20230528 – Against Democracy
The author of this book argues that representative Democracy with equal rights for all is significantly flawed and does not work that well. The examples are Trump, Brexit, and the overall quality of political power used in democratic societies. The author defines the leading cause of this as the participation of too many people in voting and decision-making. The author places all people into the specter, from “Hobbits” to “Hooligans,” with “Vulcans” somewhere in between. “Hobbits” – low-information individuals that are easily manipulated and incapable of participating in decision-making. “Hooligans” – high-information, but firmly committed to some ideology and prejudices individuals, which are incapable of sober and responsible decision making because of it. Finally: “Vulcans are an ideal type—perfectly rational, high-information thinkers with no inappropriate loyalty to their beliefs.”. So, to remedy the flows of Democracy, the author suggests switching to another form of society, called Epistocraticy. The author defines it this way: “Epistocratic forms of government retain most of the normal features of republican representative government. Political power is widespread rather than concentrated in the hands of the few. Powers are separated. There are checks and balances. But, by law, epistocracies do not automatically distribute fundamental political power evenly. Rather, by law, in some way or other, more competent or knowledgeable citizens have slightly more political power than less competent or knowledgeable citizens.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
From the guardians of Plato’s “Republic” to the present-day elitist thinkers, the societal elite always promotes the idea that regular people cannot maintain the effective functioning of society and therefore need leaders who would be in control and ensure such effective functioning. Implemented in many forms, from God-anointed kings to Dear Leaders and General secretaries, it always leads to the misery and suffering of regular people from wars, economic disasters, and whatnot. I think the very approach to the problem of power as being dependent on the quality of people in power is incorrect. The problem is not in the quality of people, but in the power structure. Any society where power is concentrated on the top and distributed down according to the wishes of those at the top will always work poorly. The reason is simple: human ability is limited, and people’s variety of needs and wants are infinite. Therefore, no solution to any problem could be satisfactory for everybody, even if it is satisfactory for the majority. So, the real key is also simple: the power should go from the bottom up, decreasing its scope at every level. Here is how it could work:
- Everything related to the individual and having little impact on others should be decided by the individual using whatever resources this individual has as private property. It includes the ability to move this body to any place in space not occupied or controlled by others, the production and consumption of any form of information, the use of any substances, and so on.
- Everything related to a group of individuals and having little impact on other groups should be decided by members of this group, with consequences of the decision equally applied to all. The hierarchy of such groups could be multilayered from family to local powers to the world as a whole, with a constant decrease in the scope for higher levels of hierarchy. Unreconcilable contradictions between group members should be decided by the ability of individuals or smaller minority groups to move out and take resources of their property with them.
The key feature of this solution is private property; therefore, all resources should be the property of individuals. In case when some resources are not divisible, the exit of individuals from any group should include such compensation that would be considered just.
In short, normal people do not need the elite, so individuals who make decisions for a group should always be in this position for a limited time and deprived of any possibility of extracting more benefits from these decisions than other group members. How individuals get into this position, whether via majority vote, random assignment by lottery, getting through complex examinations, and so on, is not that important. The power flow from the bottom up, limitations of power at each level, and regular change of individuals in control are the only fundamental tools to ensure the effective functioning of a society.
20230521 – The Hour Between Dog and Wolf
This book combines the author’s experience as a trader routinely experiencing stress and his interest in the biology of stress. The main point is that it is a complex chain of multiple feedbacks between high stress environment and its impact on body that results in specific behavior, which in turn causes environmental changes. Here is one of the author’s main points:” Normally stress is a nasty experience, but not at low levels. At low levels it thrills. A nonthreatening stressor or challenge, like a sporting match, a fast drive, or an exciting market, releases cortisol, and in combination with dopamine, one of the most addictive drugs known to the human brain, it delivers a narcotic hit, a rush, a flow that convinces traders there is no other job in the world.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is one more book that confirms my understanding of the wholeness of mind/body when everything is interconnected and works as one complex system. The working of this system includes:
- Receiving multiple signals from the external environment and internals of the body
- Building a distorted image of the situation in such a way that it optimizes body functions to support actions necessary for survival
- Implementing these actions on the environment
- Analyzing results and going back to a.
One of the most interesting parts of this book for me was describing some of the body parameters such as heart rate variability, that I was unfamiliar with. Another example of helpful information from this book is the graph of feedback loops timing between the brain and other parts of the body:
20230514 – Human Compatible
This book is about intelligence. It explores the idea of intelligence in humans and machines. The main point is that humans must find a way to control AI, even when it acquires superior functionality in processing existing information and generating new one, such as ideas, technology, and art.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a pretty good presentation of the concept of intelligence as a more or less abstract idea. It also includes detailed descriptions of current debates and provides some suggestions for dealing with AI. I think the whole problem is a bit overblown because of the dominant concept of humans as purely biological objects as we are now and have always been. However, if one looks at a human as a self-directing information-processing object deeply embedded into the network of interactions with other humans, the problem kind of disappears. Humans are all different from each other in their DNA, cultural background, and behavior. So, why is it a problem if humans create a silicon-based self-directing information-processing object with all human characteristics except for the biological base? I do not think it will happen because nobody needs it, maybe except for some controlled experimentation. Beyond that, AI will be used as all other machines: to process materials and information to satisfy biological humans’ material and intellectual needs. The key here is the notion of SELF, which no AI computer could obtain without being “raised” in the same way as human beings are. Surely, it could be done much faster, but the nature of the process has to be the same.
