We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.Has Brooks been unhinged by his divorce, or is he onto something? I go back and forth in my mind about this all the time. Are we in a moment of great crisis, as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz both seem to think, or is this a pretty decent time with no problems everyone doesn't have? This isn't Syria, or even Greece.
I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.
We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. . . . what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. . . . The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST.
Is capitalist individualistic suburban life a workable system, or does it leave us lacking something crucial that our tribal, hunter-gatherer minds need – community, solidarity, danger, struggle – leading to an awful spiritual malaise?
The world economy is, I think, a machine so huge and complex that nobody understands it at all. So far it seems that a nation with enough hard-working, creative people can still thrive under a range of mixed systems, from half socialist to mostly capitalist. But why that is and what will happen as AI gets smarter and development evens out across the world seems to me anybody's guess.
A society of 300 million people is something even more complex and difficult to improve. Societies do change, but in unpredictable ways, and they always keep big baggage trains of junk from the past. Often the things we would most like to get rid of are the things that linger longest. How would you go about making a society more generous, or more friendly, or more trusting? How would you "change the definition of masculinity" – assuming we share one in the first place?
I think Brooks is asking for changes that can't be willed. I do agree with him, though, that electing Trump president would be a step in exactly the wrong direction