Yoga for the 0.1% (and neocons)

“A free society does make people phenomenally
wealthy—and this is a wonderful, beautiful blessing—but not enough to
give people a satisfying life,” he continued,…. a self-declared “warrior
for free enterprise” 

From Nazi hipsters we now move on to neocon imperialists and the (in)famous American Enterprise Institute (AEI) which hosts Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a Fellow. Arthur Brooks wants to get in touch with his inner hippie and who better than Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to act as a go-between. Especially now that India has impeccable credentials as a Hindu nation, which has managed to drive out the British and Mughal empires with (mostly) spiritual power and a democratic revolution.

We agree that a change of image would be good for the neocons. The mad Iraq war that they helped launch has right now created the specter of 100 years religious war in the Middle East. If a little bit of yoga helps to calm the nerves, that may not be such a bad thing. For the millions (plus) victims of war unfortunately, this raising of inner consciousness will not be useful.
There were more turbans and saris among the suits and ties
than usual at the American Enterprise Institute this week when AEI
President Arthur Brooks welcomed Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi
Shankar for a conversation on human flourishing.

“I wish I could
tell you global brotherhood is best served through greater and greater
amounts of money,” Brooks said as the heavily bearded Shankar, dressed
in a luminous white robe, sat quietly in a chair, “but I can’t tell you
that because it’s not true,” he concluded with a flourish. 

Brooks does is with a flourish, and his new venture into what some
would call humanism is a striking departure for the venerable
conservative think tank. “A free society does make people phenomenally
wealthy—and this is a wonderful, beautiful blessing—but not enough to
give people a satisfying life,” he continued, an insight that shouldn’t
be surprising until you consider the source: a self-declared “warrior
for free enterprise” who heads a group dedicated to spreading the gospel
of capitalism and governed by a board populated by hedge-fund

When Brooks first outlined his idea for a series of conversations dedicated to human flourishing and what makes people happy,
a colleague asked only half-jokingly, “Do you actually handle snakes?”
Emotional IQ, meditating, getting in touch with your inner self is not
the typical fare at AEI. “I’m such an evangelist for this, I get a lot
of ribbing,” Brooks told The Daily Beast. He explained that this is his
way of getting past the “left-right dichotomy that’s so boring and
unproductive” in politics today and getting to “the fundamentals of what
people are looking for in their lives.” 

In a think tank with 200 scholars, the reaction to Brooks’ spiritual journey
is a mixed bag. “Some people are all-in on this, and others are just
doing their work, no problem,” he says. One resident fellow who has been
in the room when Brooks tells AEI donors whose wealth puts them in the
top tenth of the 1 percent that conservatism isn’t about them, that it’s
about the least among us: “Even if it’s a ploy, that’s a message that
leaves a lot of them uncomfortable.” 

Others at AEI when asked if the 50-year-old Brooks is going through a
midlife crisis say they’ve seen no evidence of that. They point to his
longstanding interest in the subject of happiness; he’s published one
book and is writing another one. Besides, Brooks says he’s already had
his existential crisis. It occurred when he became a full professor with
tenure at Syracuse University. “I had more job security than a French
bureaucrat,” he says, and it wasn’t enough, he wasn’t happy.

have the weirdest background for someone who is president of a think
tank,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I’m just a washed-up French horn
player.” Hardly, though he did leave college to pursue music and was the
principal French horn player with the orchestra in Barcelona, Spain. He
got his bachelor’s degree through correspondence courses, and went on
to get a Ph.D. in economics, becoming the true believer he is today in
the power of free enterprise to lift people out of poverty.

self-declared independent, he says AEI has a “moral obligation to look
for the deeper strands of thinking. It’s not to get more conservatives
elected or to hurt liberals,” he says. He sees a potential truce between
left and right. “Let’s declare peace on the social safety net and war
on crony capitalism.” Even so, AEI is mostly a bystander as Republicans
fight among themselves to squelch the Tea Party grassroots. Allied with
business interests and the Chamber of Commerce, Brooks acknowledges the
assault on capitalism, and with these conversations about human
flourishing seeks to address the growing divide in wealth. 

When the Dalai Lama visited AEI in February and told everyone he was a
socialist, it was an awakening of sorts for many of the more staid
scholars, and even better, from AEI’s perspective, was the Dalai Lama’s
admission that he felt more kindly about capitalism after his
conversation with Brooks. He called the AEI president “the spiritual
leader of the capitalist people,” a moniker that Brooks embraces.

Brooks cut to the chase with Shankar, asking “the big question”
on his mind: “What’s the secret to happiness?” The audience laughed at
the bluntness, and at the expectation that an answer could be had so
easily. “Just be yourself,” Shankar advised. Who influenced him the
most? His mother, he said, but “anytime, anywhere, people can inspire
you. It’s an internal phenomenon. You are in the moment. Inspiration is
opening the source of energy.” Brooks wondered if that meant he could
inspire Shankar, a comment that had the audience laughing once again.

Citing a study that shows only a third of Americans consider
themselves happy, Brooks asked what is the one thing Shankar would do to
increase that number. “Why one thing?” he responded playfully, before
explaining calmly that stress simply means too much to do, and too
little time. Either increase your energy level or reduce what you do. Go
slowly, he said, “Drive behind a bicycle.”





Brown Pundits