David Brooks | Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is – The New York Times

” . . . When I think of the wise people in my own life, they are like that. It’s not the life-altering words of wisdom that drop from their lips, it’s the way they receive others. Too often the public depictions of wisdom involve remote, elderly sages who you approach with trepidation — and who give the perfect life-altering advice — Yoda, Dumbledore, Solomon. When a group of influential academics sought to define wisdom, they focused on how much knowledge a wise person had accumulated. Wisdom, they wrote, was “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.”

But when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realizations.

Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.

Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle. They see our narratives both from the inside, as we experience them, and from the outside, as we can’t. They see the ways we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus uncertainty — and understand that our current self is just where we are right now, part of a long continuum of growth.

I have a friend, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke and learned at age 35 that she had stage IV cancer. In real life, and on her podcast, “Everything Happens,” I have seen her use her story again and again as a platform to let others frame their best story. Her confrontation with early death, and her alternating sad and hilarious responses to it, draws out a kind of candor in others. She models a vulnerability, and a focus on the big issues, and helps people understand where they are now.

People only change after they’ve felt understood. The really good confidants — the people we go to for wisdom — are more like story editors than sages. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to reconsider it so you can change your relationship to your past and future. They ask you to clarify what it is you really want, or what baggage you left out of your clean tale. They ask you to probe for the deep problem that underlies the convenient surface problem you’ve come to them with.

It is this skillful, patient process of walking people to their own conclusions that feels like wisdom; maybe that’s why Aristotle called ethics a “social practice.”   . . . “

Nicholas Kristof | How to Reach People Who Are Wrong – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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Credit…Mark Peterson/Redux

“The Trump years were a time of high passion, of moral certainty, of drawing lines in the sand, of despair at the ethical and intellectual vacuity of political foes. But now it’s time to recalibrate.

From my liberal point of view, Democrats were largely vindicated. From the Muslim ban to the separation of families at the border, from the mishandling of the pandemic to the Capitol insurrection, Democrats’ warnings aged well. Yet one of the perils in life is being proven right.

The risk is excessive admiration for one’s own brilliance, preening at one’s own righteousness, and inordinate scorn for the jerks on the other side. It was the Republicans’ hubris after the 1991 gulf war — won in 100 hours — that led the G.O.P. to march obliviously into the catastrophic Iraq war a dozen years later.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, has a smart new book out advising us to “Think Again,” in the words of his title. He explores in part what goes wrong when smart people are too righteous, and he offers a paean to intellectual humility.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This is a lovely and thoughful piece, thank you Nicholas Kristof. It goes hand in hand with the piece today by Ezra Klien, on how successful Joe Biden has been by keeping a low profile, and making the work about helping Americans in need, rather than about himself or his tribe. We will have to remain humble and open, while organizing to defeat our fearful and dangerous and unscrupulous fellow Americans at the polls, so we don’t have to face a second civil war.

How Alvin the Beagle Helped Usher In a Democratic Senate – Shane Goldmacher – The New York Times

“The dog had a lot of work to do.

He was co-starring in a political ad that had to showcase the candidate’s good-natured warmth. But the ad also needed to deflect an onslaught of racialized attacks without engaging them directly, and to convey to white voters in Georgia that the Black pastor who led Ebenezer Baptist Church could represent them, too.

Of course, Alvin the beagle couldn’t have known any of that when he went for a walk with the Rev. Raphael Warnock last fall as a film crew captured their time together in a neighborhood outside Atlanta.

Tugging a puffer-vest-clad Mr. Warnock for an idealized suburban stroll — bright sunshine, picket fencing, an American flag — Alvin would appear in several of Mr. Warnock’s commercials pushing back against his Republican opponent in the recent Georgia Senate runoffs.”

By David Brooks | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.

Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.

So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.

But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.

It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.

One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.

These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.” . .

Brooks goes on to say that what scientists say works, is integrating neighborhoods, schools, teams and organizations. Social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote decades ago about a contact hypothesis.  Only doing things together changes prejudice and minds.

Opinion | Those Biden ‘Gaffes’? Some Key Voters Actually Like Them – The New York Times

By Stephanie Muravchik and 

Ms. Muravchik and Mr. Shields are the authors of the forthcoming “Trump’s Democrats.”

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

“If Joe Biden is going to rebuild the Democrats’ “blue wall” and win states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and claim the White House, he will need to appeal to the working-class Democratic communities that put Donald Trump over the top in 2016. They include more than 200 counties that supported Barack Obama twice before voting for Mr. Trump.

Many of these places had long records of unbroken support for Democratic presidential candidates, some even stretching back to before the New Deal.

