Brooks Introduces the Bobos

David Brooks.[1]2000. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I have time off to read, I often read popular titles that appear interesting. What are other authors talking about? What currently interests young people? These literary excursions often prove fruitful because they reveal blind spots in my own thinking. This line of thought led me to pick up a copy of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise.

Introduction

What is a Bobo? What looks like child’s mistake (booboo) is actually pronounced bow-bow and it is short for bourgeois bohemian. Brooks observes: 

“Defying expectations and maybe logic, people seemed to have combined the countercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one social ethos…people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products”(10).

Brooks goes on to write: “This book is a description of the ideology, manners, and morals of this elite. I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound.” (11) The new upper-class professionals blend the artistic aesthetic of a hippy with the business acumen of a yuppy. What makes Brooks observations so intriguing is that almost twenty years later we see Bobo characteristics showing up among mere mortals, such as myself.

Background and Organization

David Brooks is a Washington-based political columnist who has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, and other venues. He is also a Jew married to an evangelical both of whom attend church. This brief description validates his self-identification as a Bobo, someone highly talented and inclined to seek reconciliation in all aspects of life.

Brooks writes in seven chapters:

  1. The Rise of the Educated Class
  2. Consumption
  3. Business Life
  4. Intellectual Life
  5. Pleasure
  6. Spiritual Life
  7. Politics and Beyond (v)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and are followed by acknowledgments and an index. 

Perhaps missing from these chapters is a detailed treatment of the role of technology in empowering young professions to become fantastically wealthy in such a short period of time. Prior to the 1990s, young professionals were forced to apprentice themselves in career paths that were less glamorous and more impervious to upward mobility, except among those coming from wealthy families.

What is a Bobo?

It is interesting that Brooks begins his taxonomy of a Bobo with a chapter on consumption. Bobo consumption is driven by new-found wealth that is a windfall to the highly educated few in the information age. Brooks observes:

“[in 1980] college graduates earned roughly 35 percent more than high school graduates. Buy by the mid-1990s, college graduates were earning 70 percent more than high school graduates, and those with graduate degrees were earning 90 percent more. The wage value of a college degree had doubled in 15 years.”(36)

This sudden accumulation of wealth by highly educated professionals affords them the opportunity to engage in consumption patterns unavailable to the bohemians of prior generations.

In my own information-crunching career, I spent roughly the first 20 years automating manual processes and exploring existing databases in the offices that I worked for. In my first major automation project I more than quadrupled the output of my manager within a year and improved the quality of the work done. This led to my promotion and eventual reassignment. This theme was repeated several more times before I left research and went into finance, but those behind me did not see the same boost to their career that I got because the low hanging fruit [of automation] had been exhausted and they entered finance after the field settle down. Timing matters, which suggests that the Bobos may not beget future Bobos.

Brooks writes about the aspect of Bobo culture that he knows—political consulting—where technology is not necessarily a big factor in success.

The Spiritual Deficit in Bobo Land

Brook takes an unexpected trip to Montana to explore Bobo spirituality. A surprising number of movies have been made in Montana in recent years, like A River Runs Through Itand the Horse Whisperer (218-219). Writing about the Montana “Soul Rush” Brooks observes:

“Everybody lives somewhere, of course, but not all places have that spiritual aura that we call ‘a sense of place.’ Only places that are inhospitable to ambition have that.”(221)

Having made their fortune, Bobos start to miss aspects of life that they have neglected that drives their interest in antiques, old houses, and places like Montana that seem more real than a computer screen. 

Brooks asks: “Can you have freedom as well as roots?” (227) He goes further to ask: “Can you still worship God even if you take it upon yourself to decide that many of the Bible’s teaching are wrong?”(228) It is out of this Bobo mentality (you can always split the difference and have choices) that people say that they are spiritual, just not religious. This is spirituality without obligation( 237), a meaningless idea because our spirituality defines our priorities. If our priorities are defined elsewhere, then our spirituality is likewise defined elsewhere.

Every chance I get, I remind people in my writing that the idea of multiple paths (think Bobo choices) up the mountain is a Hindu concept, not a Christian one. When God created the universe, he stood apart from it which implies that there are no paths up the mountain to God because God exists outside the universe and we exist within it. God must come down the mountain to us and as Christians we believe that he came in the person of Jesus.

Assessment

In his book, Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks writes like a sociologist observing some remote ethic group out in the jungles of New York and other metro areas in the United States. Still, he admits to being a card-carrying Bobo himself. Needless to say, Brooks has a keen eye for detail and has written an entertaining and readable description of the educated rich in our generation. 

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/04/29/is-david-brooks-christian-or-jew-his-latest-book-traces-his-faith-his-second-marriage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brooks_(commentator).

