Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 12, 2005
By: Brad Plumer

HAVE WE ALL BECOME BIG PANSIES?...Apparently fresh out of ideas for a column, David Brooks struggles today with his guilt over drinking decaf, and decides that society is to blame:

And yet we live in the age of the lily-livered, in which fretting over things like excessive caffeination is built into the cultural code.

I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They're drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.

I blame the titans of corporatism. Fitness is now the prime marker of capitalist machismo, so the higher reaches of corporate America are filled with tightly calved Blackberries in human form, who believe that extremism in pursuit of moderation is no vice. They have become such obsessive time-maximizers that all evening, in what used to be known as social life, they keep an eye on the need to be up, fit and early, for the next day's productivity marathon.

Since we've all heard that blogs don't do enough reporting, I decided to do a little crack investigating on my way to the coffee shopfor, yes, the strong black cheap stuffa few minutes ago. There on the street was a five-year-old puttering around on a bicycle (with no training wheels! Impressive; I didn't learn to do that until I was around 11 or so) somewhat unsupervised and lo, without a helmet. I also spotted one of those miniature cardboard "Slow Children At Play" signs in the driveway, which might support Brooks' thesis, except that it was pretty firmly crushed under the wheel of a parked car. So, you know, even here in San Francisco, where we practically invented lily-livered decadence, the kids are alright.

More to the point, though, what is David Brooks talking about? According to the American Heart Association, 62 percent of Americans don't get enough exercise. More than half of Americans "don't follow their physician's medication and lifestyle guidance." Etcetra etcetra. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of regular coffee drinkers drink decaf. Those "titans of corporatism" could do a much better job of letting everyone else know that we live in the age of health obsessions and time-maximization.

On a side note, though, I did find this interesting Wall Street Journal story on weight discrimination in the corporate boardroom. Brooks is right about one thing: Only 9 percent of executives are overweight. But that phenomenon seems just as much due to weird natural selection pressures on hiring decisions as it is to some bizarre culture of dullness now taking over America.

Brad Plumer 7:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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