We four hundred million, we happy four hundred million
ineffable David Brooks says
that America’s long-term future looks very good, because, in addition to the country’s population swelling by another 100 million over the next forty years, driven by that highest of all goods, mass non-European immigration,
As the world gets richer, demand will rise for the sorts of products Americans are great at providing—emotional experiences. Educated Americans grow up in a culture of moral materialism; they have their sensibilities honed by complicated shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” and they go on to create companies like Apple, with identities coated in moral and psychological meaning, which affluent consumers crave.
When Brooks tells us that our ability to create companies with “identities coated in moral and psychological meaning” assures our happy prospects, I’m reminded of other ineffable Brooksian predictions, such as:
I remember distinctly an image of—we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.
Now, if Brooks had limited himself to saying that America’s ability to make products that the rest of the world desires will assure the country’s continued prosperity, that would have been an arguable statement. But when he says that our ability to make products that the rest of the world desires, PLUS our continued intake of tens of millions of non-European immigrants (most of whom are Mestizo Hispanics), PLUS our decadent and nihilist culture (typified in his mind by “The Sopranos” and its popularity), add up not only to a sustainable way of life for ourselves
, but to a sustained American position as the economic and cultural leader of the world
, then he sounds like, well, he sounds like David Brooks musing on the larger significance of Barack Obama’s pants leg.
There are many more such swooning statements in the column, including Brooks’s own Jay Nordlingeresque description of the column as a “great luscious orgy of optimism.” For further thoughts on it, see Rick Darby’s incredulous response at Reflecting Light. Then see Reihan Salam’s more respectful but still critical take at NRO.
Another thought: why Brooks’s sudden gushing orgy of optimism? Because over the past year he had switched from ecstatic enthusiasm over Obama as a wonderful moderate who will bring us all together, to growing alarm at Obama as a left-wing statist who will crush America’s economy. In order not to go on being so critical of Obama, and thus sounding like one of those grumpy conservatives he’s always putting down, Brooks had to find a new basis for hopefulness. And he found it by looking beyond Obama to America’s supposed deeper healthy tendencies, such as “The Sopranos” and the addition of a hundred million Mestizos to our population in the next forty years, that will keep America on the right track despite Obama’s bad policies.
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Also, see Michelle Malkin’s January 5, 2010 blog entry where she discusses Brooks’s “fatally impaired powers of discernment,” especially regarding the intelligence and wisdom of the Obama administration.
A. Zarkov writes:
I admit it. I simply don’t understand what ” … they go on to create companies like Apple, with identities coated in moral and psychological meaning, which affluent consumers crave,” means even in terms of David Brooks’s twisted world view. Is this man insane? Has he suffered a stroke? Is this what happens when you live the cloistered life in Manhattan? Brooks needs to visit some the ” … archipelago of vibrant suburban town centers, villages and urban cores.” He should ride the Muni bus in San Francisco to experience the “vibrant” urban core. I wonder if he realizes that “vibrant” is a code word for “crime ridden?”
When he speaks of companies like Apple that have “identities coated in moral and psychological meaning,” Brooks is referring to Apple’s well-established profile as the company for the hip and the knowing, to be contrasted with the repressed squares who use Windows. Also, as I’ve pointed out before, the Apple logo, the bitten-into apple, is a universally understood symbol of forbidden knowledge, forbidden pleasures, and rebellion against authority. What Brooks is saying is that America’s economic future is assured by its ability to create, and sell to the human race, the symbols of bourgeois bohemianism.
On the cult of “vibrancy,” this is from my Huddled Cliches (1997):
Besides, what do people really mean when they say that a city is being “energized?” “Energy”—which is always presented as an unquestioned good—is one of those reductive concepts, like economic growth, that ignore intangible values such as the quality of life, the level of a culture, the cohesiveness of a society. Surely the cities of China—with their fearsome pollution and their streets jammed with humanity day and night—have fantastic amounts of “energy.” Does that mean that Americans would be better off if their cities become “energetic” like China’s? Stretching for three miles through Manhattan’s Harlem Heights and Washington Heights, upper Broadway with its largely Dominican population has abundant “energy”—block after block of tacky stores, cheap wares being sold from bins on the sidewalk, people sitting in chairs on the sidewalk and otherwise milling about, and the incessant sound of boom boxes from passing cars. Such “energy” may be normal and healthy in the context of Caribbean cultures, but is it desirable from the point of view of Western civilization? Accompanying the famous Latino exuberance are low levels of standards, infrastructure, and social order that are incompatible with North American society.
