Tuesday, February 13, 2018

David Brooks: “it’s time to start something new”

2/13/2018—David Brooks writes today in the New York Times of the need of something new to combat what he calls “scarcity consciousness.” (The End of the Two-Party System).

Brooks notes that we used to have—as recently as the 1990’s--an abundance mind-set, which means basically optimism that things were getting better and would continue to get better.

But today, after economic downturn and partisan warfare, it’s all us vs them—life as a zero sum game in which my gain is your loss. Permanent warfare. Tribal life.

Importantly, Brooks notes that this is not a conflict of ideas. It is more like a switch from philosophy to anti-philosophy. What Bernard Lonergan called self-refuting theses.

The defining tone of the scarcity mindset is the gospel of resentments. Anti-immigration is the perfect embodiment. Evangelism becomes a siege mentality.

Brooks concludes: “The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.”

Unfortunately, Brooks seems to mean that we need a European-style multiparty system. That structural conclusion does not follow from his starting point. What follows from his argument is that we need a new starting point in consciousness.

Why do we no longer believe in the promise of the future? It is not the case that empirically things got so bad we lost trust. The 2008 downturn was not as bad as all that. Rather, the 2008 downturn occurred as the religious story of a benevolent universe had lost its power. That is why a return these days to prosperity is not undermining the scarcity mindset.

What we need is a universe we can trust. What we have is a universe of blind forces that are without a goal and rob our purposes of ultimate meaning. We can regain a universe we can trust, but getting there has nothing to do with politics, or political structure, as such.

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