My Conversation with David Brooks

David was in top form, and I feel this exchange reflected his core style very well, here is the audio and transcript.

We covered why people stay so lonely, whether the Amish are happy, life in Italy, the Whig tradition, the secularization thesis, the importance of covenants, whether Judaism or Christianity has a deeper reading of The Book of Exodus, whether Americans undervalue privacy, Bruce Springsteen vs. Bob Dylan, whether our next president will be a boring manager, and last but not least the David Brooks production function.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Walt Whitman, not only as a poet, but as a foundational thinker for America. Overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: I’d have to say slightly overrated.

COWEN: Tell us why.

BROOKS: I think his spirit and his energy sort of define America. His essay “Democratic Vistas” is one of my favorite essays. It captures both the vulgarity of America, but the energy and especially the business energy of America. But if we think the rise of narcissism is a problem in our society, Walt Whitman is sort of the holy spring there.


COWEN: Socrates, overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: [laughs] This is so absurd.


BROOKS: With everybody else it’s like Breaking Bad, overrated or underrated? I got Socrates.


BROOKS: I will say Socrates is overrated for this reason. We call them dialogues. But really, if you read them, they’re like Socrates making a long speech and some other schmo saying, “Oh yes. It must surely be so, Socrates.”


BROOKS: So it’s not really a dialogue, it’s just him speaking with somebody else affirming.

COWEN: And it’s Plato reporting Socrates. So it’s Plato’s monologue about a supposed dialogue, which may itself be a monologue.

BROOKS: Yeah. It was all probably the writers.

And on Milton Friedman:

BROOKS: I was a student at the University of Chicago, and they did an audition, and I was socialist back then. It was a TV show PBS put on, called Tyranny of the Status Quo, which was “Milton talks to the young.” So I studied up on my left-wing economics, and I went out there to Stanford. I would make my argument, and then he would destroy it in six seconds or so. And then the camera would linger on my face for 19 or 20 seconds, as I tried to think of what to say.

And it was like, he was the best arguer in human history, and I was a 22-year-old. It was my TV debut — you can go on YouTube. I have a lot of hair and big glasses. But I will say, I had never met a libertarian before. And every night — we taped for five days — every night he took me and my colleagues out to dinner in San Francisco and really taught us about economics.

Later, he stayed close to me. I called him a mentor. I didn’t become a libertarian, never quite like him, but a truly great teacher and a truly important influence on my life and so many others. He was a model of what an academic economist should be like.

Recommended.  (And I actually thought David did just fine in that early exchange with Friedman.)


Haven't listened to this yet, but I hope Tyler read any of Andrew Gelman's critiques of Brooks before his interview. Here is the latest:

Just listened. Don't think TC paid any attention to this! Have a feeling that he pretty much ignores all the standard David Brooks criticism you find on the web. (to his credit in my opinion)

I don't expect Tyler to fill the role of adversarial reporter or gotcha journalist (no one would have a conversation with him), but to ignore someone's habit of building stories on a willful misuse of data (i.e. fake news) is not something that should be praised or lauded. Maybe Tyler just likes talking to famous people, so instead of saying that these conversations are the ones he wants to have with the interviewee, he should say these are the conversations I want to have so that other famous people will not reject the invitation to have a conversation.

Just read the Gelman piece. That was nasty and mean. Far too polemical and took too long to get to his point. I couldn’t tell what his views are regarding loneliness in society. Is it no problem at all? No different than 20, 30 years ago?

He's not commenting on whether loneliness is a problem or what his views are on the topic. He is commenting on the misuse of data. But there is nothing to suggest that loneliness has risen since the 60s. Since Brooks doesn't link to his sources, others have to infer his data source. It seems he was using numbers from an 2010 AARP report (which only deals with 2010 data). He uses the 40% number as representing the nation as a whole when it was only for those aged 45+. And if you look at the scale used (and the AARPs cutoff for categorizing someone as lonely) the results would be better interpreted as 40 percent (it's actually 35% but it was reported as 40% in a couple of stories from 2016) of those over age 44 sometimes feel lonely. That is hardly a crisis.

Follow the links in the Gelman's post and you see that Brooks interpretation of data has only a tangential relation with truth.