… Thus, when people speak of America’s being “energized,” what they mean in many cases is that America is being Third-Worldized. If we had never acquired all that Third-World energy, American cities would have remained more attractive to Americans, and would not have required the continual influx of foreigners to maintain their population base.
A. Zarkov replies:
Most people I know take the Apple logo as a visual metaphor for “byte,” the basic unit of computer information. A byte is an ordered collection of bits (usually eight). The term “bit” was originally coined by John Tukey at Bell Laboratories as a contraction for “binary digit.” As for the Apple logo representing “forbidden knowledge,” I never heard of that one before. What knowledge does Apple give us that’s “forbidden?” I agree that Apple has branded itself as a rebellion against the established order ever since the 1984 launch of the Macintosh Computer with this famous television advertisement. In my opinion, this was the most brilliant television ad spot ever. The Apple ad company borrowed shamelessly from Orwell and the 1971 George Lucas film THX 1138. Where did you get the Garden-of-Eden interpretation of the logo?
As for Apple customers regarding themselves as “hip,” I suppose that’s true too. But I’m a big Apple customer (although I dislike Jobs and Apple’s policies) and I’m certainly not hip. Too old. Too reactionary, and I loathe modern music (most everything after 1948). I like Apple products because I like easy. While I can cope with complexity, I try to go for the simple and the easy so I have more time. I just bought an Ipad because I want to read documents and blogs from bed and easy chairs because of back pain. I’m also a fan of good industrial design. Apple products are generally beautiful. Look at The Apple Design Group over at the Museum of Modern Art. What other American company produces such beautiful technological products?
Finally on the cult of vibrancy. The Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th Century was jammed with Eastern Europeans (mainly Jews). The population density there reached the astonishing level of one million people per square mile, and I suppose could be described as “vibrant.” But the whole idea then was to work hard, get educated and leave that anthill. Who wants to walk shoulder-to-shoulder in the street? I suspect David Brooks’s Jewish grandparents felt the same way. Now he wants to make America into a Third-World anthill. I repeat, the man is insane.
Most people I know take the Apple logo as a visual metaphor for “byte,” the basic unit of computer information. A byte is an ordered collection of bits (usually eight). The term “bit” was originally coined by John Tukey at Bell Laboratories as a contraction for “binary digit.” As for the Apple logo representing “forbidden knowledge,” I never heard of that one before.
I guess what they say about the split between the Two Cultures—the scientific and the humanistic/literary—is true. When I said that the half eaten apple is a symbol of forbidden knowledge and rebellion against authority, I was referring to the story of the Fall of Man, in Genesis Chapter Three:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
A. Zarkov replies:
Thanks, now I better understand what Brooks was getting at. Nevertheless, he’s still insane because America has no lock on selling bourgeois bohemianism ( I really like this phrase and I’m going to steal it). The Japanese do it, and so do the Italians. In fact, I think the Italians are much better at it, and have been for a very long time. Of course I realize that Brooks thinks Japan and Europe are dying because their women don’t want to reproduce. But we have the very same problem with our white women. Does he think the highly fecund Mexicans will take over the job?
I understand that a half-eaten apple can symbolize forbidden knowledge and the biblical connection behind it. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what Apple intended when they adopted the logo. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I think this is more your personal take on the logo as opposed to an instance of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.”
