Thursday, August 11, 2005

Life of a Pundit

The life of a pundit is an easy one. You can say just about any damn thing you want, and you don't have to back it with evidence. It doesn't even have to make the slightest bit of sense.

Which brings us to David Brooks. In today's New York Times, he encourages smart kids to study cultural geography. I have no problem with that. But then he proceeds to denigrate other ways of understanding the world. Where did this gem come from?

The economists and scientists tend to assume that material factors drive history - resources and brain chemistry - because that's what they can measure and count.

Let's leave aside the silly swipe at the economics profession and consider whether "scientists tend to assume" that "brain chemistry" "drives history." Is there any scientist who believes this? What does it even mean? The mind, and the brain chemistry, boggles. The decline of feudalism was caused by increased seratonin production, maybe? How do scientists "measure and count" historical brain chemistry anyway?

He warns budding cultural geographers of the danger of studying "why and how people cluster, why certain national traits endure over centuries, why certain cultures embrace technology and economic growth and others resist them." What is that danger? You guessed it. Liberals.

This is the line of inquiry that is now impolite to pursue. The gospel of multiculturalism preaches that all groups and cultures are equally wonderful.

Some versions of multiculturalism may preach that "all groups and cultures are equally wonderful," but each in their own way. If Brooks is unhappy with such an attitude, he's free to make an argument against it. But that's not what he does. He instead claims, with no evidence, that multiculturalists insist that all cultures have the same attitudes towards technology or towards economic growth, and are therefore hostile to cultural geography. You'll probably find these multiculturalists hanging out with the scientists who believe that brain chemistry drives history.