Table of contents:

1.Comments Doubting The Book’s Thesis
2. Comments From People Who Seem To Know A Lot About Ivy League Admissions
3. Comments About Whether A Hereditary Aristocracy Might In Fact Be Good
4. Other Interesting Comments
5. Tangents That I Find Tedious, But Other People Apparently Really Want To Debate

1. Comments Doubting The Book’s Thesis

Woody Hochmann writes:

The connections that Brooks makes between the decline of the northeastern WASP aristocracy’s power, the emergence of meritocracy, and the hippie culture that first emerged in the 60s doesn’t seem to stand up to even moderate historical scrutiny, in all honesty. Some issues that immediately come to mind off the top of my head:

-The idea that the cultural values that Brooks calls “bohemianism” became dominant in America for essentially parochial reasons limited to the US (a change in university admissions policies, the displacement of a previous aristocracy) doesn’t track well with the fact that these social changes happened around the same time in basically every part of the western world (and to a lesser degree in Asia as well).

-The general phenomenon of the power of the WASP aristocracy being displaced by a managerial upper-middle class predates the changes to university admissions that Brooks is discussing–there are books that are contemporaneous with those changes like Whyte’s Organization Man and Burnham’s Managerial Revolution that were already observing the trend. The decades before the 50s saw WWII, the New Deal, and the general enrichment and empowerment of the various ethnic immigrant groups–all of these were vastly more convincing causal factors of the decline of the WASP aristocracy than one individual university president deciding to admit a moderately larger amount of non-WASPs. The dominant social orthodoxy that the bohemians were challenging was this orthodoxy, which had already displaced the WASP aristocracy by the time that they emerged–he postwar social order features as something of a glaring missing link for all of Brooks’ analysis.

-The idea of a clean break between WASP culture and bohemianism, with the former being a separate, distinct group of people that overthrew the latter doesn’t make a lot of sense. The WASPs were heavily associated with set of a few denominations–episcopalianism, congregationalism, and unitarianism–and today all of these are generally considered some of the most liberal, bohemian-ish religious groups in the country. It’s probably more accurate to say that many young members of the WASP aristocracy simply adopted some bohemian values (at least superficially)

And MM adds:

Yeah I see Brooks as thinking Harvard led the way when it looks more like it followed along (and being more famous later, got the credit/blame as a result).

Melvin writes:

I’m sure that in the United States it’s possible to write a whole book about a global trend without remembering the existence of other countries, but when read from another country . . .

Britain is a good example; not because it’s the most illustrative, but just because it’s the only country with whose popular culture the average American might be expected to be somewhat familiar. And it’s a similar story, old moneyed elite getting kicked down by a new and supposedly-more-meritocratic elite. The process was perhaps a bit slower and a bit less complete (e.g. the new Prime Minister might be an Indian but he still went to Winchester). Among the many trends explaining this, I don’t think admissions at Oxford/Cambridge are really close to the top, nor even admissions at Eton etc.

One thing that _would seem to be important is new money. For centuries, the only way to be rich was to own a lot of land, and the only way to own a lot of land was to inherit it. The Industrial Revolution started a phenomenon of non-U people suddenly becoming rich, which made life complicated for the old upper class, but at first they could absorb these new money richers slowly into their ranks (and more importantly, the new money richers aspired to emulate the old money). But eventually the rate of wealth creation got so out of hand that new millionaires were being minted faster than the upper class could co-opt them, and the wealth of the unassimilated non-U rich started to outweigh the wealth of the true Upper Class. And eventually the whole thing came tumbling down and everyone is lining up to get a glimpse of the Beatles instead of the Queen.

jumpingjacksplash disagrees:

The counter-argument is that it’s US cultural hegemony.

Britain’s a good place to see this. The 19th Century created a lot of new “millionaires,” but they tried their hardest to ape the aristocracy then intermarried with them (changing them slightly in the process - mid-Victorian aristocrats were notably bourgousified compared to the 18th century). This is why public schools and Oxbridge became important in the first place vs. a purely hereditary system.

