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.