It's funny when people switch ideologies because they confuse their own limitations with those of their ideology. I see a lot of that when someone hasn't thought through their own position very well - and even more of the reverse when contrarians think they're brilliant because they're always arguing against people who haven't given their belief in conventional wisdom any real thought.

'Have a feeling that he pretty much ignores all the standard David Brooks criticism you find on the web'

Well, there is no doubt that when such is posted here, only a select few are likely to read it. The ignoring is not merely passive.

Almost as if for some reason, we are all expected to take David Brooks seriously.

+1. How can you ever trust someone to spin accurate broad narratives when they don't respect basic facts?

Andrew Gelman should try the salad bar at Applebee's.

How often does Andrew Gelman go after an asshole-with-a-megaphone when said asshole has a faculty appointment?

See all his stuff on Brian Wansink

I'm about to listen, but let me say that one of the biggest errors you goofs make, and constantly demonstrate, is your inability to separate ideas from people. Basically you want to say "X is a bad idea because Y is a bad person." I mean, if you even get to "X is an idea."

Grow up.

I didn't even read what you wrote. You have consistently demonstrated that you are an ass. Why bother?

It has been at least two thousand years since anyone on this Earth has been correct in all his beliefs and right and all his arguments.

So the question ever since has been: can we listen to someone who might be right now, even if he is wrong elsewhere?

We better say yes, because that really is the best any of us can do.

Stop acting a cuck, you incel.

I have no idea what this has to do with my comment. Tyler wants to have a conversation with David Brooks about ideas. David Brooks seems to only be able to selectively interpret data to fit his story (rather than telling a story about facts in the world). Not challenging Brooks on the facts is a bad idea.

What facts in this interview were in error?

Which conclusions in this interview rested on false premises?

Please read the Gelman article that I shared in the original comment and then comment on Brooks truthfulness, starting with the "40 percent of Americans are lonely" falsehood.

That's not at all a "falsehood." At the very worst you can say Brooks believed a study which you do not trust so much:

The share of American adults who say they're lonely has doubled since the 1980s to 40 percent, per AARP's numbers.

Still didn't read that Gelman post I linked to, did ya?

I think it's funny that you continue in your failure.

You insist that we should not pay attention to the content of this conversation because of something else elsewhere which you believe is false.

Haha. So you still didn't read the Gelman post.
1) I didn't say that people shouldn't listen (maybe you should separate ideas from people). There were parts that I really enjoyed. I just think Brooks needs to be called on his BS.

2) the link you provided is not to the study, but to an article that mentions the 40% number. I do have problems with the study, but lets take it at face value. The first problem with Brooks use of 40% (this is not unique to Brooks (every other source I found that references the AARP report the number as 40% (I even found one article that said the study was from 2013 but links to the 2010 report)) is that it is not 40%. They actually say 35 percent of survey respondents are lonely ( The second problem is that this only covers those who are over age 44, so applying the inaccurate 40% to the population as a whole is doubly inaccurate. Third, the study says nothing about loneliness overtime. It is only for the year 2010 (the survey was fielded for a week at the end of May of 2010). Unless there is some other report from AARP that shows any data from the 1980s, the statement above (which does not come from the article you linked to) is just wrong.

I highly recommend reading the Gelman article. I never said one shouldn't listen to the interview. I just think Brooks (whose writing has a large audience) should actually report data more carefully and (because his writings are published online) provide references to the data he uses.

I don't mind keeping the conversation going, but it would be nice if you put in a little bit of work.

OK, here's one minutes' work:

Looking from a few different sources of data, it seems that way. The percentage of Americans who responded that they regularly or frequently felt lonely was between 11% and 20% in the 1970s and 1980s [the percentage varied depending on the study].

So I say that even taking the AARP survey at face value, there are problems in how Brooks used that data, then you link to another article that commits the same mistakes (at least the first 2 mistakes). The person then goes on to say that their own longitudinal study put loneliness at 26%. So a rise from 20% to 26%. Given the wording of the question and the sampling error, that small difference could just be noise. You don't seem capable of reading the Gelman post I mentioned, so here I will link to a post he references (specifically on loneliness): I'll let you read that post.

But again you are missing the inner bullshit of your argument.

If it was widely reported that loneliness was increasing, and it was as any casual google search will show, then a pundit addressing this apparent increase would be reasonable.

And we can certainly listen to discussion about causes and cures for loneliness in that light.

