David Brooks: Arena culture and philosophy: Transcendent whooshing up

By David Brooks

The New York Times

Published: Saturday, Jan. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

But Dreyfus and Kelly might help invert the way we see the world. We have official stories we tell about our culture: Each individual is the captain of his own ship; we are all children of God. But in practice, willy-nilly, the way we actually live is at odds with the official story. Our most vibrant institutions are collective, not individual or religious. They are there to create that group whoosh: the sports stadium, the concert hall, the political rally, the theater, the museum and the gourmet restaurant. Even church is often more about the ecstatic whoosh than the theology.

The activities often dismissed as mere diversions are actually central. Real life is more about serial whooshes than coherent meaning.

We can either rebel against this superficial drift, or like Dreyfus and Kelly, go with the flow, acknowledging that the autonomous life is impossible, not seeking totalistic theologies, but instead becoming sensitive participants in the collective whooshings that life offers.

This clarifies the choices before us. This book is also a rejection of the excessive individualism of the past several decades, the emphasis on maximum spiritual freedom. In this, it's a harbinger of future philosophies to come. Our culture is defined by arenas. Our self-conception just hasn't caught up.

David Brooks is a New York Times columnist.

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