David Brooks – The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
David Brooks is a renowned writer and commentator specializing in policies and politics. The thesis of this book is, “We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness.”  Scientific insights gained from geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, and scientists of various other disciplines over the past thirty years, have produced substantial data regarding the building blocks that enable human beings to flourish. It was discovered that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of the unconscious parts of the mind where thinking occurs below the level of awareness. Most of the researchers he references in the book subscribe to the belief that “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.” 
According to the author, one of the aims of this book is to expose the wider culture to these scientific insights in order to impact the way we think “about policy, sociology, economics, and life in general.”  His stated intention is to synthesize the findings of researchers in a wide variety of fields on the unconscious into one narrative.
In contrast to the myriad of books that focus on an outer definition of success associated with “IQ, wealth, prestige, and worldly accomplishments,”  Brooks declares this book is about success relative to the inner mind, that is, “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.”  The unconscious parts of the mind are the majority of the mind where deep thinking and important decision making take place. He describes it as “The seedbed of accomplishment.” 
There are sharp contrasts between the way the conscious mind and the unconscious mind operate. The conscious mind is associated with reason and analysis, and the unconscious mind with passions and perceptions. The conscious mind is concerned with individual power and the unconscious mind with power in relationships and bonds between individuals, the essence of human flourishing. The conscious mind craves status and material wealth, and the unconscious mind seeks harmony and connections with God and fellow human beings.
According to Brooks, the new research findings give us a more comprehensive picture of who we are socially, politically, and morally. Modern society has created many avenues for learning technical skills, but has failed to develop moral values and character. For Brooks, the research described in this book attests to the dominance of unconscious mind processes because “The unconscious is a place where spiritual states arise and where the wisdom of the ages is collected. It contains the soul of the species.”  Brooks regards it as “one of the big intellectual stories of our times.”  But, he acknowledges that we know that we need the conscious and the unconscious, the rational and the emotional systems to thrive.
Having recently written an essay on Youth-Headed Households (YHH) in Rwanda headed mainly by 13 to 24 year-old females who are at risk for HIV/AIDS due to supporting their families primarily by prostitution, I was drawn to Brooks’ conclusions in Chapter 8 on Self-Control and Character in light of my research findings. Brooks indicates that basic decision making for humans involves three steps: perceiving a situation; reasoning or calculating whether an action is in one’s long-term interest; and using the power of will to execute the decision. Brooks explains, “the conscious forces of both reason and will have not proven to be effective or powerful enough to consistently subdue unconscious urges.” . It did not matter what the issues or consequences were from poor diet, excess consumerism, addictions, unprotected sex, dropping out of school, or adultery. The research is clear, information programs, classroom teaching, and seminar-consciousness raising alone are not very effective in changing behavior or countering unconscious impulses.
The research of Rwandan YHH’s revealed that there were multiple intervention modalities in place that were instrumental in effecting behavioral change: mentorships, economic strengthening, resiliency strengthening, healthcare services, educational pursuits, information programs, HIV/AIDS assessments, prevention and education programs, life skills training, peer to peer discussions, and documentary films.
Brooks also observes that in some instances, under the right circumstances, reason and will can resist temptation and control the impulses, but not by themselves. In the first step it is important to perceive, see, and evaluate simultaneously. The research of the past thirty years suggests that some people have taught themselves to do this quite skillfully. When individuals see from the right perspective the deception is over and a whole network of unconscious responses are triggered in the mind, at which point reason and will are able to guide proper behavior.
Brooks asserts there is not one defining moment that shapes character. Character emerges gradually out of millions of good influences. Community shapes character. Proper, repetitive actions rewire the fundamental mechanisms of the brain and reinforce positive ways of seeing the world. Good behavior strengthens certain networks. Brooks informs that according to the scientific community, “One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change often precedes changes in attitude and feelings.” 
- David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2012), viii.
- Ibid., ix.
- Ibid., 383.
- Ibid., viii.
- Ibid., xv.
- Ibid., 180.
- Ibid., 126.
- Ibid., 129.