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Monday, March 24, 2014

David Brooks, "The Republic of Fear": Or Is Cruelty Endemic to Our Species?


David Brooks begins his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Republic of Fear" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/opinion/brooks-the-republic-of-fear.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) by observing:

"If you’re reading this, you are probably not buffeted by daily waves of physical terror."

Well, as one who has spent "sufficient" time in economic and military war zones, in Chicago, Moscow, Beirut and Tel Aviv, perhaps I am an exception. True, the physical terror came and went, but when it came, it lasted and left its mark. Chicago? I'm talking about the South Side more than 40 years ago. Moscow? I brought it on myself when I agreed to investigate an oligarch. Beirut? The First Lebanon War and its aftermath remain fresh in my mind. Tel Aviv? I will never forget the sirens warning of incoming Scud missiles during the First Gulf War.

Perhaps the foregoing does not amount to the "daily waves of physical terror" to which Brooks refers - I could have taken myself out of some of these situtations - but it has all left its mark.

Brooks would have us believe that much of this terror is confined to "the developing world." Brooks, however, is wrong, and should spend a few weeks in the slums of Detroit or Baltimore in order to rectify his privileged misconception.

Brooks concludes:

"[I]n every society, order has to be wrung out of exploitation. Unless cruelty is tamed, poverty will persist."

I wish I could agree.

As I near my 60th birthday, I have no expectations that human brutishness will ever be tamed, and no matter what your station in life, you are being exploited, with or without knowledge of the travesties to which you are being subjected. Obviously, if your economic situation is good, you are apt not to give a damn.

Tame cruelty and poverty will subside? My belief is that Brooks has it wrong: Only by taming poverty can cruelty be mitigated, but not by much.

Regrettably, I have come to the belief that cruelty is endemic to our species.

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