In July 2017, David Brooks, a moderate conservative columnist for the New York Times, wrote a piece that rankled the more left of center.
There was no bomb throwing. Just an observation about the educated class that Books considered himself a part of.
He tells the story of taking a friend with only a high school education, insensitively (as he tells it), into a gourmet sandwich shop that uses high-end, hard-to-pronounce ingredients. The friend is uncomfortable, and they wind up going out for Mexican.
He used the story as one example of how the educated class often excludes the non-educated class, and how that contributes to the class divide.
“To feel at home in opportunity rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention posses the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child rearing, gender norms, and intersectionality.”
“It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.”
One thing that seems to have rankled the more left of center is that he didn’t touch on the things liberals consider to be a contributing factor in inequality. Lack of public school funding was never mentioned. He didn’t blame Republicans for wanting tax cuts for the rich. You get the idea.
Reasonable people can disagree on those things, but the very fact that people reacted to such a benign column is telling. This column touched a nerve, and the nerve it touched doesn’t have anything to do with tax policy. David Brooks held up a mirror to the educated class, and many didn't like what they saw.
The truth that David Brooks revealed in his column is that for all of the educated class’s well-meaning, the people they often say they want to help are never going to be them. They will never fit inside the upscale areas of the city with its yoga studios, high-end shopping and dining establishments, and they certainly won’t fit in any sort of cultural environment with them, socially or in business.
The educated class simply won't let them.
Does this make the educated class the bad guy?
No. Exclusion and tribalism infect all cultures and classes. An elite going into a more working class area may easily find himself on the outside if he doesn’t know much about tools, or hunting, or auto mechanics. Your artistic elites do their excluding when their tastes in music and art and writing get more and more obscure. Christians do it in churches with their own lingo that makes it clear to people who don't go to church as often that they aren't them.
Exclusion, and tribalism, are human problems. As humans, we all do this.
And maybe that's precisely what has bothered so many of the well-heeled, left-of-center individuals who read Brooks's column. After all, discussion about how other groups exclude and marginalize others is certainly within the purview of lofty, educated discussion.
Perhaps what bothered them the most was finding out that, in some matters, they're no better than everyone else.
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