Great interview with David Brooks on The Daily Beast, about his brilliantly-titled new book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (out Tuesday), worth reading as much for the commentary on Brooks’s peculiar “position” these days – i.e. a man without a country – as it is for the details about his fascinating and clearly very relevant new project. Some of it may sound a little familiar:
“[The book's] thesis can be stated simply: who we are is largely determined by the hidden workings of our unconscious minds. Everything we do in life—the careers we choose; even, on a deeper level, the way we experience and perceive the sensation of being alive—emerges from an infinitely complex neuronal network sending out signals (Brooks calls them ‘scouts’) that, largely unknown to us, assess and determine our behavior. Insights, information, responses to stimuli are governed by our emotions, a rich repository of thoughts and feelings that courses just beneath the surface of our conscious minds. They are ‘mental sensations that happen to us.'”
“In essence, The Social Animal is a book about the human need for connection, friendship, love—what Brooks identifies as ‘limerence.’ ‘I came across it in a poem—I now can’t remember which one—and liked the sound, so I sort of expanded it for the book.’ Behind the elaborate theorizing is Brooks’s desire to articulate a universal feeling: that all of us are caught up in what he calls ‘the loneliness loop.’ We yearn for ‘community'; we have ‘the urge to merge.’ When two people are having an intense conversation, their breathing synchronizes; laughing to-gether creates a feeling of joy; soldiers drilling in unison experience a surge of power. What drives us, ultimately, is the need to be understood by others.”
“In Brooks’s view, Washington is obsessed with superficialities. ‘Our explanation of why we live the way we do is all on the surface,’ he says. ‘Our policies have been shaped by shallow views of human nature. In Iraq, we tried to change the society without understanding it and got it wrong.’ He’s openly derisive about the culture of Washington: ‘This is the most emotionally avoidant city in America.'”
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