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David Brooks shows us his “Big Shaggy”

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So it appears that David Brooks has penned an entire column premised on the observation that a century of social science has failed to provide satisfying explanations for why oil companies would cut corners and wreck an ecosystem; why investment bankers would develop complex financial instruments and wreck an economy; and why governors would have affairs and wreck their marriages. Social science also, apparently, fails to account for why a pitcher would be gracious when an umpire ruins his perfect game, why soldiers would risk their lives in war, or why Kobe Bryant shows “fierce determination” to score a lot of points.

None of this is true, of course — there are vast and relevant heaps of research on each of these phenomena that are evidently too complicated for David Brooks to understand. But the fact that Brooks takes all of these examples and makes them a function of some “inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy” makes me wonder if it isn’t time to retire the nickname “Bobo” after all these years.

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  • Malaclypse

    If only social science explained why Brooks continues to draw a sizeable paycheck, rather than simply being left to fend for himself in the wilderness.

  • DrDick

    Brooks is actually paid to misunderstand and misrepresent social science. What he actually means is that he does not like the answers social science gives since they repudiate conservative cant.

    Malaclypse –

    He is doing exactly what his masters at the NYT want him to do.

    • Malaclypse

      I was being sarcastic – I know full well social science can explain Brooks, McMegan, the Doughy Pantload, etc. I just like the idea of Brooks being left in the wilderness…

      • DocAmazing

        Consider the plight of the wildlife!

        • DrDick

          Too true. I do not think this would ever clear an environmental impact assessment.

        • Hey, where do you think Brooks came from, anyway? Damn wildlife probably dumped him on us to begin with, just to get him out of there … (has anybody seen his birth certificate?)

  • Ugh

    I’m pretty sure I saw David Brooks the other day in downtown DC and wasn’t sure how to react. After giving it two minutes of thought just now, I’m thinking that this would have been appropriate:

    Me: I’m sorry to bother you, but you look just like the NYTimes columnist David Brooks.

    DB: That’s because I am NYTimes columnist David Brooks.

    Me: Oh! I’m very sorry. Cheers.

  • maineiac

    The Big Shaggy must be Tom Wolfe’s red dog. Every man has that red dog but few dare let him loose.

  • Jay B.

    …a century of social science has failed to provide satisfying explanations for why oil companies would cut corners and wreck an ecosystem

    Since when were “massive profits”, “political corruption” and “short-term thinking”, or, for that matter “human nature” not covered by the social sciences? No one could have predicted! Indeed!

    What he wants to do is excuse the Perfect Market from its gigantic blind spot.

    • Jay B.

      Good Jesus.

      It’s probably dangerous to enter exclusively into this realm and risk being caught in a cloister, removed from the market and its accountability.

      Um. Dave? Most “humanities” types see right through the bullshit of the market’s accountability because it’s total fucking bullshit. Critical thinking, you knob, it’s what gets us through the day. Helps us overcome dogma.

      Why did I read it? I was right the first time and less angry about it.

  • Hogan

    That column is a target-rich environment to be sure, but this in particular caught my eye:

    “You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo.”

    Spoken like someone who’s never worked in an office, or ever spoken to anyone who works in an office, or ever had any notion how offices are organized or what people in offices do. Or even read Bartleby the Scrivener, for fuck’s sake. Doesn’t get any more clear and concise than “I would prefer not to.”

    But there I go, drawing on my humanities training for analogies to explain perverse human behavior. Feel my power. Fear my power.

    • commie atheist

      Rational human to David Brooks: “Here is a bunch of compelling evidence and data points that refute your deeply-held beliefs and policy positions. Are you willing to admit that you were wrong and change those positions?”

      Brooks: “I would prefer not to.”

    • catclub

      How about: Once you have great power (most likely obtained through nepotism), it would be nice if you can also write a clear and concise memo?

      Or: If you can write a clear and concise memo, you will be able to mock (fruitlessly) the ones written by your superiors.

  • charles pierce

    That isn’t a column. That’s a book proposal.
    See if I didn’t call it.

    • davenoon

      I was going to make the same prediction… I think it’s safe to say that a book called “The Big Shaggy” would extend the life of the blogosphere by at least a decade.

    • Rob

      All of his columns are basically book proposals or potential chapters in future books. It nice to collect two pay checks for one bit of work!

    • whetstone

      Brooks has mentioned that he’s working on a book (IIRC) about neuroscience and decision-making.

      So I’m one-upping your prediction:

      1) it’s a book proposal (or at least part of a forthcoming book)

      2) Reading said book will make the relatively sane reader long for the days when we thought Liberal Fascism was the bottom of the barrel.

      And the fuck of it is that I’m sure it will be this seasons new “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” (seen recently in an iPad ad – thanks Apple, for taking care of that gadget lust for me!).

  • Doxastic

    Apaparently no one ever hipped Brooks to historical materialism, for fear it would blow his mind.

  • Halloween Jack

    I’d rather not contemplate anything related to David Brooks that’s referred to as the “Big Shaggy.” This is someone who can unselfconsciously lead with this:

    When the going gets tough, the tough take accounting. When the job market worsens, many students figure they can’t indulge in an English or a history major. They have to study something that will lead directly to a job.

    , says the man with one of the most useless jobs in America, and isn’t too good at that, frankly. Oh, and this:

    If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

    If only there were a grant that I could apply for that would fund my purchasing an iPad and tracking David Brooks down so that I could show him some of the finer offerings from 4chan. I’d film his reaction, of course. You think you know Big Shaggy, Davey? Ah ha ha ha ha kindly allow me to murder your dreams, sir.

  • Malaclypse

    If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either,

    Veiled Rule 34 reference?

    • Hogan

      Or perhaps we’ve just seen the exact moment when David Brooks turned into Tobias Fünke.

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  • anonymous

    rather depressingly, the chair of my English department emailed a link to the Brooks piece to us all today, with approving commentary. my sense is that this will have happened in a hundred departments across the country: we are desperate for positive attention. the fact that this is currently the most emailed piece on nyt.com is to me yet another sign that my profession has failed: while I don’t think that reading great writing makes one a better person, I would like to believe that it improved one’s taste in figurative language.

    • Linnaeus

      I didn’t care much for the “Big Shaggy” language (Zoikes!), but I can’t say that I disapproved of his advocacy of the humanities.

      • DocAmazing

        Brooks would have gotten away with it , too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids…

      • anonymous

        I think advocacy of the humanities is swell….really!

        but advocacy of them as “not-social-science, since they confirm, instead of challenging, tired bourgeois pieties about the blessed unpredictability of human nature”–advocacy on those terms I can do without.

    • Yep–a colleague of mine sent it to the entire Humanities listserv…

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  • You’d think someone who was a humanities major would use the word bemused fucking properly.

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