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Will I turn into a shrewd animal?

In a 2013 Indiana University commencement address, a witty and irreverent David Brooks asked that question. He considered the fate of people who take all their values from the marketplace, filling their minds, he said, with a “mental materialism” that infects every aspect of their lives. Of that sort of materialism, he said:

  • If it’s all you’ve got, you lose the ability to speak in a sophisticated moral language, you have trouble thinking outside the categories of the market. You turn into shrewd animals, crafty self-preserving creatures who are adept at playing the game and who turn everything into a game.*

A person doesn’t just shake off this disease, he implied. A person must have a contrasting source of strong values and voices:

  • So it’s important to have a counterculture. Many of us found our counterculture at university.

This is not “the counterculture” of the 1960s but the long heritage of writers and activists who provide other ways of thinking–kinds of introspection and moral reflection, kinds of commitment not limited to the logic of buying and selling. For Brooks, by reading and rereading a person can draw on elements of this heritage over the course of a lifetime:

  • And if you do, you’ll find yourself living by a moral logic that is completely different than the logic of the shrewd animal.

*These comments take place from 14:12 to 16:25 in the video.

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