Because after all, no one would deny that loneliness exists or that too much loneliness is bad.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Brooks is a pundit. He'll take interpret the data to fit his story, rather than have his story informed by the data. You know what else is widely reported, "coffee causes cancer", "coffee doesn't cause cancer", "what does your astrological sign mean for your health". My argument is that maybe we should expect pundits who have a huge megaphone to put in a little more effort in how they use data and to report it accurately. I guess these days that expectation is bullshit.

But maybe Brooks' comment on loneliness are not about loneliness but reflections about where he is in life - middle aged, with a woman he does not love any more and a need to justify running off with his much younger research assistant?

In that case the man and his ideas are not separated at all.

'the man and his ideas are not separated at all'

Just self-serving. But then, he is a NYT columnist, so no surprise there.

The thing that always strikes me about Brooke's articles is his assumptions of an idealistic unity and stability existing in the past. I think its a massive error to believe there have been so many changes in society, rather than all of a sudden the unsatisfied people now have a voice.

Did he realize how comical it was for him to title a piece "speaking as a white male" a few months ago?

I agree most of the blue collar people I've known thought like what Trump ran on all along but they had no one to vote for.

"...I was socialist back then." Back then! Certainly still so--on the cultural front, at least.

cHuh? How can one be a "cultural socialist"? Advocate for equal art and music? Socialism is all about economics.

The "production function" part of the conversation is excellent; Brooks must have a huge living room floor!

"The Whig Party was started by Hamilton, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster"

Now that is a BIG bloomer. Whig Party was founded in the 1830s, some 3 decades after Hamilton fell down in Weehawken to a bullet.

I have always said the first Whig was the Devil.

In a philosophical sense, Brooks has a point. As one can argue that the Whig Party (and the Lincoln Republicans who followed it) are the ideological descendants of Hamilton's Federalists - in terms of beliefs and policy preferences.

But still there is a disconnect in time between Hamilton and Whigs. 30 years separate them. Though they may be similar in terms of ideology.

I assume the similarities between the Whigs and Federalists is what Brooks meant. A big difference, however, is that the Whigs opposed King Andrew and an energetic executive, while Hamilton supported an energetic executive though he disliked populist demagogues (like Jackson).

I just he got his history wrong. He clearly mentioned Whigs were founded by Hamilton. A bloomer!

correction - "I just think he got his history wrong"

I used to enjoy reading your comments but they've been a disaster recently. Makes me think maybe the old shrikanthk left and this new imposter took over.

Could you elaborate? Always glad to get feedback, on what was right before and wrong now.

Come to Jesus, who is Love and God. Hindu pagan worship is why India is place full of plagues and locuses while America is a shining city on a hill. Jesus > Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, and Mohammed all combined.

Talking about David's and Friedman's, perhaps you could do a conversation with David Friedman?

Obamacon poseur. Stick a fork in him.

Anarcho-capitalist David Friedman is an obamacon-poseur? Well I'll be damned. Maybe you got mixed up with another David Friedman?

If David Brooks didn't exist, Corey Robin would have to invent him.

If Corey Robin didn't exist, some other tedious prat would have his job at Brooklyn College.

"Well..I'm an American conservative....(on Hamilton)...His conservatism was very different. It’s about dynamism, energy, transformational change. And so a European self-conservatism doesn’t work here."

David Brooks is all mixed up here.

Firstly when we talk of "American conservatism" one usually recalls states rights, extreme individualism, weak federal government, an obsession with "natural right" among other things - these are things you associate with Jefferson!! Not Hamilton.

Hamilton was more European, and less American. He was for a stronger federal govt, weaker states, skeptical of democracy, some even called him a quasi-monarchist.

Hamilton is much closer to Burke, than Jefferson.

American conservatism is more about Jefferson than Hamilton. So is American liberalism in one sense. American politics itself is Jeffersonian.

I did find this odd: "His conservatism was very different. It’s about dynamism, energy, transformational change." So you mean... not conservatism?

That's not me.

"Western liberalism is an offshoot of that. And it relies on Christianity for its sustenance, intellectually, spiritually, and otherwise."

Both Tyler and Brooks are in denial of the secularization of the West, which is not a twentieth century thing. But started with Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes - the two godfathers of "modernity" some 500 years ago.

It is only Harvey Mansfield among contemporary thinkers who really gets this. I highly recommend his talks with Bill Kristol.

