For me, reading my reader David Brooks in the New York Times in recent years has been a rather odd experience. When promoting his upcoming book, Brooks writes as if I were the David Broder/ David Gergen/ David Brooks of the 21st Century, the recognized voice of conventional wisdom, and that he is the intellectual rebel.
For example, in his latest column "The New Humanism," Brooks expounds:
Over the course of my career, I’ve covered a number of policy failures. ..
I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: ... We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.
When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. ... Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.
Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.
This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. ... You pay a bit less attention to individual traits and more to the quality of relationships between people.
You get a different view of, say, human capital. Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing I.Q., degrees, and professional skills.
Personally, I don't see why I shouldn't be the voice of conventional wisdom. I'm a reasonable man, I'm pretty good at understanding why other people feel the way they do, I like to put myself in other people's shoes in order to grasp the incentives they face, I have decent pattern recognition skills, and so forth.
For example, I can see lots of good reasons why Brooks has adopted this shtick of his. Granted, it's objectively wacky for him to imply that every time you turn on your TV, there's Obama or Oprah or Brooks talking about correlations between IQ and social outcomes. But, emotionally, that's what pays. If Brooks is going to become the New Malcolm Gladwell (which I'm highly in favor of, since he would be a big improvement over the Old Malcolm Gladwell), he needs to position himself as being The New Thing. The public doesn't want new ideas, they just want to be told that their old ideas are new ideas that have been discovered by brain scans.
Moreover, reacting to me sharpens Brooks's game considerably. If he just talked back to, say, Frank Rich, he'd be almost as boring as Frank Rich.