...he comes back and says something nuanced: "...most political and social disputes grow out of differing theories about the self, and I find Hofstadter’s social, dynamic, overlapping theory of self very congenial.
It emphasizes how profoundly we are shaped by relationships with others, but it’s not one of those stifling, collectivist theories that puts the community above the individual.
It exposes the errors of those Ayn Rand individualists who think that success is something they achieve through their own genius and willpower.
It exposes the fallacy of the New Age narcissists who believe they can find their true, authentic self by burrowing down into their inner being. There is no self that exists before society.
It explains why it’s so hard to tackle concentrated poverty. Human beings are permeable. The habits that are common in underclass areas get inside the brains of those who grow up there and undermine long-range thinking and social trust.
It illuminates the dangers of believing that there is a universal hunger for liberty. That universal hunger may exist in the abstract, but we’re embedded creatures and the way specific individuals perceive liberty depends on context.
It lampoons political zealotry. You may be a flaming liberal in New York, but it’s likely you’d be a flaming conservative if you grew up in Wyoming.
Finally, it points toward a modern way of understanding how people fit into society..."
It's interesting the degree to which a crisis among the conservative intelligentsia provides an opportunity for introspection for some, like Brooks, or retrenchment for others, like Kristol.
It makes me think of Don Schon's concept of the "reflective practitioner" -- where one is confronted with the reality that one's current cognitive frame is inadequate to explain new evidence, and is forced to change their worldview through reflection. (It is interesting to note that Schon's last projects focused on reconciling intractable policy controversies.)
This core idea -- that most of our social disputes grow from differing theories about the self -- is an important realization in the effort to find a path out of the bog of self-righteousness and "deaf dialogue" we're currently lost inside. There's no way we can reconcile the great issues we're wrestling with until we can confront the core of the disagreements. I don't know if our society can muster the will (good or otherwise) necessary to have that discussion, but I think it's something we have to confront if we want to move forward.