It could only be sustained by the aristocracy being the only centre of prestige though. Once a new class had risen up in the post-war US, the cool kids wanted to be like them, as opposed to the 417th Marquess of Cornwallshireshire, leading to the Blairite class and the “New Establishment.” It’s not a coincidence that Blair was the first [British?] politician to use the word “meritocracy” unironically to refer to something good.

Jay Rollins writes:

The other factor in terms of the changing of the elite guard was the space race. When the NSF started pouring money into universities in order to land a man on the moon before the Soviets, academia became a viable career for ambitious smart people rather than a calling for well-heeled boffins; the old dollar-a-year men started getting outcompeted for tenure track jobs by people who saw an academic position as both a cozy sinecure and an activist bully pulpit (and, crucially, needed the money, not being old money themselves). This changed the character of academia entirely, led to the full democratization of education, caused credential escalation across the board (the reason you need a degree for an entry level job), and created both the activist class, and I’d argue, the PMC.

Carl Pham answers:

I think there’s some merit in what you say, but it wasn’t the space race per se, if we mean Project Apollo and such, it was nuclear weapons and the V-2, because those happened in 1945 and the Space Race got started later (and for that matter, a significant motivation in the Space Race was the fear of The Best And The Brightest that Soviet missile technology would surpass the USAF as a strategic threat multiplier).

For example: . It’s no coincidence this was signed the year after Sputnik, but the fear of Sputnik wasn’t fear that the Soviets would win civilian gold medals in space, plant the red flag on the Moon first, it was fear of Soviet missiles – if they could put a dog into orbitt they could certainly land a 1Mt nuke on Miami – and indeed the notorious “missile gap” helped JFK defeat Eisenhower’s VP two years later.

Ali Afroz writes:

I feel like if even half of this was true, The change in Harvard’s and other university’s admission policy would have been a much bigger deal. Aristocracies don’t generally sit on their hands when something threatens their position. At the very least there would be legislative attempts to reverse the change. It’s possible the aristocracy didn’t realize how important the change was, but they should have realized it when the meritocrats became a thing, and when their kids stopped getting into top universities. There just wasn’t enough of a fight for something which supposedly toppled a virtual nobility. And it is highly unusual for an entire class of people to make an epistemic mistake about something which it is very important for them to get right, when the consequences of a mistake will be immediate and when the subject isn’t some obscure scientific field which requires expertise to understand. If David was smart enough to figure all of this out, why weren’t the aristocrats? It was far more important for them to get it right, and it doesn’t seem that David’s knowledge of the future was particularly useful for this inference, so the aristocrats had nearly all the relevant information David did.

I could go either way on this. There’s a pretty strong movement for the Ivies to discriminate less against Asians now, even though that would change the makeup of the ruling class. But I hadn’t though of it that way until reading this book, and given that the movement might succeed, it doesn’t seem like the current ruling class is resisting it that hard (though admittedly, Republican Supreme Court justices are a noncentral example!)

VNodosaurus writes:

I think this review is still giving too much credence to what’s basically a monocausal explanation of ‘kids these days are the problem’ for everything. That is, even if we grant that there was a shift towards meritocracy in college admissions (some of the other comments talk about it being more complicated than that, but I’m not that familiar with the topic):

  • The transition towards simplified art - that is, more or less, modernist art - started in ~1900, not 1955.

  • Postmodernism is closer to the correct timeframe, but it started in Europe. Furthermore, the concept of a meritocracy determined by standardized testing is much closer to High Modernism than premodern elites, and some serious explanation would be needed for this meritocratic elite to be the ones that turned against meritocracy.

  • Whether or not ‘starving artists’ have vanished as a class, Fussell wasn’t among their number, and the concept doesn’t seem to much overlap with ‘Class X’. (I do think ACX has a tendency towards over-cynicism in assuming that everything is signaling and that people have no honest interests. The vast majority of ‘new elite’ members do not enjoy whitewater rafting, and so they don’t participate in whitewater rafting.)

