In societies like ours, individuals are responsible for their own identity, happiness and success. “Everyone must sell himself as a person in order to be accepted,” Bruckner wrote. We all are constantly comparing ourselves to others and, of course, coming up short. The biggest anxiety is moral. We each have to write our own gospel that defines our own virtue.
The easiest way to do that is to tell a tribal oppressor/oppressed story and build your own innocence on your status as victim. Just about everybody can find a personal victim story. Once you’ve identified your herd’s oppressor — the neoliberal order, the media elite, white males, whatever — your goodness is secure. You have virtue without obligation. Nothing is your fault.
Hold on a minute here.
I'll take one specific situation and use that to refute Brooks.
There are a significant number of people in this country who believe that we need police officers to keep us safe. They are not arguing for anarchy. They are not arguing for the police to go away. They are not arguing for the end of community policing.
What they want is for police officers to stop killing people who pose no threat to them. This is one example. Why was this man shot dead after stepping out of the door to his own house, probably in shock, after seeing so many police officers? He was shot dead because the police were there to confront what they thought was a dangerous armed citizen.
They were wrong. Now the guy is dead. Something has to change here.
So, for David Brooks, the people who have identified their oppressor have a more nuanced position. They don't believe in the secureness of their goodness. They don't believe they are without obligation as citizens. And they don't believe that nothing is their fault. They believe that the duty of every citizen is to stand up against police violence and advocate for reform, for change, and for better outcomes.
What they want is for cops to stop killing people seconds after meeting them.
I know it's hard to believe, but this is one of those times when David Brooks is wrong. Again.