Leesfragment: The Second Mountain

20 juli 2020 , door David Brooks
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Nu met 20% zomerkorting: de beste non-fictie van Penguin in pocket. Bijvoorbeeld David Brooks' The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. Tijd voor een fragment.

The world tells us that we should pursue our self-interest: career wins, high status, nice things. These are the goals of our first mountain. But at some point in our lives we might find that we're not interested in what other people tell us to want. We want the things that are truly worth wanting.

This is the second mountain.

What does it mean to look beyond yourself and find a moral cause? To forget about independence and discover dependence - to be utterly enmeshed in a web of warm relationships? What does it mean to value intimacy, devotion, responsibility and commitment above individual freedom? In The Second Mountain David Brooks explores the meaning and possibilities that scaling a second mountain offer us and the four commitments that most commonly move us there: family, vocation, philosophy and community. Inspiring, personal and full of joy, this book will help you discover why you were really put on this earth.


Part I
The Two Mountains

Moral Ecologies

When I was a young TV pundit, I worked with Jim Lehrer, who cofounded a program that is now called the PBS NewsHour. When Jim was on the air and delivering the news, his face tended to be warm but stoical, because he did not think he should be the story; the news should be the story. But when the camera was not on him, his face was incredibly expressive. When I was talking on our segment and I said something cheap or crass, I would see his mouth turn down in displeasure. But when I said something that was useful, civil, or amusing, I would see his eyes crinkle with pleasure. For ten years, working with a man I deeply admired, I tried to behave in a way that would produce the eye crinkle and not the mouth downturn.
Lehrer never had to formally tell me how to behave, but in this subtle and wordless way, he trained me to meet the NewsHour standards of what is right. And he didn’t offer these reactions just to me; he offered them to everyone on staff, show after show, year after year. In this way, he created the NewsHour way of being, a moral ecology in which certain values were prioritized, and certain ways of being expected. It’s been several years since Lehrer retired, but the culture he instilled still defines the NewsHour today.
We all grew up in one moral ecology or another. We all create microcultures around us by the way we lead our lives and the vibes we send out to those around us. One of the greatest legacies a person can leave is a moral ecology — a system of belief and behavior that lives on after they die.
Some moral ecologies are local, in a home or office, but some are vast and defi ne whole eras and civilizations. The classical Greeks and Romans had their honor code with its vision of immortal fame. In the late nineteenth century, Parisian artists invented a bohemian code celebrating individual freedom and wild creativity, while across the Channel, Victorian morality was beginning to form, with its strict codes of propriety and respectability. Moral ecologies subtly guide how you dress, how you talk, what you admire and disdain, and how you defi ne your ultimate purpose.
Moral ecologies are collective responses to the big problems of a specific moment. For example, around the middle third of the twentieth century, people in the Northern Hemisphere faced a great depression and a cataclysmic world war. Big problems required big institutional responses. People joined armies, formed unions, worked at big companies. They bonded tightly together as warring nations. Therefore, a culture developed that emphasized doing your duty, fitting into institutions, conforming to the group, deferring to authority, not trying to stick out or get too big for your britches. This group-oriented moral ecology could be summed up by the phrase “We’re All in This Together.”
The spirit of this culture was nicely captured in a book by Alan Ehrenhalt called The Lost City, about some of the communities around and in Chicago in the 1950s. There wasn’t a lot of emphasis put on individual choice back then. If you were a star baseball player like Ernie Banks, you didn’t have the option of becoming a free agent. You spent your career as a Chicago Cub. If you had the wrong accent or the wrong skin color or were the wrong gender, you probably couldn’t get a job at one of the fancy offi ce buildings downtown. But people back then tended to have steady attachments and a stable connection to place. They did their duty for their institutions.
If you were a man who lived on Chicago’s South Side, there’s a good chance you followed your father and grandfather into the Nabisco plant, the largest bakery in the world at that time, and joined the union, the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International.
