David Brooks Sees a Nation Falling Apart at the Seams


NYT columnist, David Brooks, writes that American society has run amok.

Brooks opens with stats. In 2020 Americans drove 13 per cent less yet fatalities rose 7 per cent. In the first half of 2021, motor vehicle deaths rose 18 per cent over the 2020 record. The deaths are put down to driving under the influence, reckless driving and failing to wear seat belts.

While gloomy numbers like these were rattling around in my brain, a Substack article from Matthew Yglesias hit my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.

Teachers are facing a rising tide of disruptive behavior. The Wall Street Journal reported in December: “Schools have seen an increase in both minor incidents, like students talking in class, and more serious issues, such as fights and gun possession. In Dallas, disruptive classroom incidents have tripled this year compared with prepandemic levels, school officials said.”

Drug deaths continue a 20-year upward course. In 2020 the black rate of drug death exceeded the death rate for whites.  Hate crimes are at levels not seen in 12 years. And then there is the stampede for more guns.

In January 2021, more than two million firearms were bought, The Washington Post reported, “an 80 percent year-over-year spike and the third-highest one-month total on record.”

This is not even to mention the parts of the deteriorating climate that are hard to quantify — the rise in polarization, hatred, anger and fear.  

But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.

What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

Some of the poisons must be cultural. In 2018, The Washington Post had a story headlined, “America Is a Nation of Narcissists, According to Two New Studies.”

But there must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why?

Brooks doesn't attempt to answer this question. 


  1. Thank goodness Washington State is BC,s neighbour.
    Narcissism as a disease is only eclipsed by Covid.


    1. Agreed, TB. The coastal population of BC and the Pacific states are remarkably compatible. That said, drive 90 or 100 miles east from the coast and it's redneck territory. They even have redneck separatists who want to divide their states and amalgamate the eastern sector with its neighbouring redneck state.

  2. " That said, drive 90 or 100 miles east from the coast and it's redneck territory."
    Having lived in 12 communities in bc from Metchosin to cranbrook/ fernie:
    north of the 49th follows the same rule.


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