Lion of the Blogosphere

David Brooks on the end of individuality

David Brooks says that life is like soccer and not baseball. (Thank you to the commenter who provided the link as well as the headline.)

We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize.

Yes, your career path, and thus how much money you will make, is heavily influenced by your social network. Libertarians think that your career path is 100% about being able to “create value,” but that that’s only half the story. Maybe even less than half the story. (And even the part about creating value is not about creating value. It’s about creating profits for your employer, which is not the same as value. A business organization can be very profitable even though it creates no value for society. And in such an organization, nerdy engineering types will create most of the profits but the rewards will go to the people who were better at getting promoted rather than to the true profit-creators.)

It’s too bad that Brooks didn’t have more to say about how the views we hold are influenced by whom we socialize with, because I find that the most interesting. If you believe in Jesus, Obama or Climate Change, it’s because other people you socialize with believe in that stuff. In the 1970s no one believed in Climate Change (at least not caused by carbon dioxide), but even though there have been no scientific discoveries that change our understanding of how energy interacts with atmospheric gases, now almost everyone believes in Climate Change.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

July 17, 2014 at 10:20 AM

62 Responses

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  1. r m adler

    July 17, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    • Massive amount of effort expended measuring the planet’s temperature, no basic discoveries in chemistry or physics.

      If anything, your link just demonstrates how there has been massive effort to mobilize people to believe in this and to get governments to do something. A propaganda effort rather than a scientific endeavor.

      • huh? the idea of the CO2 greenhouse effect was known since 1800’s (perhaps earlier) all you need to know is the spectrum of the sun, and the the laws of radiative heat transfer. What *has* changed is the accumulation of evidence that the earth’s climate is changing and that human carbon emissions play a significant role in this process.

        what is the reason you are so dismissive of this? If it was really all propaganda then, yeah, I could agree with you. But it is impossible to believe this given the work of real scientists like hansen, arakawa, suess, et al. also the many experimentalists which have gone to great efforts to test and refine the climate models which represent the current state of the art understanding of the global climate system.

        look if someone had a convincing argument that human-induced climate change was as big of a fraud as the republicans in congress seem to believe that it is, then they could make their career in academia! Hell, climate scientists would be falling all over themselves to prove it. If they succeeded then they would be justly famous! Well, that doesn’t happen because the skeptics are only telling half-truths, and they don’t want you to notice that they have no case against the bulk of the evidence for climate change.

        r m adler

        July 17, 2014 at 12:20 PM

      • rm adler,

        The reason why everyone here is dismissive of climate science is because it has no practical application anywhere in the real world, either in spawning “climate engineering” or in being able to make accurate predictions. The work of these so-called “scientists” is so much navel-gazing and propaganda.

        “also the many experimentalists which have gone to great efforts to test and refine the climate models which represent the current state of the art understanding of the global climate system.”

        Yes, and all of this work amounts to nothing. Again, there are no accurate predictions coming out of this movement, but there is a lot of effort toward covering up the mistakes.


        July 17, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      • Opposition to climate science is mostly politics. Rightists are just like leftists they pick and choose what parts of science serve them. The same crowd citing HDB as sacrosanct then claims an absurd conspiracy about climate. It’s almost Protocols of The Elders of Zion minus the Jews. The same goes for leftists who fixate on warming patterns then denounce race realism as abhorrent “scientific racism”.


        July 17, 2014 at 1:53 PM

      • Conspiracy: “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.”

        I believe this applies to global warmists. They have definitely been secretively trying to squash dissent and hide their mistakes and outright falsifications.

        The thing about warmists is that they believe in what they are doing, just as much as the morons protesting outside of abortion clinics believe what they are doing. The warmists believe so strongly in what they are doing that they also believe that the end justifies the means and whatever lies and squashing of dissent and other bad behavior they need to engage in to obtain their goal of spreading belief in “climate change” and eliminating carbon emissions is therefore justified.

        They are certainly not scientists, because scientists are dispassionate seekers of truth through observation and experimentation.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        July 17, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    • Eradican,

      There is no equivalency here. HBD and Climate Science may be cherry-picked propaganda, but HBD is nowhere ensconced in the Federal Government anywhere, whereas climate science is.

      HBD is far more predictable than climate science has ever been.

      Besides, what do you have against conspiracy theories?


      July 17, 2014 at 2:07 PM

  2. Who you socialize with depends on your genetics. When you’re in junior and high and high school, there are a lot of different groups you could end up associating with. The vast majority of time, within your school there’s going to be a lot of variation in IQ and other traits.


    July 17, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    • This is partly true. If you are born nerdy, you will socialize with other people who were also born nerdy. But regarding your school scenario, whether or not you go to a private school, a good public school, or a crappy public school, is all about your parents’ social status and not your own individual genes.

