Sunday, January 16, 2011

David Brooks on Civility & the Paradox of Sinfulness & Ignorance

It seems that every time Paul Krugman offers a trenchent opinion on a political or cultural topic, along comes David Brooks to challenge or amend it. So it is on the issue of civility.

The important point Brooks makes in this column arises from the paradox of sinfulness and ignorance. Simply put, Brooks argues that if we acknowledge our sinfulness and our limitations--our often tragic shortcomings and limitations--we will, collectively, move life forward little by little. But only by recognizing our limitations can we hope to act with the necessary humility, caution, and deference that will allow us to live with our respective limits and not destroy ourselves. Brooks argues, however, that contemporary culture too readily celebrates our "achievements" and narcissism. Using sports as an example, he compares the public humility of Joe DiMaggio with contemporary athletes who seem to miss no opportunist to exalt their achievements. Of course, if this were limited to athletics, we'd have an annoyance rather than something to fear, but he argues that this attitude pervades our larger culture.

What Brooks argues, I believe, draws on some of the best wisdom of both Classical and Christian culture. For instance, the professed ignorance of Socrates and the sense of moral failure explicit in St. Augustine. Brooks cites one of his favorite Christians, Reinhold Neibuhr for his concluding thought on the topic.

(See the next post. I want those who may not wade through my patter of have the best shot @ appreciating the quote.)

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