Time for some observations from the world's worst sociologist...

Me! -- about the world's second worst sociologist: David Brooks. For those who don't know him, he's the New York Times' very own conservative op-ed columnist. To his credit, that's a tough position to be in. It's like getting tossed into a roomful of wolves with a big sign that says "Sheep". I wonder if he gets bashed by the Times' staff as much as he seems to get bashed by its readers. Certainly the blog-world has taken notice, mostly to his disadvantage.

I kind of feel bad for David Brooks. As the Times' liaison to the world of conservative thought (comparatively), he's either dismissed or hated by liberal readers, because that's what he's paid for. But the really sad thing is I can't imagine conservatives wanting to own him either.

Would you want to call someone one of your own who engages in relatively thoughtless generalization such as:

'When it comes to yardwork, they [Red States] have rider mowers; we have illegal aliens,'

'The energy that once went into sex and raving now goes into salads...bathroom tile is their cocaine.'[refering to the new generation of young adults]

'In America, it is acceptable to cut off any driver in a vehicle that costs a third more than yours. That's called democracy.'

More importantly, many allege that Brooks isn't really a conservative. Michael Kinsley voices the doubt in a review of one of Brooks' books:
When he ridicules consumer appetites, Brooks is safely within the permissible, rueful conservative critique of capitalism's ''contradictions.'' When he writes of the 'tediousness of pod after pod of the highway-side office parks'' and the 'sheer existential nothingness of an office-park lobby,'' he sounds quaintly like the cultural critics of American capitalism in the 1950's and 60's. But when he declares that hard-working business executives are living their 'whole lives'' in a furrow -- 'I'm that furrow, your personality becomes a mere selling device. Friendships become contacts. The urge to improve deteriorates to mere acquisitiveness. Money becomes the measure of accomplishment'' -- well, frankly, that sounds more than a bit like Karl Marx, doesn't it?

Theories abound in the blog world for why The Times gave Brooks the job, and why they are letting him keep it. Here's a particularly direct, if undiplomatic, statement of opinion, entitled 'Fire Brooks'...its best lines are:
I suspect they didn't realize how rabid he was at first, and, now that they know, don't want to look weak by removing him.

I have this fantasy that the editors systematically refuse to publish letters that point out Brooks's stupidity because it reflects poorly on their hiring decision and general mental soundness.

I honestly think the first statement has some plausibility. There are lots of possibilities. Maybe The Times' rationale is that Brooks is a particularly easy target for its conservative-weary readership who won't challenge their assumptions too much. Or he could be a kind of ideological double-agent, destroying the neoconservative agenda's credibility from within. I would definitely be curious to hear from a strong supporter of neoconservative agendas as to what they think of Brooks.

Being the world's worst sociologist, I'm not normally qualified to assess someone else's sociological work. But, in this case, I can say that after reading a bunch of reviews of Brooks' books, I'm quite sure that the ideas Brooks puts forth as 'sociological analysis' are things I could and would come up with if you asked me to write a piece of pop sociology on the spot. From reading a few columns, I can also say that Brooks, with his fondness for coining terms, like 'Crunchy Zone,' 'Meatloaf Line' and 'Patio Man,' along with his tendency to exaggerate - about '16-foot refrigerators with the through-the-door goat cheese and guacamole delivery systems,' S.U.V.'s 'so big they look like the Louisiana Superdome on wheels' - writes columns that read like the columns I used to write for my high school newspaper. Read Kinsley's review for a critique of Brooks' latest book and general methodology. You'll see that Brooks defends himself by saying he's in the business of illuminating and clarifying what we already know by presenting it in an entertaining form. I say, if you're not going to tell me something I don't know, or going to present something I already know in a useful and new way, then you are not really an authority on anything and shouldn't be presenting yourself as one. I surely hope that Brooks doesn't think he's producing anything profound.

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