      • I have to say all public schools including specialized ones in NYC suck. The teachers and the administrators aren’t the kind of people who enjoy reading your blog.


        July 17, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    • I think your home life has more influence. If your family is broken up and spread out all over the country, you seek out new family in (usually) a bunch of warm but loser friends. My father said he sought out richer guys to hang with, and so he ended up with lots of money himself. But that strategy seems pretty calculating to someone forever trying to put a family together.


      July 19, 2014 at 5:42 PM

  3. Brooks goes a step further though, saying that being a skilled glad-hander and nimble herd-follower comprise “genius,” and implying that this is morally superior to being a value creator (which he tries to dismiss as “raw computational power,” basically a mass-market version of the “heads-down coder” slur).

    While Lion is saying the opposite.


    July 17, 2014 at 11:18 AM

  4. “Yes, your career path, and thus how much money you will make, is heavily influenced by your social network.”

    Agreed. Your options depend on your circumstances. But you always have choices.

    “Libertarians think that your career path is 100% about being able to “create value,”

    Libertarians don’t think that. Why do you keep repeating that straw man? I agree with the rest of your paragraph though.

    “And in such an organization, nerdy engineering types will create most of the profits but the rewards will go to the people who were better at getting promoted rather than to the true profit-creators.”

    That’s true. A few of them would be better off starting their own companies. They’re scared because most businesses fail. The smartest people usually don’t take the risk because they’ve never learned to fail or take a beating. So they suck hind tit while schmoozers in their corporation get ahead.


    July 17, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    • Generally, starting a business requires that you be able to schmooze venture capitalists and clients, etc. So it’s a sales job more than a value-creation job.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      July 17, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      • One needs venture capital to open a laundromat? Most new businesses aren’t sexy.


        July 17, 2014 at 2:23 PM

      • And generally, one doesn’t become rich from opening a laundromat. You can make a lot more money working for a corporation.

        There’s a good reason why Korean bodega owners want their kids to grind their way into Ivy League schools and they aren’t encouraging them to follow in their footsteps.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        July 17, 2014 at 2:31 PM

      • I’ve never schmoozed anyone. To the extent I do any selling it’s “solution selling”. And I’ve never met a venture capitalist. I started on a shoestring and slept on a cot in my office.


        July 17, 2014 at 2:38 PM

      • “And generally, one doesn’t become rich from opening a laundromat.”

        George Jefferson would beg to differ. Moooovin’ on up!


        July 17, 2014 at 3:12 PM

      • Yes, everything that happens in situation comedies from the 1970s is how the world works today.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        July 17, 2014 at 4:15 PM

      • slept on a cot in my office

        with my “employees”.

        small businessmen and entrepreneurs are a very small % of the 1%. 50% are execs at large companies they didn’t found. 15% doctors and other health care pros. 8% lawyers.

        and most of these have had their success mediated by educational credentials.

        jorge videla

        July 17, 2014 at 3:26 PM

      • Many Millennials are earning less than their baby boomer parents and I assume that applies to Asian grinds at the Ivies as well.

        Further, America is a now useless society. It’s a pressure cooker or a rodent wheel, and somehow anyone who doesn’t think this way is branded as a bum fool or lazy “socialist” because liberal policies in America are targeted to the wrong people in the 1st place. The average American works to death so he or she can frivolously consume on useless consumables, recycled over and over again.


        July 17, 2014 at 3:27 PM

      • Sales and value creation go hand-in-hand. You could have a great product, but if no one uses it because no one knows that it’s great, you haven’t created value for anyone.

        Dave Pinsen

        July 18, 2014 at 3:44 AM

      • @ destructure

        1% are mostly CEOs of non-financial types. And a lot of wealthy people have passive income generating a lot of their wealth.

        If you can turn $1 to $ 1,000 everyday by sitting on your ass, then you’re set for life.


        July 18, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      • lion didn’t post it. maybe he will. i hate typing.

        none of them are off or misleading.

        you have to add non-financial to financial execs to get 45%.

        the bottom line:

        the idea that the rich and powerful are randian supermen who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps (supposing they had boots at all) is a LIE!

        jorge videla

        July 19, 2014 at 4:59 AM

      • JS — 1% are mostly CEOs of non-financial types.

        I assume you wrote that before Leon published my comment. I refer you to the link in my previous comment.


        July 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM

  5. Frankly, I’m surprised that people still read Brooks. Has he ever written anything that engaged a new idea or policy? He’s so conventional wisdom, he is allowed to work at the New York Times as a token “conservative.”