People today may say they are "Christians" in the West. But their thinking is all Hobbesian. Where there is no right and wrong. Anything goes as long as you don't break the law. This is the kind of thinking that stems from Hobbes and his "state of nature" doctrine that totally discounts the soul.

It is in sharp contrast to say Aristotle - who says "Man is a Political animal" - implying that there is an innate sense of right and wrong in each of us. And that we are not merely driven by self-preservation

But the whole edifice of modernity is opposed to those older classical ideas as well as Christian ideas. It is instead based on a Hobbesian vision of the world that is deeply atheistic. Deeply amoral. That's modernity.

This change happened 500 years ago. It is not a new thing.

People today may say they are "Christians" in the West. But their thinking is all Hobbesian.

This is a nonsensical statement.

Ofcourse when I say "this change happened 500 years ago" , I don't mean to say it happened suddenly.

But these ideas germinated 500 years ago with Machiavelli and later Hobbes. And the whole history of liberalism since, has been all about building on those amoral foundations.

Today it has reached its logical conclusion. That's all. Back then it was a new way of thinking. Today each one of us is a Hobbesian. The process of conversion has taken 500 years. It's complete now. The consequence is decadence ofcourse.

The state sponsored opium addiction in Ohio, or the total breakdown of marriage in Scandinavia - these are the logical conclusions of the Hobbesian revolution.

It simply had to end this way.

But started with Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes - the two godfathers of "modernity" some 500 years ago.

It is only Harvey Mansfield among contemporary thinkers who really gets this.

The idea that modernity derives foremost from Machiavelli is orthodox Straussianism (see "Three waves of modernity", "Thoughts on Machiavelli"). Mansfield was a student of Strauss.

Mansfield was never a student of Strauss; he became a Straussian later on.

I think the actual Christians would complain about moralistic therapeutic deism, which I wouldn't trace back to Hobbes.

First, I think you are wrong about Hobbes. Hobbes shouldn’t be understood as arguing that there is no objective right or wrong...

Rather that people are by nature born more or less equal with a natural right to preserve themselves and claim/obtain things (and power). As individuals seek to acquire things/power, they compete and come into conflict. Due to that conflict they seek to dominate and control those around them. This effort (particularly by those who are prideful and seek vain flowery... that are unhappy not being seen as supperior by others) causes a natural tendency to war/conflict. This tendency leads to a lack of collaboration that makes people miserable, and life solitary, poor, nasty, bruttish and short. [note that the conversation touches this without identifying it].

He then proposes a social contract as a means of prespecifying rules for people to live by.

This in a nutshell is the history of relgion... Christianity in particular.

It brings up both the reason for “the law”, how it fails, and why Christ sets people free.

When one orients their life around the golden rule... the good of the other and frees themselves from seeking power and goods... that have arrived. Problem is, without grace, this is basically impossible.

So, what is secularization... it is one of two things.

1.) a rejection of the notion that we should care about the good of the other for its own sake... but an acceptance of a social contract for the sake of peace.

2.) A realization that religious people (Christians certainly) fall into the same trap and so imposition of Christianity on the part of the state solves nothing. As a result, secularization is both a good and a bad. Bad in that in some it replaces the recognition of God with the state (social contract) which doesn’t solve the problem because people just fight about the terms of the contract. Good in that it represents a maturation of religion (particularly Christianity) in that the people honestly seeking internalize it, do so while giving up their attempt to force it on the masses at the point of the sword... rather relying on reason and rational argument and acceptance of rejection.

Thanks for the comment

"He then proposes a social contract as a means of prespecifying rules for people to live by. This in a nutshell is the history of relgion... Christianity in particular"

Hobbes himself was seen as an enemy of Christianity in his lifetime. I wonder why that was the case. He was viewed as an atheist by many. And that's because in his world view, "Theodicy" is not such a major consideration. Hobbes is not concerned with the "Problem of Evil". To him, self preservation is the natural law. Hence he does not discuss in terms of good and evil. Does he use these words at all in his writings? Don't think so. His world view is amoral. And God / virtue get little consideration in his writings.

