David Brooks appears to blame online extremism on yoga pants—and that may not even be the weirdest thing about his most recent column, “I am an Internet Extremist.”
I’ve lost faith in reason. Communication is for condemnation and arousal. Forgiveness has become foreign to me. Sometimes you have to be vicious for justice. If I afflict the comfortable I have served justice. I don’t have to worry about comforting the afflicted. If I attack faraway wrongdoers I don’t have to worry about tutoring a child.
Online war is a force that gives life meaning. Hatred gives me that delicious simulacrum of power. Did you really think you could raise me on gourmet coffee and yoga pants and I wouldn’t find a way to rebel against your relativism and materialism? Didn’t you observe the eternal pattern — that if you try to flatten a man to the bourgeois he will rebel by becoming a fanatic?
Brooks lacks the expertise to say anything much of interest about the subject, and it shows. For him, extremism is a response to late modernity; failure to instill “coherent moral frameworks” results in radicalism. The very long history of extremist movements in human societies suggests that we cannot pin radicalism on late modernity. Plenty of radicals were raised with “coherent moral frameworks”—which either they rejected or which made them extremists.
A column like this was doomed to fail. The fact that Brooks decided to write it in the first person, however, raises it above the realm of forgettable mediocrity into that of strange curiosity. I suppose that’s something.