AIF Blog

On Love and Life in General

Feb 11, 2016
CATEGORY: Society, U.S.A.

New York Times columnist David Brooks shares his thoughts on politics, parenting and his profession during the Aspen Ideas Festival.


New York Times columnist David Brooks and Katie Couric of Yahoo News sat down to talk about “Love and Life in General” during the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. Their conversation (one of the most popular sessions of the festival) ranged from Couric’s wedding to reading habits to where America is heading on some of its deeper issues. Here are some of Brooks’s thoughts:

On the influence (or lack thereof) of his columns

“Some columns you write to try to have influence. I rarely do that, because I don’t believe we have influence in that way. I’ve never had a moment where a president or a senator or anyone said, ‘I was thinking about an issue one way, and then you wrote that brilliant column, and now I’m thinking about it different.’ That does not happen. Politicians want to know, are you on their team or on another team? Are you writing something that’s helpful to them or not helpful? You don’t try to influence them. I consider it just adult education; we’re in the business of spreading ideas around. The best advice I’ve heard about writing is, we try to provide a context in which other people think.”

On the culture wars and moral ecology


On political moderates

“I think being moderate is seeing politics as a competition between partial truths. In this era, we have competition between security and freedom, between achievement and equality, between mobility and cohesion. Both sides have a piece of the truth. And it’s all about balance, so you can value things on each end as long you try to balance these opposing things, and as long as you understand that politics is messy and slow, and you take one step at a time. My problem with the tea party is partly what they believe, but partly that they’re anti-political. I believe in politics — that you pass a piece of legislation and get half a loaf, that you take it slow, that you make a compromise and try to go a little forward every day. It’s not show business. It’s just messy compromises. My problem with the tea party is they don’t want it to be politics, they want it to be pure. Impurity is what leaders do: They take impurity upon themselves, they take the complexity of a situation on themselves, and they try to muddle through. People who are not willing to muddle through are not being political—they’re just being self indulgent."

On parenting and the wolf of conditional love

"I see in my students something a lot of parents are doing badly, and it’s become a cause for me. A lot of parents, especially in our demographic, love their children passionately, but they also desperately want their children to do really well in life: to get into college, to get great careers. These two forces collide to mean intense attention, intense effort, intense care and love for the child, but also intense anxiety about them not doing well, not getting into the right college, not getting the right job, and intense love and relief when they do something well. So kids are bombarded in a world wherein when they do something well, kids get super bursts of love, and when they don’t do something well, there’s a little withdrawal. And they begin to feel conditional love. And I see this in my students—the wolf of conditional love terrifies them, and it leads to a lack of internal criteria to make their own decision. In the  most concrete sense, it makes them have two majors: one for mom and dad and one for me. They live under this inability to lead their own lives."
View the full session here.
By Catherine Lutz, Guest Blogger
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