Book Club: The Ups and Downs

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Metis post

When I read our chapters for the book club this week, I couldn’t help reflecting back to when we first started reading The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. What were David Brooks’ opening lines in the introduction of this ambitious book? Do you remember? He said this:

This is the happiest story you’ve ever read. It’s about two people who led wonderfully fulfilling lives…

This week in chapters 13-15 we read about how Harold and Erica fall in love. We cheer as together they build a successful consulting business and grieve as it begins to fall apart in a few years. We watch Erica struggle with being unemployed and groan when she accepts a job that doesn’t utilize her gifts or fulfill her potential. We see Harold begin to find his place in the Historical Society and see clues of some strain on his relationship with Erica.

Is anyone else wondering when the wonderfully fulfilling part is going to start? Maybe this is the good news: there seem to be a lot of ups and downs on the way to the happily ever after.

Along the journey, David Brooks characteristically throws in some compelling facts and research. We learn about the brain chemistry of falling in love (a lovely discussion with Valentine’s Day on the rise), about how people tend to overestimate what they know (self-confidence has very little to do with real competency), about the longterm effects of unemployment (some researchers say it is the psychological equivalent to the death of a spouse), and we learn far more than we ever want to know about the philosophy of rationalism.

But the chapter I found most interesting was chapter 15, Métis.

Brooks begins with a discussion on the differences between the French Enlightenment, which focused on logic, and the British Enlightenment, which focused on the power of the sentiments and affections. It is from this discussion that Brooks gleaned the title for this book.

Whereas the members of the French Enlightenment imagined a state of nature in which autonomous individuals formed social contracts for their mutual benefit, members of the British Enlightenment stressed that people are born with a social sense, which plays out beneath the level of awareness…Whereas the children of the French Enlightenment tended to see society and its institutions as machines, to be taken apart and reengineered, children of the British Enlightenment tended to see them as organisms, infinitely complex networks of living relationships...The new findings strongly indicate that the British Enlightenment view of human nature is more accurate than the French Enlightenment view...the thinkers from the British Enlightenment were right to depict us as Social Animals.

But there is more. There is Métis.

For a person to thrive, Brooks says that there needs to be an intertwining of Level I—or unconscious thought, and Level II—the conscious mind.

Intuition and logic exist in partnership. The challenge is to organize this partnership, knowing when to rely on Level I and when to rely on Level 2, and how to organize the interchange between the two. The research doesn’t yet provide clear answers about that, but it does point to an attitude—an attitude that acknowledges the weaknesses of the mind while prescribing strategies for action…This is a different type of knowledge. It comes from integrating and synthesizing diverse dynamics. It is produced over time, by an intelligence that is associational—observing closely, imagining loosely, comparing like to unlike and like to like to find harmonies and rhythms in the unfolding of events.

Métis is this state of wisdom that emerges from the conversation between Level I and Level 2.

Fascinating. Especially the story of the gobiid fish.

What do you think? Link up below with a post at your blog or simply leave us a thought in the comment section. Next week we tackle three more chapters: The Insurgency, Getting Older, and Morality. I hope you’ll join us.

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