Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Perceiving, not deciding

David Brooks reflects on the failure of all moralistic preaching, whether from the left or the right. We are, he contends, "perceivers first, not deciders." He elaborates:

That’s because [preaching] is based on a false model of human nature. It’s based on the idea that human beings are primarily deciders. If you pour them full of moral maxims, they will be more likely to decide properly when temptation arises. If you pour them full of information about the consequences of risky behavior, they will decide to exercise prudence and forswear unwise decisions.


That’s the way we’d like to think we are, but that’s not the way we really are, and it’s certainly not the way teenagers are. There is no central executive zone in the brain where all information is gathered and decisions are made. There is no little homunculus up there watching reality on a screen and then deciding how to proceed. In fact, the mind is a series of parallel processes and loops, bidding for urgency.


We’re not primarily deciders. We’re primarily perceivers. The body receives huge amounts of information from the world, and what we primarily do is turn that data into a series of generalizations, stereotypes and theories that we can use to navigate our way through life. Once we’ve perceived a situation and construed it so that it fits one of the patterns we carry in our memory, we’ve pretty much rigged how we’re going to react, even though we haven’t consciously sat down to make a decision.

While he uses some of the language of Hobbes, he’s really borrowing from Aristotle and Tocqueville. And while he inveighs against preaching, he’s really inveighing against much of the Enlightenment. What works, he argues, is a healthy community that successfully reproduces itself through the habituation of its young. Sounds good to me.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Joseph writes: "What works, he argues, is a healthy community that successfully reproduces itself through the habituation of its young."

That suggests we are products of our environment. That our ability to make decisions later in life is dictated by the patterns formed earlier.

I will agree with that ... to a point. What I don't agree with is the notion that our ability to decide upon specific behavior is lost. It's there. It's just difficult to access because what's typically missing is a true desire to have the ability.

There is great comfort in believing we are victims of circumstance. It's not that people can't adopt the tenets of moralistic preaching, it's that they don't want to.

As an aside, if "[preaching] is based on a false model of human nature," then Jesus himself had it wrong. That notion fails on theological grounds if one believes Him to be God incarnate; it fails on the more secular grounds if one believes Jesus to be just a "great teacher." It's hard to be a "great teacher" if one bases one's teaching on a "false model".

Finally, is it possible that moralistic preaching has failed in part because so many of our moralistic preachers are so truly awful at it? Modern day evangelicals thunder about morals while their own lives are a shambles. Al Gore struts about the environment while he flies in chartered jets and lives in an energy-gobbling mansion. There is little believability in the preaching we hear and see today.

Thus the importance of ritual - to experience a truth symbolically or spiritually reinforces "preaching" by reifying the lessons in a controlled and sacred environment.

A third-world invasion of the West is taking place. And as Jean Raspail said in Camp of the Saints, “the best conservative novel ever written,” we can rise up and repel the invading third-world hordes, or we can sit back and watch the West crumble.

Check out the newest article in the American Conservative Magazine: La Raza’s Lapdogs: Why the elite press won’t report seriously on immigration (http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_06_18/feature.html)

wm wrote: "Thus the importance of ritual - to experience a truth symbolically or spiritually reinforces "preaching" by reifying the lessons in a controlled and sacred environment.

I agree to a point. Provided the ritual does not itself become the point of the exercise, then ritual does reinforce the meaning behind it.

The problem is ... for many people, the ritual really does become the point of the exercise.

It's a tricky balance.

We at the The Center for Human Emergence and the Spiral Dynamics Group were excited to see David Brook's article, as he speaks to the core of the praxis model of human development we work with. Based on the work of Clare W. Graves, a professor at Union College, Dr. Graves uncovered 8 basic worldviews and corresponding value systems that form in the human brain/mind in response to life conditions. As complex adaptive intelligence codes, these biopsychosocial systems of thinking help us to understand the nature of human existence and our ability to, and our process of change.

The Spiral Dynamics model illustrates that preaching does, in fact, work in one of the 8 value systems if both the preacher and the preachee primarily live from that system. The other 7 biopsychosocial systems, however, learn ,organize and behave using different ways of thinking.

One of the earliest systems uses a lot of ritual to teach and learn. This thinking system, unfortunately, gets overpowered, subverted and underdeveloped for many of us in the developed world.

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