Tuesday, October 28, 2008

David Brooks Sounds Like Hobbes

Roughly speaking, there are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action.

So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception.

Perceiving a situation seems, at first glimpse, like a remarkably simple operation. You just look and see what’s around. But the operation that seems most simple is actually the most complex, it’s just that most of the action takes place below the level of awareness. Looking at and perceiving the world is an active process of meaning-making that shapes and biases the rest of the decision-making chain.

I know you are thinking. Psychology tells us this stuff. What's the big deal? Ah, but the political implications of it are important. Isn't this pretty much what Hobbes articulates in the first three or so chapters of Leviathan?

This is the point where I should explain myself with a bit of exegesis on David Brook's recent calls for authority and compare that to Hobbes' Leviathan, but, alas, I am too lazy and have too little time to make the connection. So, I leave it to you, my dear readers.

But I will say this: The thing that brings about the Hobbesian mindset is fear. Whether it's fear of the financial markets, politics, or the nation next door; it's always fear. So, David Brooks is afraid of something, probably the financial markets because he can't make sense of them right now.

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