reading today about it, after the idea that the tie was like a khata in this context had burbled up in my mind in a vague form.  What I read makes me think that the Mitch Daniels “re-gifting” aspect of the gift is not irrelevant.  But I thought I’d go on about it here, not on the NewsHour blog, out of concern for being thought an inappropriate guest there (and I would have linked to my blog in my comment there, but I’ve never been sure that’s considered acceptable practice on that blog).

I read that the scarf (khata) may be offered back to the person making the original offer (of the scarf) to the lama.  Now, Mitch Daniels and David Brooks clearly are not the same person, but they could be what some people might call part of the same soul group, or manifestations of the same spirit in some way.  The way I interpret what’s going on, in light of other understandings I have about a spiritual partnership that got very complicated, is that the person who passed his spiritual understandings to his partner was no longer available to receive them back from her, so eventually she found a way to return them to his “soul brother,” someone who shared important features of his make-up — that recipient here is David Brooks (“the part of the seeker, formerly played by Mitch Daniels in this tale, is now being played by David Brooks”).  This is a lot more positive an interpretation than was the one apparently previously held that inferred that the lama simply returned the gift to the wrong person.

I don’t actually think the story is really about Mitch Daniels and David Brooks per se, as their own selves, rather I think that they are re-enacting a situation that happened over many centuries.  I think the Mitch Daniels character is long gone (and I don’t think this says anything negative about Daniels’ health or prospects).  I think David’s character is some kind of wise teacher (his career as a pundit is an echo), but I think the return of the scarf symbolizes that he has been missing something, in need perhaps of some understanding that has been returned to him.  I don’t know, I don’t know his life, his spiritual life, or all that much about him, but it doesn’t really matter what I know, whatever it all means will become clear to him at some point, and that’s, to me, what his receipt of this gift from his houseguest is all about.

An audience of one

January 6, 2012

I had an adviser in graduate school, whose own writing was very well received and whose books were quite popular among general readers, who told me he wrote for an audience of one.

He told me I should try that, too.

His was a businessman on the Connecticut coast, I think, he didn’t tell me who, or how he knew him, but his point was that this guy was intelligent and curious, but without previous knowledge of the subject, or even field, and hence needed the subject matter laid out for him clearly, with as few assumptions as possible.

So, I loved reading recently how Ron Paul seems oblivious to the size of his audience.  True, Paul is speaking, not writing, but Jeb’s actual audience was far bigger than the one he focused on when he wrote, and I’m wondering whether that process of amplification can occur in other contexts, too.  For example, with memes.  I am not sure how memes spread, but an idea seems to find more and more hosts through some process, and from this gather strength and influence.

I like the idea of people hearing an idea through their own thinking, of it being heard internally instead of being read with the eyes directly or heard through the ears.  This helps overcome the “not invented here” syndrome most of us are prone to — we react less to superfluous issues (such as, I could never agree with any idea from that person) when we seem to come to the idea on our own.  Of course, this involves letting go of creative control, attribution, acknowledgement, and the like.  But I suspect my ideas are in a sense like collages, anyway, and I accept Gita’s point when she says that she doesn’t think she’s ever had an original idea.  Who knows where they come from.

The part I do have an interest in working on is clarifying my ideas and learning how to communicate them so that others can understand them.  I haven’t yet found a process for doing this that particularly works for me as a non-student and as a single person.  And having been interrupted by family emergencies for years, I have a difficult time assuming I will have a chance to get back to something on my own timetable — it’s also a reason I initially stopped trying to do things that require large blocks of time and control over my schedule — so I tend to do things while looking over my shoulder and hoping the phone and the doorbell don’t ring and the mail doesn’t bring a certified letter.  But I suspect there is a way for me to improve my writing process, and even my writing, even with these shadows still lingering.  I am thinking that a place to start might be to go back to Jeb’s notion of writing with a specific person in mind.