  • Conservatives have complained about the new generation lacking ‘values’ for the entirety of human history. The fact that they’re also complaining now really doesn’t require explanation.

The connection with political polarization, though, does seem like it may be related - if the same elites ran both parties, it makes sense that their policies weren’t that different. Of course, polarization very much is a cycle. Then again, the dominance of the Old Establishment wasn’t eternal either, and the late 19th century seems like very much a period that also followed a different elite (the agrarian slaveholding elite, maybe corresponding to the ‘Cavaliers’) losing much of their elite status. So maybe there’s something there - cycles of elite competition and all that. (Though searching for cycles in history is generally a matter of finding patterns in random noise, and I’m not entirely convinced Turchin’s work is different.)

SuperbOwl has an even more extensive gripe about the “monocausal explanation” aspect.

2. Comments From People Who Seem To Know A Lot About Ivy League Admissions

Erusian writes:

Legacy admissions are roughly a third of Harvard students. Any story that starts with meritocratic dominance in the 1950-60s has to grapple with the fact that legacies remained a huge presence in the Ivy League. This is nearly fatal to this entire section’s thesis.

I think something simpler happened. Harvard became more exclusive. Prior to the mid-20th century almost anyone with the proper educational credentials could get into Harvard. The acceptance rate was around 80-90%. Now, some of this was because you had to prove you had certain aristocratic class markers like knowing Greek. But if you had them you basically got in. This is exactly how the Jews got in: they just studied the class markers. And that wasn’t a problem until there were “too many” of them.

The post-war restrictions SHARPLY cut the acceptance rate down to about a third of applicants. And it’s declined ever since. It was 15%-ish by the 1980s-90s and is about 5% today. This has set off an intense competition where getting into Harvard is a status symbol.

In 1930 going to Harvard was something you did because you were a WASP. If you were an intelligent Black person you went to Howard. Partly because of racial discrimination to be sure. But partly because going to Harvard was not a prestigious trophy. Simply having a college degree marked you out as elite. So why not go to the college your community built? Where you’d see the elites of your own community?

You saw the same thing with white Catholics. Even ones from very old American families who didn’t have to deal with anti-immigrant sentiment. As late as the mid-20th century you had some Virginians going to places like William & Mary because they weren’t New Englanders.

Post-war all colleges organized themselves into a hierarchy. Harvard came out on top, as the “best.” Elites had found a new competition: to get into the best schools. And Harvard restricted its membership because selectiveness (and the education it conferred) was a status symbol. A meritocratic ideology sprung up about “whiz kids”, especially around Johnson and Kennedy’s time. And college access greatly expanded. But at the same time as college access was expanded access to these elite spaces contracted. In effect the mid-century turned what had been a pretty open system into a series of sorting tests.

I’ve never seen any compelling evidence that this actually improves the quality of graduates, by the way. Some universities like Tsinghua also have extremely low acceptance rates. But the University of Tokyo, the most prestigious university in Japan, accepts about 35% of applicants. Oxford accepts about 20%. The doctors, engineers, professionals, academics, etc graduated by those schools are perfectly competent in my experience. And I’m not really aware of anyone who argues otherwise.

Phil Getz writes:

The meritocratic phase of the Ivies lasted only a few years, from 1960 to sometime around 1967 when full-tuition academic scholarships were eliminated at all Ivy League schools, using the justification that they were ruining football. This was a major blow to their selectivity; before then, there had been /many/ full-tuition scholarships at most of the ivy leagues.

In the 1970s, full-tuition merit scholarships offered by third parties began to appear, but not for white males (except for scholarships offered only for particular majors, usually for careers in what was considered charitable work). Financial aid operated on the principle that they would start giving you financial aid only after your parents sold all their assets and spent all their money, and screw your brothers and sisters if that made it impossible for them to go to college. By 1980, no one could afford ivy-league tuitions except the rich or the broke, and only people who weren’t white males could get full-tuition merit scholarships.