"So, what is secularization... it is one of two things.
1.) a rejection of the notion that we should care about the good of the other for its own sake"

There is a tendency here to equate religion with the "Golden rule". Religion is a LOT more than the Golden rule. Golden rule is merely Step 1 in religion. Religion is also concerned in pursuing virtue for its own sake regardless of whether it does good to others or not. There is a quest for the "good" in an absolute sense, that transcends the Golden rule.

This is even more true for more inward oriented religions like Hinduism, than Christianity (which I agree is more Golden rule oriented). Hinduism has a version of the Golden rule. But a lot of its doctrine transcends the Golden rule and is concerned with the individual's quest for bliss (particularly the quest to conquer the senses and human failings).

And I believe that is an important part of Christianity too. Though less so. To equate Christianity with the Golden rule is to be unfair to it.

Whether Hobbes was an atheist is uncertain IMO (and rather irrelevant again IMO) despite what some people say. An enemy of Christianity? I don’t think so. An enemy of theocracy, yes.

Hobbes doesn’t say anything directly about theodicy but rather saw the human tendency to seek to compete to acquire things and power as the source of conflict. That was the whole basis of his social contract solution. He was pragmatic, and as was his solution to the conflict. I think he sidesteps the whole issue of religion because he lived in an era of religious conflict and so attempted a pragmatic solution. Drawing on reason is never a bad thing but is always a good thing.

To Chrisianity the Golden Rule is not step one, it’s simply a summary.

See for example the scene in Matt 22 when some Sadducees and Pharisees were questioning Jesus. They eventually ask him what is the greatest commandment. He says to love your God and your neighbor as yourself... all of the law and prophets hang on these.

Many of the Eastern religions are similar in many respects to Christianity in that the quest for power and things is the problem to be solved. However they differ in that many Eastern religions see matter as evil and by overcoming the material world, they can arrive at their goal. Whereas Christianity doesn’t see the material world as evil (the orthodox that is, some heterodox sects taught that... Gnostics being the most prominent) rather peoples lower desires (concupiscence). Christianity sees arrival at bliss is impossible without divine Grace (Pelginianism was specifically reflected after all).

I wasn’t equating Christianity with the Golden Rule, just saying it summarizes it.

Yes, I think Hobbes was viewed as an enemy of the Divine right of Kings and the dogma of the Great Chain of Being that underlay it, not Christianity as a civil religion.

"many Eastern religions see matter as evil"

That may be true of Buddhism and Jainism. And to a much lesser extent Advaita Hinduism (the monistic variant). But it is definitely not true of more theistic versions of Hinduism such as Sri-Vaishnavism and Dwaita traditions - which do acknowledge the real world as truly "real" and not an illusion. And also do not view matter as evil.

Fair enough. Do you think it possible though? Can a human being ever really be completely detached from lower desire so as to arrive at bliss? Sounds like you are a Peleginian. I think the Christians are right, it is not possible, this we need divine “help” to get there. I think that position is more consistent with the state of things and so more likely to be true.

It’s kind of model selection in data analysis. If one builds a model to predict out of sample, they ought chose the model that best fits the existing state of things (evidence). My read is that this is Christianity.

"It’s kind of model selection in data analysis. If one builds a model to predict out of sample, they ought chose the model that best fits the existing state of things (evidence). My read is that this is Christianity"

Actually you would want to deliberately choose a simpler model that does not overfit on the existing data (training set) if you want the best performance out-of-sample.

So you do want to "give up" a bit on the worldly pleasures to seek the absolute. I am not a Christian. But I guess there is a streak of that (anti-sensuality as I call it) in Christianity as well, though less so than in say Hinduism.

Haha. Avoid overfittinf using Bayesian posterior model probabilities or something like k-fold cross validation.

COWEN: Socrates, overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: [laughs] This is so absurd.

+10 for that retort.

Isn't it though? Only a status obsessed person would care to raise or lower the status of an ancient philosopher. The entire overrated/underrated segment is rarely insightful and is frankly annoying.

It's decently funny that Brooks responded by saying it was absurd, but I feel a bit sad for both Brooks and Cowen that neither of them seems to get either the fun or the purpose of Socrates's shenanigans. You can't conclude that interlocutors only ever assent to Socrates without digging around for some disconfirming evidence. You'll find plenty in Callicles and Thrasymachus and in the moments when a less hostile but still frustrated interlocutor decides he doesn't want to play by the rules anyway--Euthyphro is a classic example. Just check the end of his dialogue. When you see these moments, and you see Socrates's response to the refusal of assent, it becomes clear that Socrates is *not* just spouting off a bunch of his own ideas. He is trying to comb through the belief set of his interlocutor. As he says in the _Apology_, his primary concern with the psychic condition (epistemic condition) of his fellow Athenians. He's the great altruist.

