After hearing David Brooks described as "the consummate intellectual thinker" by Newsweek's Tina Brown on NPR yesterday morning, I decided to check out the New Yorker piece which was being discussed. Brooks' piece "Social Animal" (from his upcoming book of the same title) and the Ask the Author Q&A will sound familiar to his readers, because Brooks has been mining this vein since BOBOs in Paradise a decade ago, and his Bourgeois Bohemians from that era feel strikingly similar to his new "Composure Class" denizens:
Many members of this class, like many Americans generally, have a vague sense that their lives have been distorted by a giant cultural bias. They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most. [...]
Intelligence, academic performance, and prestigious schools don't correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. [...] In short, these achievers have a sense that they are shallower than they need to be.
Brooks writes that "We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness," and sees neuroscience as "help[ing to] fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy:"
A core finding of this work is that 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.
In the hands of a more astute observer--or perhaps simply a writer who is less of a hack--this subject has the potential to be a great book. I do not, however, have high hopes for anything issuing from the pen of David Brooks.