Blindsided

David Brooks gives us advice on Sandra Bullock, and what women like Sandra Bullock should do:


Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She'll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don't win. 

On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She'll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don't win. 

 Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn't matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn't matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

I  found it hard to follow the rest of this column, because Brooks is pulling a clever bait and switch. Sandra Bullock was married to a dude who, evidently, repeatedly cheated on her. Perhaps that's what Brooks considers a "happy marriage." I think a lot of people would beg to differ. But that aside, the notion that women who disagree are "crazy" is rather presumptuous.

This is tied to something I've talked about quite a bit--the tyranny of stats and collectivism.There are many tragic stats out there for black people, for instance, but they don't apply equally to all black people. And if you're someone who falls out of that range, we've yet to figure out how to address you as something besides other than problem.  

I haven't seen Brooks' stats, but I strongly suspect that they don't tell us much about some people, they tell us something about most people. But if you're the kind of person who would single-mindedly devote yourself to pursuing an academy award, isn't it possible that you aren't like most people, and that stats like this are less indicative of your life? In which case, are you really crazy? Or is that your life, with all its nuances, and all its specifics, simply can't be folded into the square mind of the average pundit? 

Sociology is porn for public intellectuals--or rather we seem intent on making it so. For a more compelling take on the new happiness research, try Elizabeth Kolbert. I wasn't totally convinced by all of her conclusions. But she left me thinking.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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