But, sure, there are plenty of examples in Plato's work of "Socrates" functioning as a mouthpiece for Plato's ideas. That's not Socrates though. When you see the assent of the interlocutor functioning as an empty device for presentation of the ideas, that's Plato. Socrates is the *other guy* who was constantly looking for confirmation that his interlocutor was fully in the game.

And the game is called "dialectic" and its object is to get the interlocutor to contradict himself. Brooks and Cowen should love that game! But if you only see monologues in the dialogues, you'll never see the fun of the game.

Thought provoking interview. Thank you

Obama's crease - overrated or underrated?

How can anyone take this fraud seriously?

How many STDs you think Trump has?

Not a big fan of Brooks but this was an interesting conversation with a surprising of meat. I enjoyed this more than most of the conversations.

I've never understood why I should take the opinions of people like David Brooks, Ezra Klein, Charlie Rose, etc. any more seriously than the opinions of someone else with a similar amount of education. It's not like they have any expert opinion on issues just because they write op-ed columns or interview people.

Learning that is how you get over the unhappiness they ascribe to the 25 yr olds. Most are unhappy because they've no context for the constant bombardment of drama from writers such as Brooks. Not the writers' fault, they need eyeballs to sell soap to get paid.

I was 18 in 1980. The '70s was a constant drumbeat of horribleness from the media. Fortunately, it wasn't in your face unless you foolishly watched the tv news or read Time or something. These days? But after awakening to the world of bad clothes, bad music, bad economy, bad politics, bad environment, et al, there came a change with Reagan. I still believe the media BS for the first 4 years of that decade. Even as the music got better, the economy improved, the clothes at least were moving in the right direction. Star Wars wasn't a great movie, it was just a breath of fresh air from the whole negativity of the Woodstock generation and the peaking of the Zwangwirtschart (compulsory economy), a gift from the war years and the Nazis influence on the New Deal.

But now I'm older and know that it's all "fake" news in that the facts might be true, but the writer spins them to their world view. All reporting, and that goes double for pundits, must be read with skepticism and you must seek out other sources. Otherwise, despondency is in your future.

Ezra Klein has more raw brainpower in his toe clippings than you have in your whole comment.

Most people’s toe jam has greater ability to speak the truth than Ezra Klein

As an agnostic I find the necessity of religion for morality quite worrying, but more than that, wrought with contradiction. If we are all moral because there is at least the draw of religious truth, which one?

If you answer that all religions have a handle on the truth you elevate your perspective, but a the risk of saying the secular humanists might on a handle on it as well.

Those saying that religion is necessary for morality are wrong. Take a look at the respect people like Tertulian, Augustine, Aquinas had for the ancient philosophers. They said much about the fact that many Greeks had arrived at some/much of moral truth by reason alone. Their point was though that this rather rare and incomplete.

"Those saying that religion is necessary for morality are wrong. Take a look at the respect people like Tertulian, Augustine, Aquinas had for the ancient philosophers"

Why do you say the "ancient philosophers" were without a religion?

This is the common Christian conceit. Where Christianity is "THE" religion, and those with other non mono-theistic faiths are somehow without a religion.

Plato / Socrates / Aristotle were all people with a religion. They all discuss the soul in great depth. They were not atheists as Christians stereotype them.

Religion is not = the ones that emerged from the middle eastern desert. Religion can be of all kinds.

In Hinduism the dominant philosophical doctrine is not dualistic, but monism - as per which the universal soul and individual soul are one and the same. Does that mean Hindus are atheists? No.

I appologize for being loose with my language (I don’t spend but 10 seconds to make a comment).

I should have said something more like the ancient philosophers arrived at morality by reason rather than revelation.

A Christian saying this doesn’t know his own scripture...

Here is Paul in Acts 17:

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

As a Christian, I can tell you that Hindus are considered atheists because you don't believe in God who is Jesus. You believe in idolatry of many limbed figures that need to wear more clothing to preserve modesty. Without Jesus, the world is a bleak and dismal place but with Him, eternal life is possible. I'm so glad that Christianity is growing in India because it shows that good triumphs over evil and light over the dark.

