November 22, 2003

Column 2003-11-22, commentary

David Brooks begins his column by asserting himself as a spiritual authority. He makes an entirely arbitrary claim that assumes that everybody is "spiritually alive" in some sense -- an assumption we find to be meaningless or incorrect. His claim that to have multiple sexual partners in a year is "spiritual suicide" is based on a particular conception of spirituality and ignores religions where monogamy is not a requirement. Furthermore, Brooks's implication that sexual behavior trumps all other issues affecting "spiritual health" is obviously absurd. Brooks next claims that "all that is private and delicate in oneself" is exposed and pulverized "in an assembly line of selfish sensations" by casual sex (again, obviously absurd). The metaphor comparing casual sex to an "assembly line of selfish sensations" -- and a very unusual assembly line, in that it destroys things, rather than building them -- is especially ridiculous.

Second paragraph: "Marriage is the opposite". The opposite of what? We note for later reference that Brooks refers here to religious (as opposed to civil) marriage, or so we infer from the use of "sacred bond" to describe it.

The next paragraph consists of a sequence of platitudes on the benefits of marriage, finishing with by saying that, after a long marriage, two people may come to the point where they would say "'Love you? I am you.'" Or, they may not.

Brooks claims that in "some circles", marriage is not even expected. Brooks gives no indication of which "circles" these are, and no source to verify this claim either.

From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, we have the following three definitions of "contingency":
1a. An event that may occur but that is not likely or intended; a possibility.
1b. A possibility that must be prepared for; a future emergency.
2. The condition of being dependent on chance; uncertainty.
3. Something incidental to something else.
Which of these definitions is Brooks referring to in the phrase "culture of contingency"? We do not see how contingency opposes fidelity. Later in the fifth paragraph, Brooks refers to marriage as a "sacred vow"-- we point out that he clearly means religious marriage.

Brooks make no effort to support his claim that "men are more likely to want to trade up, when a younger trophy wife comes along"; this practice dates back at least to Henry VIII, who, since he did not have access to divorce, killed his wives when they became surplus to his requirements. How is it more prevalent now?

Paragraph seven: In what sense does the word "partner" "reek of contingency"?

In paragraph eleven, we find this: "We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity." Unless Brooks is advocating reforming the major religions of the country, he is clearly talking about civil marriage in his first sentence. In the second sentence, his use of the word "sanctify" implies that he is talking about religious marriage, as earlier in the column. Brooks does not resolve (or address) this inconsistency, presumably because his pseudo-religious rhetoric on marriage appeals only to the strongest opponenets of gay marriage-- religious fundamentalists.

We regard it as scandalous that Brooks has a job as a columnist.