August 07, 2005

Column 2005-8-7 Commentary

I don't know what's gotten into Brooks, but once again his column is full of actual facts, with actual sources cited. Actually, his column is practically all statistics, positive ones having to do with falls in domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, etc., etc., etc. Of course, once he gets done with facts, the column falls apart, but it still leaves two-thirds of a reasonable column, which is well above Brooks's average. He begins with: "According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of family violence in this country has dropped by more than half since 1993. I've been trying to figure out why." However, the column leaves a distinct impression that he's really not sure. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: I was afraid he would simply give all the credit to the religious right. He then lists statistics and finally gives four "explanations" for why all these good things are happening, because he's a columnist and so not allowed to simply throw up his hands and declare that he has no idea what's going on. Sadly, his explanations are, for the most part, not based on nearly as solid ground as the rest of the column, and seem fairly inadequate anyway. His first explanation is that nobody believes any more that "the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel." My guess is that exactly the same people who used to believe these things still believe them, and that this number was never very large, and still isn't. Since Brooks relapses here by not offering any evidence for this claim, my guess is apparently just as good as his. (And people may not believe that "drugs are liberating" any more, but none of the statistics he gives suggest a decline in drug use.) Next he posits that Americans have become better parents, and actually supplies evidence (an increase in the amount of hours parents spend "constructively engaging" with their children) to suggest that this is true, so I'll take him at his word. His third argument is that those under 30 are reacting against the "culture of divorce" and trying to lead more stable lives than their parents. I think it's a little too soon to be judging this -- in fact, way way way too soon to be judging this -- and no evidence is given either, so we'll discard it. Finally, "over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people lead more organized lives, even in the absence of cohesive families." This seems the flimsiest and vaguest of his explanations. What exactly does he mean by "neighborhood and charitable groups"? Is this where he sneaks the religious right in by the back door (and if so, why not just come out and say so)? Does he really believe that there were no such groups before, say, the seventies? And why can't he supply any facts to back up this assertion? Actually, he probably can't because it's far too vague, which simply reinforces its worthlessness. So, Brooks can't really explain why Americans are leading better lives, which is unsurprising, to say the least. And even if all his explanations were valid, they really wouldn't be able to cover all his statistics. His third explanation deals solely with divorce, and since the divorce rate is falling only very slowly, it wouldn't seem to provide much help. And really, which of these explanations accounts for a drop in drunk driving? Or child poverty? Or teenage pregnancy? But we can't complain too much: Brooks offering facts and then giving vague and pointless non-explanations for those facts is far better than his usual combination of idiocy and lies.