Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Abandon Hope

David Brooks writes a charming piece in today's New York Times. It's titled "The Formerly Middle Class" but might as well have been titled "Take a bottle of sleeping pills, wash it down with a gin & tonic, and call me in the morning." The gist of this curious article is this: things are going to get bad over the next couple years... really, really bad, and oh, by the way, did you know that if you slit your wrists while lying in a warm bathtub you sorta just drift away and don't feel anything?

First Brooks wants us to disabuse ourselves of the romantic notion that tough economic times make us better people. In fact, they turn us all into conniving, deceitful snake-oil salesmen:

The Great Depression was not only a time of F.D.R.’s optimism and escapist movies, it was also a time of apocalyptic forebodings and collectivist movements that crushed individual rights. The recession of the 1970s produced a cynicism that has never really gone away. The share of students who admitted to cheating jumped from 34 percent in 1969 to 60 percent a decade later. More than a quarter of all employees said the goods they produced were so shoddily made that they wouldn’t buy them for themselves.
And if you thought the looming recession/depression was going to make us all folksy and family oriented like in the Waltons, you're wrong. Americans don't live in families any more since we're all divorced and sharing the kids on weekends and alternating vacations. Except now we'll have to move back in with our ex's and be at each others throats even though the divorce was final three years ago. It'll be like Little House on the Prairie meets Huis Clos with Daddy and his husband Mack sharing one huge quilt-covered bed with Mommy and her wife Suzette and three psychologically damaged kids:
In times of recession, people spend more time at home. But this will be the first steep recession since the revolution in household formation. Nesting amongst an extended family rich in social capital is very different from nesting in a one-person household that is isolated from family and community bonds. People in the lower middle class have much higher divorce rates and many fewer community ties. For them, cocooning is more likely to be a perilous psychological spiral.
What's worse, all the pretty young ladies will dress like the Amish to cover up their nakedness and pornography will be dominated by aging and overweight English nannies:
Recessions breed pessimism. That’s why birthrates tend to drop and suicide rates tend to rise. That’s why hemlines go down. Tamar Lewin of The New York Times reported on studies that show that the women selected to be Playboy Playmates of the Year tend to look more mature during recessions — older, heavier, more reassuring — though I have not verified this personally.
'course you haven't David, 'course you haven't.

Then, after nearly 800 words of gloom and doom, the editors, without further comment, added the following epigraph:
Bob Herbert is off today.
Ah, that explains it. With Herbert off, it fell on you, didn't it Brooks, to pen a column so depressing you want to just call in sick, draw the shades and crawl back into bed?

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