Anonymous : You have not understood what religion means in a broad sense.

Religion by definition is an acknowledgment that there is something called a "good life" that is worth pursuing. It is not about a deity or a personal God per se who you have to worship. Though that can always help.

Rejection of religion invariably means rejection of the idea of the "good". With the decline of religion, we inevitably see a decline in the emphasis on "virtue" and the "good life" too.

Sure, we have low crime rates and less violence today. But that is an outcome of fear of law. Not the internal religious constitution in men. In the absence of law, crime would rocket!

Modernity has replaced religion with "law".

What I am talking about is best illustrated by an medieval Kannada folk tale from the southern Indian state of Karnataka -

There was this great devotional poet named Kanakadasa. His teacher handed an apple to each of his pupils and asked each of them to go and eat the apple in stealth where nobody can catch them in the act of eating. Each of them did as told by the next day. Kanaka, however, came back with the apple intact.

Upon being queried, Kanaka replied -

"Wherever I went the eyes of God were upon me. I couldn't find a place where I could eat in stealth".

That's the best possible definition of religion in my view. The eyes of God. And it transcends and should transcend secular law.

I see, who cares if that specif god is true (or actually is the devil)? Any voodoo will do! Thank you, but I orefer the real God, not Satan!!

The eyes of God can only be upon you if you believe in Him. The Christ, the Messiah, the one prophesied by the Old Testament. All else is false idolatry, the work of the Deceiver of Men.

“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”

The world is full of One True Religions, the members of whom honestly believe that literal truth. It is possible for philosophers to step back and treat religions as you describe, and I think that defines at least a functional agnosticism.

It also creates limits. Can the philosopher really combine people who declare each other heretic or worse? Not without becoming heretic himself, to those true believers.

It’s functional agnosticism if one views religion as the closing of the mind rather than its opening (to all knowledge: metaphysical, scientific method, revelation, beauty [poetry, photography, literature, art, music, etc]).

Further, something must be true and real. Whether pure random spontaneous existence with no cause (tho that seems to be at odds with the scientific method that relies on causation), one god or the other. If there are 5,000 possibilities, the likelihood of any one being true is small, but one (or more) has to be true. No possibilities has a probability of zero. So it’s a matter of which one you go with and why.

Is spontaneous order in the universe just one of 5000 in this scenario?

I think that shows poor internal logic.

I fail to see how it being one of the 5,000 shows poor internal logic. Suppose the various versions of it make it more than one of the 5,000 possibilities. So...

IMO poor internal logic is believing something can come from nothing. If you are going to restrict yourself to scientism, then one ends up in a world of causality where something coming from nothing is impossible. Arguing from a causal system suggesting there is something without a cause is the internally inconsistent position.

I think the big division is: either spontaneous order, and humans are good at inventing religions, OR you were extremely lucky and of the dozens of major religions in the world your parents taught you the right one.

Well actually in any case aside from an infinitely existing universe (or multiverse), there must by definition be an uncaused cause. So it’s either this uncaused cause or that uncaused cause.

Also, paradoxically, it’s probably the opposite of lucky (in this life that is).

For Church teaches that culpability is necessary for damnation. So from my side of the fence, it seems that ignorance could be bliss.

From the CCC:

“The Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

From Luke 12:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

From 2 Peter 2:

“For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first.

For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment handed down to them.”

As an agnostic:

1) If you have a framework that works for you, is a positive influence on your life, family, community, I see no reason to argue against it. And you might be right!

2) I don't think a proper agnostic "knows" or regards as "knowable" the origins of life, the universe, and everything.

3) The need to know things that are not knowable might lead to .. 1.

An Infinite Loop, if you will.

Fair enough. On 3 though, the cat is already out of the bag for the human mind searches restlessly. The more it knows, the more it seeks after. Funny thing about learning some thing is that that leads to a dozen new questions. The mind is searching, searching, always searching.

What is it looking for? To know everything about everything. And not just the set of all individual truths... but the source of all truth itself.

The mind is predisposed to seek unceasingly. We are made in the image of God and this is just one reflection of that where we differentiate ourselves from all other known creatures.

