Feb 20, 2012

Book Club: David Brooks for President

Dear Mr. Brooks,

There is a campaign going on. Have you noticed? I am not typically one to give political advice, but I’ve been reading your book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement , and I am wondering…have you ever considered running for president? It seems like you have a pretty good understanding of what it might take to spruce things up around here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about chapters 19 and 20. You know, the ones where you say that party politics are structured to take a moderate nation and to make it polarized. That this tendency toward teamism is largely based on unconscious thought processes and is influenced by an amazing array of factors is a comforting thought. One might find some of those influencers interesting—even amusing—but the point you make about this adversarial model making compromise very difficult to attain . . . well, that sure has been evident. Perhaps you’ve noticed this? You have me wondering about the way we do politics—about how opposing parties often hold many ideas in common, but instead focus on vilifying their opponents' areas of departure. The result is a polarized society—even if it started out with similar views. This creates all kinds of problems. If you ran, could you do it differently? Is there really a way to promote cooperation?

Another interesting thing you say in these chapters is that these differing parties have in common a neglect of matters pertaining to character, culture, and morality. You note that when it comes to policy, both sides tend to focus only on factors that can be quantified. This has the nasty result of undermining social relationships in ways that are unintended and destructive. This is unfortunate because, as you point out, the health of a society is surely wrapped up in the health of its relationships. You can dump all the money you have into programs, but unless there is a way to foster a moral root, the program will not have a lasting positive impact. We have seen this phenomenon alive and well. That’s for sure.

So what I am wondering is the same question you ask in the book: Is there a way that government could shape culture and behavior? How can the government, as you say, act to repair this tear in the social fabric? From finding positive causes for individuals to invest themselves in, to building communities as a military strategy, to ways to foster mentoring relationships—you pose some interesting ideas. It seems you have really given this thing a lot of thought. Just saying.

I don’t know, Mr. Brooks, I don’t have the answers. But it seems to me that sometimes our political machine is more about creating problems than looking for solutions. Maybe it would take an outsider to shake things up…get us focused on the things that can really be a catalyst for good change.

So. How about it? It’s a little late in the game, but I think things are still wide open.

By the way…are you a person of faith? And while we’re at it, maybe I should ask you a few other questions too…

What do you think? Link up below with a post at your blog or simply leave us a thought in the comment section. We tackle our last two chapters next week: The Other Education and Meaning.

Image by Nicholas. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Laura J. Boggess.

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