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Monday, May 5, 2014

David Brooks, "The Streamlined Life": Love in the Time of Chimera II

"Your face and body can now be fixed, of course. But it's very different out there now. Your finances won't last long. Your panel of observers are waiting for you to choose."

- Ventura, "Vanilla Sky," 2001

Questions: Are you able to talk with your children? More to the point, are they interested in talking with you? Do your children know or even care which books you are reading? Do they know what exactly it is that you do? Have they ever asked about your suffering?

In his prior New York Times op-ed entitled "Love Story" (, David Brooks concluded:

"I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love."

"[H]ow many schools prepare students for this kind of love"? Today, in a Times op-ed entitled "The Streamlined Life" (, David Brooks answers his own question. Telling us of the results of U.C.L.A. surveys of student values over past decades, Brooks writes:

"In 1985, 64 percent of students said they ranked in the top 10 percent or at least above average in terms of mental health. But today, students admit to being much more emotionally vulnerable. They also declare low levels of spiritual self-confidence.

. . . .

The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes."

It would seem that today's students can no longer afford the "Great Books/Big Ideas thing." Facing the higher cost of college, they are too consumed by anxiety and economic survival to give much of a damn about "this kind of love."

And yet, as observed by Brooks, today's students do not lack in self-esteem:

"They rate themselves much more highly than past generations on leadership skills, writing abilities, social self-confidence and so on."

Welcome to our brave new narcissistic world.

And so, given the chance and the choice, would you care to jump back into life or remain forever in suspended animation? Your panel of observers from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon and the National Security Agency are waiting for you to choose.

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