David Brooks on Pierre Bourdieu

Last night, prior to going to sleep, I was struck by a simple, straightforward statement Bob Dylan made in a 1964 profile written by Nat Hentoff for the New Yorker, “The Crackin’, Shakin’, Breakin’ Sounds.” After explaining why he reacted angrily to the high-end scene when he accepted the Tom Paine Award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in 1963, Dylan, after he had decided to stop writing “finger pointing” songs while still in his early 20s, said:

People talk about trying to change society. All I know is that so long as people stay so concerned about protecting their status and protecting what they have, ain’t nothing going to be done.

Then, this morning I read “Getting Radical About Inequality” by David Brooks on The New York Times website and I was encouraged that readers would gain a greater understanding of Pierre Bourdieu’s important work. However, after reviewing the most highly rated of the more than 600 comments on Brooks’ column this afternoon, I am less encouraged. Those commentators did not seem to “get it.”

Brooks’ summary of Bourdieu includes:

Every minute or hour, in ways we’re not even conscious of, we as individuals and members of our class are competing for dominance and respect. We seek to topple those who have higher standing than us and we seek to wall off those who are down below….

Every hour most of us, unconsciously or not, try to win subtle status points, earn cultural affirmation, develop our tastes, promote our lifestyles and advance our class. All of those microbehaviors open up social distances, which then, by the by, open up geographic and economic gaps.

Bourdieu radicalizes, widens and deepens one’s view of inequality. His work suggests that the responses to it are going to have to be more profound, both on a personal level — resisting the competitive, ego-driven aspects of social networking and display — and on a national one.

Dylan, Bourdieu, and Brooks  are saying that “the problem” is not only “out there.” It is also “in here,” within each of us, deeply embedded by the dominant society. As such, it nurtures division and undermines community. None of the comments I saw on the Times site seemed to acknowledge that dilemma.

Until we learn how to set aside those divisive tendencies and really respect one another,  “ain’t nothing (to speak of) going to be done,” as Bob put it.

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