Middlebrow March

Culture, Justice, Media, Religion, War and Politics

Fairly regularly, the online commentariat will erupt with frustration at the truism that you can’t get fired from the Op-Ed page for being wrong. If anything, a record of incompetence burnishes a career. Someone takes to Twitter and thunders that Newspaper Columnist is the only profession with real lifetime tenure. Well, that and Justice of the Supreme Court, another venerated institution that proves the truer truism: people rise to the level of their incompetence. There is, of course, an odd, often unvoiced conviction underlying these complaints: that in the Wild-Western private sector, people get bunged out for being incompetent all the time. This is part of a broad myth about corporate efficacy that anyone who’s ever actually met the C-suite occupants and corporate board placeholders of many a major corporation—or, frankly, just worked in any office anywhere—knows to be completely untrue. The smartest people in business do frequently get fired, yes, but it’s when the latest round of right-sizing cans the smart toilers on the lower end of the pay scale. The cream rises, yes. What that really means is that fat floats. David Brooks doesn’t get an endowed chair at Sulzberger University in spite of his mediocrity. All of the institutional incentives are designed to reward it. It is the curricula of his vita.

Brooks has lately invented himself as a kind of genteel moralist, and you can imagine him cast by George Eliot as a gently satiric country priest whose bit of Greek impresses the parish but makes him an object of fun at the manor. To be fair, few of us are really willing to pursue our moral sentiments to their most rigorous ends, and the elision of coherence and consistency in our criticisms of other people’s politics and philosophies is its own kind of error. Nevertheless, there is something not just comical, but slightly sinister, in a man who corrals his timid approval of “cop cams” with a dozen caveats about the value, and virtue, of privacy. Eleven months ago, he made “vast data sweeps” a pillar of privacy! Now he’s worried that some patrolman’s Go-Pro video of a domestic will wind up on YouTube.

“Cop-cams strike a blow for truth, but they strike a blow against relationships.” I won’t be the first to observe that Brooks’s turn to moralism coincided with a divorce. Maybe it’s unkind to psychoanalyze, but, after all, the man is very publicly lying on the couch several times a week. I think you find, in Brooks’s soft authoritarianism, his Matryoshka society of nested obligations, one overriding conviction, which is that too much truth kills a relationship, and wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we all just drank our cocktails at five and pretended nothing was wrong? His “zone [of] half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve” sounds an awful lot like the moment the brain requires to tell the wife that yes, of course she looks lovely in that dress or, oh, dear, I’m going to be working late tonight, so don’t wait up. And in fact, I agree with him in broad principle; we are all due some space to be furtive little shits, only not when that secrecy possesses, and uses, a gun.

8 thoughts on “Middlebrow March

  1. yes. in a construction office, the cream aren’t necessarily those who produce the finest work, or make the fewest errors, but rather those best at never admitting error, or who are able to cast blame elsewhere. those who understand the economic benefits and ramifications of keeping back charges and change orders flowing in the right directions. a persons rise or fall in the construction company is purely financial economics. keep it in the black! (yes, the Ivan Lockes of the world get fired even while striving to do the right thing.)

    brooks’ task isn’t keeping money coming in from construction budgets, and no Ivan Locke, his interests also aren’t truly in maintaining consistent and coherent moral sentiments. but rather in justifying force from the side of power and power’s monopolistic grasp on legality. he’s just helping to keep things flowing in the right directions. so there is an economy there that makes perfect sense in an amoral capitalistic system of authority and force.

  2. We are all due some privacy, sure. Otherwise we cannot waste time reading blogs when at work. But at the same time, keeping oversight of our hired guns is a really big deal. Life and death! in some cases. I think we can draw fairly bright lines between law enforcement, other government work, private sector work, and the rest of life. Put cameras on those cops. I’ll take “truth” over “relationships” (whatever that may mean) with cops any day.

  3. There’s another point to be made about these cams infringing on privacy that is somewhat different that what Brooks is getting at (although he touches on it) — the ways cameras could be used by cops as surveillance tools in their service of power rather than as a deterrent/punishment for abusive cops. It’s not difficult to imagine a net negative effect, with police figuring out how to use a half million or so roving human-security-cameras to “increase crime prevention” among non-cops, while footage conveniently disappears or is otherwise circumvented when allegations of bad cop behavior surfaces. I know the ACLU has considered this issue and still considers the cams to be a win-win as long as certain regulations are in place, but I have to admit that the idea of cops-as-walking-video-cameras somehow makes me even more scared of them.

  4. Pigs in the Panopticon, I say. Better still, a Hellerian hoop horizon wherein anyone wanting to engage in such a, uh, profession is placed, immediately ineligible for release because if they say they don’t wanna be a copper no more, you just know they’re lying, because they’re, you know, the popo.

  5. I fully expect as soon as cameras are put on the cops they will be subjected to metric analysis where all stops must result in citations and or arrests (i.e. revenue streams). The cameras will be immediately corrupted into another corporate performance rating with the value of the cop linked directly to his on camera performance. Oh yeah, they might keep cops from executing people too. Perhaps a side benefit of the metrics.

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