“The Second Mountain” Quotes

I recently read “The Second Mountain: The Quest For A Moral Life” by David Brooks. Below are the quotes I found most interesting.

“It usually starts with a subculture. A small group of creative individuals finds the current moral ecology oppressive and alienating. So they go back in history and update an old moral ecology that seems to provide a better way to live. They create a lifestyle that others find attractive. If you can create a social movement that people want to join, they will bend their energies and ideas to you.” (8)

“In Irish Murdoch’s words: “Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture.” (8)

“America has always had a more individualistic culture than other places, which Tacqueville noticed back in the 1830s. But when individualism becomes the absolutely dominant ethos of a civilization – when it is not counterbalanced with any competing ethos – then the individuals within it may have maximum freedom, but the links between individuals slowly begin to dissolve.” (10)

“Colleges generally ask a person distinguished by fantastic career success to give a speech in which they claim that career success is not that important.” (14)

“Freedom sucks. Political freedom is great. But personal, social, and emotional freedom – when it becomes an ultimate end – absolutely sucks. It leads to a random, busy life with no discernible direction, no firm foundation, and in which, as Marx put it, all that’s solid melts to air. It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side – and fully commit to something.” (20)

“When you choose to work at a certain company, you are turning yourself into the sort of person who works in that company.” (22)

“The meritocracy is the most self-confident moral system in the world today. It’s so engrossing and seems so natural that we’re not even aware of how it encourages a certain economic vocabulary about non-economic things. Words change their meaning. “Character” is no longer ” (23)

“Acedia is the quieting of passion. It is a lack of care. It is living a life that doesn’t arouse your strong passions and therefore instills a sluggishness of the soul, like an oven set on warm. The person living in acedia may have a job and a family, but he is not entirely grabbed by his own life.” (24)

“When you have nothing but your identity and job title to res on, then you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others.” (25)

“Every age group in America is less trusting than the one before, and, as Robert Putnam of Harvard points out, that’s for a very good reason: People are less trustworthy. It’s not that perception is getting worse. It’s actual behavior.” (33)

“Individualism, taken too far, leads to tribalism.” (34)

“Once politics becomes your ethnic or moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor.” (35)

“Suffering that is not transformed is transmitted.” (40)

“The ultimate heart’s desire… is the desire to lose yourself in something or someone.” (45)

“In Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, he tells her, “Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.” (46)

“C.S. Lewis observed, there’s never been a country where people are admired for running away in battle, or for double-crossing people who were kind to them.” (47)

“You have to be loved first so you can understand love, and you have to see yourself actively loving others so that you know you are worthy of love.” (53)

“That’s the paradox of privilege. When we are well-off we chase the temporary pleasures that actually draw us apart. We use our wealth to buy big houses with big yards that separate us and make us lonely. But in crisis we are compelled to hold closely to one another in ways that actually meet our deepest needs.” (57)

“As the theologian Tim Keller puts it, real freedom “is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.” (58)

“Alasdair MacIntyre has pointed out, the concept of altruism was invented only in the eighteenth century. Once people decided that human nature is essentially egoist and selfish, then it was necessary to invent a word for when people weren’t driven by selfish desires. But before that, what we call altruism – living for relationships – was just how people lived. It wasn’t heroic or special.” (64)

“If you wanted to generalize a bit, you could say there are six layers of desire:
Material pleasure. Having nice food, a nice car, a nice house.
Ego pleasure. Becoming well-known or rich and successful. Winning victories and recognition.
Intellectual pleasure. Learning about things. Understanding the world around us.
Generativity. The pleasure we get in giving back to others and serving our communities.
Fulfilled love. Receiving and giving love. The rapturous union of souls.
Transcendence. The feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal.” (67)

“Giving is the primary relationship between on person and another, not the secondary one.” (71)

“Annie Dillard once asked a friend how he knew he was meant to become a painter. “I like the smell of paint,” he replied.” (90)

“Vocations invariably have testing periods – periods when the costs outweigh the benefits – which a person must go through to reach another level of intensity. At these moments, if you were driven by a career mentality you would quit. You’re putting more into this thing than you are getting out. But a person who has found a vocation doesn’t feel she has a choice. It would be a violation of her own nature. So she pushes through when it doesn’t seem to make sense.” (91)

“Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him,” Walker Percy observes.” (98)

“When the expert is using her practical knowledge, she isn’t thinking more, she is thinking less. She has built up a repertoire of skills through habit and has thereby extend the number of tasks she can perform without conscious awareness.” (101)

“The right question is not What am I good at? It’s the harder questions: What am I motivated to do? What activity do I love so much that I’m going to keep getting better at it for the next many decades? What do I desire so much that it captures me at the depth of my being? In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest. Interest multiplies talent and is in most cases more important than talent.” (111)

“All vocational work, no matter how deeply it touches you, involves those moments when you are confronted by the laborious task. Sometimes, if you are going to be a professional, you just have to dig the damn ditch.” (124)

“There are (at least) two kinds of failure. In the first kind you are good, but other people can’t grasp how good you are. Melville’s Moby-Dick sold only 2,300 copies in its first eighteen months and only 5,500 copies in its first fifty years. It was savaged by reviewers. Some artists have to create the taste by which they will be judged. In the second kind, you fail because you’re not as good as you thought you were, and other people will see it.” (131)

“There’s a moment in many successful careers when the prospect of success tires to drag you away from your source, away from the daemon that incited your work in the first place. It is an act of raw moral courage to reject the voices all around and to choose what you have chosen before. It looks like you are throwing away your chance at stardom, but you are actually staying in touch with what got you there.” (133)

“People don’t become lovely by loving themselves; they become lovely by loving others, by making vows to others, by taking on the load of others and fulfilling those vows and carrying that load. All the dignity and gravity of life is in this surrender.” (143)

“Your personality is the hidden history of the places where love entered your life or was withdrawn from your life. It is shaped by the ways your parents loved you, the ways they did not love you.” (151)

“If the love is to bloom, they have to get to, “This is how I’m crazy.”” (152)

“Society is a massive conspiracy to distract you from the important choices of life in order to help you fixate on the unimportant ones.” (166)

[Frankl says] “Human beings’ primary motivation is not for money or even happiness, but for meaning. We are driven above all to understand the purpose of our lives. Once that is understood even the most miserable conditions cannot upend inner peace.” (208)

“Thomas Merton once wrote that ‘trying to solve the problem of God is like trying to see your own eyeballs.’” (234)

“When people talk about dying to self, they are really talking about dying to old desires and coming alive to a new and better set of desires.” (255)

“Willfulness is the desire to be captain of your own ship. Willingness is the desire to answer a call with a strong response.” (255)

”Pretty soon you end up with what Rabbi Sacks calls ‘pathological dualism,’ a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.” (256)

“T.S. Eliot observed, the chief illusion of modern political activity is the belief that you can build a system so perfect that the people in it do not have to be good.” (308)

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