1. A fascinating article by David Brooks in The New Yorker about “What the Science of Human Nature Can Teach Us.” Bottomline appears to be that people are not the free agents they think they are, the inner life always trumps the outer, and that the subconscious ultimately calls the most important shots in our lives. Also, we are happiest when we are least self-focused:
“…we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment. But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways. The cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q. It allows us to tell a different sort of success story, an inner story to go along with the conventional surface one.
[Quoting an anonymous neuroscientist]: “I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”
2. Brooks also had some interesting things to say in response to President Obama’s Tuscon speech in his Times column “The Tree of Failure”:
The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation’s founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.
But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness... The roots of modesty have been carved away.
In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. … Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
3. A great round-up in The Chronicle of Higher Education of the booming state of posthumous David Foster Wallace studies (ht CR). The countdown to April 15th begins now!
4. Coldplay’s new record sounds like a winner. Chris Martin told a reporter this past week that it deals with “love, addiction, OCD, escape and working for someone you don’t like.” If it’s anywhere near as good as the Christmas Lights single, I’m in – hipsters be dashed…
5. As a counterpoint to the controversial parenting style advocated in the Chinese Mothers article, from Esquire’s archives, the tragic story of NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich. Practice made perfect… and perfectly miserable (ht JD). And if you haven’t followed the discussion thread provoked by the aforementioned article, it’s worth your time/brainpower. Also, for a follow-up interview with author Amy Chua, The Daily Beast is your ticket.
8. Finally, a little religious humor from The Onion this week: “Bible Study Group Preparing For Bible Aptitude Test” and “Majority of Money Donated at Church Doesn’t Make it to God.”
Bonus Nepotism Track: Check out The Charlotte!