February 28, 2014

"If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense."

"Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself. We are all steeped in it, one as much as another, but those who are aware of it are a little better off — though I don’t know."

Wrote Michel de Montaigne, evincing one of 2 personality types perceived and examined by David Brooks
Montaigne was more laid back, and our culture is more comfortable with his brand of genial self-acceptance and restraint. 
The other "brand" of which Brooks speaks has Samuel Johnson as its mascot.
We can each pick what sort of person we would prefer to be. But I’d say Johnson achieved a larger greatness. He was harder on himself. He drove himself to improve more strenuously. He held up more demanding standards for the sort of life we should be trying to live, and constantly rebutted smugness and self-approval.

Montaigne was a calming presence in a country filled with strife, but Johnson was a witty but relentless moral teacher in a culture where people were likely to grade themselves on a generous curve, and among people who spent more time thinking about the commercial climb than ultimate things.
Brooks wants us to be harder on ourselves, more rigorous and self-critical, less self-accepting and easy going. He'd like the japing, flying Montaignes of modern-day commentary to subordinate themselves — ourselves! — to the brooding, snooty analysts who delve into history and sort people into 2 categories and chide us to improve ourselves.

And what got him off on that mental jag? I bet it was all the guff he got last month when he soberly advised us against using marijuana:
[My friends and I, having smoked marijuana, reached a] stage, which I guess all of us are still in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people. This process usually involves using the powers of reason, temperance and self-control — not qualities one associates with being high.

I think we had a sense, which all people have, or should have, that the actions you take change you inside, making you a little more or a little less coherent. Not smoking, or only smoking sporadically, gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting. Smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.
So marijuana makes you more like Montaigne, less like Samuel Johnson. How annoying to the Johnsons of this world to have the Montaignes enjoying the fragmentation. How annoying to the Brookses of this world to have the whole crazy internet mocking his call to sobriety.

25 comments:

RecChief said...

I'd rather be like Samuel Adams than Samuel Johnson.

And only secondarily for the beer

Gahrie said...

Today happens to be Montaigne's birthday........

Pogo is Dead said...

Just don't try smoking cigarettes, because nicotine is evil incarnate.

betamax3000 said...

i Want to Reply But Cannot Formulate: My Identity is Paralyzing Me from the Ramifications of the last Post.

And it is Too Early for Vodka. I Wish My Watch had Stopped at a Better Hour.

Fen said...

/sorry Beta :(

Paul Zrimsek said...

On the exceedingly rare occasions when I think of David Brooks, "coherent" is never the first word that springs to mind.

betamax3000 said...

Fen,

Actually that previous exchange fits this Post's theme: "If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense."

Inanity and Nonsense I am Full of. Title Case is what could bear to be examined. Again, I will submit to poll results.

It might be a new day for betamax3000...

EDH said...

Interesting comparison of two men, but...

We can each pick what sort of person we would prefer to be. But I’d say Johnson achieved a larger greatness. He was harder on himself. He drove himself to improve more strenuously. He held up more demanding standards for the sort of life we should be trying to live, and constantly rebutted smugness and self-approval.

Montaigne was a calming presence in a country filled with strife, but Johnson was a witty but relentless moral teacher in a culture where people were likely to grade themselves on a generous curve, and among people who spent more time thinking about the commercial climb than ultimate things.


Maybe Brooks' choice of men to emulate simply reflects the Washington-political milieu he chooses to live in?

If everyone else should give up their addiction to pot, maybe Brooks should give up his addition to Washington and the approval of the superficial, self-serving political class?

RecChief said...

Looking at a cross section of Brooks' columns it is clear that David Brooks believes the man that you should want to be is....David Brooks

David said...

Come by at about 3 AM. That's when most of us are hard on ourselves. I know I am.

If Brooks followed his own advice, he might sell that big honking house in Larchmont (or wherever.)

Sean Gleeson said...

Brooks used to be a very funny writer, back in the 80's. I wonder if that was when he was stoned.

traditionalguy said...

Brooks now claims the higher standards than you prude's position, but his entire career has been built on being a go along to get along intellectual voice that compromised with everything. Will he support Ted Cruz next?

RecChief said...

only if it looks like Ted Cruz is in a winning position and can make Brooks look good in the process.

t-man said...

Brooks is speaking to an American audience. If he weren't a pseudo-intellectual, writing for the flagship of his ilk, Brooks could have contrasted both Montaigne and Johnson to Benjamin Franklin -- a great model for achieving self-control while also being of this world and enjoying what life has to offer.

For those who haven't read it, I highly recommend Franklin's Autobiography. It should be required reading in schools.

madAsHell said...

[My friends and I, having smoked marijuana, reached a] stage, which I guess all of us are still in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people.

It's a little late in life for him to be asking about adulthood, and parenting.

mccullough said...

Brooks should definitely be harder on himself. The dude fell in love with the crease in Obama's pants. Master thyself, then others shall thee beare

policraticus said...

As the great moral philosopher Robert Benchley put it, "There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know."

DKWalser said...

One of the most influential books I've read is the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (I'm sure you can buy it through the Althouse Amazon portal.) Franklin believed that a life well lived was a life spent cultivating personal virtues. The book was written for the instruction of his descendants. He believed they would live happier lives if they would follow his model of disciplining himself to each day try to improve his character. I think he was right and that his insights are of general application.

traditionalguy said...

Ben Franklin lived an amazing life. And he loved women a lot along the way.

His autobiography is also on Audible (available through Althouse& Meade's Amazon portal).

I was very impressed that Ben wanted to be a loyal Englishman in America, but that the way he was treated as a disposable serf in the British Monarch's Star-Chamber finally convinced him that Revolution would be necessary if he hoped to retain English liberties in America. And I believe that the Constitution's Bill of Rights addendum was Old Ben's final response to those Star-Chamber Monarchists, then and now.

chrisnavin.com said...

Are you a Paine or a Burke person? Jefferson or Hamilton? Montaigne or Johnson?

Brooks or Dionne? Dog Or Cat? Red Or Blue? Republican Or Democrat? Conservative Or Liberal?

Take this personality test and find out!

I think I can see where some of this is going.

YoungHegelian said...

I visited Michel de Montaigne's study tower in La Dordogne before it was shut down to the public.

He did have an impressive collection of Renaissance bongs.

William said...

Samuel Johnson is one of the great saints of English literature. Despite having literary talent and a zeal for scholarship, he managed to be a first rate human being. In all recorded history how often has that happened?.....I would think that his polar opposite was not Montaigne but Blake. Johnson felt that in life there was much to be endured and little to be enjoyed. Kind of a bleak outlook, but there's no denying that he found the gusto in life---and this despite many physical and psychological ailments. Blake looked like he could hang ten over the abyss and surf a descent into madness.

Trashhauler said...

So, we can be comfortable with our inanities or we can strive to improve ourselves? Most of us do both, at different times and with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

But we usually do neither when we are high. Getting high is like taking a huge time out from being ourselves. The person we are comfortable with when high is not the person who must deal with life when we are sober. No real personal growth happens when high.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

R. Crumb adapted an excerpt of Boswell's Journals in Weirdo magazine back in the 80s. Here's a page (no Johnson in this one):

http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Boswell.jpg

lichanos said...

Has Brooks ever written anything worth examining attentively? Now, Montaigne on the other hand...