David Brooks on the left's epistemic closure

NY Times columnist David Brooks’ latest piece focuses on the left-wing bubble that now dominates so much of our culture and which constantly seeks to control more of it. This isn’t really a new topic at this point but Brooks says it well:

If you want a simple way to see the gap between this subculture and the rest of the country, look at Rotten Tomatoes. People who write critically about movies and shows often have different tastes than the audiences around them, especially when politics is involved…

Dave Chappelle recently released a comedy special that took comic potshots at almost everyone. Audiences adored it. It has a 96 percent positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (though admittedly it’s unclear how many of the raters actually watched it). A small group of people found it a moral atrocity and the current critic score is 44 percent positive. That’s a 52-point gap.

He also points to the decision to deplatform professor Dorian Abbot at MIT. In a NY Times story about that controversy, a Williams College department chair stated, “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated.” Brooks mentions that quote and says arguing against intellectual rigor is certainly one path people can take but he suggests that when you assign one side of that argument to one race and the opposing argument to another race, you’ve crossed a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

It is also becoming more common to staple a highly controversial ideological superstructure onto the quest for racial justice. We’re all by now familiar with some of the ideas that constitute this ideological superstructure: History is mainly the story of power struggles between oppressor and oppressed groups; the history of Western civilization involves a uniquely brutal pattern of oppression; language is frequently a weapon in this oppression and must sometimes be regulated to ensure safety; actions and statements that do not explicitly challenge systems of oppression are racist; the way to address racism is to heighten white people’s awareness of their own toxic whiteness, so they can purge it.

Today a lot of parents have trouble knowing what’s going on in their kids’ classrooms. Is it a balanced telling of history or the gospel according to Robin DiAngelo?

Brooks concludes that when parents conclude it’s the latter, they are going to respond and that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen at school board meetings across the country. But the insulated mindset pushing this agenda can only see that pushback exactly as Robin DiAngelo herself would, as proof their views are working and that people who need to be racially reprogrammed are defending their privilege.

Some of the commenters are pushing back against Brooks’ conclusions though most aren’t really denying the claims he is making. For instance, one person wrote “I’ll take a few Democratic ‘thought police’ excesses over Republican socioeconomic crimes against American humanity seven days a week and twice on Sundays.” But other commenters agree with his take:

I assure you many people on the left are absolutely tired of the “woke”-ification of everything. We don’t all believe America is irredeemably racist, or that “individualism” is a white trait, or that anyone who has concerns about the more radical agenda of the trans rights movement are all bigots, or that all white people are oppressors. California, arguably the most liberal state, rejected affirmative action when it was on the ballot.

It’s the media, academia, elite institutions, progressive politicians, some corporations and a small Twitter cohort who push these agendas, often for their own cynical ends. These institutions are increasingly out of touch with not just conservatives but also many moderates and left leaning folks who’re not obsessed with identity politics.

This is undeniably true. Just look at Terry McAuliffe struggling to win in blue Virginia. The left often doesn’t seem aware of how extreme some of its own culture war efforts are until they lose a few elections. Here’s one more warning from another liberal commenter:

As a life-long liberal, I am appalled by what is happening. Brooks is right to confront it.

A small group of people who have decided that they are the “enlightened” ones, are trying to mind other peoples’ business.

They won’t listen. They really can’t see any criticism of their social justice efforts as legitimate at this point. That’s the problem.