In his latest mess, he diagnoses Mel Gibson as clinically narcissistic—I believe he went to the Bill Frist School of Medical Diagnostics—and cites his "favorite piece of sociological data."
In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an "important person." Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.Okay, first of all, someone tell David Brooks that stats from a quarter of a century ago cannot be used as if they're still current, especially when juxtaposed against stats approximately the same distance older, to prove how things can so drastically change in that space of time. Yeesh.
That doesn't make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we've entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.
Secondly, I'll just briefly point out that, without the gender breakdown of the teenagers questioned in 1950, noting that 80% of girls and 77% of boys said they considered themselves an important person in the late '80s is meaningless—except, of course, to implicitly suggest that teenage girls are more inclined toward narcissism than teenage boys.
Which is to say nothing of how meaningless is the entire statistic when "important person" is such an ill-defined concept. Objectively important? Comparatively important? I would certainly classify myself as an important person, if I thought the question meant any of the following: Do I have intrinsic worth as a person? Are my needs and opinions of value? Am I entitled to dignity and respect? Am I capable of making a difference? Do I have privileges I should leverage on behalf of marginalized people? Etc.
As opposed to Brooks' definition, which seems to be: Do I think my shit doesn't stink?
Social justice advocates will certainly note that 1950 and ~1985 stand on either side of some pretty important cultural events: the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, Brown v. Board of Ed, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Loving v. Virginia, the emergence of the feminist/womanist movement in mainstream culture, the failure of the ERA, the Roe v. Wade decision, the Pill, the emergence of the LGBTQI movement in mainstream culture, Stonewall, and the emergence of the disability rights movement, which would result in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act by 1990.
Y'know, just to name a few.
Perhaps it wasn't narcissism which led to increased numbers of US teenagers viewing themselves as "important people," but the fact of their county and culture beginning to recognize their inherent worth and acknowledge their basic rights.
I wouldn't expect a privileged wanker like Brooks—who resists authentic self-reflection with an ardor that suggests he believes it might kill him or turn him into something horrible, like a monster, or a lady—to understand this, but for a person denied fundamental equality, the line between "I am an important person" and "I have dignity" is a lot blurrier.
It's not bragging. It's asserting the humanity one has been denied.
To not understand this is to not understand why those silly gays need a pride parade. "What are they so proud about? I'm proud to be straight; you don't see me having a parade!" This will probably be the title of Brooks' next column.
And, naturally, it is not a surprise that someone with such a fundamental misunderstanding of human dignity would get this wrong, but it is still gobsmacking to see him assert, with regard to Gibson's on-tape tirade:
It is striking how morally righteous he is, without ever bothering to explain what exactly she has done wrong.It is clear on the tapes what exactly Grigorieva is supposed to have done wrong, in Gibson's estimation. Over and over Gibson tells his former partner that she did not provide him with sexual gratification as readily as he wanted, that she prioritized sleep over fucking him, that she was not forthcoming enough with oral sex. "You should just smile and fucking blow me!" he bellows.
Did Brooks really just utterly miss that the evident source of Gibson's ire was his unrestrained indignation that he felt entitled to sexual interaction with his female partner? Or does he just share Gibson's sense of entitlement so thoroughly that the exhortation to "just smile and fucking blow me" doesn't even register as a terrible shock to him?
Given Brooks' aforementioned confusion about the basic human dignity of those Not Like Him, I can guess at the answer.
[H/T to Shaker Bonny_Swan.]