I have a long reading list of books, many of which I purchased years ago, and have had sitting on my bookshelf ever since. So I finally got around to reading David Brooks’ “On Paradise Drive” , which is a follow-up to “Bobos In Paradise”. This book (the follow-up) was published in 2004 (!). Yes, it’s 8 years into the Fourth Turning and I’m finally reading this book from the Third Turning.
It was a quick and enjoyable read. Brooks is snarky and he overgeneralizes about society, both of which sins he freely confesses. As I read “On Paradise Drive” I found myself thinking that he is just repeating stereotypes, there isn’t much depth here, and then I would encounter a sentence that exactly described my life experience. For example, in contrast to the muscular SUV set, intellectuals “putter around in their low-slung Japanese sedans with a clutter of books and magazines on the backseat…” Ooh, he’s on to me.
Brooks mainly discusses life in the suburban sprawl of the United States, which reached unprecedented levels in the early 2000s. He’s writing during the housing boom, before there was much talk of the declining middle class, and celebrating the diversity of subcultures spread like a patchwork across the American landscape. If you’ve read “Bobos in Paradise,” you recall that his term means “Bo-hemian Bo-urgeoisie” – referring to the enfolding of hip, counterculture life into mainstream middle America. A quote from this latest work: “Nobody in this decentralized, fluid social structure knows who is mainstream and who is alternate, who is elite and who is populist.” What he’s describing is the social era that in Turnings theory we call the Unraveling.
Another quote: “Ours is not a social structure conducive to revolution, domestic warfare, and conflict. The United States is not on the verge of an incipient civil war or a social explosion. If you wanted to march against the ruling elite, where exactly would you do it?”
But now, in 2017, the book is looking dated. The diversity of subcultures has coalesced into two pretty definite groups, battling fiercely in government and media over whose values agenda will be instituted. Maybe three groups, if you think about the Sanders-Clinton split and all the non-voters of last year’s election. The conflict underway is about whose version of paradise will be considered mainstream in the years to come.
So this book gets to be put on the pile of “books that describe a now defunct social era.” Which isn’t saying that it’s a bad work, just that it’s been overtaken by history. I’d better get through my other books in the pile ASAP.