The story of Eve and Adam disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, which results in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden and man’s condemnation to death, is only the most famous story in the world. Yet you’re saying that the notion that the bitten apple was intended to symbolize a “bit” or “byte” of electrons—a vastly more obscure notion than the universally known symbol of the eating of the forbidden fruit—is the real intended meaning of the Apple logo, and the meaning that most people will get from it. Ok, that’s what horse races are about. But please don’t tell me that this not an example of the “two cultures.”
Rick Darby writes:
I’m a bi-platformer—I use a Mac at work, since the publications department at Flight Safety Foundation runs on it, and a PC at home. I mildly prefer the Mac, because as one of your commenters said it’s simpler. There’s no great difference for ordinary operations, but moving files from one location on the hard drive to another is easier and more intuitive on the Mac.
Macintosh ran an irritating advertising campaign a few years ago (it seems to have been mercifully dropped) with variations on the ungrammatical headline “Think different.” Illustrations included Gandhi, Einstein, and James Dean. Exactly the kind of thing you were referring to in describing Apple as “the company for the hip and the knowing, to be contrasted with the repressed squares who use Windows.” Which I guess makes me hip, knowing, and square all at once. Although the Mac platform is preferred by visual designers—the three very talented graphics women in my department swear by it—based on what I’ve seen many people do using Macs, it doesn’t make you an Einstein. Garbage in, garbage out.
I’d be surprised if the apple-with-a-bite logo has anything to do with the Garden of Eden. Techno-dweebs simply don’t think in terms of biblical references, although a few words from more-exotic religious traditions have been adapted in the lingo, like “icon” and “avatar.”
First, as I’ve said many times, it is axiomatic that the inherent and recognized meanings of various words, phrases, and symbols are independent of the private thoughts and intentions of the individuals who use those words and symbols. Such words and symbols have an effect in the common public world that is in keeping with their inherent and established meanings. Thus people who publicly use feminist or liberal phrases are helping advance feminism and liberalism in our society, even if they privately see themselves as non-feminist or non-liberal. Therefore the main issue here is not, “What were the private thoughts and intentions of the people who came up with the Apple logo?”, but, “What is the meaning of that logo in our culture?”
Second, the idea that when Steve Jobs started Apple thirty years ago and chose a half-eaten apple as its logo, he was thinking only of electronic bits and bytes and had no consciousness of the freighted cultural meaning of that symbol is not believable.
Third, the half eaten apple as a symbol of rebellion would fit right in with what we know of Jobs’s personality and ideology. From the start he has seen himself as a rebel against the establishment and his computers as expressing that rebellion. There’s a scene in the 1999 made-for-TV movie “Pirates of Silcon Valley” about Jobs and Bill Gates that is so specific it cannot have been made up. It shows Jobs (played very well by Noah Wyle of “ER”), interviewing a man for a job at Apple. The man has worked for IBM, he’s wearing a suit, he’s straight, middle class, and unimaginative—everything Jobs, who is dressed very casually, despises. And Jobs in the most cruel and tyrannical way belittles and humiliates him, simply for being “straight.” Jobs is so sadistic to the man that his own assistants become visibly uncomfortable. Jobs’s searing contempt for the straight world on one hand, and the timeless rebellion against authority (and ultimately against the authority of God) that is symbolized by the Apple logo on the other, are part and parcel of the same psychology.
Fourth, for the last two thousand years, rebels against society have adopted the view that the real hero in Genesis Chapter 3 is the serpent and the real villain is God. When I was an undergraduate student at Columbia, Eldridge Cleaver came to speak. At the end of his talk, he built up into an impassioned climax where he picked up the story of the Garden of Eden and cast God as a nasty tyrant whom we had to throw off instead of obeying. It was brilliant, and I was thrilled by it. There has always been a connection between rejection of the God of the Bible, and rejection of the social order.
Finally, my interpretation is in keeping with Eric Voegelin’s deeply disturbing insight that Gnosticism is the nature of modernity, and that even as modern society keeps leaping forward in material progress it is also advancing in Gnostic rebellion against God, tending ultimately toward the totalitarian rule of Gnostic activists.
