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  • When I got my current job, I was given a good piece of advice,

  • which was to interview three politicians every day.

  • And from that much contact with politicians,

  • I can tell you they're all emotional freaks of one sort or another.

  • They have what I called "logorrhea dementia,"

  • which is they talk so much they drive themselves insane.

  • (Laughter)

  • But what they do have is incredible social skills.

  • When you meet them, they lock into you,

  • they look you in the eye,

  • they invade your personal space,

  • they massage the back of your head.

  • I had dinner with a Republican senator several months ago

  • who kept his hand on my inner thigh

  • throughout the whole meal -- squeezing it.

  • I once -- this was years ago --

  • I saw Ted Kennedy and Dan Quayle meet in the well of the Senate.

  • And they were friends, and they hugged each other

  • and they were laughing, and their faces were like this far apart.

  • And they were moving and grinding

  • and moving their arms up and down each other.

  • And I was like, "Get a room. I don't want to see this."

  • But they have those social skills.

  • Another case:

  • Last election cycle,

  • I was following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire,

  • and he was campaigning with his five perfect sons:

  • Bip, Chip, Rip, Zip, Lip and Dip.

  • (Laughter)

  • And he's going into a diner.

  • And he goes into the diner, introduces himself to a family

  • and says, "What village are you from in New Hampshire?"

  • And then he describes the home he owned in their village.

  • And so he goes around the room,

  • and then as he's leaving the diner,

  • he first-names almost everybody he's just met.

  • I was like, "Okay, that's social skill."

  • But the paradox is,

  • when a lot of these people slip into the policy-making mode,

  • that social awareness vanishes

  • and they start talking like accountants.

  • So in the course of my career,

  • I have covered a series of failures.

  • We sent economists in the Soviet Union

  • with privatization plans when it broke up,

  • and what they really lacked was social trust.

  • We invaded Iraq with a military

  • oblivious to the cultural and psychological realities.

  • We had a financial regulatory regime

  • based on the assumptions

  • that traders were rational creatures

  • who wouldn't do anything stupid.

  • For 30 years, I've been covering school reform

  • and we've basically reorganized the bureaucratic boxes --

  • charters, private schools, vouchers --

  • but we've had disappointing results year after year.

  • And the fact is, people learn from people they love.

  • And if you're not talking about the individual relationship

  • between a teacher and a student,

  • you're not talking about that reality.

  • But that reality is expunged

  • from our policy-making process.

  • And so that's led to a question for me:

  • Why are the most socially-attuned people on earth

  • completely dehumanized

  • when they think about policy?

  • And I came to the conclusion,

  • this is a symptom of a larger problem.

  • That, for centuries, we've inherited a view of human nature

  • based on the notion

  • that we're divided selves,

  • that reason is separated from the emotions

  • and that society progresses

  • to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

  • And it's led to a view of human nature

  • that we're rational individuals

  • who respond in straightforward ways to incentives,

  • and it's led to ways of seeing the world

  • where people try to use the assumptions of physics

  • to measure how human behavior is.

  • And it's produced a great amputation,

  • a shallow view of human nature.

  • We're really good at talking about material things,

  • but we're really bad at talking about emotions.

  • We're really good at talking about skills

  • and safety and health;

  • we're really bad at talking about character.

  • Alasdair MacIntyre, the famous philosopher,

  • said that, "We have the concepts of the ancient morality

  • of virtue, honor, goodness,

  • but we no longer have a system

  • by which to connect them."

  • And so this has led to a shallow path in politics,

  • but also in a whole range of human endeavors.

  • You can see it in the way we raise our young kids.

  • You go to an elementary school at three in the afternoon

  • and you watch the kids come out,

  • and they're wearing these 80-pound backpacks.

  • If the wind blows them over, they're like beetles stuck there on the ground.

  • You see these cars that drive up --

  • usually it's Saabs and Audis and Volvos,

  • because in certain neighborhoods it's socially acceptable to have a luxury car,

  • so long as it comes from a country hostile to U.S. foreign policy --

  • that's fine.

  • They get picked up by these creatures I've called uber-moms,

  • who are highly successful career women

  • who have taken time off to make sure all their kids get into Harvard.

  • And you can usually tell the uber-moms

  • because they actually weigh less than their own children.

  • (Laughter)

  • So at the moment of conception,

  • they're doing little butt exercises.

  • Babies flop out,

  • they're flashing Mandarin flashcards at the things.

  • Driving them home, and they want them to be enlightened,

  • so they take them to Ben & Jerry's ice cream company

  • with its own foreign policy.

  • In one of my books,

  • I joke that Ben & Jerry's should make a pacifist toothpaste --

  • doesn't kill germs, just asks them to leave.

  • It would be a big seller.

  • (Laughter)

  • And they go to Whole Foods to get their baby formula,

  • and Whole Foods is one of those progressive grocery stores

  • where all the cashiers look like they're on loan from Amnesty International.

  • (Laughter)

  • They buy these seaweed-based snacks there

  • called Veggie Booty with Kale,

  • which is for kids who come home and say,

  • "Mom, mom, I want a snack that'll help prevent colon-rectal cancer."

