Dear David Brooks

January 5, 2010 - 4:18 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
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I see that today you have decided to pontificate on the “educated class” and how the tea-party movement represents an anti-intellectual backlash against them rather than a more traditional political struggle between certain elements of the left and right. (Which, as anybody wishing to comment remotely intelligently- I’m sorry, in an educated way- knows, are made up of very different internal subgroups, some with directly conflicting goals and values.) You can read the whole piece to get the entirety of Mr. Brooks’s views on the subject, but I take particular issue with this series of statements:

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

Being resident in Los Alamos rather than New York City, we have a perhaps-unique glimpse into the mind of the “educated class”, as Los Alamos can, more than any other city in the world, claim to represent it; it enjoys the status of being the largest concentration of PhD degrees in the world. The local economy is so skewed by the education bias that businesses have serious trouble recruiting and keeping low-skilled and skilled labor, so that, to use the most obvious example, only a few restaurants in town monopolize all waitstaff while successful chains like Pizza Hut are forced to close their doors due to a lack of viable employees. (Everyone else either gets a degree and a job at the labs, or moves out of town.) If there is an “educated class”, as defined by actual level of education, this is its national capital.

Politically speaking, we are thoroughly divided. It appears the educated class just can’t make up its fucking mind on foreign policy, because we have political letters-column and battling editorial wars in the town newspaper as a matter of course. Abortion rights? You’ll find bumper stickers and signs advocating one position or the other, but there doesn’t seem to be any significant bias either way. Global warming I’ll grant more or less- but there is heavy disagreement about what should be done about it. (Actually, the town is mostly united in puzzled contempt for the rest of America for rejecting our clean, efficient nuclear technology.) Gun control? Los Alamos has no city or county laws regarding guns at all, and if the majority of our citizenry aren’t happy with New Mexico’s quite libertarian state laws on the subject, they’re not voicing that opinion nearly as often as they are on other subjects*. When a state or federal election comes around, you can count on Los Alamos county to break extremely narrowly for one side or the other and for our spot on the state map to be thoroughly purple.

As it turns out if you map the data, this result is expected; despite conservative claims that they are supported by the middle class while liberals represent the lowest class and the elites, and liberal claims that they are supported by the educated and conservatives by the uneducated, once you account for the greater sample size of liberals in general the breakdowns between education levels shake out pretty evenly between conservatives, liberals, and independents. As it turns out, having opinions about politics doesn’t depend that much on how educated you are- though it probably does have some effect on what KIND of conservative or liberal you are, as the Pew survey linked later on in the comments demonstrates. (If you’re a very well-educated conservative, odds are that you’re going to be a socially liberal free-marketeer.)

Of course, Los Alamos’s ridiculous population sample of the very well-educated are overwhelmingly educated highly in a certain way- in the hard sciences, technology, and engineering. Their political views and personal values aren’t tied up in their education for the most part- whereas the people David Brooks earlier categorized as the people who “talk like us” usually are. A lot of Los Alamosites don’t; they come with heavy German or Russian or Chinese or Indian or southern-US accents, as often as not. They can only speak in political code if they’ve cultivated a political-junkie side, which tends to be modeled more on their affiliation of choice rather than on their education.

Brooks doesn’t mean educated, although I’m sure he thinks he does, as many people for whom a liberal-arts education (emphasis, these days, on the liberal) is the only world they know and the science students are just those strange trolls that never show up at parties or dorm room bull sessions. He means cultural elite, or those who believe themselves to be. And as for tea-partiers being primarily opposed to that rather than to policy… he’s still wrong, but he would at least be several jumps closer to being right.

*Given that, in a city of 50,000 max if you count White Rock, the only bigger and nicer outdoor range in the northern half of the state is owned by the NRA and ours is staffed and maintained wholly by volunteer, the only generalization I could possibly make based on Los Alamos is that the educated class loves guns.

No Responses to “Dear David Brooks”

  1. Chas S. Clifton Says:

    I saw that column too. Sheesh. I reckon my education ain’t worth much then.

    I hope that you communicate your sentiments to the New York Times letters section. The Los Alamos connection might be exotic enough that they would print it.

  2. Kristopher Says:

    This is what passes for conservative in NYFC?

    The only reason he isn’t a democrat is because the Stalinists there don’t want him.

  3. bynra Says:

    Those are quite the generalizations based on rather vague…correlations.

    It seems a Liberal Arts degree gives you far more than a piece of paper. A sense of superiority, entitlement and underappreciation as well a persecution complex are just a few of the many benefits.

    Oh God. I’m talking “like them”. Let me try that again.

    Whiners.

  4. Dave Says:

    You’ve got it all wrong. Yes, you have Ph.D.’s out there, but they’re all in the hard sciences–you know, productive fields. The “educated class” are the ivory-tower “intellectuals” who know what’s best for you, damnit, so quit fighting.

  5. Dave Says:

    Ahem. Maybe if I’d read all the way to the bottom before drafting my reply, I’d have seen that you already said that. Guess I’m the anti-intellectual commoner today.

  6. BobG Says:

    I guess Brooks never learned that being an arrogant condescending prick doesn’t really make a person sound any more intelligent than someone without a degree.

  7. bluntobject Says:

    Brilliant!

    Lefties tend to believe — or at least claim they believe — that what they’re doing is best for everyone (except perhaps the evil rich). This of course means they need an out when confronted with someone from a group they claim to champion — women, blue-collar workers, etc — who disagrees with them. The usual song in Canuckistan is “You’re voting against your best interests”, which requires the lefty in question to believe that s/h/its opponents among “the exploited classes” are stupid, ignorant, or both (and that s/h/it is wise and educated enough to tell someone’s best interests by, say, the configuration of their plumbing). Fits in nicely with Brooks’ article.