Politics and Culture in the Era of Self

David Brooks: Politics and Culture

David Brooks

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While the entirety of this hour long video is excellent, I will only be focusing on the time between about 24:30 to about 31:30 (if you use the chapters, it begins with Chapter 8: Self-Importance in the National Psychology).

So I understand that this doesn’t fit perfectly into an education issue but I feel it has many truths to it that are reflective in our classrooms. David Brooks gives a great analysis of the current trends in America. He will touch on everything from generational self-esteem to consumption based on how we view ourselves to the gridlock caused by this movement of self-promotion.

One fact that jumped out at me was the Gallop Poll of high school students and if they saw themselves as a very important person. I happen to grow up more towards the end of the shift as he states it but I was lucky that my Mother kept me humbled and ensured that I never thought greater of myself than I needed to. I believe it was her who made me who I am today. While I know I am special in her eyes, she has always been quick to knock me back down whenever my head got too big. She keeps me grounded to this day and it is her influence that makes me reflect on all aspects of life which leads me to be more accepting of those around me and the beliefs they have.

Finally there is one other key point that I think needs to be discussed more in this nation. It is the identity of what type of society we are, a Republic or a Democracy. I see it year after year where when asked, the students in unison will say a Democracy. This is even moments after studying the Greeks and the pure form of Democracy. What gets me is that even by 10th grade they have never taken the time to really listen to the words in the Pledge of Allegiance. Daily they will pledge to the Republic, for which it stands, and never make the connection.

I believe that Mr. Brooks gives a great explanation of the difference. He will discuss the shift in the national identity from the Republic to the Democracy as we also saw a shift in the culture of self. As he explains, in a Democracy the role and purpose of government is to give the people what they want, when they want it. It is in this ideal that we see the culture of self where we want to know what the government can do for us. A nice reversal from Kennedy’s famous quote. Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) made a point of this as well in a talk where he discussed his experiences on the Deadliest Catch boats. He noticed that ideas like safety were not the priority of the captains. Their priority was getting their men back rich and if those men wanted to get back safe, that was on them. It was a shift away from expecting others to look out and provide for us all the time to us taking on that role and becoming more self reliant.

So what is the role of government in a Republic then? It is to restrain us from what we want. Our founding fathers, Enlightenment thinkers in their own light, knew the arguments of the role of government and people from Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau. They understood that historically the masses left unchecked will bring themselves down. With that in mind, they created a government that would protect us from ourselves, that would require us to follow a process to evaluate the actions we take so that we don’t find ourselves turning against our own principals and priorities of liberty and justice against any man. As Ben Franklin famously said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I showed this 7 minute clip to my classes to see what their view of his ideas were and ended up in a half hour class discussion of our nation and historical trends we have studied. I believe his message of humility is one that we have rebelled against but need to begin to revisit. Has education become lost just as politics has in this Era of Self? With IEPs, a litany of educational awards for mediocrity and trend of parents siding with students over teachers, have we already lost the battle? As many teachers are all to familiar with, every child we have is special and somebody and all have the potential to do anything they want, just as long as they have a better teacher. It is then the teachers fault if they couldn’t turn what could have been a great artist or pipe fitter into a Rhodes Scholar.

Just some ideas to think about.

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