Gray on Brooks Quotes Freud
John Gray reviews David Brooks’, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. He doesn’t much like it:
The core of Brooks’s argument is his claim that the forces controlling human behavior are not just nonrational, they are unconscious—and can be controlled. As he puts it, “The central evolutionary truth is that the unconscious matters most.” Significantly, Sigmund Freud appears hardly at all in the four hundred or so pages of this treatise on the role of the unconscious in social life. According to Brooks, this is because Freud has been superseded:
When Freud came up with his conception of the unconscious, it had a radical influence on literary criticism, social thinking, and even political analysis. We now have a more accurate conception of the unconscious. But these findings haven’t yet had a broad impact on social thought.
Freud’s view of the unconscious has been rendered obsolete by the new cognitive science: “Brain research rarely creates new philosophies, but it does vindicate some old ones.” It is true that Freud’s theorizing was not exactly scientific—as he accepted in some of his later work. But I suspect it is not because Freud’s thinking has been scientifically superseded that Brooks is so quick to dismiss it. Rather, it is because Freud did not share Brooks’s hopes of happiness. The greatest twentieth-century Enlightenment thinker had more than a little in common with the ancient Stoics. He was not preaching anything resembling Brooks’s sunny optimism when he wrote to a patient,
I do not doubt that it would be easier for fate to take away your suffering than it would for me. But you will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. Having restored your inner life, you will be better able to arm yourself against that unhappiness.
Freud never imagined that his research into the unconscious mind would open the way to happiness. Instead, it could be used to fortify the mind against unhappiness, which the founder of psychoanalysis accepted as the normal human experience.
REMEMBER, for fun, Brooks’ Boo-Boos in Paradise.