Imagine yourself as a young man in a pre civilization band of  hunters and gatherers. You know all the girls in your group. You’ve watched them closely as they and you have grown up. You know what they have to offer, and one in particular has become the object of your affection. So you get into her mind. What does she like? How would she react if you said this or did that? This quality you possess that let’s you enter other people’s minds and learn what motivates them is a quality that David Brooks calls Attunement.

When you are around her, you become aware that your heart is beating faster. You are aware of your tendency to get tongue tied in her presence, so you prepare in advance something to talk to her about that you hope will please her. You become mindful of how your state of mind affects her. You work on staying calm and confident in her presence. What is this quality that lets you monitor the movements of your mind and account for your biases and shortcomings? David Brooks call it Equipoise.

You’ve seen how she interacts with her mother, father, siblings and friends, and you’ve discerned some patterns there. You are aware that other young men in the group are competing for her affections. You think deeply about what you can do to persuade parents, family, friends and competitors that you are the best choice for her. You develop a plan to make yourself more valuable not just to her but to all her stakeholders. What is this ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations? David Brooks call it Metis.

Navigating these complex social interactions comes naturally to you because you have the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and you thrive in the group. David Brooks calls this ability Sympathy.

You are totally head over heels for this girl. She has become an obsession. You can’t get your mind off her. You are motivated like never before to become one with her. What is this sexual and romantic obsession in which you lose yourself? David Brooks calls it Limerence.

Because you have these qualities you will win the girl, have kids, pass along your qualities to them, and live happily thereafter. How did you aquire these qualities? Natural selection and sexual selection have, across generations of your ancestors, made those qualities advantageous to both survival and reproduction. Because you have inherited those qualities, you will win the girl and because she has these qualities too, they will be compounded in your children.

Modern neuroscience tells us that certain experiences, like fear or anger, originate in the older, reptilian parts of our brain that we share with so many other animals. The more advanced, evolved parts of our brain, like the anterior cingulate, can regulate these more primitive states of mind. Meditation on concepts like love and compassion actually strengthen the role of the anterior cingulate, and provide better regulation of anger and fear. Studies show an active anterior cingulate enhances a sense of well being and generates a greater sense of the presence of the divine.

Other more recently evolved parts of our brain enable language skills.

These highly evolved parts of our brain enhance our ability to navigate complex social relationships.

It’s no coincidence that Buddhists focused on these qualities long before Brook’s favored them, though Buddhists use different terms of description. Now, 2500 years after Budhism’s origins, we know both the evolutionary cause and the neurological basis for those qualities. These qualities evolved because they are social skills that improve the individual’s ability to survive and reproduce. Natural and sexual selection created huge incentives to maximize one’s value to others.

Regardless of whether they are conscious or unconscious, rational or emotional, hardwired or memes so persistent that they last for millenia, these human qualities that Brooks talks about helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. It is self evident that we achieve success as a human when we make ourselves valuable to others.

So how can we maximize the incentives? Simple, the reward should be commensurate with the value conferred. Give people maximum freedom to pursue their natural incentives and to enjoy the results.

Free markets, as with natural and sexual selection, reward those who make themselves more valuable to others. Advocating individual rights is not a rejection of social consciousness. It is a recognition that we are individually incentivized to create value for the group, and that value creation is best achieved through maximum liberty for both individuals and markets, regardless of whether  those individuals are in the market for products, services, ideas, or mates.