20230507 – How the War was Won
This book about WWII is highly unusual. Unlike nearly 99% of books about this war that focuses on battles and outcomes of these battles: their winners and losers, this book focuses on munitions production and logistics. The author points out that the munitions production and, even more critical, logistics led to the Allies’ victory and the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan. The author reassesses the distribution of the credit for victory between the USSR and the Western Allies. USSR fought most battles, lost by far more people. It killed more soldiers than the USA and Britain. But the USA and Britain caused much more destruction and disruption to Germany’s and Japan’s abilities to produce munitions, deliver them to the battlefield, and use them effectively. The bottom line is that many more munitions were not produced or never used in the battle than were lost in battles.
MY TAKE O IT:
I always found it strange that many people manage to ignore the realities of industrialized war. After all, neither morale of troops nor their number could do much if the enemy had more munitions. The quality of munitions obviously also should be accounted for, so the accurate comparison must include all factors, including those not evident. For example, suppose the final battle ended with X1 soldiers in psychological condition X2 with X3 munitions winning against Y1 soldiers in psychological state Y2 with Y3 munitions. In that case, it always means that the totality of X is more than the totality of Y. So, in WWII, the effort of the Western Allies led to much higher levels of diminishing the fighting ability of the Axis than the Soviet effort. One example of invisibility would be the impact of a failed air raid by Allie’s bombers against a German production facility that could not cause any material damage whatsoever. It may show no killed or wounded personnel or destroyed building, but it kept workers of this facility spent time hiding in shelters rather than producing munitions. The result would be some munitions never made due to the waste of time that is not different from being destroyed on the battlefield. In either case, these munitions do not exist after the action, whether the action was a battle or failed air raid. The failure to understand the need for a holistic approach to force estimations led to many shortcomings of aggressors who counted only the visible components of the force potential. The ongoing demonstration of such oversight is the Russian-Ukrainian war currently underway.
20230430 – Language vs Reality
The main point of this book is that human language serves not as much as an instrument of accumulation and transfer of information but rather as a tool of social organization, which is necessary to coordinate the actions of groups of human individuals. From this point of view, the linguistic and ideological representation of reality has only tangible relation to the reality of the environment because this representation must be limited to the technical capacity of the human brain. The book describes how it is done and scientific experiments that demonstrate this process. It also provides some interesting examples from comparing different languages, proving how human perception of reality depends on the language. Finally, it reflects the manipulation of people applied by using “the power of framing, stories, and narratives in persuasion, sense making, and social cohesion.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is quite a helpful tool for anybody who wants to be at least somewhat free and independent because it nicely demonstrates how others manipulate us all. This manipulation starts from birth and ends only at the point of death. It is done via language structure and use, the control of information flows, and the framing of individual mindset during culture acquisition and throughout the lifetime. From my experience, I could say that the ability to recognize such manipulation and act accordingly could be a defining factor in the quality of an individual’s life and even its quantity.
20230423 – Stolen Focus
This book is about human focus, which is the human ability and even the need to concentrate narrowly on some informational process, whether reading, problem analysis, communication with others, etc. The focus also means excluding everything else that is not in focus from human perception and thoughts, as if it just does not exist. The book discusses at length the necessity of focus for being productive in any area of human activity and technology that distract people from applying it effectively. The author also discusses the consequences of this distraction, which include the inability to deal with complex problems and adherence to simplistic solutions. Eventually, this inability to focus on effective problem solutions causes stress, illness, and a general failure to have a good life. In conclusion, the author offers six behavioral changes that could help manage attention and control focus.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a good review of the problem, with many references to psychological research and books. For me, the problem does not look too tricky to resolve, probably because I grew up in an environment where the primary news source was radio and one TV program, computers were mainframes not accessible to people, and books were available only within limits established by the totalitarian government. This was the environment of severe informational deprivation combined with the massive overflow of propaganda and disinformation in all forms conceivable. But on the other hand, this environment provided good training for setting up filters to select what makes sense and what does not, which tools help get things done, and which mainly distract one from doing this. So, I think the distraction problem will be resolved via training in setting similar filters from early childhood. In addition, such training should develop skills in consciously deciding what one wants to achieve, what information one needs for this, and which tools are best; after that, one can just cut off all this noise and even forget about its existence.