Mr. Biden needs to tune in to their cultural sensibilities if he’s going to bring at least some of these pivotal blue strongholds back into the Democratic fold. He is one of the few Democrats, as a child of working-class Scranton, Pa., capable of doing so.

We spent the past few years hanging out in bars, churches and town council meetings with these voters — whom we call “Trump’s Democrats.” We interviewed nearly 100 people in three formerly blue strongholds that voted for Mr. Trump: Johnston, R.I., a suburb of Providence; Ottumwa, Iowa, a small industrial city and an inspiration for the setting of the Roseanne Barr show; and Elliott County, a tiny Appalachian community in northeastern Kentucky.

Despite their geographic diversity, these places have much in common with one another and with the many Democratic communities that swung for Mr. Trump in critical Midwest battleground states. They are overwhelmingly white and working class. They care about patriotism and serving their country and are especially attached to the places they live, with strong, place-based loyalties.

Their honor culture is common throughout the world and in many American communities that are not dominated by the professional managerial class.

As part of that, they share what we would call a Trumpian political culture.

In the communities we visited, some of their most beloved Democratic politicians have a Trumpian sensibility: They are macho, quick to engage in political conflict and relentless counterpunchers. One is Ottumwa’s Jerry Parker, a former mayor and a current county supervisor. He supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primaries; during one local primary meeting, he threatened to take a conflict with a Bernie Sanders supporter “outside.” “

Opinion | Who Can Win America’s Politics of Humiliation? – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Joe Biden at a community meeting in Kenosha, Wis., last week.
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

About four years ago, without asking anybody, I changed my job description. It used to be “New York Times foreign affairs columnist.” Instead, I started calling myself the “New York Times humiliation and dignity columnist.” I even included it on my business card.

It had become so obvious to me that so much of what I’d been doing since I became a journalist in 1978 was reporting or opining about people, leaders, refugees, terrorists and nation-states acting out on their feelings of humiliation and questing for dignity — the two most powerful human emotions.

I raise this now because the success of Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump may ride on his ability to speak to the sense of humiliation and quest for dignity of many Trump supporters, which Hillary Clinton failed to do.

It has been obvious ever since Trump first ran for president that many of his core supporters actually hate the people who hate Trump, more than they care about Trump or any particular action he takes, no matter how awful.

Opinion | Feeling Hopeless? Embrace It. – by Eric Utne – The New York Times

“. . .  The eco-philosopher Joanna Macy has described what she calls “despair and empowerment work”: “Just as grief work is a process by which bereaved persons unblock their numbed energies by acknowledging and grieving the loss of a loved one, so do we all need to unblock our feelings of despair about our threatened planet and the possible demise of our species. Until we do, our power of creative response will be crippled.”

The hippie back-to-the-land movement, combined with grass roots political organizing, really was the way to go. We need to regroup. We need a hyperlocal Green New Deal. We need to come together in diverse, intimate, place-based communities. And we need to segue now from the techno-industrial market economy to its sequel — much smaller-scale, less energy-intensive, more localized communities that prize food growing, knowledge sharing, inclusiveness and convivial neighborliness. We need to learn from cultures around the world that are still living as stewards of the larger, biotic community. This is the only kind of a society that might survive the rocky climacteric that already is upon us.

Do I have hope now? If hope means the expectation that someone (a new president) or something (geoengineering or some other techno-fix) is going to save us, then no. I’m hopeless, or rather “hope-free.”

Instead I subscribe to Vaclav Havel’s version of hope: “It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Opinion | The First Invasion of America – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“I was an American history major in college, back in the 1980s.

I’ll be honest with you. I thrilled to the way the American story was told back then. To immigrate to America was to join the luckiest and greatest nation in history. “Nothing in all history had ever succeeded like America, and every American knew it,” Henry Steele Commager wrote in his 1950 book, “The American Mind.”

To be born American was to be born to a glorious destiny. We were the nation of the future, the vanguard of justice, the last best hope of mankind. “Have the elder races halted?” Walt Whitman asked, “Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? We take up the task eternal.”

To be born American was to be born boldly individual, daring and self-sufficient. “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called, very Americanly, “Self-Reliance.”

To be born American was to bow down to no one, to say: I’m no better than anyone else, but nobody’s better than me. Tocqueville wrote about the equality of condition he found in America; no one putting on airs over anyone else. In 1981, Samuel Huntington wrote that American creed was built around a suspicion of authority and a fervent rejection of hierarchy: “The essence of egalitarianism is rejection of the idea that one person has the right to exercise power over another.”
I found it all so energizing. Being an American was not just a citizenship. It was a vocation, a call to serve a grand national mission.

