David Brooks Missed The Point Again
“Tis better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt”
On Rushing To Therapy
Reading David Brooks is a strange experience. Although the writing is usually well crafted and his arguments crammed full of interesting information – erudite even – somehow he often manages to miss the point. On such occasions he is far more glib than learned; his arguments have only the illusion of depth. The latest example of this curious phenomenon is his November 10, column in the New York Times “The Rush to Therapy.” After thoroughly misreading the historical record regarding race and populism in a transparent apologia attempting to explain away the vulgar racism of the so-called “Tea Party Patriots” in his column, “No, It’s not about Race” – for which I was compelled to straighten his cap in my critique “David Brooks Is Clueless,” available on this site – he has now chimed in on the slaughter at Fort Hood. And once again his missive promotes confusion rather than provide clarity.
For Mr. Brooks’ taste the nation has fretted far too much over the psychological problems of Major Nidal Hassan, who went “postal” and shot up a bunch of his fellow warriors at Fort Hood; men who were presumed to be his comrades-in-arms, men whose psychological problems he was commanded to heal. “Major Hassan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress” he writes. “We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress.” It is fair to say that Mr. Brooks gives short shrift to such arguments and snidely notes: “A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness. There was a national rush to therapy.”
In his infinite wisdom Mr. Brooks ridicules our naiveté and calls a spade a spade: “This was understandable. It is important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion but it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking impermissible and intolerant thoughts.” While I have heard enough from the ubiquitous Times columnist to know that we probably have radically different ideas about what constitute “impermissible and intolerant thoughts,” in my view “protecting’ Americans from having such thoughts is as much the business of Mr. Brooks, who assumes the air of a college teacher, as those he denounces in his column.
For instance, I have read nothing penned by Mr. Brooks that explains to the American people the role US foreign policy played in making us the target of the Islamic Jihad. Why not Sweden if it’s all because they hate our personal freedom, secular society, and licentious sexuality? While I cannot claim to be an expert on Mr. Brook’s oeuvre, I suspect one would never learn the answers to these questions reading it. Alas I can say with certainty that you will learn nothing useful in answering these fundamental questions in the column under discussion.
And if the commentators Mr. Brooks criticizes are guilty of being “patronizing” because they wish to factor in the mental stress Dr. Nidal was suffering, his attitude toward the ravages of mental depression can be justly labeled contemptuous as well as abysmally ignorant of the nature of acute depression. Had Mr. Brooks bothered to tune in on one of the premiere tribunes of our times, Bill Moyers – a man of towering intellect, balanced judgment and sterling character – he might have written a more intelligent column; a quality Mr. Brooks apparently confuses with intellectual exhibitionism.
In a moving and enlightening program examining a new documentary on the mental maladies resulting from the experience of combat – i.e. organized mass murder – we were provided an inside look at the profound stress military psychiatrists are subjected to. Much of their work is trying to help soldiers suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome – which means they must listen attentively as these warriors attempt to exorcise their demons by reliving the horrors of combat through talk therapy, and then give them pills to keep them calm in an attempt control the suicidal impulses that accompany acute depression, even inducing a chemical euphoria disguised as happiness.
The tales told by men who had fought in war and its effects on the psychiatrist who are tasked with helping maintain their mental health, leave no doubt that Dr. Nidal may well have been motivated by some species of mental breakdown. It is certainly a good place to start in any interrogation of the factors that might have compelled him to launch a murderous assault on the soldiers he was entrusted to guide and protect, both as an army officer and a Psychiatrist. Yet Mr. Brooks argues that this approach “absolved Hasan – before the real evidence was in – of his Responsibility.”
In Mr. Brook’s view it wasn’t about the mysterious workings of a mind that snapped under great stress – due to the extreme horror of the stories he was hearing; the fact that the horrors related by the soldiers were being perpetrated against his Muslim brethren, and the pressures he was under now that he had been ordered to deploy to the battlefields and assist in those atrocities – rather it was all a question of “the master narrative” Dr. Hasan chose to make sense of events in his world. He tells us that “evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War On Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.” Mr. Brookes goes on to argue: “The conversation in the first days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality.”
While I agree that there was a “flight from reality,” I am also certain that we have different conceptions of what reality means. However I think Brooks got it right when he observed that the initial conversation among the nation’s opinion makers “ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the US as much as by groups Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.” However for our thoughtful conservative pundit – whom many consider the smart set’s conservative thinker – failure to recognize these facts denies “the possibility of evil.”
That Mr. Brooks cannot conjure a scenario where a narrative presenting the unvarnished truth about the role of US policy in the Islamic World might drive a devout Muslim military psychiatrist to righteous anger, which metamorphoses into murderous madness, exposes his provincial ethnocentric view of the world. The fact is that Dr. Hasan had delivered a lecture warning of the dangers of sending American Muslims to fight in the Middle East; he told his colleagues it was a dangerous practice and Muslims should be stationed elsewhere in the world.” Instead of taking the warning seriously his medical colleagues thought him a sad deluded guy who was becoming overly influenced by Islamic propaganda, and they didn’t even think it was serious enough to file a report on the matter.
But what is far worse are the revelations thar are surfacing as I write about the fact that Major Nidal – who is a member of the long suffering Palestinian people, a people whose grievances against the US go back 60 wears – had recommended that several soldiers he counseled should be Court Marshaled for committing “war crimes!” Predictably, the response of the amoral wags on the right is that Major Hasan had violated Dr. patient confidentially rules by reporting their crimes, rather than outrage over the fact that they were war criminals. But then the Republicans are quite comfortable with the known war criminals in the highest echelon of the GOP.
They enthusiastically celebrate the biggest war criminal of them all, Dirty Dick Cheney: The Butcher of Baghdad! A man who was the principal architect of the Iraq invasion the unapologetic author of America’s torture policies. Both crimes of war! And I have yet to hear our Mr. Brooks say a mumbling word on this naked truth. Instead we have been subjected to a web of transparent lies and pompous right-wing gibberish from Republicans that exposes an appalling poverty of ethics. If I have unfairly maligned him; if I have misspoke on this subject; If I have overlooked some eloquent argument, or enraged diatribe, issuing from the pen of our smart conservative at the Times opposing his party’s love affair with Dirty Dick, and their obscene indifference to his crimes, then Mr. Brooks should call me out like I’m calling him out. I anxiously await his response.
Harlem New York
November 18, 2009