Starting around 1970, people who hadn’t gone to any Ivy League or equivalent school (eg MIT) suddenly were blocked from reaching positions of power, wealth, or prestige–in politics, law, finance, business, education, and science. I did a survey around 2010 of people who had Nobels in physics, and found that of those who attended college before 1970, most had either not attended an ivy, or attended an ivy or equivalent (in physics) on a full-tuition merit scholarship. After 1970, that number dropped to… a very small number, impossible to establish because I couldn’t know whether non-white-male students had received a full-tuition scholarship, but possibly zero. By the 1980s (IIRC), the number of Supreme Court justices who hadn’t attended an Ivy had dropped from “most of them” to zero or one. After 1990, the same could be said of elected US Presidents, and the number of new American industrialist billionaires who hadn’t attended an ivy or equivalent had dropped from “most of them” to a few, owing to big-time venture capitalists establishing a strong preference for funding only ivy-league grads.

Also in the 1970s, the political parties were disrupted, with the Democrats losing the South, and starting to lose the working class. They flipped positions between then and now. The Democrats are now the party of the rich. Witness the fact that they’re outspending the Republicans right now in the critical Georgia Senate race by 2 to 1. Check political-spending statistics, and it appears that roughly a third of the disposable wealth in America was transferred to Republicans to Democrats between 1980 and the present.

This has been done by keeping wealth out of the hands of people who didn’t go to the right colleges, and reshaping the Democratic party in a way that made it both rich and controllable. That was done by re-creating the Democratic party as the anti-white-male party. This has no effect on white males who attend an Ivy or equivalent; they’re still guaranteed a high-paying, high-prestige job. So the reforming of Ivy admissions policy, in cooperation with re-orienting the Democratic party using identity politics, has created a situation which lets the ruling wealthy elites shut out middle-class white and Asian males (including Jews) from wealth and power, and all but guarantee that those non-whites and females admitted to the Ivies will follow the party line. And it does all this in a way which focuses attention on racial and sexual discrimination, both shielding itself from charges of racial or sexual discrimination, and distracting attention from the actual, class-based discrimination.

The alternative hypothesis, that the ivies & co. suddenly became so good at picking smart people in the 1960s that they scooped up literally everyone capable of success since then, is infeasible, because

1. they can only admit about 1/1000th to 2/1000th of America’s college population each year, and standardized tests show the median Ivy attendee is only in the 98th percentile

2. middle-class white & Asian males can’t all suddenly be incapable of success

3. most or all of them don’t require standardized tests anymore on an application, so they have no good means of identifying talented students

4. in earlier years, enough highly-successful people hadn’t performed well in high school that there should be at least some such people today, but I’m not aware of any.

3. Comments About Whether A Hereditary Aristocracy Might In Fact Be Good

SomeoneElse on the Discord writes:

The WASPs weren’t prudish jocks just because of some accident of history. They were a self-conscious elite who deliberately cultivated in themselves those traits which were conducive to leading the lower classes.

  • Sports and physical culture keep you grounded and located in your body, just like those you must lead

  • Moderated interest in academics - while there’s value in learning, you can become unmoored from reality recieving too much of your context from experts and scholars, A “Gentleman’s C” earned from the finest academics available is about the right balance.

  • Military service. T. Roosevelt dropped out of his career twice because he felt he needed to face danger to be a proper leader. When Joe Kennedy was raising his family into the WASP elite, both his sons felt they needed to distinguish themselves in battle if they wanted a chance at political office. As late as the 1960’s, John Kerry had “get medals commanding a PT Swift Boat” on his career checklist.

  • [Most importantly], public displays of family values - If you are smart, wealthy and conscientious enough, you can play the field, settle down late, cheat on your wife, drink a bit too much, and still catch yourself in time to avoid long-term damage. Poor, low-G, high-time-preference people cannot do this. A caring aristocrat will put on a show of moral fibre for the benefit of his charges.