    Mike Street Station

    July 17, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    • He used to be more interesting, or maybe I used to be less observant of his flaws.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      July 17, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    • “He’s so conventional wisdom”

      Well that’s the point. The reason Brooks gets printed in the NY Times is because the conventional wisdom becomes the conventional wisdom by being printed in the NY Times. And since the NY Times gets to set that agenda, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


      July 17, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    • I concur. David Brooks was never original.


      July 17, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    • obviously brooks is not a real conservative. but he’s the only present day commentator i’ve heard to give the fabian argument.

      revolutions usually fail. radical change is always disruptive. better to take it slow.

      jorge videla

      July 17, 2014 at 9:42 PM

      • “obviously brooks is not a real conservative”

        Correct. He’s a NYT/NYC conservative. In other words he’s a liberal.

        the red carpet is on fire

        July 18, 2014 at 4:12 PM

      • Compared to De Blasio, Brooks is conservative.

      • brooks is an entertainer. he found a niche as token conservative. my guess is he voted for nader.

        jorge videla

        July 19, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    • Didn’t he come up with bobos, later known as SWPLs?


      July 19, 2014 at 5:59 AM

  6. Not only does social network determine your job, but it determines your dating and marriage prospects. For all the manosphere talk about hitting on random women, you’ll mostly date and marry women who are friends, or friends of friends. So it matters bigtime who your friends are.


    July 17, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    • and because almost all marketable skills one learns on the job it also determines (contra pimply libertarians) the extent to which one can create value.

      jorge videla

      July 19, 2014 at 5:02 AM

  7. A business organization can be very profitable even though it creates no value for society

    A business is not supposed to create value for society, it’s supposed to create value for its customers, since they’re the ones paying it. Now government should be creating value for society because they’re being paid by by society (tax payers).


    July 17, 2014 at 4:05 PM

    • Actually, yes, it’s government’s job to discourage or prohibit transactions or activities that create negative value. By allowing people to be rewarded only if they do something useful, that results in maximum utility.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      July 17, 2014 at 4:55 PM

      • It’s none of the government’s business how much one private citizen wants to award another private citizen. It’s not the government’s money. They don’t get to decide what has value.


        July 17, 2014 at 5:40 PM

      • indeed.

        a larger fraction than ever and an ever increasing fraction of economic activity is just legal theft. and there are people who will justify it, saying something like, “well if they’re stupid enough to buy it…”

        thou shalt not steal.

        jorge videla

        July 17, 2014 at 9:40 PM

      • It’s none of the government’s business how much one private citizen wants to award another private citizen.

        I actually agree with Lion’s technocratic view here. Casinos, brothels, opium dens, ‘boiler room’ operations all generally involve consenting adults. The problem is they dump externalities on taxpayers, so government is entirely justified in arbitrating what goes on. The solution of course is to eliminate welfare but 1) that’s not happening in this universe, and (because) 2) nobody’s interested in a world of roving bands of half-starved vagrants living in even more squalor than currently.

        The Anti-Gnostic

        July 17, 2014 at 11:25 PM

      • Anti-Gnostic,

        Excellent point that I failed to consider. When the activities of a business burdens the tax payer, then it is the government’s money, and thus it is the government’s business. But we have to be careful with that type of thinking because it’s a slippery slope.


        July 18, 2014 at 9:14 AM

  8. It is called Fate. Advanced societies like China, India, Russia figured it out long time ago. When I say advanced, I do not mean number of cars per person. I mean society as a whole. American society is young, so obvious for others things make headlines here.


    July 17, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    • Yeah, and Americans think they have a high quality of life because they have Iphones. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, you can’t buy culture. And the billionaires and SWPLs are scarcely more cultured than the immigrants that everyone on here is worried about (often less).

      There’s a well known economic indicator called the Big Mac Index (which is actually really inaccurate). The indicator of culture should be whether the cute girl smiles at you when you go to get coffee, not flirtatiously, but just to be pleasant. I don’t care if I make a million dollars if I get sneered at when I go to get my coffee. And then don’t even get me started on the immeasurable value of having clean air and nature around you, vs living in a dirty city.


      July 18, 2014 at 3:44 AM

      • Correct, America has no culture. Many American Elites and SWPLs are just nothing but stuffy bourgeois who sneer at people lower than them. Well, they’ll do more of that in the coming years, when they’re stuck with NAMs as their workers and even as their nearby neighbors, since the normal middle class will be hollowed out in the metropolitan areas.


        July 18, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      • income inequality reduces life expectancy for everyone surprisingly, although this may be mere correlation and the difference isn’t that great.

        but in general rich swedes and rich danes live longer than rich americans or rich portugese.

        jorge videla

        July 18, 2014 at 6:55 PM

      • so even if enormous inequality were necessary to maximizing economic growth…i’d rather live longer than be a little richer.

        jorge videla

        July 18, 2014 at 6:57 PM

  9. “You’re a special and unique snowflake, just like everyone else.”

