Wednesday, June 12, 2013

David Brooks: The Ties That Bind....And Chafe

David Brooks  laments the loss of all those social ties and regards Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower/leaker, as a major example of what happens when our intimate ties fray and break:

According to The Washington Post, he has not been a regular presence around his mother’s house for years. When a neighbor in Hawaii tried to introduce himself, Snowden cut him off and made it clear he wanted no neighborly relationships. He went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and the C.I.A., but he has separated himself from them, too.
Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.
If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.
I bolded the most interesting sentence in that quote.  Brooks is an authoritarian, though heavily disguised.  Like a lone wolf pretending to be one of the sheep, telling the sheep how good the various ties are that bind them, and lamenting the awful fate of a solitary sheep lost from the flock.

I'm not disagreeing with Brooks on the importance of social ties, but pointing out that he never questions the nature of those traditional ties he so adores.  He offers us his alternatives:  Either suffer alone or live your life in the place the "gently gradated authoritative structures" give you.

But those traditional ties are not equally protective or equally demanding for all, and many of the most powerful in the society appear not to be too bothered about the ties supposedly binding them, unless it's to a very close and small group of like-thinking and similarly positioned individuals.

This post is about a small sliver of Brooks' arguments.  For a very good take on the whole of it, read Amy Davidson's take in the New Yorker.