I think it was Abraham Joshua Heschel — after he broke off with Reinhold Niebuhr and formed Jefferson Airplane — who observed that though the ancients counseled, “Know Thyself,” in 87 percent of actual cases, profound self-knowledge is not transforming. It’s just disappointing.
And this is never more true than when the beach self takes over. There is a boardwalk game near where we vacation where you roll balls into holes to try to get your mechanical horse across a track faster than your 11 opponents. You pay a dollar a game and if you win you get a stuffed horse worth 75 cents. My beach self has played that game for 15 years, and I have never once gotten up without secretly wishing I was playing again.
In my heart, I’d be happy to play that game 11 hours a day at the cost of several thousand dollars, and the only thing preventing me is that the Slovakian girl behind the counter might conclude that American men are pathetic.
I question the economics, there; I'd guess the horse is worth more like 2 cents. But it is certainly true that a life without funnel cakes and salt water taffy is not worth living.
Actually, I too had just noticed Brooks being exceptionally funny, in this review of Drew Westen's book:
Westen urges Democratic candidates to go for the gut, and includes a number of speeches that he wishes Democratic candidates had given. He wishes, for example, Al Gore had hit George Bush harder for being a drunk. He wishes Gore had interrupted a presidential debate and barked at Bush, “If someone is going to restore dignity to the Oval Office, it isn’t a man who drank his way through three decades of his life and got investigated by his father’s own Securities and Exchange Commission for swindling people out of their retirement savings.”
At another point, he imagines Gore exploding: “Why don’t you tell us how many times you got behind the wheel of a car with a few drinks under your belt, endangering your neighbors’ kids? Where I come from, we call that a drunk.” If Democrats would go for people’s primitive passions in this way, Westen argues, they’d win elections.
This thesis raises some interesting questions. First, why did someone with so little faith in rational inquiry go into academia, and what does he do to those who disagree with him at Emory faculty meetings, especially recovering alcoholics?
Of course, perhaps this is not fair: who couldn't write a funny review of a book by a man who thinks that the way to make an emotional connection with people is to make fun of recovering drunks? But it was rather wittier and more acerbic than I generally think of Brooks as being.
Update A reader argues that Westen's response makes this piece sound considerably less funny. I haven't read the book, but I have heard the good professor interviewed on NPR, and after listening to him for an hour, I have to say that he, and his thesis, came off as exactly the painfully parochial, self-unaware, thoroughly risible parody that David Brooks presents him as.
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