David Brooks' latest, "The Thought Leader," represents the New York Times columnist at his finest: It is a sharp, penetrating critique of a milieu he not only understands but also exists in, a piece of social psychology that mercilessly lays bare the absurdities of a certain segment of the top ten percent of earners. It is the sort of thing that belongs in a sequel to Bobos in Paradise, still his finest work.
You should read the whole thing. If you live in D.C. or New York City you are, likely, surrounded by these people. You may be friends with some of them. You may even recognize yourself in his words. Briefly, it's a scathing examination of the life of a pundit. The larval stage is that of the achievement kid; then comes angry obscurity, in which he spends some time working as a writer and lashes out at all those above him; next he works as a consultant and grows up a bit; as he enters his 50s and gains success he starts tut-tutting at the new set of snarky 20-somethings; and, finally, he dies, content in his lack of achievement.
Brooks' piece caused something of a stir on Twitter, the natural habitat of the Thought Leader. The critiques were almost as revealing as the column itself. Here are my four favorite types of responses to Brooks' column, with a few examples of each.
1. The Blissfully Unaware Thought Leader
This person derides Brooks as silly because they are serious. Indeed, they are so super serial that they don't even realize how humorous it is to see them critiquing Brooks' column as silly. They are blissfully unaware.
2. The Thought Leader Who Is Angry Brooks Burned Him
These Thought Leaders are slightly more aware of their status as Thought Leaders. At least, they think they are Thought Leaders. And these Thought Leaders are ANGRY. How dare someone poke a hole in their inflated sense of self? Doesn't that jerk understand how important they are? There's so much thought leadering to do. Brooks has no right. None at all. It's worth noting that no Thought Leader is as angry as the aspiring Thought Leader; see Mr. Slayton below.
3. The Thought Leader Who Thinks Brooks Isn't in on the Joke
These Thought Leaders are especially funny, because they are clearly ignorant of Brooks' entire shtick. The reason that pieces like this and "Status Income Disequilibrium" work is because Brooks is obviously in on the joke. His entire corpus is littered with a sort of self-deprecation-bordering-on-self-loathing. He understands that his peer set is absurd. He realizes that these Titans of Leadering produce nothing of value. And he understands that he is one of them. No one's insights are as keen as he who is on the inside.
4. The Thought Leader Who Decries Brooks' Sexism
If I'm being honest, this is the most amusing of the angry Thought Leaders. "How dare David Brooks not acknowledge that women can be as vacuous and useless as men!" they seem to be screaming. "This microaggression shall not stand! To the barricades!"