I realize that my message may at best be unwelcome and at worst seem utterly nuts and absurd to people, especially conservatives, who own and like Apple computers. It is not pleasant to think that the ubiquitous symbol of a highly successful and popular consumer product which is central to millions of people’s lives (just walk into any Starbucks and look at the laptops people are using with the half-eaten apple logo on their lid) is a symbol of human rebellion against God. I’m not happy about it myself. But that’s what I see.
Paul K. writes:
It seems that you and Mr. Zarkov are both right. At the Apple Museum site, the name of the company and its logo are discussed.
Apparently, Steven Jobs had spent a summer working at an apple orchard and the idea of the apple as a corporate name appealed to him, partly because it was so non-techie sounding. The first Apple logo depicted Sir Isaac Newton sitting beneath his apple tree. It was only used for the Apple I, as Jobs felt that it was too intellectual and complicated.
The site explains, “Therefore, in 1977 Jobs asked the art designer Rob Janoff to design the new Apple logo. The new logo had a simple shape of an Apple, bitten into, with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. The bite symbolized knowledge (in the bible the apple was the fruit of the tree of knowledge) and the bite could also be pronounced “byte,” a reference to computer technology.”
When Jean Louis Gassee, an executive at Apple Computer from 1981 to 1990, was asked about his thoughts to the Apple logo he answered: “One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.”
Apple Computer was sued by Apple Records in 1989 and had to pay a huge settlement for the use of the name.
I’m blown away by this information. In my reply to Rick Darby, I said that even if (which as I argued was extremely unlikely) the conscious intention of the Apple people had had nothing to do with spiritual rebellion, lust, forbidden knowledge, etc, my point about the cultural meaning and influence of that symbol would still be valid. The fact that the Apple people did consciously associate their logo with spiritual rebellion, lust, anarchy, etc. completes my argument. And what about that business of the wrong order of the colors of the rainbow? Talk about a symbol of man’s Gnostic invention of a new order that reverses and replaces God’s!
Please note: I posted my reply to Rick Darby before I read Paul’s e-mail which perfectly supports what I said to Rick.
Paul K. writes:
If you were blown away by that, how about this? The original retail price for the Apple was set at $666.66
Steve Wozniak said that he and Jobs had no idea of the demonic implications of the triple sixes.
Is it remotely possible that someone would not be aware of that? In 1976, the same year that the Apple was introduced, “The Omen” was a huge hit movie which made a particular point of the Mark of the Beast.
That is interesting and suggestive. But “666,” which is the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation, while widely known to people who read the Bible, is not something foundational to our culture the way the story of the Garden of Eden is. Also, this was the price of one model of one computer—a very transitory thing. Now if Apple named their main computer model the “666” and kept that name for years, then I would agree that we were in Rosemary’s Baby territory.
James P. writes:
Regarding these Brooks quotes:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 10, 2010 12:59 PM | Send
“As the world gets richer, demand will rise for the sorts of products Americans are great at providing—emotional experiences. Educated Americans grow up in a culture of moral materialism; they have their sensibilities honed by complicated shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” and they go on to create companies like Apple, with identities coated in moral and psychological meaning, which affluent consumers crave.”
“I remember distinctly an image of—we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”
These are thoughts I would expect to come from a woman or an effeminate gay man. The first quote is all about how he feels, and the importance of companies making him feel good with their moral and psychological “meanings” (shades of Hillary Clinton ). What kind of man wallows in “emotional experiences”? Not a masculine one, that’s for sure. What kind of man cares about how companies make him feel rather than about what they do and what goods and services they provide? Again, not a masculine one. The second quote is about how another man looks, and in my view no self-respecting man notices how another man looks, or would publicly say anything about it if he did, and no self-respecting man would ever link another man’s appearance to his fitness to be President. Sometimes men will say a politician “looks Presidential”, but this means their appearance conveys power and dignitas, not that they have perfectly creased pants.
These Brooks quotes are about as creepy as Chris Matthews talking about how Obama makes a thrill run up his leg. Is this what political commentary has come to in America—talking about our feelings and showing unwholesome interest in other men’s bodies?