    Oswald Spengler

    July 17, 2014 at 8:41 PM

  10. “There’s a good reason why Korean bodega owners want their kids to grind their way into Ivy League schools and they aren’t encouraging them to follow in their footsteps.”

    Yes, and the reason is Korean culture. It is considered more prestigious to be a government bureaucrat or accountant making $150,000 a year than it is to make twice that or more as the owner of a small business, say a construction company or a McDonald’s franchise.

    Anyway, most Korean kids don’t go to Ivies, or even Stanford or Berekely. They end up where all the rest of the above average kids do, at the better state universities and private schools like USC. They go to work as dentists, chiropractors, insurance agents, or real estate salespeople. There’s nothing wrong with any of those occupations, but they’re not ultra prestigious either.

    Sgt. Joe Friday

    July 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    • and there is racial discrimination in the workplace both by and for ne asians and against them. i know, because i’ve witnessed it first hand.

      plus ne asians are just less ambitious. they aren’t ever the “i wanna rule the world” types.

      jorge videla

      July 19, 2014 at 5:05 AM

  11. This is one of David Brooks’s “Dear Steve Sailer…” columns. It’s his characteristically slippery reasoning, setting up individualist meritocracy as the ‘conventional wisdom,’ and then Brooks gets to cast himself as the iconoclast, despite the fact that his thesis is the longstanding ‘who-you-know-not-what-you-know’ trope.

    The Anti-Gnostic

    July 17, 2014 at 11:19 PM

  12. We think we individually choose…

    we in america. this is a statement of the individualist ideology.

    We all live within distinct moral ecologies.

    which is why the “criminals are in jail because they did it” talk is ideology again.

    there is an article in the latest issue of the industrial distribution trade magazin about hiring for “cultural fit” rather than for skills. from the article: You can always train someone to learn a skill, but you can’t change who they are to fit your organization. but, obviously, this too is an ideological proposition based on the idea of enduring psychological traits.

    jorge videla

    July 17, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    • In my organization, we hire for specific skills, experience, and professional training. While any specific job has some degree of learning the specifics, you cannot do this work without the underlying skill and education. Most people in our company learn the culture and become acclimated quickly, but we hire based upon skill and demonstrated ability first. We also cannot teach our engineering work to a liberal arts or non-engineering/non-hard science graduate.


      July 19, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      • yes. absolutely. there are companies and jobs where all that matters is can you do it, but those have always been a small minority.

        and my understanding from the engineers i know is that almost nothing they learned in school or tested by the state engineering exams do they actually use or need on the job.

        jorge videla

        July 20, 2014 at 1:32 AM

      • Small minority? Every organization I have ever worked with valued professional knowledge and skill above all. By the way, I use calculus, linear systems, probability and stochastic processes, electronics, physics, etc in my job- all of which I learned in school.


        July 21, 2014 at 8:25 AM

  13. Individuality has never been popular. Before the internet, there were fewer cliques where people were a part of . Now there are more herds to be a part of.


    July 18, 2014 at 2:36 AM

  14. Lion,

    In all these self-help columns by young entrepreneurs, they keep stressing how you need to absolutely make 60-70-80hrs per week to make it happen. You think that’s bull shit? Because hard work sort of indicates merit, while you seem to stress (like Brooks) how networks, background and inherited money matter much more to predict business success.

    It’s probably not either/or, but both. Energy levels are very important to make a startup success happen, I think. OTOH, high energy levels seem to me, what Greg Clarke wrote about in “The Son Also Rises” part of ‘moxie’, an inherited level of social competence. A network also works both ways, you’re only part of a network if you can return favors. You might get some help from your family, but you can’t climb if you’re useless or neutral to other people’s interests.


    July 18, 2014 at 5:57 AM

    • It’s not about business success. It’s about living the good life.

      They’re people who don’t do any heavy lifting because they have a trust fund. Plenty of those living here in NYC. Why work hard if you have lucrative investments working for you?

      Most young entrepreneurs fail miserably, despite all the hard work. Lion was saying that businesses catering to the wealthy are only worthy of pursuit nowadays.


      July 18, 2014 at 11:51 AM

      • america has a “european” minority surrounded by rednecks.

        jorge videla

        July 18, 2014 at 6:58 PM

  15. individuality ended when the unit of production was no longer the family.

    the medieval manor: everyone knew everyone else. almost no one ventured more than 20 miles from home for their entire lives. mom and dad taught brother and sister to do what mom and dad did.

    jorge videla

    July 19, 2014 at 5:08 AM

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