David Brooks: Anti-Pot Crusader And Perpetual Bar-Mitzvah Boy

The internet is all aflutter because New York Times bummer-columnist David Brooks got up on his soapbox/stack of phone books to announce to the world at large that, yes, he used to smoke pot (*ghasp*). But don’t worry – he’s outgrown all that sillyness (whew) so now we should all do like him and grow the fuck up (I’m paraphrasing)(Barely).

See, it turns out that back in the day, Davy and his friends were quite the choom gang. That is, until one of the group became “a full-on stoner” and everyone – seeing the error of their ways – immediately went to Jos. A Bank and bought themselves reasonably priced suit-and-tie combos or something.

Here’s the crux of Brooks’ morality tale, in which he Brookspounds (En; Verb – “The act of explaining what it’s like to be inside David Brooks’ head”) on Colorado’s newly-legal pot bonanza:

I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

The whole column is simultaneously silly in its pomposity, and boring in its predictability: Successful middle aged white guy takes stand against smoking dope in favor of “enjoying the arts” and “being in nature”? Color me shocked.

But wait – what’s this? A blast from Brooks’ smokey past? In a self-published piece entitled “I Smoked Pot with David Brooks,”  writer/psychotherapist Gary Greenberg picks through the seeds and stems of Brooks’ essay, offering some crucial details David may have forgotten from his hazy youth.

And here all along I thought he quit because of that time we got pulled over by the Radnor cops in senior year right after we’d clambaked his Mom’s Vista Cruiser, and first thing the cop does after the smoke clears is look him right in his red, red eyes, and said, “I don’t suppose it would go over so good if I went over to 632 Haverford Road and told Mr and Mrs Brooks their boy was out here with his clique smoking pot.” I was so impressed with the way Dave pulled himself together then. He didn’t beg for mercy or fight with the cop. Somehow he knew exactly how to go all bar mitzvah boy, how to talk to authority, how to flatter and impress and toady, even stoned to the gills, like his inner Eddie Haskell was deeper down than the pot could get. And it worked.

[Emphasis mine]

So, basically, this:

Greenberg has a history of taking direct, high-caliber shots at Brooks, so there’s some very legitimate skepticism over whether his ganja memories are true or just an eerily accurate imagining of what might have been. Still, the image of Brooks, stoned out of his gourd, doing his best to radiate “today I am a man” confidence under duress, is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of the columnist’s oeuvre.

That’s because, at his core, David Brooks is less “cultural critic” than he is Jacob The Bar-Mitzvah boy – nervous, awkward, and seemingly unable to decide if having a newspaper column is breathlessly thrilling, or utterly terrifying (either way, it’s something for which he often entirely unsuited). Brooks’ pot post reads like a Bar Mitzvah speech – a bad one – with a “when I was younger I did this, but now I’m a grown-up and I do that” moral you’re more likely to hear before a spread of whitefish salad than you are in conversation with actual thoughtful adults. The whole thing smacks of the sort of over-thought “take me seriously!” vibe commonplace among well-intentioned Bar Mitzvah speeches. The “let me prove to you just how much I am an adult” style so often used by Bar Mitzvah speakers given the title of adulthood without actual development to back it up.

His cardinal sin, though, isn’t one of simplistic conclusions (they often are) or dumb reasoning (whole lot of that too) – it’s that he, like many thirteen year olds, assumes a dull personal narrative is all the compelling evidence someone could ever need in order to see the totally obvious point he’s trying to make, which is (I think?) that he knows how to appreciate art and you idiots never will. In other words: “My Bar-Mitzvah Torah portion tells the story of Moses and the Israelites. It reminds me of the time I stopped smoking pot. I learned a valuable lesson: Smoking pot was bad for me and it’s bad for you too. Now I spend time in nature and so should you. I’d like to thank my Mom and Dad for all their encouragement, and my great aunt Ethyl for knitting me this sweater. Shabbat Shalom.”

Eventually, most Bar Mitzvah boys and girls realize that growing up means they don’t necessarily know best. Some, on the other hand, write for the New York Times.

Paul Krugman is off today

What do you think?

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Yo Semite

A lover, a fighter, a kvetcher.

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