  • (Laughter)

  • And so the kids are raised in a certain way,

  • jumping through achievement hoops of the things we can measure --

  • SAT prep, oboe, soccer practice.

  • They get into competitive colleges, they get good jobs,

  • and sometimes they make a success of themselves

  • in a superficial manner, and they make a ton of money.

  • And sometimes you can see them at vacation places

  • like Jackson Hole or Aspen.

  • And they've become elegant and slender --

  • they don't really have thighs;

  • they just have one elegant calve on top of another.

  • (Laughter)

  • They have kids of their own,

  • and they've achieved a genetic miracle by marrying beautiful people,

  • so their grandmoms look like Gertrude Stein,

  • their daughters looks like Halle Berry -- I don't know how they've done that.

  • They get there and they realize

  • it's fashionable now to have dogs a third as tall as your ceiling heights.

  • So they've got these furry 160-pound dogs --

  • all look like velociraptors,

  • all named after Jane Austen characters.

  • And then when they get old, they haven't really developed a philosophy of life,

  • but they've decided, "I've been successful at everything;

  • I'm just not going to die."

  • And so they hire personal trainers;

  • they're popping Cialis like breath mints.

  • You see them on the mountains up there.

  • They're cross-country skiing up the mountain

  • with these grim expressions

  • that make Dick Cheney look like Jerry Lewis.

  • (Laughter)

  • And as they whiz by you,

  • it's like being passed by a little iron Raisinet

  • going up the hill.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so this is part of what life is,

  • but it's not all of what life is.

  • And over the past few years,

  • I think we've been given a deeper view of human nature

  • and a deeper view of who we are.

  • And it's not based on theology or philosophy,

  • it's in the study of the mind,

  • across all these spheres of research,

  • from neuroscience to the cognitive scientists,

  • behavioral economists, psychologists,

  • sociology,

  • we're developing a revolution in consciousness.

  • And when you synthesize it all,

  • it's giving us a new view of human nature.

  • And far from being a coldly materialistic view of nature,

  • it's a new humanism, it's a new enchantment.

  • And I think when you synthesize this research,

  • you start with three key insights.

  • The first insight is

  • that while the conscious mind writes the autobiography of our species,

  • the unconscious mind does most of the work.

  • And so one way to formulate that is

  • the human mind can take in millions of pieces of information a minute,

  • of which it can be consciously aware of about 40.

  • And this leads to oddities.

  • One of my favorite is that people named Dennis

  • are disproportionately likely to become dentists,

  • people named Lawrence become lawyers,

  • because unconsciously we gravitate toward things

  • that sound familiar,

  • which is why I named my daughter President of the United States Brooks.

  • (Laughter)

  • Another finding is that the unconscious,

  • far from being dumb and sexualized,

  • is actually quite smart.

  • So one of the most cognitively demanding things we do is buy furniture.

  • It's really hard to imagine a sofa, how it's going to look in your house.

  • And the way you should do that

  • is study the furniture,

  • let it marinate in your mind, distract yourself,

  • and then a few days later, go with your gut,

  • because unconsciously you've figured it out.

  • The second insight

  • is that emotions are at the center of our thinking.

  • People with strokes and lesions

  • in the emotion-processing parts of the brain

  • are not super smart,

  • they're actually sometimes quite helpless.

  • And the "giant" in the field is in the room tonight

  • and is speaking tomorrow morning -- Antonio Damasio.

  • And one of the things he's really shown us

  • is that emotions are not separate from reason,

  • but they are the foundation of reason

  • because they tell us what to value.

  • And so reading and educating your emotions

  • is one of the central activities of wisdom.

  • Now I'm a middle-aged guy.

  • I'm not exactly comfortable with emotions.

  • One of my favorite brain stories described these middle-aged guys.

  • They put them into a brain scan machine --

  • this is apocryphal by the way, but I don't care --

  • and they had them watch a horror movie,

  • and then they had them describe their feelings toward their wives.

  • And the brain scans were identical in both activities.

  • It was just sheer terror.

  • So me talking about emotion

  • is like Gandhi talking about gluttony,

  • but it is the central organizing process

  • of the way we think.

  • It tells us what to imprint.

  • The brain is the record of the feelings of a life.

  • And the third insight

  • is that we're not primarily self-contained individuals.

  • We're social animals, not rational animals.

  • We emerge out of relationships,

  • and we are deeply interpenetrated, one with another.

  • And so when we see another person,

  • we reenact in our own minds

  • what we see in their minds.

  • When we watch a car chase in a movie,

  • it's almost as if we are subtly having a car chase.

  • When we watch pornography,

  • it's a little like having sex,

  • though probably not as good.

  • And we see this when lovers walk down the street,

  • when a crowd in Egypt or Tunisia

  • gets caught up in an emotional contagion,

  • the deep interpenetration.

  • And this revolution in who we are

  • gives us a different way of seeing, I think, politics,

  • a different way, most importantly,