The houses were small, there was no air-conditioning, and TV had not yet penetrated, so when the weather was warm, social life was conducted on the front stoops, in the alleys, and with children running from house to house all day. A young homeowner was enveloped in a series of communal activities that, as Ehrenhalt puts it, “only the most determined loner could escape: barbecues, coffee klatches, volleyball games, baby-sitting co-ops and the constant bartering of household goods.”
If you went to the bank you went to the local bank, Talman Federal Savings and Loan. If you bought meat you went to the local butcher, Bertucci’s. Sixty-two percent of Americans in those days said they were active church members, and if you lived in that neighborhood in Chicago, you went to St. Nick’s Parish, where you listened to the kindly Father Fennessy say mass in Latin. You probably sent your boys to the local parochial school, where they sat in neat rows and quaked under the iron discipline of Father Lynch.
If you went into politics, you probably couldn’t win as a freelancer. But you could join Boss Daley’s machine and thrive, provided you did what your authority fi gures told you to do. For example, John Fary served the machine in the Illinois state legislature, and when he was sixty-four he was rewarded with a seat in the U.S. Congress. When asked what he was going to do once elected to Congress, he told the press, “I will go to Washington to help represent Mayor Daley. For twenty-one years, I represented the mayor in the legislature, and he was always right.” He did his duty.
The ethos nurtured the sort of rich, community life that many people pine for today. If somebody asked you where you were from, you didn’t just say “Chicago,” you mentioned the specific intersection your life revolved around: “Fifty-ninth and Pulaski.” The city was a collection of villages.
That moral ecology had a lot of virtues. It emphasized humility, reticence, and self-effacement. The message was you’re no better than anybody else, but nobody is better than you. It held that self-love — egotism, narcissism — is the root of much evil. If you talked about yourself too much, people would call you conceited, and they would turn up their nose.
Of course, this culture had failings, which ultimately made it intolerable. This moral ecology tolerated a lot of racism and anti-Semitism. Housewives felt trapped and stifled, and professional women faced daunting barriers. In 1963, Betty Friedan described a problem that had no name, which was the flattening, crushing boredom of many female lives. The culture had an emotionally cold definition of masculinity; men had trouble expressing their love for their wives and children. The food was really boring. People felt imprisoned by the pressure of group conformity and tortured by the intolerant tyranny of local opinion. Many played out their assigned social roles, but they were dead inside.
There’s a scene in John Steinbeck’s 1962 book Travels with Charley that captures how this communal code trapped many people in numb, joyless lives. Steinbeck’s cross-country journey with his dog has taken him to Chicago, and he needs a hotel room right away, so he can shower and rest. The only room the manager has available has not been cleaned yet, but Steinbeck says he’ll take it anyway.
When he opens the door, he sees the detritus of the previous guest’s stay. From a leftover dry-cleaning receipt, Steinbeck deduces that the previous resident, whom he calls Lonesome Harry, lives in Westport, Connecticut. On the desk is a letter he had started to his wife on the hotel stationery. “I wish you were hear [sic] with me. This is a lonesome town. You forgot to put in my cuff links.”
It’s a good thing Harry’s wife didn’t make a surprise visit. Both a highball glass and half the cigarette butts in the ashtray have lipstick on them. The hairpin by the bed reveals that the woman who had been in the room was a brunette; Steinbeck begins to think of her as Lucille. They drank an entire bottle of Jack Daniel’s together. The second pillow on the bed had been used but not slept on — no lipstick traces. The woman had let Harry get drunk, but she secretly poured her whiskey into the vase of red roses on the desk.
“I wonder what Harry and Lucille talked about,” Steinbeck writes. “I wonder whether she made him less lonesome. Somehow I doubt it. I think both of them were doing what was expected of them.” Harry shouldn’t have drunk so much. Steinbeck found Tums wrappers in the wastebasket and two foil tubes of Bromo-Seltzer in the bathroom. There was no sign of anything unexpected, Steinbeck wrote, no sign of any real fun, no sign of spontaneous joy. Just loneliness. “I felt sad about Harry,” he concluded. This was what happened when your life was lived in a drab manner serving some soulless organization. Not only were you unfulfilled, you lost the capacity to even feel anything.
There was a lot of commentary in those days about the soulsucking perils of conformity, of being nothing more than an organization man, the man in the gray flannel suit, a numb status seeker. There was a sense that the group had crushed the individual, and that people, reduced to a number, had no sense of an authentic self.



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