Good talk; I enjoyed it. But also a little bland. Nothing to write home about, needs more spice. If you were reviewing a restaurant and wrote that about its dishes, the chef would rightly be disatisfied with his performance.

For this one, when asking what to ask, you said, "Just keep in mind this is the conversation with David I want to have, not the one you want me to have."

Yeah, I get that. Still, I've attended a few of these, and the trend in tone has become awfully chummy, safe, and softball. For lack of a better term, that makes both participants too complacent: it makes it too easy to avoid risk. These things won't be interesting or worthwhile if they settle into a "clearly well within their comfort zones," exercise.

So, maybe you should try having a conversation that is at least slightly not the one you and your guest want to have. It's worth taking a few chances.

If the Amish are happy it's at least in part because they don't get the NY Times

This is the most reasoned and valid comment I've read here.

Better than Facebook, you really should have talked VPNFilter,

"[Friedman] was the best arguer in human history".

Best arguer or just someone that adjusted his positions to be the ones that were supported by the best arguments? I don't think Milton Friedman would necessarily make great arguments for statism. That suggests that what might appear to be great arguing skills is actually great skill at determining which positions are most meritorious.

Indeed. If someone destroyed my arguments so forceful, I would have some respect for the guy. I wouldn't say in the same breath "He destroyed all my arguments. I never became a libertarian." I never heard about this David Brooks person, but he comes off as pretty disrespectful.

The point is, he WAS back then a socialist. Now he is more like Friedman, but still not as much ofa free-markets guy. It is obviously possible to believe one isma great arguer and believe his ideas are mostly good without adopting them all. People do it all time in themes ranging from sports to religion.

Good interview. I would have liked a question on what he thinks of Steve Sailer. A fair number of his columns seem to be reaction to a Sailer blog post which has discombobulated him.

Hi Steve, didn't know you use Muslim pseudonyms. I would've thought you might have, you know, some reservations against that.


Of course, it's not so local. Great though.

Springsteen is an artist, politics, as usual, pathetic, but he's a damn good musical artist/ performer.

Springsteen sings from a unionized bubble before the rust belt went ghetto. Strawmen Republicans are held as the devil.

FDR's 'four freedoms speech' playing in the background

There's some truth to that but if it weren't for Jews like Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, F.A Hayek, you'd likely be living in some Socialist/Commie nightmare.

F.A Hayek had a Catholic burial. Mises and Rand were publicly atheists, but what's it matter when you're looking for a particular group to blame all you problems on?

That's what happens when you try to pigeonhole the Founders into modern U.S. political categories. It doesn't work. Hamilton and Jefferson were *both* forerunners of today's conservatives as well as aspects of today's liberals, and they rarely agreed on anything.

There was nothing uniquely American about Hamilton. Jefferson on the other hand was quintessentially American. Aspects of him have been appropriated by both the modern Right and Left in US.

Either way, my original comment was to point out a blatant mistake in what Brooks said (about Hamilton founding Whigs), which nobody else did. No "+1s" for that here :)

Hamilton embodies the American idea that anyone can make it. Jefferson was an aristocrat and lousy businessman.

I am not talking about their personal life experiences. Sure, Hamilton's life was more typically reminiscent of the American story (about the poor kid doing good).

I was discussing their ideologies. It is Jefferson with his extreme individualism, ideas of weak govt, states rights - who has had a greater influence on American conservatives.

And it is his agnosticism, religious indifference, glorification of reason - that has impacted American liberal thought.

Hamilton abhorred all these abstractions. He was a European style conservative - favoring an energetic executive, strong central govt, a presidential system with near-monarchical powers. He was also skeptical of ideas of equality, unlike Jefferson. Definitely less egalitarian.

His impact on later American thought, be it conservative or liberal, is rather limited.

Sorry, in wrong place. Response to shrikanthk. This board should have an editing function.

It's hard to believe that joining a monthly club increases happiness as much as doubling income. Good though if it holds up to further research. Maybe I should like to join a club of 2.

Really enjoyed Tyler's conversation with David Brooks. On hearing praise for Springsteen, Dylan and Simon (incidentally, Lou Reed better than all three), it strikes me that the real under/overrate divide is between American popular music composed in the first vs latter half of the 20th Century. Springsteen, Dylan et al are all hugely overrated (even by the Swedish academy). Whereas true greats such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans and so many brilliant and original musicians are no longer played and fading from public awareness.

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