mercredi 1 juin 2011

The Social Animal

From The Guardian : a review of David Brooks' latest : The Social Animal, in wich he argues that human decision making is not rational but unconscious in the great tradition of the anti-rationalist philosophial reflections of the British Enlightenment.

David Brooks: What's the big idea?

Most success stories stress academic ability, IQ, hard work, he argues. Brooks rather stresses non-cognitive skills, which, he writes, is "the catch-all category for hidden qualities that can't be easily measured, but which in real life lead to happiness and fulfilment." "By that I mean emotions, intuitions, genetic inheritance. Soft stuff, which is pretty rich given that my wife thinks I'm insufficiently touchy feely."

And what are these mysterious non-cognitive skills? Good character (energy, honesty, dependability, recognising your weaknesses and controlling your worst impulses). He also mentions "street smarts", by which he means reading situations and people, often unconsciously, and developing human relationships. He thinks these skills can be honed.

He gives examples of policy-making without non-cognitive street smarts. "When we invaded Iraq we were blind to the social problems that would be involved. We didn't realise they didn't trust us." Hold on – didn't he write a New York Times column urging invasion? "I did. I was so blind about it. In that column I wondered what Michael Oakeshott [the British conservative political philosopher] would have said. He would have said: this society is very complicated and you should be circumspect in thinking about what you can achieve, and that invading to install democracy without trust is doomed. And then I wrote: 'Having said that, I think we should invade.'"


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