20230416 – Stalin’s War
The book is about the History of WWII. Unlike the thousands of other books about this period in History, this book offers a reality check on what then happened and how it happened. The typical narrative is that it was a good war in which forces of democracy and freedom fought and won over forces of Nazis’ totalitarian dictatorship, aggression, and genocide. This typical narrative also misses a small, inconvenient, but essential fact that on the side of democracy and freedom was the Communist totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union that was as aggressive and genocidal as Nazis, if not more so. It also misses another inconvenient fact that in the first two years of WWII, from September 1939 to June 1941, totalitarian Germany and the totalitarian Soviet Union were allies, actively supporting each other politically and economically. They even had a formal diplomatic agreement with the secret protocol specifying details of the attack of this totalitarian alliance against Poland and the territorial division of this country. Finally, this book very convincingly demonstrates how the Roosevelt administration in the USA spared no effort to support the Soviet Union. It worked hard, bleaching out its image from all traces of seas of blood of its millions of victims, and successfully turned this monster of the country from a technological weakling into technologically advanced military power.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion, this book should be required reading for any individual involved in the politics of democratic societies. Not only it provides in great detail information about History, but it also demonstrates how much distortion of History in service of the ideology of socialism impacts the actions of individuals in control and how it results in huge costs that people have to pay as a result of these actions. It is not only people under Soviet dictatorship who suffered these costs by having miserable lives of economic and intellectual deprivations. It was also the people of democratic states who had to suffer a decrease in well-being resulting from vast amounts of resources of these states directed to support the growing power of the USSR during WWII and then to maintain substantial military expenses to contain it. I would suggest looking at two historical events to demonstrate how they happened. One is from WWII – the Warsaw uprising again Nazis in 1944, and another is Russia’s current aggression against Ukraine.
The first event was when Stalin rejected all requests of the USA and UK to help the Polish resistance and allowed Nazis to destroy thousands of people, which could become an obstacle to his plans of control over Poland. It is described in chapter 30 of this book. It clearly demonstrates the ideological and moral weakness of the Western leadership of the time. Just imagine that instead of timidly asking for help, Roosevelt demanded it and warned that refusal to help Poland meant immediately suspending all lend-lease supplies. Stalin would have no choice but to comply because, without tremendous material support from the USA, Red Army would not be able to fight. The result of such assertiveness in this and similar cases would be the democratic Easter Europe, significantly diminished abilities of the USSR to initiate and conduct Cold War, and much better lives that generations of people elsewhere would have in the second part of the XXth century.
The second event, even if it started 77 years after WWII, is directly related to this war and its History distortion. Russian dictator Putin and other members of the contemporary Russian elite grew up in an environment where the USSR’s role in WWII was glorified, its material and military achievements magnified beyond any reasonable relation to factual reality, and the role of Western allies diminished to insignificance. This distortion became an inseparable part of these peoples’ worldviews. It also created the foundation for their strong belief in the superiority of their people and, therefore, Russian ability to generate military power superior to anything that could be generated by the West, despite the West’s enormous economic and technological superiority. Such belief will sustain Russian aggression as long as the West allows it by pretending that it does not happen before February 2022 and not providing sufficient weapons to Ukraine to win quickly.
If Western leaders truly learned the History of WWII, they would understand that choice is not fight or not fight. The option is what price to pay. Admission of Ukraine to NATO on February 21st of 2022 would save hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. Correspondingly, the suspension of military support to Ukraine, if it happens, will lead not to peace but to spending trillions of dollars and millions of lives due to the expansion of this war. It remains to be seen what road they will choose.
20230409 – Not Born Yesterday
The author explicitly defines his intention in writing this book as rejecting the idea that regular people are too gullible and are an easy mark for cheating and manipulation by politicians, businesses, and other crooks. “The goal of this book is to show this is all wrong. We don’t credulously accept whatever we’re told—even if those views are supported by the majority of the population, or by prestigious, charismatic individuals. On the contrary, we are skilled at figuring out who to trust and what to believe, and, if anything, we’re too hard rather than too easy to influence.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the majority of people are gullible and often allow others to manipulate them to act against their own interests. There are quite a few reasons for that; the main probably is the cost of resources and attention that are required to resist. It is not the cost per se but a rather typical human inability to compare the cost of paying attention to the cost of not paying it. A typical example would be something like “global warming” manipulated into “climate change” when it became obvious that temperature is not going up that much. The cost of resisting this ideology, such as conflict with its noisy supporters, is very real and immediate.
In contrast, the cost of letting the supporters of this religion have their way in the legislature, culture, and other areas is remote and not obvious. This cost will come in price increases for energy, and consequently everything else, inability to do things that used to be trivial, suppression of speech, and an overall decrease in quality of life. Eventually, with the expansion of these costs, it will become intolerable and inevitably lead to fighting back. In a working democracy, it is a bit less difficult than in a dictatorship, but the price of this gullibility will still be pretty high.
