Posts Tagged ‘Brooks’

(Disclosure: I am tired of writing about this topic over and over again, and I suspect that regular readers of this blog are tired of reading about it over and over again – here and here and here and here and…. Yet one keeps getting provoked by media obliviousness. It’s dirty work, but someone has to…..)headbang


The trope that Americans have gotten more isolated and lonely over the last generation or so is irresistible to pundits and editors, no matter what academics say (and there are always one or two of us to provide journalists some cover). The latest, loudest declamation was by David Brooks in The New York Times of April 16, 2018, about the “epidemic of loneliness”–consistent with his recent psychologizing of what ails America. Yes, loneliness is a social problem, but no, there is no “epidemic of loneliness.” (If it’s epidemics of loneliness you want, check out the reports on farm women a century ago [1].)

Fortunately, others have responded to the latest wave. Notably, sociologist David Weakliem tracked down the one data link behind Brooks’s claim that loneliness rates doubled between the 1980s and 2000 and found that “the report of that survey didn’t say anything about changes in loneliness.” (Of course, the Times rarely publishes letters pointing out their mistakes.)

Below, I add a bit more to the fact base.


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Abraham Lincoln cherished and annotated Mary G. Chandler’s popular 1854 book, The Elements of Character, which urged readers to take control of themselves and “build up a worthy Character.”

Self-improvement books of this sort are an American perennial. David Brooks’s The Road to Character is squarely in this tradition of willed self-creation. My commentary on Brooks’s new book appears in the latest issue of the Boston Review here. Chandler

[The column is titled, “The Problem with David Brooks.” This is the editors’ title, not mine. I think Brooks just displays what may be an American problem.]roadtocharacter-web

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In a recent column, David Brooks (who is to applauded for often bringing social science research to his Times readers) argued that social policy has very limited effects on important human outcomes; it is “usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.”

The historical record, however, suggests that policy decisions often have quite profound consequences.

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