David Brooks Makes Fun of More People and Things That Don’t Exist

Maybe a new New Yorker will be in the mailbox today, and everyone can start forgetting David Brooks’

bizarre guest appearance

in last week’s edition, sweating and pratfalling as he tried to put over yet another follow-up to his ”

Bourgeois Bohemians

” shtick. This time it’s the “Composure Class,” a term which seems to be describing, as always, well-to-do, educated people who are effete or ridiculous but nowhere near as

effete or ridiculous as David Brooks is

. Brooks’ expressions of projected Bethesdan self-loathing could and eventually will

fill a bookshelf

. But why ever did they make it into the New Yorker?

The piece is built around the biography of a fictitious member of this Composure Class, whatever the class may be. (How come when E.O. Wilson

did the same thing with an ant colony

, the New Yorker classified his informed imaginings as “fiction,” while Brooks goes under “reporting and essays”?) It’s not easy to say who belongs to this class, because Brooks introduces the members as not financiers, but people who

got good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined fine companies, medical practices, and law firms. Wealth settled down upon them gradually, like a gentle snow

Some snowfall—two paragraphs later, those doctors and lawyers have become staggeringly rich and famous:

A few times a year, members of this class head to a mountain resort, carrying only a Council on Foreign Relations tote bag (when you have your own plane, you don’t need luggage that actually closes). Once there, they play with hundred-and-sixty-pound dogs, for it has become fashionable to have canines a third as tall as the height of your ceilings. They will reflect on the genetic miracle they have achieved. (Their grandmothers looked like Gertrude Stein, but their granddaughters look like Uma Thurman.) In the evenings, they will traipse through resort-community pedestrian malls licking interesting gelatos, while passersby burst into spontaneous applause.

“Spontaneous applause” is witty Brooksian hyperbole, I assume—the nudge in the ribs to tell the reader he’s just joshing, with these cartoon generalizations of his. But hyperbole only works if you’re exaggerating something that exists. While Brooks is clowning, his whole Composure Class has fallen apart. We have entered the opposite of Brooks’ older made-up world, the one in which people in Red America couldn’t spend $20 on dinner if they tried. This time around, he has made sure not to restrict his fabricated claims to one particular geographic location, where they might be

checked and proven false


Nice try, but it’s still nonsense: anywhere and everywhere in America, the people who own their own airplanes are not the professionals who got rich gradually and unintentionally. The high-flying plutocrats and the fit, well-educated upper-class professionals may both make David Brooks feel inadequate, but they are not at all the same people.

Nevertheless, there will be a

book about them

, these imaginary class-frenemies of the New York Times columnist. Brooks’ new obsession seems to be with social intelligence, which is either a funny or an apt subject for a writer who is incapable of describing real human beings. But there are lots of social scientists to help him out. Here are some of the things Brooks has learned from them:

The orbicularis-oculi muscle, which controls this part of the eyebrow, cannot be consciously controlled, so, when the tip of the eyebrow dips, that means the smile is genuine, not fake


Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, of Princeton, have found that we make judgments about a person’s trustworthiness, competence, aggressiveness, and likability within the first tenth of a second. These sorts of first glimpses are astonishingly reliable in predicting how people will feel about each other months later.

Huh! There are subtle facial cues that tell the truth about someone’s emotional state? People make snap judgments about stuff, then stick with those decisions? Someone should totally

write a book about that


And Brooks can’t even whip up the watery, reheated Gladwell-sauce without leaving lumps in it. Here’s a fact about America, from social science, as processed by Brooks:

He was tall, which tends to inspire confidence; one study estimated that each inch of height corresponds to six thousand dollars of annual salary in contemporary America.

Each and every inch of height, you mean? The average American man is five foot nine and a half. So at $6,000 per inch, the average annual salary of an American man would be $417,000. That’s pretty rich. I had no idea.

It’s still not enough money to buy an airplane, though.