20230402 – The Myth of American Inequality
This book is about widely spread misconceptions regarding enormous and still growing inequality in America. The authors use government statistics to demonstrate, and quite convincingly at that, that it is not the case. The point they make is that government transfers pretty much-eliminated poverty. Furthermore, the calculations demonstrate that government expenses on the poor, if counted as income, would firmly put these poor into the middle class. Here is a lovely table summarizing this point:
The authors also look at consumption and conclude that the poor in America consumes so much of everything that they hardly should be considered poor by comparing them with the poor in most other countries.
The authors also discuss inequality, the Gini coefficient, and how leftist economists manipulate data to arrive to preset conclusions. Finally, the authors demonstrate that, far from being stagnant, America has made significant progress, and the contemporary poor are much wealthier than the real poor in the 1960s.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very interesting book with lots of excellent and relevant statistics. I believe that material well-being becomes secondary after people achieve some level of satisfaction with material needs. The problem becomes not economic but rather psychological. To achieve an acceptable level of self-esteem, a human need to be self-sufficient and effective in obtaining resources from the environment. Handouts and transfers of resources from others prevent such achievement. Hence, people try to compensate for this by the demand to increase transfers to the resource availability level of really self-sufficient people. The hope is that such an achievement of false equality would make the feeling of inadequacy disappear. An even more critical factor is the powerful forces of bureaucracy and government-supported layers of society that control resource transfers from productive people to unproductive, directing a significant share, if not the most, of resources to themselves. These forces include the teachers that produce illiterates after 12 years of schooling and paper pushers that make any business spend extraordinary time and effort complying with meaningless regulations. They also include politicians that create these regulations. Together with other members of the parasitic part of society, they represent a powerful force that would make the “struggle for equality” continue forever, regardless of actual resource availability for everybody in society.
Moreover, with the approaching switch of a large part of the production of goods and services to automatic, AI-based processes, the number of people that cannot compete will grow, increasing the power of the parasitic part of society. This change could lead to an increase in the hierarchical structure of government expanding to include these people directly as educated bureaucrats doing meaningless “work” or indirectly as uneducated “poor” living off government transfers. The alternative to this unified hierarchy would be resource distribution via individual ownership covering the totality of the population and totality of available resources and designed to make such ownership permanent while dynamically adjusting it depending on individual actions and their success or failure. In my essay, I proposed a process for doing just this.
20230326 – The Extended Mind
In this book, the author argues that the usual perception of the brain as the sole organ where thinking occurs is incorrect. The author discusses the familiar analogies of a brain as a muscle or computer, which she believes are inaccurate. The author defines her position here:” For one thing: thought happens not only inside the skull but out in the world, too; it’s an act of continuous assembly and reassembly that draws on resources external to the brain. For another: the kinds of materials available to “think with” affect the nature and quality of the thought that can be produced. And last: the capacity to think well—that is, to be intelligent—is not a fixed property of the individual but rather a shifting state that is dependent on access to extra-neural resources and the knowledge of how to use them.” Another essential point that the author makes is that humans now have powerful tools for information processing, such as computers, that increase the processing power of the human mind, making it evident that it becomes an extended entity, most of which resides outside of the human head.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of an extended mind is somewhat trivial. It was so long before computers were invented, and it is doubtful that anybody would argue that the concept of the duality of body and mind applies anywhere outside of philosophical discussions. However, the quality of the brain is the most important factor defining the quality of the mind. Based on a lot of research, I am pretty sure that the quality of the individual mind is highly inheritable. Hence, the idea that everybody could achieve anything if a proper environment is provided just by putting in 10,000 hours of practice is just not supported by human experience. However, the mode of application of the mind to a variety of problems is highly dependent on available tools, making the individual ability to use tools effectively much more critical than the ability to do a task without tools. For example, the prodigy capable of doing complex calculations in the head could be easily outclassed by any person with a calculator. This reality makes the whole idea of dividing people into more and less intelligent somewhat outdated. Instead, the division should be between individuals capable of achieving results in some specific area and those who cannot do it. The significant thing is that since just about any area of activity is complex and tools dependent, it is not possible to design tests that would perfectly predict individual performance. So, the best way would be to stop trying select people upfront and provide everybody with resources and access to the ability to act. Based on these actions’ results, only after that decide who should get the extended opportunity.
20230319 – The Neuroscience of Intelligence
This book is pretty much a scientific report on contemporary knowledge about human intelligence. It is not ideological and, based on recent technological achievements such as functional MRI, allows a look inside the brain when it is working, creating images of the process. The author provides such a definition of his effort:” Three laws govern this book: (1) no story about the brain is simple; (2) no one study is definitive; (3) it takes many years to sort out conflicting and inconsistent findings and establish a compelling weight of evidence.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me, this book provides a nice confirmation for my understanding of human intelligence as a tool, evolutionary developed for survival. Therefore, it presents a sufficiently broad set of characteristics that make individuals intellectually different. It contradicts the contemporary dominant pseudo-egalitarian ideology that demands equality of results and acceptance of scientifically unsupported claims of the infinite malleability of humans that would allow anybody to achieve anything. In my opinion, the diversity of human intellect is not a bug but an essential feature that increases the probability of adjustment to a rapidly changing environment. After all, in some cases, the group is better off if it includes Einstein. Still, in other situations, it is better off if it includes people on the other side of the intellectual spectrum.
