Hanna: The Social Animal

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(HOST) If you’re looking for some summer reading that might change how
you see yourself and your world, commentator and Vermont Law School
professor Cheryl Hanna has a recommendation that might be of particular

(HANNA) I just finished reading David Brooks’ new book The Social Animal.

may remember that the New York Times columnist wrote a book a decade
ago called Bobos in Paradise , in which he chronicled the rise of the
new bourgeois bohemians – hence "Bobos" – and the Latte Towns in which
they live. You know that you are in Latte Town, wrote Brooks, when "you
can hop right off the bike path, browse a used bookstore with shelves
and shelves of books on Marxism that the owner can no longer get rid of,
and then drink coffee at a place with a punnish name before sauntering
through an African drum store or a feminist lingerie shop."

was talking about Burlington, which he claimed was Paradise for
liberal-leaning professionals who combined enlightened capitalism and
hippie counter-culture.

I hated this book, and yet, I loved it.

of course, being the latte-sipping, buy local/think global Bobo that I
am, I had to read Brooks’ new book, in which he discusses what brings us
love, success and happiness. Deeply informed by emerging neuroscience,
his argument is that it is often the unconscious mind, not our rational
choices, which shapes who we are and how we live. Because we are social
animals, what brings us happiness are things like close friendships,
deep ties to our community, and most profoundly, he claims, a
long-lasting meaningful marriage.

Brook cites a wealth of
studies, including Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone . Putnam also
looked to Vermont, not as an example of shallowness, but as a place that
has a high degree of social capital. Because we are small and
interconnected, Putnam found, few Vermonters bowl alone, and this, he
claimed, was the key to a thriving life.

Brooks never mentions
Vermont in The Social Animal, but one can’t help but see that the the
kinds of connections we have here are what he claims that our
unconscious yearns for – local commerce, neighbors we know, and
opportunities for meaningful civic engagement.

Ironic, I
thought. Brooks once chided my town for its superficiality but now, as
he himself ages, and searches for some deeper meaning, he looks beneath
the surface and sees something beyond pretense among the Bobos. Sure, we
deserve some mocking – driving around in our hybrid SUV’s, as we
self-righteously struggle to balance our lattes and our organic lives –
but we also deserve some credit for being intentional about creating

The book gave me insight into why so many laws
intended to lift the human condition have failed and is a must-read for
anyone interested in public policy.

But it also gave me greater insight into my own life.

points out that as we strive for individual achievement, we often let
those ties that bind loosen, and slip away. That’s not so good. So when I
finished the book, instead of logging into my email, I called my
husband for a long over-due date.

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