What Is 'The Big Shaggy'?

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At the Atlantic Wire, we read David Brooks a lot (and he reads us too). You can often find his New York Times columns promoted on the must-read box on our homepage. This morning, however, we were admittedly baffled by a rhetorical convention (invention?) he uses in his column.

Brooks's main argument is very sensible: It's important to study the humanities in order to understand a complex world. While fields such as economics, political science and game theory are important, they don't inform us about the emotional passions that drive people. Right on.

Unfortunately, halfway through the column, he sort of loses us:

[People] have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.

You can see The Big Shaggy at work when a governor of South Carolina suddenly chucks it all for a love voyage south of the equator, or when a smart, philosophical congressman from Indiana risks everything for an in-office affair.

You can see The Big Shaggy at work when self-destructive overconfidence overtakes oil engineers in the gulf, when go-go enthusiasm intoxicates investment bankers or when bone-chilling distrust grips politics.

Those are the destructive sides of The Big Shaggy.

What is "The Big Shaggy" you ask? Some obscure literary reference? Perhaps found deep in a great novel or play? The Wire has no idea. We searched the Internet. We found: discount bean bag chairs, rap lyrics and a chatroom discussing "big shaggy/fluffy cushions." We were relieved that we're not the only ones a little confused. Our best guess is that The Big Shaggy is some kind of secular stand-in for the soul. Wonkette's Josh Fruhlinger thinks Brooks simply "ingested whatever substance" before writing his column and found his inspiration that way. In any case, reader insights are welcome in the comments section.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.