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David Brooks Predicts a Course Correction Coming in American Culture

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 5, 2015: In a column in the New York Times titled "The New Romantics in the Computer Age" (dated Sept. 4, 2015), the self-styled conservative columnist David Brooks has reached a remarkable conclusion.

I know, I know, Republicans excel at accusing one another of being Republicans in name only (RINOs) based one real or imagined shortcomings regarding conservatism. So it would not be surprising to find certain conservatives who do not consider Brooks to be conservative enough by their standards.

However that may be, at the end of his piece, Brooks says, "I'm not sure we're about to be overrun with waves of Byronic romantics, but we have been living through an unromantic period and there's bound to be a correction. People eventually want their souls stirred, especially if the stuffed regard as soft and squishy turns out in a relational economy to be hard and practical."

Byron and certain other young 19th-century romantics were involved in free love. So perhaps we should be happy that Brooks says that we're not about to be overrun with waves of Byronic romantics engaging in free love.

Brooks himself does not specifically delimit the unromantic period that we Americans have been living through. But I would operationally define the period from the election of President Richard M. Nixon in 1968 to the present time as an unromantic period.

Brooks works with the opposition of a transactional economy and a relational economy, which he sees as involving empathy. He does not operationally define these terms.

But it appears to me that a transactional economy involves friendly enough personal interactions that those interacts may be a wee bit more personal than the depersonalized and basically impersonal interactions that Martin Buber describes as I-it interactions.

Conversely, the relational economy that Brooks discusses may involve personal interactions that are a wee bit less personal than I-thou interactions.

Brooks says, "The romantic tries as much as possible to ground his or her life in purer love that transforms -- making him or her more inspired, creative and dedicated, and therefore better able to live as a modern instantiation of some ideal."

By "purer love," Brooks means something purer than simply the love of money and the love of status and power.

As for being "a modern instantiation of some ideal," Brooks draws on Mark Edmundson's new book Self and Soul and discusses the hero of courage, the hero of compassion, and the hero of serious thought -- each as an alternative to "the vast apparatus . . . that has arisen to make our culture more professional and less poetic."

But wait!

When I was an undergraduate (1962-1966), I thought of President John F. Kennedy ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country") and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ("I have a dream"), as my personal heroes, as did many other young people in the 1960s. In addition, I thought of my undergraduate English teacher, the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003), as my personal hero of serious thought.

I myself was not into drugs, sex, and rock'n'roll as many other young people in the 1960s were. I myself also did not participate in free love, as Byron and certain other young romantics in the 19th century did, and as did some young people in the 1960s.

As to the unromantic period of the postwar economic boom of the 1950s, we had William H. Whyte's book The Organization Man (1956) and Sloan Wilson's novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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