The magazine ran an item that includes the course description. Students taking the course with their class-obsessed celebrity professor will explore “the premise that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness,” qualities which NYMag.com writer Joe Coscarelli wittily notes may, in the eyes of Brooks, have been demonstrated by “men such as Moses, Homer, and ‘others,’ like maybe Paul Krugman.”
Coscarelli managed to extract an e-quote from Brooks on the crucial question of whether or not he’s aware that this move might formalize his status as the biggest windbag in the Western hemisphere:
But yes, he knows how it sounds. “The title of the Humility course is, obviously, intentionally designed to provoke smart ass jibes, but there’s actually a serious point behind it,” Brooks explained via e-mail last night. “People from Burke to Niebuhr, Augustine to Dorothy Day, Montaigne to MLK and Samuel Johnson to Daniel Kahneman have built philosophies around our cognitive, moral and personal limitations. The course is designed to look at these strategies as a guide for life and politics and everything else.”
When I first read this, I flashed to that classic moment in Army of Darkness where Ash doesn’t fall for the not-quite-dead wraith trick – you know, the “It’s a trick. Get an axe” scene. Having David Brooks explain why teaching a course in Humility at Yale is not a landmark moment in the history of pretentiousness by quoting Burke, Niebuhr, Dorothy Day, Montaigne, Martin Luther King, Samuel Johnson and Daniel Kahneman in the same sentence has to be some kind of trap, right? It can’t really be happening, can it?
Assuming this is all real, though, this has to make pretty much any list of the most pretentious moments ever. I seem to recall a composer in the fifties who once gave a speech when he won an Oscar for Best Dramatic Score and said something like, “I would like to thank my colleagues – Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Richard Strauss,” but even that doesn’t quite resonate like this Brooks thing. Readers, help me out, where does this fall on the pantheon? I’m feeling like it’s somewhere between late Saul Bellow and Houses of the Holy . . . but honestly, I’m struggling to remember anything specifically like this ever happening.
You can imagine, for instance, Rush Limbaugh teaching a course in humility, but he would probably show up to his first class wearing a gold toga, gloriously levitating on his own farts, reveling in the joke. Plus, he’d be teaching it at Ball State or UT-Chattanooga, not Yale.
Let’s do something interactive: if you can, please make submissions in the comments section for your favorite moment in the history of gasbaggery. By the end of the week, I’ll use those to compile a Top Ten Pretentious Acts in History list. In honor of Brooks, I’ll send the person who comes up with the #1 item on the list a copy of Moral Man and Immoral Society, plus a little something else I’ll share later. Thanks to old friend David Sirota for passing this on, by the way. In the meantime, readers, I need your help!