September 11, 2004

Column 2004-09-11, commentary

David Brooks begins this vaguely jocular column with meaningless garbage; he classifies members of the "information-age elite" (a term he does not define) as either "spreadsheet people" or "paragraph people". We need not point out the obvious absurdity of such a categorization. We pose this question for our readers (for our purposes, it does not matter): is Brooks being naively moronic or purposefully misleading?

Brooks next marshals "evidence". He points out that CEO's more often give to the GOP than to the Democratic Party, and then makes the patently ridiculous claim that this is because CEO's are "spreadsheet people". He does not consider the relevance of differences in the business policies of the Republican and Democratic parties.

There is similar stupidity in the claim that professors give to the Democratic party because they are "classic paragraph people". First of all, it is hard to see how any definition of "paragraph people" could be made to include professors of math, physics, astronomy and economics. Most such professors have a familiarity with numbers that far outclasses that of most CEO's or accountants. And yet they, along with mathematicians and scientists employed outside the academy, are clearly a solidly Democratic group (in fact, our informal survey of 30 people with undergraduate degrees in math or physics came up with only one Republican). The assumed connection between Brooks's categories and political party ignores almost all factors that actually influence the political persuasions of the types of "paragraph people" he mentions here.

Brooks later asserts that "Academics have had such an impact on the Democratic donor base because there is less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession." There is less "intellectual diversity" in academia than in any other profession because academics, by profession, seek truth and combat ignorance. Presumably, Brooks instead means less diversity of political opinions than in any other profession, but this claim is incompatible with the facts he cites in his column (they are outdone by actors, journalists and librarians).

Incidentally, we find it hard to believe that Brooks does not consider the "information-age elite" to include computer programmers, doctors, artists, and school teachers. He does not mention the distribution of views of any of these groups, presumably because all are groups that lean Democratic but either defy easy characterization or, as with computer programmers, happen to be "spreadsheet people".

The rest of his column, especially his "theories" section, does not even merit discussion. We recognize that Brooks makes selected attempts at humor in this column, but this does not excuse the complete idiocy.