the way i am

The Way We Live Now, by David Brooks

Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times

We’re living in an empirical age. And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race.

Moreover, we live at a time of intense social insecurity. We live in the world of Perverse Cosmic Myopia, an inability to focus attention on the most perilous matter at hand. We are now in a time when a lot of people think the country is going down the tubes. We live in a culture that finds it easier to assign moral status to victims of power than to those who wield power. We live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills.

We’re living in an era of mechanized intelligence, an age in which you’re probably going to find yourself in a workplace with diagnostic systems, different algorithms, and computer-driven data analysis. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. The fact that we live our lives amid order and not chaos is the great achievement of civilization. This order should not be taken for granted.

We live in a nation of good people and ineffective government. There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. We live in codified, impersonal societies. They live in uncodified, but more personal, societies.

But now the prevailing view is that brain patterns were established during the millennia when humans were hunters and gatherers, and we live with the consequences. In a world of pixelated flux, these tattoos are expressions of commitment — a way to say that as long as I live, this thing will matter to me. The hard lesson of the last five years — that we live in a jagged world filled with starkly different and contesting groups — makes democracy promotion more difficult but more necessary. All my life I’ve been a successful pseudo-intellectual.

They had joined the audience of a rap concert.  “We live in a relativistic culture,” she told me. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman.  He may have been the smartest of us, but something sad happened to him as he sunk deeper into pothead life. He was creating pseudo scandals to make life interesting. “I live in a democratic regime, and I want the majority to decide,” he cried.

All I’d say is that we live in a democracy, where decisions are made by all.

Second, the era seems to reward people with extended time horizons and strategic discipline.

Third, we’re living in an age of data.

There hasn’t been a speech this year that grapples with the real world — that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context. Instead, we live in a psychobabble nation. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional, and social differences that we so studiously ignore. This may seem like an airy-fairy thing.

We live in a relentlessly commercial culture, so it’s natural that many people would organize their lives in utilitarian and consequentialist terms. We’re living in an age when a vast excess of capital sloshes around the world, fueling cycles of bubble and bust. We live in a world in which trillions of dollars can move instantly, but they are in the hands of human beings who are, by nature, limited in knowledge, and subject to self-deceptions and social contagions. This kind of talk is descended from Marxist theory, which holds that we live in the thrall of economic conditions. And yet we live in the age of the lily-livered, in which fretting over things like excessive caffeination is built into the cultural code.

For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was useful to decorate one’s living room with African or Thai religious totems.

I organize my notes into different piles on the rug in my living room. We will never lower our heads as long as we live, even if we have to destroy everybody. Living in the Age of Edge. The president will have to remind us that we live in a fallen world. If you want to stand up and fight The Man, the Notorious B.I.G. shows the way. Death approaches.

Let me tell you how we are going to die.

During the first half of the nineties, I lived in Brussels and wrote about the European Union, among other subjects, for The Wall Street Journal. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser.

Now, of course, we’re living in an information age.  We’re clearly heading into an age of brilliant technology.

We live in an economic system in which the world is seen as a conversation, lots of free and open exchange, where it works best for everybody if we all trust one another. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect.

We’re living in the middle of an amazing era of individualism. We’re living in a unipolar culture, and it’s lonely at the top.

We live in an age in which the White House is staffed by tidy-desked, white-shirted, crisply coiffed StairMaster addicts, whose idea of sensual decadence is an extra pinch of NutraSweet in the lunchtime iced tea.

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt, and usually fruitless business. We’re living in a country where 53 percent of children born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock, according to government data. American ghetto life, at least as portrayed in rap videos, now defines for the young, poor, and disaffected what it means to be oppressed. Because of union power, California can’t fire teachers — even one who was found with pornography, pot, and cocaine in school. The lesson for future scandal subjects is that it can pay to stonewall, obfuscate, and attack. Deficits, obfuscations, and trickeries that were once unthinkable are now the norm.

Obfuscate? Son, let me tell you the truth, because you can’t handle the truth. We live in a world with enemies. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”

But the big story here is cultural and moral. This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live. You find edgy rap and edgy chamber music.

We live at a unique moment.

David Brooks is the author of On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.

The Way We Live Now, by David Brooks