20230312 – Taxes Have Consequences
This book is a pretty much detailed history of taxation in the USA in the XXth and the first 20 years of the XXIst centuries. It provides a thorough examination of taxes and their effectiveness or lack thereof. The author’s name is well known because it relates to the famous “Laffer curve.” He convincingly demonstrates that the tax rates, more often than not, are just political games that have little impact on what people at the top pay because these people have access to a great many loopholes and a massive industry of legal tax evasion. In addition to a laundry list of tax evasion methods, the author demonstrates how high taxes produce a negative impact on the economy by diverting efforts of the most productive people of the society away from active efforts to create more ideas, inventions, goods, and services to not less vigorous, demanding, but economically non-productive activity of saving what they already have from taxes.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Probably the most interesting point that the author makes is that actual tax rates for the rich remain the same regardless of the declarative tax rates. I always enjoy seeing this graph, which so nicely demonstrates how taxes work:
I think that the problem is not really with taxes and their rates. The problem is with the use of the state by the elite in control. Is it used as a valuable tool for prosperity or as a mechanism that negatively impacts the population’s life? I believe that the simple rule is this: a state is a machine of violence, and as such, it should be used exclusively for the prevention of violence, its suppression if prevention fails, and for retaliation against individuals that use it. All other uses of this machine always have one and only one main cause: the poor functional design of processes used for the generation and allocation of resources in the society, including non-material resources such as respect of individuals to each other and prestige of individuals in the eyes of others.
20230305 – How the Body Knows it’s Mind
This book is about complex processes outside the human mind that broadly define what is happening inside of this mind. These processes occur outside the brain in different human body parts. In addition, many processes occur outside the body, such as interactions with others and the environment. All these processes have some impact on the brain’s work, resulting in specific functions of the mind and, eventually, human actions.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a good review of the different interfaces between the human body and the human mind. It is well documented, and I believe it generally correctly represents such interfaces and how they work. However, the most interesting part is probably about using these interfaces to achieve some preferable condition of mind that could not be consciously achieved by just being willing to do it. The simplest example would be to change one’s emotional state by consciously imitating external manifestations of such a state. In short, the simple mechanical process of smiling, even when sad, makes the person less sad and more open to a brighter side of life.
Similarly, bodily mimicking another person could be a way to understand this person’s condition better. In short, the brain is not a separate, isolated place where the mind resides. It is instead a part of the whole body, and conditions of the entire body define states of the mind.
20230226 – The Network State
The author possesses highly developed communication skills, so he provides multiple definitions of the book’s central concepts in such a way that each definition expands on the previous from one sentence to the essay. For example, here is the second level of complexity definition:” A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition”.
The author then proceeds to look in detail at this concept from all conceivable angles.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that all this is a nice exercise in the philosophy of the nation and state. Still, by its very definition, the network state could not possibly exist because it is distributed in space with nodes (individuals) of its network connected via communication channels. The state, whether small or big, requires the concentration of its members in close proximity because the state is always about violence and force. It could exist only on two conditions:
- There are people who are ready to kill and die for it
- These people are so close to each other that they are strong enough to suppress or eliminate all and any groups of individuals who for one reason or another do not want to accept the existence of the such state.
The world is divided between states, and history demonstrated that these states were created only by one of two processes: dissolution of bigger states due to the internal contradiction between groups of approximately equal power or as a result of merging smaller groups, usually when one conquers others. So the idea that any ruling hierarchy of any state would tolerate any individual living on their territory who profess loyalty to some distributed network state seems to me contradicts the whole history of humanity from it being divided into small bands with a few hundred members controlling a few square miles of territory to contemporary superstates with billions of people. So this nice dream is just a dream and nothing more than that.
20230219 – The World Before Us
The author’s description of the content of this book:” This book explores the Palaeolithic era (or Old Stone Age), a key phase of late human evolution from roughly 300,000 to 40,000 years ago; a period when we, Homo sapiens, became us. This area of research has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, and what we know now about our own deep past is very different from what we once thought “. The recent critical findings that occurred due to discoveries in the Denisovan cave and technological breakthroughs that led to decoding ancient DNA samples prompted considerable changes in our understanding of human evolution. It turned out to be much more complex and interesting than people thought. It included multiple human species, previously unimaginable routes, timings of migrations, interbreeding, and many other complex occurrences. It is also a brief but excellent review of new technological advancements that allow the development of this new understanding. These technologies come from multiple areas, from satellite imaging to the biological processing of fossilized material.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Back just a few decades ago, it would be inconceivable to believe that DNA could be extracted and decoded from organic residues created long ago. Similarly, it would be hard to imagine that images from the satellite could lead to archeological discoveries. From my point of view, the new findings demonstrate that human evolution was not a straightforward process as people thought back in the 1970s but rather a complex and convoluted process with setbacks, the division of species into subspecies, and their merging back together. It also causes territorial expansion of humans and then contraction. However, all this does not change the main point of the human species’ development via evolution. It just demonstrates that the understanding of evolution as a directional process is plainly incorrect. The actual process is basically adjustable, so it is not from simple to complex or from lowly amoebas to noble humans. It is just an adjustment to various environmental niches that sometimes includes movement from simple organisms to more complicated, but sometimes from more complex to something simpler but better adjusted to environmental change. Amoebas are still existing in their niches and seem to be doing great. I hope the same can be said about humans for a long, long time in the future.
