Posts tagged "David Brooks"


David Brooks and the Ever-Pinging Status Sonar

A great way of talking about the continuous feedback loop of self-examination, this is a throwback quote from a favorite, The Social Animal, David Brooks’ investigation of the interior lives of people. The book follows the lives of two fictional lovers, Harold and Erica, from infancy to adulthood, and all the bumps along the way. We pick up as Harold and Erica have fallen in love. Mark, who is mentioned here, is Harold’s exotic, take-life-by-the-horns roommate.

This “sonar” analogy is a pretty apt picture of little-l law in our lives. It may not be the law of God, but its effect often feels the same. It forces us to rate ourselves on the continuum of righteous living. (It is also interesting what falling in love does to Harold’s self-appraisal.)

Doctor_jacobyA few weeks later, Harold sat alone in his apartment, feeling that his life was going tremendously well. All human beings go through life with a fully operational status sonar. We send out continuous waves of status measurements and receive a stream of positive or negative feedback signals that cumulatively define our place in society. Harold looked around at his loft. PING. A plus signal came back. He loved its open space and high ceilings. Hard contemplated his abs. PING. A negative signal came back. He really should go to the gym more. Harold looked at his face in the mirror. PING. A neutral signal came back. No sculpted cheekbones, but it could be worse.

All day long the status sonar hums along–a stream of pluses, minuses and neutrals building in the mind, producing either happiness, anxiety, or doubt. The status sonar isn’t even a conscious process most of the time; it is just the hedonic tone of existence. Much of life, Mark had told Harold, consists of trying to maximize the number of pluses in the stream and minimize the number of minuses. Much of life is a series of adjustments to plus up the flow.

The problem is, nobody’s status sonar is accurate. Some people are status exaggerators. They wildly inflate their spot in the pecking order. They are sixes they think they are eights and when they ask out women who are nines they are flummoxed when they get rejected. Other people are status minimizers. These people will never apply for jobs for which they are amply qualified because they assume they’ll be crushed by the competition.

…Harold’s sonar sensor was like a finely crafted Swiss watch. It was balanced, sensitive, and appropriately forgiving. Like most happy people, Harold judged himself by his intentions, his friends by their deeds, and his rivals by their mistakes. The PINGs continued. The pluses flowed. And when Harold imagined himself with Erica, well, it was like a surging torrent of pluses…But there was also something deeper going on. All his life, Harold had lived at a certain level, but now he had discovered deeper compulsions. Coming to this realization was like living in a house all your life and suddenly falling through a trapdoor to find there had been a level underground all along, and then to find another level beneath that, and another level and another.

Another Week Ends: Technologic Prophecies, Bad Buzzwords, Kindness Diets, Hooker Wisdom, Herzog Humor, Andrae Crouch, and The Only Animal

Another Week Ends: Technologic Prophecies, Bad Buzzwords, Kindness Diets, Hooker Wisdom, Herzog Humor, Andrae Crouch, and The Only Animal

1. If only I’d held off on writing about sushi and productivity a couple days, I could’ve leaned on Leon Wieseltier’s masterful column for The New York Times Book Review, “Among the Disrupted.” It stands out amongst the sobering (translation: grim) crop of forecasts that have appeared over the first week of the year. I almost wish I didn’t agree with so much of what he writes, but alas, it’s hard to object when your arms have been nailed to the wall…! The erstwhile New Republic editor’s prognostications cover a remarkable amount of ground, from intellectual and journalistic history to…

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Decentering, Humbling, and Sanctifying: David Brooks and Dorothy Day on What Love Can Do

Decentering, Humbling, and Sanctifying: David Brooks and Dorothy Day on What Love Can Do

NY Times columnist David Brooks spoke recently at The Gathering, an annual conference of Christian philanthropists, and his remarks have to be read to be believed. It’s an elongated and even more explicitly sympathetic version of what he said at the 92nd St Y earlier this year, and as such, could not be more worth your time–if you think you’ve got him pegged, think again. To whet your appetite, here’s a stirring portion about ‘what love can do’ (which is followed in his address by an equally stirring portion on the fruit of suffering). The ‘Adam One’ reference is pretty…

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You Are Definitely Not Your Introspections

You Are Definitely Not Your Introspections

In last week’s Op-Ed, David Brooks asked whether or not “knowing thyself” is possible and, if it is, where it can be separated from the pitfalls and stagnation of narcissism. Self-awareness, argues Brooks, is a “perfect breeding ground for self-deception, rationalization and motivated reasoning.” This happens when we get a little too close to the man in the mirror, which often drives us to oversimplifications or “ruminations”–the despairing paralysis of one’s own fears and anxieties. Either one makes us dangerous self-perceivers. We either become nighthawk depressives or impervious bigots. The best way to “know thyself,” Brooks astutes, is to take…

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Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders,  and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders, and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

1. The New York Times hosted a debate asking the question of whether capitalism has become incompatible with Christianity. It’s a pretty interesting forum, and some highlights with commentary are below:

[Gary Dorrien, Union:] The field I teach, social ethics, was founded in the late 19th century as a protest against capitalist ideology. American social gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch put it poignantly: “Capitalism has overdeveloped the selfish instincts in all of us and left the capacity of devotion to larger ends shrunken and atrophied.” Pope Leo XIII described capitalism as a system defined by the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition, including its…

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Another Week Ends: Silent Treatment, 1st-World Problems, Rectify & Rev, Robinson’s Lila, Phillips’ Freud, Heresy Help, Tragic Soccer, and Soviet Propaganda

Another Week Ends: Silent Treatment, 1st-World Problems, Rectify & Rev, Robinson’s Lila, Phillips’ Freud, Heresy Help, Tragic Soccer, and Soviet Propaganda

1. Under the auspices of “How and Why to Ban the Silent Treatment from Your Relationship”, The Wall Street Journal issued a perceptive and even quite touching treatise on how the dynamic of demand and withdrawal comes to poison so many loving relationships. The article starts out with the same old line about judgment and expectation snuffing out affection (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and ‘law’ making bad things worse, with some token men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus thrown in–but it doesn’t end there. That is, while some of the diagnosis (and rather patronizing advice) falls under the heading of the perilously…

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Another Week Ends: Homo Animatus and Adventure Time, Dreher Reads Dante, Eulogies (not Résumés), Smugness Is For Real, Everybody Dies, Nuremberg Chaplains, and Christian Rap

Another Week Ends: Homo Animatus and Adventure Time, Dreher Reads Dante, Eulogies (not Résumés), Smugness Is For Real, Everybody Dies, Nuremberg Chaplains, and Christian Rap

1. In TV: Game of Thrones continues with a strong fourth season, despite some controversy on Sunday as it plumbed the worst of Martin Luther’s incurvatus in se (sin as being “curved-in on oneself”) in a scene horrific even by GOT standards. In animated television, it’s recently come to our attention that Rick and Morty on Adult Swim is absolutely brilliant, ht SA, if you have a high threshold for (lots of) ribaldry. Its first season has been perhaps the most creative in recent TV memory, as a boy (Morty) is dragged along into bizarre sci-fi escapades by his grandfather (Rick), a mentally damaged man whose…

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Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

Another Week Ends: Amy Chua’s Three Traits for Success, Nietzsche’s Subversion of Atheism, Why Fun Is Fun, The Eighth-Grade Ubermensch, Dostoevsky’s Internet Anxiety and Lena Dunham’s Eden

1. What happens when you combine an unshakeable superiority complex with deep insecurity? Probably a nervous breakdown in mid-life, or Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. But Amy Chua (of “Tiger Mother” fame) asks us to guess again. The real answer is… success.

For those unfamiliar with her work on hyper-controlling parenting (using that adjective as value-neutrally as possible), it’s ruffled our feathers before. And her new book on success – with its threefold foundation of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control – promises to do so again, ht ER:

Some have denounced the book as racist. This loaded term is often bandied about in discussions about culture…

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Lecturing the Prodigal Son(s) in The NY Times

Lecturing the Prodigal Son(s) in The NY Times

A few thoughts on some recent Internet Prodigal Son banter, from David Zahl and Will McDavid:

As much as I admire The NY Times, it’s not where I go to read about grace. You? And yet, David Brooks was back at it again this week, talking about the parable of the prodigal son(s) and endorsing grace as an essential factor in crafting social policy for those who’ve squandered their inheritance/potential/goodwill. Check it out:

We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop…

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Legalistic Makeup and the Yawning Gap in Religious Experience

Legalistic Makeup and the Yawning Gap in Religious Experience

File this one under required reading. David Brooks’ column in The NY Times this week “Alone, Yet Not Alone” mines a very rich vein: the discrepancy between how religious faith is presented and how it is experienced in America (and the world) today, particularly in terms of the role doubt plays. The man appears to be on something of a hot streak, quoting Augustine and Heschel in equal measure, and dropping what could be a career-making (hopefully not -wrecking) endorsement of singer-songwriter Audrey Assad. The intro goes like this:

When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give…

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Buying Bathmats for the Traumatized

Buying Bathmats for the Traumatized

Many pastors, especially of the mainline and Catholic varieties, are required as part of their training to do a brief internship at a hospital serving as a chaplain to the sick and dying. Oh how I wish I had read the recent blog post by Catherine Woodiwess and the accompanying op-ed by David Brooks that appeared today in The NY Times before I stumbled through my own hospital rotation a few years back! It would have saved me (and more importantly the patients I visited) a good deal of unnecessary grief.

Woodiwess offers a few bullet-point reflections on her own trauma…

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Obesity, Freedom, and the Limits of Willpower

Obesity, Freedom, and the Limits of Willpower

Over at Aeon Magazine, a tremendously insightful essay was published a couple of weeks ago on the rising obesity trend – one that’s gone way beyond America, and one whose potential solutions are fast becoming a major policy issue for governments, as well as a booming industry (soon to become a trillion-dollar one, McKinsey & Co reported). And at The New York Times, Stephanie Clifford chimes in on how little impact health-related labeling and advertising actually has. Of course, people unhelpfully tend to define the problems in terms of a deficiency in willpower, and so attempts to address it cluster around…

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