Mark Roulo writes:

I’ll toss this out: Aristocrats grow up expecting that (a) they will be in charge and (b) that they will pass this on to their kids. Part (b) provides a longer perspective than a pure meritocracy where you hope (but, realistically, don’t expect …) your kids to have similar status and power. As folks think shorter term there is less incentive for maintaining the structures rather than benefiting from them and not worrying about whether they will be around in 50 years.

Ruet Caelum writes:

Another thought I had about the meritocracy debate point is how Brooks’ thesis may intersect with the elite overproduction hypothesis. The old aristocracy created arbitrary constraints on the number of elites our country produced. Meritocracy flung the doors open. This is good insofar as it means that more competent people may replace the “arrogant boors who spent most of their energy conspicuously consuming and yachting,” but perhaps the resulting culture of intra-elite competition and resentment ends up undermining elite institutions in ways that negate those benefits.

I am less sure about this one. “Elite overproduction” means there are more aspiring elites than elite positions. But what is an “aspiring elite”? In a hereditary aristocracy, it’s “children of the last set of elites”; depending on reproduction rate, that can either be many people (bad) or few people (good). In a meritocracy, it’s less clear. Smart people? Graduates of top colleges? But both of these are meaningless - how smart? How top? You would expect that people would eventually become well calibrated, and think “I’m in the top 5% but not top 1% for intelligence/college selectivity, so I can expect a job of X level of eliteness, but not Y level” and in expectation be right. I’m not sure why that hasn’t happened. My guess is that it would equilibrate if it was stable for a while, but many people’s opportunities have been going down compared to their parents’ because of a combination of decreased economic growth, political dysfunction, affirmative action, and rising equality of opportunity.

Kade U writes:

Re: the question of why the old aristocrats might have been good, I can think of couple reasons. Historically, the successful long-lived republics have all basically been oligarchies controlled by ancient, wealthy families that more or less controlled all the levers of power. You’re rich and powerful in the Republic because of what your family represents, and similarly you need to live up to the family name. Also, you’re a legitimately rich guy who owns a lot of stuff, not just a particularly well-compensated employee, so you generally want rules that help you build stuff and not rules that stop you from building stuff. Meanwhile, you might also be tempted to set up a rent extraction operation via regulatory capture but the other families would rather you not do that because they are all also your business competitors in addition to being your political rivals.

Cutthroat meritocratic bureaucracy is more of a mainstay of imperial administrations. The levers of power are held by the emperor’s well-compensated, well-educated employees. Those employees have a lot of power in that they make a lot of important decisions, but they are really just custodians of someone else’s authority, they have no stake in anything except looking good within the system. This works really well if your goal is basically to just execute the emperor’s will, since all the employee-administrators will compete with each other to execute it best. But they don’t have competing self-interests that make them interested in a pro-business, pro-investment climate. And without a single emperor to hand down the goal of the state, the administrators basically just pick up their cues from whatever they think will increase their social standing within the bureaucracy itself.

The nascent tech takeover was basically just an attempt to combine these two ideas by having wealthy, business-interested meritocrats, but it turns out that they do a better job combining the flaws of both systems than they do combining their positives.

I would love to see a scholarly, well-thought out comparison between the Imperial Chinese meritocratic system and our own (or else a discussion of why this is a false analogy and wouldn’t illuminate anything).

4. Other Interesting Comments

GalenLK on the WASP aristocracy:

I don’t really buy the premise of the book, but I did wander in to this social circle once by accident in my youth. A friend of mine had by weird historical contingency ended up on one of their soccer youth teams, and got invited along to the parties every year by fiat. I was her plus one.