20230212 -Searching for a Memory
The main point of this book is that memory is not a passive process of retrieving information from a warehouse of information, but rather an active process of constructing the image of the past based on the condition of neural networks in the human brain. This condition changes dynamically, strongly impacting the results of this construction. The author provides a good metaphor for memory as a telescope pointed at the time. The author expands on this idea by discussing historical examples, experimental data from the use of technology, and referring to the usual behavior analysis methodology of people with damaged brains.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Like everything else in the human body, the brain’s work that generates memories is defined by evolutionary development. However, evolution is about survival and reproduction, not about the search for the truth and factually correct representation of events. So, the process of memory construction necessarily includes mainly unconscious adjustments to whatever relevant neural networks produce to the main objective of survival. The interesting part is that, being social animal, humans actually need both: truths about the past, which is necessary to provide effective interaction with the environment, and lies, which is required to maintain social cohesiveness. We are now at a very interesting point in human history when the demand for truth becomes more important than the demand for lies, whether these lies are noble or not, because technology has achieved such a level when denial of reality makes human survival questionable. A good example was the recent Covid pandemic, when usual bureaucratic manipulations and suppression of the factual data in the name of pseudo-science prevented effective handling of the epidemic, causing enormous economic and psychological damage to the population. Whether humanity can mature to the point when it can effectively handle memories and data soon enough to survive remains to be seen.
20230205 – The Great Demographic Illusion
The content of this book should put to rest both weird ideas that were derived from changing demography of the USA:
- Democrats hope that America is becoming a “minority/majority country,” meaning they will be in power forever
- Non-elite whites fear that they will become a minority and be treated as inferiors, which is already often the case implemented by the elite via affirmative action programs.
The author provides several arguments falsifying both these ideas. The main argument is that ethno/racial divisions are not really that rigid. The history of America demonstrated that people considered non-white and inferior such as Jews and Irish in the XIX century, became as white as they got by the second half of the XX century. Another point is that, since we all belong to one human species and therefore can interbreed, it’s what Americans do on a vast scale. There is explosive growth in multiracial and multiethnic children that makes all racist ideas plainly meaningless. The same history demonstrates that the newly arrived ethnic and racial groups change their political affiliation over time when their social and economic position rises to mainstream levels. Finally, the author discusses how government demographic statistics manipulate data to fit the dominant narrative and how it hinders the transfer of immigrants of diverse backgrounds into regular Americans, commonly occurring within 2-3 generations.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that all issues related to “race relations”, “majority/minority struggle for dominance”, “affirmative actions”, and so on are the product of the elite. The elite tries to maintain their status by dividing the non-elite population and busying them with intergroup fights. These fights leave no time and resources for the battle to assure meritocracy and alignment of elite interests with the general population’s interests. A good example would be “free trade” and “environment protection”. Currently, the elite’s interests are linked to their possession of assets, either capitalistic – control over businesses, or socialistic- a good position in a governmental or quasi-governmental hierarchy, such as a governmental bureaucrat or a university professor. Correspondingly these interests include a high return on material assets or a high level of virtue signaling by supporting strict environmental regulation. Both are satisfied by moving production to a third-world country where labor is cheap and ecological law is either non-existent or not enforced. This shift is clearly against the interest of non-elite, for which more affordable consumer goods do not compensate for job loss. Correspondingly, the worst nightmare for the elite would be concrete political action of non-elite demanding that all goods and services sold in the USA would be produced in full compliance with US laws. Obviously, the necessity to pay the American minimum wage and comply with US environmental regulations, however idiotic, anywhere in the world where goods are produced for US consumers would make the US the most efficient place to produce these goods and services. Alternatively, they will force US regulations to change if goods and services cannot be created under such conditions. The division of non-elite into racial and ethnic groups and their incitement to fight each other reliably distracts non-elites of all races from fighting for their common interests.
