...but...AAAAUGGHH....David Brooks actually made a good point today. Granted - it's a pretty obvious point, but one that doesn't get made enough. And, it's in service of an altogether idiotic central bone that he's picking with society - separate checking accounts for spouses. Basically, this is another fork in his "women should be barefoot, pregnant and ignorant, and thank me for telling them so" charm offensive -
A Texas woman celebrated her family's separate accounts, remarking, "It's so freeing to be your own person, and not feel like someone is looking over your shoulder." It's not clear whether she's talking about a marriage or a real estate partnership.
But that's the standard Brooksian claptrap. Which, incredibly, doesn't work to diminish (much) the payoff. Here:
It's so easy for the powerful force of individualism to wash over and transform institutions - like family, religion and the military - that are supposed to be based on self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.
He's...right. He actually doesn't go far enough - individualism and consumable identity already have transformed/destroyed many of our important social institutions (though including the military therein is a pretty crude cudgel...not that I'm surprised). And this is kind of obvioustown; duh, modern society with its intense focus on the individual is awful and alienating.

But something else is going on here.

David Brooks, it can be widely agreed, has become an entirely reprehensible hack, a soul-less, loathesome shill for the current administration. But it was not always thus - once, Brooks was a fairly conscientious reporter with an entertaining pen, which served as a good skewer of both traditional and current American values and mores. He wrote, it seemed, because he cared - and, more precisely, was a small-c conservative, in that he saw things in our nation's cultural history that were worth conserving.

Once upon a time - before the current kulturekampf - conservatives were actually concerned primarily with conserving the traditional institutions of society: family, church, community.

They failed.

It's all gone ker-blowey in the last generation or two, and to much of it I say, good riddance to bad trash. The repressive, patriarchal nature of small-town and "traditional" American culture was bad news for most involved, less'n you were a white man. And even then, it wasn't always a good deal.

But what has replaced those institutions? The individual - your decisions, your choices, your identity, it is all you, entirely up to you. Don't like where you were born? Move. Don't like your parents' church? Get another (or not). Don't like your neighbors? Move. Don't like your job? Quit (well, you'll get laid off anyways...).

You see my point - associations today are voluntary things, not rooted in any greater historial/cultural context. You are what you choose to be, and this can be alienating. For many, it is.

For many others, it's liberating, and they are finally able to form communities that they feel a part of, after generations upon generations of being second-class citizens, or not citizens at all. Over the last generation, gay communities have flourished as "traditional" communities have withered. Women are freer by being able to have their own bank accounts - the unnamed "someone looking over your shoulder" of the Texas woman's comment is the previously all-controlling husband.

The white man.

David Brooks.

Of course he'd mock, demean, attempt to disempower her - it's his power she's free from.

So what are conservatives talking about when they talk about
...individualism...wash[ing] over and transform[ing] institutions - like family, religion and the military - that are supposed to be based on self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.
? They are not talking about the destruction of "traditional" forms of social organization. They are talking about the rise of new ones - the ability of women to order their own lives; gay people allowed to be gay; black people allowed to just go about their business. Conservatives are no longer concerned with conserving, but with destroying - specifically, destroying the forms of social organization and individual choice that have sprung up in the wake of their total power over others' lives waning. Destroying the ability of those they formerly oppressed - and those who they now politically oppose - to make their own choices.

It is a shame that conservatives have framed the issue so narrowly and negatively because, as my original point noted, there have been things lost, in the destruction of previous forms of social conditioning and societal relations, that have not been properly replaced. Things of value - the idea that one's own life is not of value simply for its own sake; that one can and should derive meaning from one's place in a family, church, community - have been lost.

And it's a damn shame that David Brooks spends his time bitching about how wimmen can have their own bank accounts, when he's so close to asking the really important questions. But - as we've covered before - he is a loathesome hack, so this should really not be of any surprise to anyone.

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