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KCTS 9 Connects

David Brooks: The Social Animal - March 25, 2011

March 26, 2011

About the Episode

David Brooks – New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour commentator David Brooks discusses the budget battle in Congress, funding for public media, and who he likes on the Republican side to square-off with President Obama in the 2012 race. Brooks also discusses his new book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement,” in which he explores the deeper, root causes of how people think, feel and act.

Producer's Notes

Producer's Notes

This is Your Brain on… Your Brain

In this episode of "Connects" we got a chance to interview David Brooks. The New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour commentator was in Seattle to promote his new book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement.”

Normally, Brooks focuses his attention on politics and life inside “The Beltway.” But in this book, he takes a bit an interesting turn, exploring the root causes of how people think, act and feel. According to Brooks, how we behave is determined by our unconscious mind, which is shaped largely by early influences. Really early. Like, when we’re babies.

For example, Brooks found that researchers can look at four-year-old children and predict with almost 80% accuracy which ones will graduate from high school, based on how they’ve been raised so far. That’s staggering to me. Dropping out of high school, it turns out, isn’t a conscious decision, but a case of neurological fate.

Brooks’ upshot is that many of our actions and decisions unfold this way. He thinks we need to take a deeper look at the human condition if we really want to understand bigger issues, like how we got it “wrong” in Iraq, or how the financial crisis happened. I’m simplifying things a bit – apologies, David – but the gist is, we need to look deeply within ourselves.

That seems to apply to a lot of what’s happening in the news right now. The department of Corrections released a report this week examining the events that led up to the murder of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in January. An incident review team is recommending arming prison guards with pepper spray, and outfitting them with panic alarms in case they’re attacked.

My question is – instead of dissecting the specific causes of Biendl’s murder, should we be looking more deeply into a flawed system? Arming guards with alarms and pepper spray might reduce the risk of another murder, but it can’t eliminate it. Instead, maybe we should be questioning a system that has guards outnumbered more than 100 to one at any given time. Or asking whether women should be guards at all in an all-male prison housing inmates, many of whom are incarcerated for violence against women?

On an individual level, David Brooks thinks we’re pre-wired to act and react in a certain way, and the only way to change that is to recognize it. Perhaps that can be applied on a larger scale too.