Monday, July 05, 2010

"Social Intelligence" and "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman

Both are recommended, and both have surprising intersections with social justice, albeit with the subject matter of Social Intelligence lending itself more naturally to collective issues. The links to them are Here  and Here. The bottom line is that we are set up to be social beings, who thrive or die based on the level of support from the community that we receive. There are several systems at work in our brains, a Low Road that's based on instinctual and impulsive responses and a High Road that can defuse the Low Road through critical thought about situations, as well as a sort of social brain that's tuned into how other people respond to us in our daily lives. If we receive emotional support we can not only feel better about ourselves as people, more connected, less alienated, but can also defuse our Low Road, which otherwise disengaged can lead to selfish and in fact psychopathic behavior. The message is that our current economy praises the Low Road: people get ahead by being mean and vicious, not being sensitive to others' needs but instead pursuing their own self interest and their own sadism above anything else. One could say that our culture breeds psychopaths, in the boardroom as well as in the streets, as the book "American Psycho" by Brett Easton Ellis so lovingly portrays. And what about our streets? We're breeding a culture of people desensitized to violence who are encouraged to pig out on the sexual stimulation of porn at every juncture, leading to a warped sensibility about women and about the world in general. We're teaching them that violence and selfishness is cool, that it's gangster, with the biggest consumers of gangster rap not being folks from the inner city itself but from the suburbs who are white and come from privileged backgrounds. Consumerism feeds instant gratification, which compromises our impulse control, helping  make us servants of desire instead of its master.

Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are wake up calls. Our economy and our society cannot support the lack of basic compassion that's currently on display everywhere, and capitalism, although Goleman doesn't come out and say it or go this far in his analysis, is a root cause of this. The pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all other values destroys the fabric of society.On the level of culture the fix isn't to try to ban violent movies or massive consumption of porn but to raise awareness of how these things effect people in order to promote a voluntary decrease in their use, but also to keep options open so that talk about these things revolves around real evidence and not purely around standards that could be holdovers from puritanical values as opposed to things instituted for unbiased human welfare.

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