20230129 – The Journey of Humanity
This book proposes the unified growth theory that the author defines this way: “Unified growth theory captures the journey of humanity over the entire course of history, since the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago. It identifies and traces the forces that governed the process of development during the Malthusian epoch, eventually triggering the phase transition in which the human species escaped from this poverty trap into an era of sustained economic growth. These insights are essential for understanding the growth process in its entirety, the hurdles faced by poorer economies today in their transition from stagnation to growth, the origins of the great divergence in the wealth of nations in the past centuries, and the fingerprints of the ancient past in the fate of nations.” The author also links it to the math theory describing processes in complex non-linear systems. The author describes it this way:” The conceptual framework I devised in the past few decades to address this conundrum was inspired by insights from the mathematical field of bifurcation theory, which demonstrate how, beyond a certain threshold, minor alterations in a single factor may generate a sudden and dramatic transformation in the behavior of complex dynamical systems (as is the case when heat crosses a threshold and transforms water from liquid to gas). In particular, this research has focused on identifying the cogs that were whirring invisibly beneath the surface, wheels of change that were turning relentlessly throughout the epoch of the Malthusian equilibrium but which ultimately broke its hold and led to the emergence of modern growth – much like the rising temperatures in the kettle.” Finally, the “wheels of change”, defined as population size and population composition. The population composition here means the difference between resource allocation to the quantity of people in the next generation or the quality of these people. The author’s explanation of humanity’s and its resources explosive growth during the last few centuries is the switch from quantity to quality in this composition. The book describes in detail how this change occurred in the past and continues in the present.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This review nicely presents the logic and history of human development. I agree that the transfer from quantity to quality in forming the next generation is the driver of the acquisition of new technology, which leads to increased productivity, eventually resulting in a massive increase in the quality and quantity of human lives. However, my own understanding of the overall development, past, present, and future of humanity is based on the notion of the duality of human nature. On the one hand, it is defined by the individual need to survive, while on the other hand, by the need to ensure the survival of the group this individual belongs to. Consequently, the struggle for resources, material and psychological, such as prestige, between individuals within a group and the battle between the groups drives all processes and the overall development of humanity.
I see it as the sequence of five stages of humanity’s development:
- The long process of biological evolution took a few million years and produced contemporary humans as creatures qualitatively different from all other animals. This difference comes from the human ability effectively obtain, accumulate, and transfer complex information not only between individuals but also between generations of individuals. This feature of humans allowed a cumulative increase of knowledge, skills, and processes, which put humans out of complete dependency on the environment. It also turned them into hunter-gatherers with languages, cultures, religions, and traditions.
- Starting some 200,000 years ago, humans began expanding throughout the planet. The process was driven by many small wars between groups for more productive land. The losing group would leave, searching for another place to settle. Since the process was slow, on average a fraction of a mile per year, there was enough time for a bit of biological evolutionary adjustments, such as skin color depending on the amount of sunlight and development of the multitude of different cultures and people. During this long process, there was no need for an increase in productivity, except for accommodation in a slightly different environment. This stage of development was mainly completed when human hunter-gatherers populated the whole planet.
- The next stage started about 10,000 years ago. I would define it as Militaristic agriculture. Anthropological and archeological research shows that the switch to agriculture significantly decreased the quality of human lives. Unlike remnants of hunter-gatherers’ healthy bodies, agriculturalists’ remnants show signs of massive wear and tear, hard work, and diseases. However, agriculture provided a much higher population density and a larger, better-armed military. It also created the condition of using forced labor either as slavery or some process of limiting choice for people to either work under the control of others or get physically punished or deprived of resources. Generally, any military confrontation between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists ended with the defeat and retreat of hunter-gatherers. This stage is still ongoing in some places where leaders and populations are stuck in an ideological and cultural dead end, incapable of understanding the meaningless of territorial acquisition and subjugation of other people when technology and trade made land and manual labor into commodities. During this stage, humanity also developed two main methods of interaction and cooperation between people: Hierarchy and Ownership. The Hierarchy is based on concentrating resources in one place and controlling from the top down, usually using violence and deception on a mass scale. Ownership means distributing resources between owners with exchange and cooperation mainly voluntarily, albeit with a good portion of fraud.
- The next stage – Industrialization started just a few hundred years ago. It led to the implementation of machines that significantly amplified human efforts in the process of generation and management of resources. Initially, this applied mainly to manual efforts and later to data management. This amplification produced a foundation for ideologies of freedom and democracy that supported a massive increase in owners’ productivity and created prosperity in societies where Ownership was, if not dominant, then at least significant. Due to the power of technology, societies with the dominance of Hierarchy mainly lost their ability to conduct profitable wars when victory could bring wealth, slaves, and moral satisfaction. WWI and WWII clearly demonstrated this. So contemporary Hierarchies are left with somewhat limited abilities to rob their own population via taxes and regulations. The current process features constant struggle in each country between Hierarchy and Owners. When the Owners win, the economy prospers, but because all humans are different, this prosperity is always unequal, causing unsatisfied individuals to explode the society with some kind of revolution. After that inevitably comes Hierarchy that concentrates resources, eliminates Owners, sometimes physically, which causes economic decline and general misery. Over time this misery causes the collapse of society with the restoration of some form of Ownership that once again produces prosperity and resentment from insufficiently prosperous people. Then cycle repeats in a somewhat different form.
