Friday, November 11, 2011

David Brooks on Inequality

I have mixed reactions to David Brooks, but his article today on "inequality" was thought-provoking. Even here, we can see the cultural divides between Manhattan/Chevy Chase and "flyover country". Brooks asserts that's it's not acceptable to wear clothing with religious messages. I think if Brooks walked around Tennessee or Texas or Iowa more he might see that a lot of people have t-shirts with explicitly religious or, more neutrally, "I love First Church" type messages. Nevertheless, although the article is humorous, I think it raises interesting questions for Christians. It would make a good single-meeting Bible study resource. (Thanks to for the tip on the article).

1 comment:

Brad Hansen said...

Hi, Mark - Just read the David Brooks article and came away with a number of impressions. First, he clearly sees the humor in trying to come to terms with the very idea of "inequality." This makes the article quite good to read. But upon further reflection, I have a hard time discerning the all distinictions to which he points. In fact, I think he muddles some of the very categories which he takes to be crystal clear. For example, he takes moral inequality to be wrong. Why? Because it's wrong to look down on others. And because we're all moral equals. But these are surely propositions which beg for clarification, if not refutation. To begin with, what constitutes "looking down on others?" The most likely answer would be some kind of censorious judgmentalism, the likes of which the normal person can't abide. But even here the story is not so simple. Is it wrong to decry murder, rape, or injustice? I doubt of Brooks would want to defend that hill. But if not, then there is surely a category of moral objectivism which, in fact, demands censure of moral transgression. (Where would we get the very idea that it's wrong to look down on others?) That then brings me to the issue of "moral equality." Again, the question seems muddled. If by this phrase Brooks means that to err is human, and we are all humans, well and good. From a Christian perspective, we can go further. We acknowledge ourselves as fallen creatures with no exception. But should this lead us to believe in a moral equivalency which prevents us from calling some things right and some things wrong? Well, that's my first bleat. The second concerns Brooks' take on religious inequality. Again, the same dynamic is at work. It's wrong, he says to look down on the beliefs of others as erroneous. But surely he's conflating two separate questions. To cut to the chase, why should it not be the case that a belief is erroneous, but be addressed without belittling censoriousness? Again, I can't imagine that Brooks would want to maintain epistomological or axiological agnosticism no matter how convenient it might seem in our culture of "tolerance." What then, of T-shirts? Or bumper stickers? I confess that long ago I concluded that when a car has more than 6 bumper stickers attached to it, some sort of line has been crossed, though I might be hard pressed to define what that is. So in this case, Brooks may be on strongest ground. And you say, one never really knows what's going on until we've walked a mile in that shirt. Which is what Brooks has not done. Well, nuff said here.