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Meyer, J.K. (2012). Sociocultural Issues: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. By David Brooks. New York: Random House, 2011, 424 pp., $27.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 60(2):441-445.

(2012). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 60(2):441-445

Sociocultural Issues: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. By David Brooks. New York: Random House, 2011, 424 pp., $27.00.

Review by:
Jon K. Meyer

I enjoy David Brooks's columns in the New York Times and his work as a commentator on PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and looked forward to reading his book on the “amazing insights” into unconscious mental life that aren't yet “having a sufficient impact on the wider culture” (p. 377). Analysts have no doubt that popular discourse on the mind, particularly the unconscious mind, needs rebooting. While psychoanalysis first, and neuroscience later, have made the facts of the unconscious mind inescapable, in public perception brain wiring and chemistry have essentially replaced consideration of the mind, unconscious or otherwise.

Brooks's goals in The Social Animal are first to “illustrate how … conscious and unconscious minds interact,” second to “describe how … [brain] research influences the way we understand human nature,” and third to “draw out the social, political, and moral implications of these findings …” (pp. xii-xiii). The book, true to its is title, seems less about the interaction of conscious and unconscious and more about our attachments and interconnectedness, the social ramifications of those human bonds, and the political and cultural institutions that should reflect and support them. In other words, from an analyst's point of view, Brooks's book is less about the interplay of unconscious and conscious in all its complexity and more about our society and its institutions.

Nonetheless, to take up Brooks's view of the unconscious, he describes it as not “merely … primitive” but also as “a place where spiritual states arise and dance from soul to soul,” where the “wisdom of the ages” is collected, and where “the soul of the species” resides. While the unconscious may be “impulsive, emotional, sensitive, and unpredictable … it can be brilliant;” moreover, it is “capable of processing blizzards of data and making daring creative leaps.” Most of all, “it is wonderfully gregarious.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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