David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, writes not infrequently about the latest highbrow research on the brain. His eloquent expositions should shock anyone wedded to the belief that humans are internally harmonious and self-aware creatures, who make crucial choices through logical calculations.
In other words, the model of the rational ego, cherished by economists, has been shot to hell by Ivy League science. This, of course, has implications for capitalism.
And unbeknownst to Brooks, apparently, much of what he says concurs with feminist thought, which rejects the autonomous ego for a radically different notion.
Following in the footsteps of Carol Gilligan, who initiated a new Weltanschauung with her classic book, In a Different Voice, feminists see a person as defined through myriad relationships, which occur both within and outside the mind.
Sound kooky? The latest research validates it. Described by Brooks:
“People don’t have one permanent thing called character. We each have a multiplicity of tendencies inside, which are activated by this or that context. As Paul Bloom of Yale put it in an essay for The Atlantic last year, we are a community of competing selves. These different selves ‘are continually popping in and out of existence. They have different desires, and they fight for control — bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another.’”
(“Where the Wild Things Are,” Oct. 20, New York Times)
Weird stuff. But let’s remember that Carl Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, postulated a mind crowded with archetypal personas. This was in the early 20th century, far before Bloom’s revelations at Yale.
Brooks and Bloom take a stereotypical slant, seeing relationships as competitive. Feminists see them as cooperative. A healthy economic system should be at least as cooperative as competitive. Competition that harms the individuals in its grasp implies a collective mental illness. It is out of balance, neglecting the holistic and emotional aspects of life.
Here is Brooks again, invoking research and rhetoric to shatter the basis of free market capitalism:
“Over the past several years, the [scientific] momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine ... Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.
Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.”
(“Neural Buddhism,” May 13, 2008, NYT)
Fairness, empathy, attachment, intuition, emotions, love, and as Brooks goes on to say, spirituality and God, all figure essentially in the nature of mind. Say hello to feminism and goodbye to patriarchal capitalism. It’s time to pitch the simplistic idea that life is a war for fancy stuff, devoid of virtue and teeming with people whose hearts are black holes.
The theory of narcissistic rational actors is flawed. It doesn’t reflect the self’s true nature. Ask Brooks. Ask Gilligan. Ask the time-honored psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose Hierarchy of Needs has nothing to do with hoarding froufrou, bauble and glitz.
Capitalism does not reflect the nature of mind. David Brooks and feminists are in concert on this.