David Brooks, Tree-Hugger

David Brooks’ column a few days ago makes an interesting case for radical environmentalism — even if Brooks doesn’t see the implications of his argument.

Brooks thinks he is writing a paean to Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn:

Those of us in secular America live in a culture that takes the supremacy of individual autonomy as a given. Life is a journey. You choose your own path. You can live in the city or the suburbs, be a Wiccan or a biker.

For the people who shop at [an gourmet Orthodox grocery], the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.

The laws are gradually internalized through a system of lifelong study, argument and practice. The external laws may seem, at first, like an imposition, but then they become welcome and finally seem like a person’s natural way of being.

Leave aside for the moment the shallow invocation of “individual autonomy,” which Brooks seems to equate with something akin to “doing what you feel like.” And also leave aside the fatuous notion that being Orthodox “moderate[s] religious zeal”: you might want to tell that to the victims of famed Orthodox Brooklyn native Baruch Goldstein

Anyway: if you substitute many of the specifics for dedicated environmentalists, the same principle would apply.  Serious environmentalists make profound choices concerning where they live, their modes of transportation, their levels of energy consumption, and of course the foods they eat (organic, local, vegetarian, or all three!).  Their shopping, too, is governed by “an external moral order”, viz. an attempt to preserve nature and the earth.  Serious environmentalists also spend lots of time studying and practicing their beliefs, keeping up to date on ways of lowering their carbon footprint and protecting biodiversity.  These activities give their lives constant spiritual significance.

Brooks spends a lot of time bemoaning cultural mores, and seems to take it for granted that what is required is a return to conservative principles.  The reason why he never seems to find reasons to recognize strong moral and cultural values among liberals and the left is an exercise left to the reader.

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Reader Comments

10 Replies to “David Brooks, Tree-Hugger”

  1. their levels fo energy consumption (of)

    If you had a link at the bottom of the post to the author’s email, I could send it right to that person.

    That’s my first response (of 15) to the survey request

  2. their levels fo energy consumption (of)

    If you had a link at the bottom of the post to the author’s email, I could send it right to that person.

    That’s my first response (of 15) to the survey request

  3. Jonathan proclaimed:
    “… The reason why he [Brooks] never seems to find reasons to recognize strong moral and cultural values among liberals and the left is an exercise left to the reader…”

    Dear Jonathan,
    The reason why we never seem to find reasons to recognize strong moral values among liberals and the left is because these groups aggressively push sexual immorality on other people’s children, and they fervently oppose traditional Judeo-Christian morality.

    For example, almost all liberals promote the social movement of young men practicing sodomy, without any serious thought given to the profound consequences of this dangerous sex act. This is one reason why it is so difficult for parents and ordinary citizens to recognize any semblance of moral values among liberals and the left.

  4. Jonathan proclaimed:
    “… The reason why he [Brooks] never seems to find reasons to recognize strong moral and cultural values among liberals and the left is an exercise left to the reader…”

    Dear Jonathan,
    The reason why we never seem to find reasons to recognize strong moral values among liberals and the left is because these groups aggressively push sexual immorality on other people’s children, and they fervently oppose traditional Judeo-Christian morality.

    For example, almost all liberals promote the social movement of young men practicing sodomy, without any serious thought given to the profound consequences of this dangerous sex act. This is one reason why it is so difficult for parents and ordinary citizens to recognize any semblance of moral values among liberals and the left.

  5. obiusly we have to go back to nature,like in the beginings,other way we are doom to sextinsion,i have a compromise with the future genetations thats why i decided to make an pima ORGANIC linen and organietnic,as well as is harmless to the environment it is handpinted by an amzon etnia that evokes nature spirit,and have being for a long time the amazon still is being depredating,by tearing the woods and killing thae animals ,and about petroleum searches ,what can i say the AMAZON is the lung of the world.

  6. obiusly we have to go back to nature,like in the beginings,other way we are doom to sextinsion,i have a compromise with the future genetations thats why i decided to make an pima ORGANIC linen and organietnic,as well as is harmless to the environment it is handpinted by an amzon etnia that evokes nature spirit,and have being for a long time the amazon still is being depredating,by tearing the woods and killing thae animals ,and about petroleum searches ,what can i say the AMAZON is the lung of the world.

  7. i am from peru ,we are blessed by the gods,medicinal plants,natural dyes, pim organic cotton,totora,yute,ichu,i could write three days about our biodiversity,but your laws do not apply here,i feel very lucky to have these blessed organic cotton dated 5000 years,ago and to work with these amazing amazon etnia ,los shipibos,they are so pure and evoke nature spirit in all his creations.i have to berkley is a amzing university i attend the greek theather in order to see a concert.i respect your thougths i hope you respect peruvian ancestors thoughys too.

  8. i am from peru ,we are blessed by the gods,medicinal plants,natural dyes, pim organic cotton,totora,yute,ichu,i could write three days about our biodiversity,but your laws do not apply here,i feel very lucky to have these blessed organic cotton dated 5000 years,ago and to work with these amazing amazon etnia ,los shipibos,they are so pure and evoke nature spirit in all his creations.i have to berkley is a amzing university i attend the greek theather in order to see a concert.i respect your thougths i hope you respect peruvian ancestors thoughys too.

  9. And the terms “conservative” and “liberal” take on different nuances in this light. Wendell Berry always says he’s a conservative in the original sense–conserving. He advocates for consumers who focus on their responsibilities rather than choices, the way Brooks describes the shoppers above. It’s the ecologically illiterate that are the liberals in terms of spending and consuming, no matter which party they vote for.

  10. And the terms “conservative” and “liberal” take on different nuances in this light. Wendell Berry always says he’s a conservative in the original sense–conserving. He advocates for consumers who focus on their responsibilities rather than choices, the way Brooks describes the shoppers above. It’s the ecologically illiterate that are the liberals in terms of spending and consuming, no matter which party they vote for.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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