Brooks Introduces the Bobos

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Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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The Scientific Method and Objective Truth

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple Faith

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The scientific method is a learning method that led to many discoveries about the physical world that have defined the modern period. Discoveries in agricultural production, medicine, and manufacturing have alleviated hunger and poverty, and have extended the life expectancy of the vast majority of people since the early nineteenth century. These discoveries has so dramatically improved the lives of modern and postmodern people that claims about the method have pervaded virtually all aspects of our lives. While almost no one discounts the usefulness of the method, the spillover of rational thinking into other aspects of life helped accelerate exploration of limits to its usefulness.

Definition

In its simplest exposition, the scientific method consists of series of steps in analytical thinking:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Observation
  3. Analysis
  4. Decision

In the problem definition step, the researcher forms an hypothesis. The researcher then proceeds to collect observations about this hypothesis in the second step. In the third step, the researcher analyzes these observations in view of other discoveries. In the final step, the researcher decides whether to accept or reject the hypothesis.

Usefulness of the Scientific Method

The flexibility of the scientific method to be applied to many aspects of the physical world accounts for its enormous usefulness. As researchers make new discoveries, they publish their finding so that other researchers can replicate their results. Thus, over time the knowledge of the physical world grows and is decimated throughout the scientific community and applied to practical applications in agriculture, industry, and medicine.

Critique of the Scientific Method

For many years, people believed that using the scientific method did not involve philosophical prejudices, but simply revealed facts about our world. This belief, however, came increasingly under scrutiny as researchers began to apply the scientific method especially in the social sciences. Scrutiny gave way to outcry during the Second World War as people learned of German scientists performing inhuman experiments on prisoners in concentration camps, such as learning the minimum nutritional requirements to prevent starvation, cold water survival rates, and so on. It soon became more widely understood that which problems came into focus in research involved serious philosophical and theological presumptions that had previously not gotten much attention.

Philosophical Presupposition

One particularly important presupposition in the modern period and in the scientific method had to do with the nature of truth. Arising out of the Christian worldview came the assumption that one objective truth exists which, if we take the time to research, we can discover. This assumption is reasonable in the physical sciences; it is less tenable in the realm of social science, where cultural assumptions often dictate how particular activities are judged. For example, we can all agree on the weight of a particular bucket of sand, but we may not agree on whether to eat pork or whether it is acceptable to charge interest on a loan.

Objective Truth

The existence of objective truth may sound like a trivial issue, but it becomes important in determining the status of professionals, such as scientists, doctors, lawyer, economists, and even pastors. If one objective truth exists, then it makes sense to consult the professional responsible for that subject matter. If truth is socially defined as is often argued in the postmodern period, then it is less clear which professional is most appropriate or whether a professional is even needed. In the church, for example, who is most suitable to preach and teach the Bible in which translation and with how much training? The answer to these questions are hotly debated within the church, in part, because we have come to doubt the nature and importance of objective truth.

Why Do We Care?

Crisis of Authorities

In the postmodern world that we live in, rational learning and decision making is still important, but the cynicism surrounding rationality is everywhere to be seen and it affects our attitude about anyone in authority. Prior to the modern period, authority stemmed primarily from wealth and political power in secular society and the church’s authority stemmed from reverence for God. In the modern period in America, authority still stemmed from wealth and political power, but this authority was increasingly tempered by the knowledge-based power of professionals and respect for God waned as rational thinking led many to question God’s existence. For postmoderns, respect for both God and professionals has waned leading to the rise of authority based primarily on wealth and political power. In effect, if objective truth and God do not exist in people’s minds, then my truth and my group’s truth take center stage.

Importance of Objective Truth

A second important result of this lack of belief in objective truth is that it undermines, not only professionals, but also respect for democratic and judicial process. On a theoretical level, if objective truth exists, then through debate and argumentation we come closer to understanding this truth, which is embodied in both our democratic and legal systems. If no objective truth is believed to exist, then debate and argumentation are simply a power play that does not enhance the credibility of the decision reached.

Sour Grapes

Therefore, the losing parties in debate or legal process have no inherent reason to accept the outcome of the process. This is why we observe so many sore losers on the evening news today that previously did not seem even to exist in popular culture. The postmodern rhetoric about the lack of debate in the modern period attributing the peace to an overwhelming majority of Americans being simply white is a half-truth, not the whole truth. Everyone believed in the American system, even when not everyone benefited equally. This why people still prefer to jump over the fence to come to America from other places. One seldom hears of people escaping to join most other, non-western destinations—it is not entirely about the differences in wealth.

Assessment

While the modern period is clearly over, the challenges and risks that we face remain poorly understood without understanding the role played by the scientific method and objective truth in the world that we continue to live in.

The Scientific Method and Objective Truth

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