My overwhelming impression was of basically nice (but money-obsessed) noodleheads. During the secret santa (it was Christmas), gift values were all over the map because they didn’t have a sense of the difference between $20 and $200, and something like a third of the gifts were a bottle of lemoncello for some reason? Only one or two were employed in a traditional sense, and those were sinecures- part-time work that paid $400,000 a year, to ‘tide them over’ I think was the phrase; they were embarrassed about it. Another one cornered me pretty early on and started asking a bunch of unusual questions about my personal life, not just where I went to college or what my major was, but odd little details. I was rescued by my date who walked up and said (to both of us), “she’s trying to figure out whether you’re old money or new money.” I just said, “Oh! I am not money.” And then we had a little laugh about it and went back to a normal and mutually respectful conversation.

They were perfectly nice, really, but it was eye-opening how much it was clearly a social network first, where money just happened to flow very freely and was a primary topic of conversation; it was absolutely a ‘class’ barrier that I’d crossed, in the old-fashioned sense. I wasn’t there nearly long enough to get a bead on the deeper mythologies of the set, but they definitely had a parallel understanding of money that made ‘earning’ it worse, not better. They were also pretty tryhard about being ‘eccentric’ and quirky, I guess because it was taboo to talk about accomplishments so they needed something else to talk about over dinner, and the ones winning the game were the ones who made the money seem like it just sort of rained down on them from the clouds.

In retrospect, the most interesting thing about it is that all of their wealth depended on internal and inward-facing connections to this group, or I guess being part of inherited/family wealth from it, and nothing depended on any reputation or actions outside of it; they lived on investment income and such, but hired other people to make the investments. So it seems like a sort of socioeconomic ‘dark matter’ where I have no idea how many people live like this or how much wealth overall they possess. It was just a few dozen at the party, anyway. I’m not sure it even matters; I think in economic terms, their function was mostly to be the name at the top of large currency reservoirs being exploited by the financial industry. Whether they’re shrinking as a group or holding on in to the 21st century, I have no idea, and I can’t imagine there being any broader social consequences either way.

Steve Sailer thinks I’m mostly wrong about architecture (and maybe by implication other things?)

Architecture: I did a popular long Twitter thread on the change in architecture for city halls before and after 1945, comparing apples to apples: e.g., San Diego’s various city halls.

Styles were already changing in the 1930s. E.g., San Diego’s 19th Century city hall was ornate, but its 1938 city hall was relatively streamlined, but still elegant and nicely detailed. It’s 1964 city hall looks like worker housing in Sao Paulo, judging from the lone picture of it I could find online (unlike the many pictures of the two previous city halls.

One thing to note: coal-powered cities were so sooty that old buildings had gone dark and ugly and it seemed easier to just tear them down and put up something made of glass and steel. But in 1961, De Gaulle’s culture minister Andre Malraux started having Paris’s grand old buildings washed, with spectacular results.

And also:

A late friend of mine taught history at Yale when Yale junked it’s Jewish quota for the class entering in the fall of 1965 (a decade behind Harvard). He said even being the grandson of Senator wouldn’t have gotten George W. Bush in in 1965 rather than 1964. The intellectual atmosphere of the campus changed immediately in 1965, became much more electric, he recalled.

Guy Downs writes:

I think an alternative explanation for how we’ve ended up where we’re currently at is that people started inheriting money.

This, I think, is the dark matter of the US economy- we know it’s everywhere, but nobody can point to it. And I’m not talking about eight figure windfalls coming down from dead shipping scions; I’m talking about the kind of money you’d expect to see run through a family if, since WW II, each generation kept putting away low-mid six figures. You get to the end of the 20th century, and with compounding interest you’ve suddenly got a lot of people tripping into low seven figure bonanzas when their parents die.

So- imagine you’re a reasonably self-aware, college educated Democrat, both you and your spouse have solid-but-not-great jobs, and you’re making $180k-$210k a year gross. That’s not bad, but that does NOT cover:

1) The mortgage on a $450k house.
2) Payments/insurance on two Infinity crossovers.
3) Club sports fees for the two kids.
4) Annual vacations that require air travel.
5) College expenses when the kids get out of high school…

And so on. Yet there are millions of Americans who are living that life on these kinds of incomes. So where’s the money coming from? And, to the point of this book review, how would coming into that money affect your worldview? Again, assuming the beneficiary is reasonably self-aware, we might expect them to carry some vague sense of guilt and shame at having their lifestyles– in middle age, no less– subsidized by monies that they did not year. Which, in turn, could lead to……

1) a lot of mumbling about ‘privilege’ (while doing nothing tangible to mitigate its cultural/economic influence),.

