We often teach religion in public, but we teach doctrine privately. In Oxford, we learn that the culture is always 5 minutes later than advertised. Brooks believes that the American government lacks an understanding of human nature, which contributes to why strategies often fail. As the American culture continues to teach how to crave success, the author believes he has insights to explain why we live the way we do. The overall premise of the book is about moral values (public ethics and principles that guide human behavior) and social values (the consensus or mutual agreement). Hence, we have one person concern about being righteous (moral values), while the other is concerned about how to better their community (social values). Our entire presidency this past year was about social and moral values.
However, to better understand The Social Animal, there needs to be an enlightenment regarding the author of the book. David Brooks is a cultural commentator, who’s known for his professional writings for the New York Times, Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in a world of curiosity and intuitiveness for human nature. Although Brooks never subscribes to religion, he was born in a Jewish influenced family. Brooks father taught English Literature, while his mother studied nineteenth-century British history, and he also studied history. Now, let me draw you to two writings from Brooks’ senior year at the University of Chicago:
- Brooks wrote about William F. Buckley Jr., a conservative author, and commentator who impacted the conservative movement for more than 30 years; Brooks is also conservative.
- Brooks wrote about Robert Ardrey, the science writer who created an awareness of evolutionary science in his work African Genesis (1961) and The Territorial Imperative (1966). Ardrey was also a Chicago native and alumni of the University of Chicago.
Both writings reflect Brooks background, and I believe influenced his writings over these years and to a greater extent this book. The Social Animal reveals the author’s passion for research about “the mind and the brain.” Brooks has always been controversial in his writings, but I believe this book garnered significant scrutiny because of his professional background. Brooks is a brilliant cultural commentator but made an attempt to combine culture and science in his book in a fictional literary style. Brooks mistake was in forming a union between science and fiction in this book. He uses two fictitious characters (Harold and Erica) to draw each reader into his theory of how to form our emotions and characters. Brooks believes “mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness organize our thinking, shape our judgment, form our characters, and provide us with the skills we need in order to thrive” (ix). Through the lenses of culture, we find important substances; however, this book lacks enough scientific research for credibility in the cognitive landscape. Had Brooks been a scientist, no one would argue his findings.
One of the alarming findings in his research is that while scholars produce a large volume of information about humanity, it is insufficient to impact the wider culture. The term cultural intelligence gained momentum only in the last ten years, yet we’ve been studying about culture for decades. Scientific research suggests that everything we do can be traced to a psychological response. Brooks’ purpose for writing this book is to integrate science and psychology with the other elements of society.
Brooks suggests that success is about the inner mind, and relies on an understanding of “the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits, and social norms; the realm where character is formed and street smarts grow” (viii). If we think about traditional teachings of Christianity, we often hear that “the battle is won in our mind.” If we accept that as a standard in religion, is it not transferrable to human nature? Harold and Erica are fictional characters in this book, but Brooks show they represent real people that embody the human nature of poverty, love commitment, leadership and even attachment.
There is a bias in modern culture that defines us by rationalism, individualism, IQ and even DiSC personality test, which the author also exposes. Walking my church campus, the average staff person often substitutes my name for the letter ‘D’ because it represents a part of my personality test, which is a ‘Di.’ Unknowingly, Brooks show that our culture dismisses science automatically, and this is even more evident in our churches because we were taught that science opposed religion (some does), but we accept it culturally when we visit the doctor. Brooks is not a scientist so some of his theories are in its rough draft, which tells me some things can be polished out over the next ten years.
Personally, I don’t subscribe to all his findings for one reason…my cultural intellect is still developing. The Social Animal has a high social impact, which leans on psychology and psychology is codependent on science. While it’s easy to suggest the scientific approach is baseless (some of it is), the overarching theme suggests that our response in culture is psychological and psychology is scientific. As a student of cultural intelligence, it is important for me to become intentional in observing what others have missed and built on it. In 2003, when the term cultural intelligence was introduced, David Livermore decided to expand on the concept and now has a training institute that train leaders worldwide.
Was Charles Darwin always right or did we accept his theories because he was respected? David Brooks is recognized in the world of journalism and cultural intuitiveness, but I guarantee if he wrote this book with a respected scientist, the thought process would be different. Is this a defense of David Brooks? No, it’s a defense of the future of cultural intelligence because we live more in the world of culture than science. While we may not understand how to integrate the scientific with culture, science is always harmonizing with human nature. After all, isn’t psychology the scientific study of the human mind and its functions? If culture is defined by its behavior, isn’t that scientific? Now, that’s a Social Animal…
 At the writing of this book, he remained conservative and politically correct. However, during an interview on National Public Radio, he suggested that he was a believer and that he read theology of C.S. Lewis and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Brooks called the Christian faith the “non-negotiable truth.”
One response to “The Half-Brother”
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Hi Garfield. So glad you are back at it! My in-laws are such huge Brooks fans they bought me “The Road to Character” for Christmas. I hope they weren’t hinting at something. 🙂
One thing I think would be great to explore is the influence of music on the subconscious and conscious minds. Does Brooks write about that in Social Animal? I don’t immediately recall. But someone in your profession no doubt has a huge space for this. Thoughts?