The Talking Lion

Friday, May 27, 2005

So I guess that's a good point, David Brooks, but...

I should make it clear right from the start here that I hate, hate David Brooks (and of course I mean the body of writing bearing his name, not he himself). The kind of hate that makes it impossible for me not to read him because I like it so much. This isn't Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity hatred, though. I hate David Brooks because he is such a monumental waste of prime op-ed space. He has nothing to say, ever. So it's a shocker to me when he sort of makes good point:
...we can have a culture war in this country, or we can have a war on poverty, but we can't have both. That is to say, liberals and conservatives can go on bashing each other for being godless hedonists and primitive theocrats, or they can set those differences off to one side and work together to help the needy.

Ok, that sounds pretty good. But given Brooks' general vapidity and incoherency, what is he really saying?

One of David Brooks' only talents is for inventing turns-of-phrase that cleverly mask momentous piles of bullshit. It has occurred to him that we can have a culture war, or a war on poverty. At first, this is a pretty seductive idea, so I want you to take a deep breath and utter a nice loud "WWWHHHHAAAAATTTTT???????" What possible reason do we have for supposing this to be true? I want to really unpack this idea--we're going to see some of that Wittgenblogging I promised right here, right now. In lieu of in depth analysis, I'm going to ask a few pointed questions, make a few remarks, and hopefully generate some debate.

First, what does Brooks mean by "culture war" and "war on poverty," and more importantly, how do these terms actually function in the discourse in which Brooks takes part?

Second, why does Brooks think that they're incompatible?

Third, of what do these "wars" actually consist? [e.g., media sensationalism, christian persecution complex, political grandstanding, general debasement of culture, independent organizations actually doing things, evangelicals voting for candidates who are expressly not concerned with poverty or human rights]

As to the first question, these two terms obviously grab on to a host of issues in America. The "culture war" is a general opposition between social liberals and social conservatives--opposing "value systems"--or at least that's how Brooks likes to use it. However, Brooks generally has nothing but praise for evangelicals, and very little for...well, it's a lot harder to pin down the "secularists" because there is no such cultural-political bloc. There just isn't the cohesiveness. So I think that the culture war is largely a manufacture of propaganda--conservative propaganda. The tireless right-wing media machine has gotten the social conservative to believe that there are dangerous secularists out there plotting to destroy all that is good and holy and replace is with anal sex and cannabis (that there is not really a problem with either of those things is another issue altogether). That there are two opposite sides at war is a total fiction. Essentially, I think that evangelicals are being had. They get almost everything wrong.

As to a war on poverty, I don't think David Brooks has the slightest idea what he's talking about. If you consider any of the facts on the ground, it's obvious that there are many, many oranizations, religious and secular, who work tirelessly for the poor (and social justice, human rights, environmental preservation, etc.). Guess who most of the people associated with these organizations didn't vote for--George W. Bush. David Brooks does not give a shit about a war on poverty. David Brooks cares about defeating the "militant secularists" he's dreamed up. At least that's my take on this article. Secular and religious organizations do work together to help the poor, and the culture war is largely a product of the right-wing propaganda machine.

David Brooks, keep your brain farts to yourself. Stop writing.

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