Sunday, April 17, 2005

David Brooks is foolish

I never know whether to comment on a foolish column. If it's foolish, why bother — and usually I don't. But this time the foolishness is somewhat subtle. It also reveals what seems to me to be a central problem with David Brooks. So many of his columns have this not-quite-right feeling.

In today's column Brooks writes that
sex is more explicit everywhere - on 'Desperate Housewives,' on booty-quaking music videos, on the Internet … . [Yet] as the entertainment media have become more sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually abstemious.

Teenage pregnancy rates have declined by about a third over the past 15 years. Teenage birth and abortion rates have dropped just as much.

Young people are waiting longer to have sex. The percentage of 15-year-olds who have had sex has dropped significantly. Among 13-year-olds, the percentage has dropped even more.

They are also having fewer partners. The number of high schoolers who even report having four or more sexual partners during their lives has declined by about a quarter. Half of all high school boys now say they are virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990. …

When you actually look at the intimate life of America's youth, you find this heterodoxical pattern: people can seem raunchy on the surface but are wholesome within.
What does Brooks make of this?
[I]t's becoming clear that we are seeing the denouement of … the culture war. …

[T]oday's young people appear not to have taken a side in this war; they've just left it behind. For them, the personal is not political. Sex isn't a battleground in a clash of moralities. …

They seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right. … You may not like the growing acceptance of homosexuality, but as it has happened heterosexual families have grown healthier.
The two points that Brooks makes [that the culture wars are over and that today's youth have not taken sides] are wrong.
  • The culture wars are not over. Anyone who thinks the culture wars are over has been asleep for the past year.

    What has happened — at least according to Brooks, although I doubt that he would admit it — is that the liberal side of the culture war has won over our youth. As Brooks says, they are happy with the frankness of the left. Verbal expression of sexuality is now acceptable. (I'm not thrilled by what I hear on the radio, but it's better than moralistic repression. We will grow out of this phase also.)

  • According to Brooks' figures, American youth has chosen the liberal side of the culture wars. Wholesomeness is not a right-wing value. Whoever said that the liberal side of the culture wars favored unwholesome behavior. That's part of what the culture wars have been about: the right wing doesn't understand that one can be both liberal and wholesome at the same time.

    But according to Brooks, the kids get it. Being liberal does not require being a libertine. Kids apparently understand this even if Brooks doesn't. Favoring acceptance of gays does not mean wishing for the destruction of heterosexual families. Apparently kids understand this also — even if Brooks doesn't.
If only Brooks and those who think the way he does would catch on.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Are you suggesting that repression of verbal sexuality as implied by the right-wing (and, in most cases, their conservative Christian mores) encourages increased rates of sexual activity in our youth?