November 30, 2011

"For a time, our culture celebrated the rebel and the outsider."

"The most miserable of my correspondents fit this mold. They were forever in revolt against the world and ended up sourly achieving little."

One of the conclusions made by David Brooks after reading the essays he solicited from readers over 70, assessing the successes and failures of their lives. (Oddly, the man who gave himself an "F" in everything seems to be the most interesting person.)

23 comments:

Jay said...

And what would President “English Embassy” give himself, I wonder?

Are the stupids who voted for him even aware there is no such thing as an “English Embassy” ?

Dave said...

Ugh if Neil is the most interesting of the lot you can have them all. He graded himself correctly, his life path is to be avoided at all costs. Rather than find it "interesting", I found it repellent and pitiable.

Paddy O said...

A few thoughts from my half-life (in comparison with 70 year olds), but probably reflect more my studies:

Achievement and happiness/contentedness seem to be the key markers here. It's interesting, then, to read this not as a general guide but as a great expression of Erik Erikson's stages of development, especially the last stage, that of Integrity vs Despair.

The ones who probably meet the standards of David Brooks have found psychological integrity in their last stage, which for many means balancing the ideals of risk and conformity. Brooks, of course, is also listing his own patterns, justifying his approaches as being a satisfying trajectory towards hoped for integrity at the end of an increasingly conformist role.

Being a church history guy, a few figures come to mind. Roger Williams, that great nonconformist and church/state commenter, who was basically a curmudgeon who totally fits Brooks comment about people forever in revolt. He wouldn't fit in with anyone, no church satisfied his religious yearnings, and even those feisty Quakers who agreed with a lot of his principles, were his chief opponents at the end. Yet... maybe he did achieve a lot.

Then, on the other side, there are folks like Mr. Quaker himself, George Fox, and John Wesley, constantly clamoring against the establishment who risked everything and seemed to have radically changed Anglo-American society in the process. Wesley, at least, went through times of severe depression even into his 70s, but at the end, well, he resonated all manner of peace and hope.

My guess is that those who gamble a little can celebrate their small wins with joy. While those who gamble a lot, who push against the grain, either end up much more successful or much less.

Then there are the topics of art. The great artists probably, almost certainly, wouldn't fit into Brooks mold of psychological success. There's an angst ridden, zero-contentment, drive that sometimes never finds visible success in this life, but which does change the world.

Which goes to say, self perception isn't always the best guide, I suppose. Which then supports Brooks's point against rumination.

Scott M said...

I've often wondered how society in general would be if it were considered desirable for adults to keep a daily journal. Doing a lifetime introspection after you're 70 would be a tad easier and we might become a more thoughtful people.

rhhardin said...

One way to rebel is to embrace what the organization claims to offer but fails to.

That flummoxes all sorts of authority.

It goes with always having a job that you enjoy.

Scott M said...

And what would President “English Embassy” give himself, I wonder?

Yeah...read that one last night as I was combing European news sites for Euro "collapse" news. My folks are planning a trip to Germany for Christmas and one must, at least, be aware of what's going on.

Did he do a Harvard Pause before he uttered it? How many pundits this morning are calling him out on it? How many pundits even realize how wrong that statement is? How many decades (centuries?) has it been since there's been an English embassy anywhere?

Robert Cook said...

Brooks himself is a happy insider hack, churning out establishmentarian homilies and pretending to a sagacity that he and Thomas Friedman combined will never have.

Craig said...

Most Americans wouldn't know what to do with a British High Commission and it appears the Iranians don't either.

Dave said...

Let me retract my earlier comment - these essays are fascinating. Thanks Ann

Mary Beth said...

I haven't read them all yet but it's interesting how different B. Clewly Johnson's outlook on life was compared to Neil Richard Parnes.

Parnes was the only one to not tell his story in the first person. Weird.

His statement, "Family, for him was everything; without it, he merely exists." contrasts with his description of how he distanced himself from his father, was a rival with his older sister and never bonded with his younger brother. He is an Eeyore.

Dan in Philly said...

Without reading the link, this post makes me think about the culture in general. I totally agree that the culture has for quite a while celebrated the rebel and outsider and still continues to do so to this day. Maybe not exclusively, but it's a very large part of many of the conversations we are having as a society.

I will have to consider this more deeply, but my initial thought is the old paradox about what happens when the ideal of being an outsider and rebel becomes so established that being a rebel is part of the identity of the establishment itself? One application in politics is how presidential contenders always try to protray themselves as outsiders, no matter how ridiculous this claim might be, or how many advantages one clearly has be being an insider. Or what about those bumper stickers commanding "Question Authority!" I always want to ask the makers and wearers of such them "Why?" and amuse myself at their sputters.

Food for thought.

Rich B said...

Keep in mind that these are NYT readers, who are a sour lot in general.

cassandra lite said...

"(Oddly, the man who gave himself an "F" in everything seems to be the most interesting person.)"

That would be interesting in the Chinese sense. The guy sounds like a major, flaming, narcissistic asshole. So if that's interesting...

Jess said...

Yeah...read that one last night as I was combing European news sites for Euro "collapse" news. My folks are planning a trip to Germany for Christmas and one must, at least, be aware of what's going on.


Make sure they get their visas at the Prussian embassy.

The Crack Emcee said...

Oh bullshit. The outsider has changed is all. I'm thought to be much more "offensive" as a Bush supporter than when others perceived me as a liberal.

The war has changed us, as a country and as individuals, revealing our true colors. Now, those of us thought to have been bad are good and vice-versa. No biggie:

As usual, I warned 'em,...and, happily, lived to tell the tale.

And - oh yeah - I don't know why anybody listens to David Brooks:

He can't properly interpret a fart.

Peter said...

"For a time, our culture celebrated the rebel and the outsider."

But now we're all "rebels," and the rebel (or "rebel") is the insider. Like Brooks himself- a "rebel" publishing his column in the most insider-establishment newspaper in the USA.

Of course, we've become somewhat conformist rebels- rebelling in the same ways. Or at least the same stuff from companies that tell us their stuff is authentic rebel stuff. Or made for people who "think Different." Or something.

So, we're all rebels now. Or "rebels." And how do you rebel against being a rebel?

David said...

Crack: He [Brooks] can't properly interpret a fart.

One can interpret, but sometimes a fart is just a fart.

John Lynch said...

Wow. Good link. Thank you.

Dan in Philly said...

On a related subject, anyone else thing Malcom Gladwell is a tiring bore?

Palladian said...

"On a related subject, anyone else thing Malcom Gladwell is a tiring bore?"

Everyone except Malcolm Gladwell, I think.

PatCA said...

The rebel outsider is an adolescent stance. To live 70 years in that arrested stage is to guarantee unhappiness, especially when popular culture has normalized its latest incarnation, the boomer rebel.

I would bet that Boomers hanging out at Occupy sites are deeply unhappy people.

Methadras said...

"For a time, our culture celebrated the rebel and the outsider."

Yeah, when they actually had something of meaning, value, and substance they wanted to make us aware of. Now it's just childish temper tantrums veiled as legitimate greivances against the haves.

John Lynch said...

If you aren't unhappy with how things are, why rebel?