2) the pursuit of class signifiers which aren’t ‘too’ grotesque, but which still relay the appropriate message.

3) a desire to use education and ‘intellect’, as opposed to wealth, as a primary status signifier (since we have both, but only the former was earned)

4) an insistence of minimizing the importance of personal agency in life outcomes (since you ‘can’t be blamed’ for living a life that you haven’t really earned)

And so on. We talk a lot about the basically uninterrupted spell of economic progress that we’ve seen since the post-war years, but not (it seems to me) much about how that generational accrual of wealth has affected social standings. My feeling is that its probably driven more of our social outcomes than the people who think the most about these kinds of issues would like to admit.

I can’t see more than the faint outline of how Guy is connecting this to Bobos, but I agree that it’s weird. For upper middle class people, inheriting their parents’ money could be the biggest financial event of their lives, maybe bringing them from paycheck-to-paycheck to having six-to-seven figures in the bank, and I never hear anyone talk about it.

Probably this is some combination of:

  • Nobody wants to sound like the kind of heartless jerk who is thinking about the upside of their parents’ deaths.

  • Most people’s are in late middle age by the time their parents die, so they’ve already had to do the financial legwork to become independent and have a balanced budget before that, so the inheritance doesn’t save them from having to do that.

  • Many older people spend most of their money during their retirement, especially on elder care costs, and don’t leave much for their kids.

This could explain a lot of the phenomenon without having to appeal to a social taboo on unearned wealth. But there’s probably one of those too.

Simon writes:

Bobos came out in the era of the “Stuff White People Like” website. It was certainly a moment, and Brooks captured it—not the reality, on the ground, but a way to look at things that made sense for people in it.

Perhaps it resonated because most of Brooks’ facts were simply invented. — worth a read not just for the careful “oh wait, your telling anecdote is literally not true, the opposite is true”, but for Brooks’ attempt to intimidate the journalist. 2004 was the end of a long era where you could just make stuff up.

Which brings up a larger queston: what’s the point of these books? They’re not scholarship (“big synthetic theory inducted from data”); they’re not journalism (“just the facts”). They seem to be GPT-3 prompts avant la lettre, where the commentariat is GPT-3. Put in a Brooks line, and out comes a million comments.

Someone should write that phenomenon up.

The article is about the second five-sixths of the book, the part I dismiss as “avocado toast”, but it sure does have a lot to say about this. I think whether you end the article more annoyed with Brooks or with the article-writer is an interesting Rorschach test.

Curtis says:

What you describe here:

“So I was wondering if the right and left poles might just flip, over and over, in a long-term secular cycle.”

Is spot on, and it’s exactly what the philosophies/frameworks of Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory elucidate. There’s been a constant swing back and forth between the right/left divides, each at times playing the “establishment” and the other the “rebel”, pushing and pulling, while the entire thing trends/spirals in a more complex and evolutionarily appropriate direction for the complexities of the time.

Definitely something you should look into more if you haven’t already. Ken Wilber, Clare Graves, Don Beck, Jeff Salzman, and especially currently Steve McIntosh’s “Institute for Cultural Evolution”.

Oh, I had always assumed that Integral Theory Spiral Dynamics was just vague meaningless stuff, but maybe I should check it out.

And in response to my claim that the word “Bobos” itself never caught on, Brunoob and many others write:

Actually it did catch on in French! Quite a common expression

5. Tangents That I Find Tedious, But Other People Apparently Really Want To Debate

Will Bitcoiners be the new aristocracy? (79 replies)

Will Elon’s Twitter prove the uselessness of the professional managerial class? (24 replies)