David Brooks Writes About Coming Apart

In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks in an Op-ed weights in on Charles Murray’s (Thailand 1965-67) new book, Coming Apart, writing, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.” Brooks recaps the narrative Murray lays out about our two American societies, and adds a few ideas of his own. “The word “class” doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes,” Brooks writes, “You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.”

Summing up his column, Brooks has his own solution to the dilemma facing our culture: “I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.”

I have a better idea. Let’s make everyone join the Peace Corps, those with college degrees can teach in schools in the developing world, and those Americans with real work skills can build houses, roads, and installing plumbing, and then all of us, from both of our ‘tribes’, will know and understand how most of the peoples-of-the-world really live out their lives.


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  • I very much like David Brooks’ idea and have advocated for many years a similar idea that would help pay for post-secondary education.

  • My guess is that Murray may agree with the National Service Program. It’s an idea kicked around for decades. The success of the Peace Corps underscores the wisdom of a compulsory national service program.

  • Murray is a Libertarian. He did not endorse a “compulsory national service program” as a solution to the growing fragmentation of American society. He wants the successful upper classes to teach their personal values to white “working class” Americans.

    As for this statement:
    “The success of the Peace Corps underscores the wisdom of a compulsory national service program.” Are you crazy?

  • Of course, what the young generations are dealing with, the new digital world, cultural mix, shifting perspectives, all of this looks like an end to what people of my age consider a deterioration of our culture. It has convinced me to retire from 45 years of teaching because I can’t keep up and I’m simply more confortable with life before the momentus changes.

    Most of us, however, have studied, lived, absorbed enough history and change to know that change is inevitable, and it is the young who will be living and making observations about the “quality” of their life. It is not my “call” anymore. To me, it is a world that is missing an anchor to steady society. But my view is distorted and antiquated.

    What do we expect in this quantum universe but to have instant / eternal stimulation so as to verify identity. Either that or Find some Worm Holes to other universes.

    It all reminds me to review the “Eastern” philosophies that teacg that all is maya except this moment of life.

    Race, ethnicity, religion, language, education, class, etc. are enjoyable variables to banter over, but in the end there are the eternal now and then that condition following which we temporarily have designated as “death.”

    I hope it’s temporary, at least!

  • I read another article that said lack of conscription is making our military even more divorced from the rest of society. The idea here is that we need to mix the hoi poloi with our professional military to insure better understanding of each other in our society. Could it be all just massaging public opinion to accept reintroduction of the draft as a measure to reduce our military budget?

  • The only way the reintroduction of the draft would reduce our military budge is if all the private armies and contractors would willingly give up their lucrative Pentagon contracts. As they used to say in the army “Never Hoppen.”

    They used to say other things in the Army, too, but I really enjoy posting here and would hate to lose that privilege!

  • John, I agree: making “everyone join the Peace Corps” would greatly foster world-understanding here. But, during this deep recession, the idea’s unattainable.

    Closer to reality, on Wed. (Feb. 1st), PC’s budget champion on the Hill, House Appropriations Committee member Sam Farr of California (RPCV, Colombia), raised the idea of a jobs bill that would include funding 20,000 Peace Corps slots. He said that constant pleas from developing nations for more PCVs and the number of Americans wishing to serve would fill 20,000 jobs immediately. Farr spoke at the 50th Anniversary “Celebration of Service” sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and keynoted by former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford, an early PC Associate Director.

    If I recall correctly, Wofford noted that Senator Humphrey had anticipated an eventual 50,000 PCVs a year. JFK envisioned100,000 PCVs a year, to yield in one decade 1 million Americans intimately knowledgeable about the cultures of other peoples. Wofford also mentioned an early recommendation that, as a kind of reverse Peace Corps, foreign teachers would come to work in U.S. classrooms, helping to expose more young Americans to the world beyond. However, many in Congress rebelled at the notion of foreigners teaching here. So the Peace Corps remains the unique U.S. program enabling Americans to become citizens of the world.

    Representative Thomas Petri (RPCV Somalia), a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, observed that the once-traditionally insular Japanese have fielded a Japanese Peace Corps, partly to enable more Japanese to become multicultural. PC Director Aaron Williams added that, while Japan, other nations, and the U.N. have launched PC versions of their own, our Peace Corps is the gold standard.

    A last note: during the Q&A, someone suggested we’d now be winning in Afghanistan if the U.S. cared for Afghans in the way PCVs did while working there at PC’s start. Farr similarly wondered: if we had continued to deploy PCVs in Afghanistan far longer, what would that country be like now? A character at the close of my PC novel, “Roman Proud . . .”, wonders the same thing.

  • I was in Maroc 1965-67 as a volunteer in 5 villages outside Fez. I believe in universal service very strongly. I stress the Service part.

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