The Social Animal


David Brooks creates a narrative of Harold and Erica, two fictitious characters. He details their lives together, how they age, how their background and childhood shape them, their ambitions, what they feel at different stages of their lives, etc. Discusses in detail what drives individual behavior and decision making through Harold and Erica.

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Key Takeaways
  1. Harold has a good upbringing and enjoys history and becomes a curator
  2. Erica is Mexican/Chinese and has a poor and difficult upbringing. She becomes a very successful businesswoman and then Chief of Staff for the President of America. Their lives are very different and they drift apart but then back together. I think a very interesting way of portraying some life lessons through these people instead of through a more factual or direct manner
  3. Subconscious minds makes most of our decisions and determines who we are and how we behave
  4. Environment somebody grows up in extremely important for social and neurological development
  5. Brooks depicts human beings as driven by the universal feelings of loneliness and the need to belong—what he labels “the urge to merge.” He states that people feel the continual need to be understood by others
  6. Young children have no inner narrator
  7. Babies born with some core knowledge and then experiment, make maps, in order to learn and understand the world
  8. Freedom without structure is its own slavery
  9. Ryne Sandberg’s MLB hall of fame speech is unbelievable. Don’t work hard because want/need validation, work hard because that is what you’re supposed to do. Would be disrespectful to sport, coaches, teammates, uniform not to
  10. Cultures are diverging over time
  11. People smart because teach others and this helps next generations start on a higher level. Smarter in groups too (no one man cab build an airplane)
  12. People in progress prone cultures believe can shape their own destiny
  13. Attempt to be the glue in all social networks 
  14. Really have little control over decisions and lives
  15. Priming has big effect on us and our decisions. Anchoring and framing too. More than we care to ever admit (pair with Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow)
  16. No substitution for living our different lives and personalities. People often day dream but this is often just a waste of time and a tease
  17. Almost everything in your friend group is contagious
  18. Limerence – inner and outer harmony (romantic attraction and a need to have that feeling reciprocated
  19. The conscious is an overconfidence machine – often taking credit for things it had no hand in doing
  20. Incompetent people most unaware of how incompetent they are
  21. Life is just a series of progressive failures
  22. “Being wise is the art if knowing what to overlook.” – William James
  23. Humans have a deep motivation to be seen as a moral person by others
  24. For ourselves, more what we believe in than actually do that matters
  25. Unconscious thoughts and emotions have supremacy but not total dictatorship
  26. Speaks to how social trust has been destroyed in the US from fragmented political parties and this has trickled down to the public. Democrats and Republicans no longer trust each other enough to work together
  27. “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche
What I got out of it
  1. Very interesting way to get his point across. By using fictional characters, Brooks can create a story and show how their backgrounds influence them throughout their lives. We are much more susceptible to our subconscious’ prejudices and decisions than we care to admit. People are inherently social and strive to be accepted and seen as moral by others.

Brooks’ TED Talk:

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