Today, of course, we understand what was wrong with that version of American history. It didn’t include everybody. It left out the full horrors of slavery and genocide.

But here’s what has struck me forcefully, especially during the pandemic: That whole version of the American creed was all based on an assumption of existential security. Americans had the luxury of thinking and living the way they did because they had two whopping great oceans on either side. The United States was immune to foreign invasion, the corruptions of the old world. It was often spared the plagues that swept over so many other parts of the globe.”

Brooks ends with, “Something lovely is being lost. America’s old idea of itself unleashed a torrent of energy. But the American identity that grows up in the shadow of the plague can have the humanity of shared vulnerability, the humility that comes with an understanding of the precariousness of life and a fierce solidarity that emerges during a long struggle against an invading force.”

Opinion | Covid-19 Is Twisting 2020 Beyond All Recognition – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“Not only will the coronavirus crisis define Donald Trump’s legacy, it will determine whether or not he is a one-term president.

David Winston, a Republican pollster, summed up the situation in an email:

The country is not looking at what is occurring through a political lens. They are focused on the threat to their health and the country’s health and how that threat is being addressed.

Because of that, Winston continued, voters will judge the Trump administration by “the effectiveness of actions taken to address that threat, and get the country moving forward again,” making the question on Election Day “who does the country believe should be given the responsibility to govern.”

Crises can provoke extreme responses. The 2008-9 recession produced both Barack Obama and the Tea Party. On a grander scale, the Great Depression produced both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.

No one is suggesting that the country is at such a point now, but, then again, no one suggested in January of 2015 that the country was on the verge of electing Donald Trump president.

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The current pandemic shows signs of reshaping the American political and social order for years to come.

March 10-15 NBC News/Commonwealth Fund poll asked 1,006 adults “How much do you trust the President Trump to provide information about the coronavirus epidemic?” A majority, 53 percent, said they either had no trust at all (40 percent) or little trust (13 percent). 30 percent said they either completely trust (16 percent) or mostly trust (14 percent) the president.

In another danger signal for Trump, the poll asked “how confident are you that the vaccine will be available to the American public at little or no cost” if a Democrat wins or if Trump is re-elected. Nearly two thirds said they were confident a low-cost vaccine would be available with a Democrat in the White House; half said they were confident with Trump in office for another four years.

Trump’s job approval ratings have risen in recent weeks, but Gary Langer, who conducts polling for ABC News, warned that the results of an ABC/Washington Post survey released on March 27 show that there are substantial risks to the president:

Trump’s overall approval rating drops among people who are more worried about catching the coronavirus, report severe local economic impacts, say their lives have been especially disrupted or know someone who’s caught the virus. He also has lower approval in states with higher per capita infection rates.

While some of those findings reflect the higher levels of infection with coronavirus in blue states, Langer wrote, “the results suggest that as the crisis deepens, the risks to views of his performance likely rise.”

On March 26, Pew Research released results of a survey that showed significant demographic and partisan differences in responses to the question “Has someone in your household lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of Covid-19?”

Opinion | The Coronavirus and the Conservative Mind – by Ross Douthat – The New York Times

“. . . . . .    In his novel “Foucault’s Pendulum,” a sendup of crackpot esotericism that anticipated “The Da Vinci Code” years before its publication, Umberto Eco captured this spirit by describing the way that self-conscious seekers after hermetic wisdom and gnostic mysteries approached the rise of Christianity:

… someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle?

… And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp — do-it-yourself salvation — turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.

This is where the pandemic-minimizing sort of conservative has ended up. They are confronted with a world crisis tailor-made for an anti-globalization, anti-deep-state worldview — a crisis in which China lit the fuse, the World Health Organization ran interference for Beijing, the American public health bureaucracy botched its one essential job, pious anti-racism inhibited an early public-health response, and outsourcing and offshoring left our economy exposed.

And their response? Too simple: Just a feint, a false flag, another deep state plot or power grab, another hoax to take down Trump. It can’t be real unless Hillary Clinton is somehow at the bottom of it.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
In the beginning Ross Douthat basically lost me, but by the time he quoted Umberto Ecco, he had me eating out of the palm of his hand. My lady and I had been joking about how we could run rings around the first half of the essay, which lacked citations or hypertexts, and we quit reading it together. Then I read the second half, and had to call her back. Douthat was like Houdini, he revealed his main point with an almost perverted brilliance that only he, in the NYT crowd, is capable of or interessted in. My hat is off to Douthat.