- We are now at the beginning of a new stage of human development when machines and computers are increasingly capable of completely substituting human efforts in all areas, including the effort of highly qualified professionals. This new situation would inevitably lead to the complete restructuring of human society. As during the previous 10,000 years, it could be built either on the dominance of Hierarchy or dominance of Ownership. I believe that the latter outcome is much better than the former, and I wrote and published on Amazon a small essay describing how it could be done: https://www.amazon.com/OWNERSHIP-versus-HIERARCHY-Choice-Dominant-ebook/dp/B09KMBP6JG/ref=sr_1_5?crid=3NYE5ONTXE27G
20230122 – Conservatism A Rediscovery
The author is practically the founder of the new and powerful movement of National Conservatism, so the book explains what it is. The book also presents the author’s vision of how the new political paradigm of National Conservatism could substitute the currently dominant political paradigm of liberalism. Here is how the author presents the key points of these two paradigms:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find both political paradigms presented by the author as alternatives not utterly consistent with reality. The Liberal paradigm is obviously unrealistic. First, individuals and even the same individual in different points of life have different objectives and abilities to achieve these objectives. Also, nobody asked individual’s consent to existing norms and rules of any society ever existed. On the contrary, any society, even the most liberal, uses coercion to enforce individual compliance with these rules. The National Conservative paradigm seems more realistic, but it is so much looking back in time that it does not notice that all this changed. People are not born into some relatively isolated family, tribe, or nation. They are born into a world where information, ideas, cultural patterns, and symbols from multiple political and cultural environments surround an individual. From all this, an individual picks and chooses whatever seems to be most beneficial for this individual’s well-being, which to a significant extent, is defined by the approval of other individuals in a close group. This circumstance undermined previously existing hierarchies, and there is no way back. Humanity is moving to one unified society because technology removed old restrictions of distances, languages, and other walls that separated people into subgroups such as nations and tribes. However, such a unified society could exist within a wide range of arrangements. The range could be from one unified hierarchy with top-down totalitarian control to a society where individual freedom is limited only when it interferes with the freedom of others. The voluntary sorting of people into political, philosophical, and cultural groups of compatible individuals would resolve this limitation. Ironically, being the currently dominant group, the “Liberals” are pushing toward top-down hierarchical control, while the “Conservatives” promote individual freedom. I guess this struggle between paradigms will continue for a while, so the “interesting times” will probably last for a few decades more.
20230115 – The Psychology of Totalitarianism
This book is about the psychological foundation of totalitarianism that the author calls “Mass formation”. The author is looking:” to understand the shocking behaviors of a “totalitarized” population, including an exaggerated willingness of individuals to sacrifice their own personal interests out of solidarity with the collective (i.e., the masses), a profound intolerance of dissident voices, and pronounced susceptibility to pseudo-scientific indoctrination and propaganda. Mass formation is, in essence, a kind of group hypnosis that destroys individuals’ ethical self-awareness and robs them of their ability to think critically. This process is insidious in nature; populations fall prey to it unsuspectingly.” The author links this process to fear that creates a scary event like a pandemic when losing control over their lives prompts people to seek external force to remove this fear and restore control. Since gods, ancestors, and other supernatural powers disappeared from human beliefs and were substituted by reason, people expect possessors of such reason – experts and government to resolve all problems. The author sees the source of totalitarianism in this:” Totalitarianism is not a historical coincidence. In the final analysis, it is the logical consequence of mechanistic thinking and the delusional belief in the omnipotence of human rationality. As such, totalitarianism is the defining feature of the Enlightenment tradition.” Here is the author’s recommendation for avoiding this outcome:” The fundamental task facing us as individuals and as a society is to construct a new view of man and the world, to find a new foundation for our identity, to formulate new principles for living together with others, and to reappraise a timely human capacity—speaking the truth.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion, this approach makes a lot of sense, except for the spiritual part, the author’s attempt to link it all to quantum mechanics, and his rejection of human intellect as “the guiding principle in life and society.”. I do not think the enlightenment and its promotion of human reason have anything to do with totalitarianism. Totalitarianism comes from a completely different source. It is based on the rejection of human reason as an attribute of every human individual. It believes that only some humans, experts, and politicians, possess superior reason and, therefore, should have the power to coerce others to submit to their will. The solution to the problem of mass formation and totalitarianism is in resource distribution between people as much as possible and elimination of coercion, including governmental force, from human lives. This solution would allow all individuals to build their lives as they wish, rather than being a subject of manipulation and coercion to be used to meet somebody’s objectives.
20230108 – The Case Against Reality
The main point that the author makes in this book is that humans do not really perceive the external world as an objective reality. Evolution formed human perception not based on the search for truth but on survival. The author even presents the formal definition of this idea:” “Fitness-Beats-Truth” (FBT) theorem, which states that evolution by natural selection does not favor true perceptions—it routinely drives them to extinction. Instead, natural selection favors perceptions that hide the truth and guide useful action.” After this very realistic and reasonable approach, the author deviates into the less reasonable discussion of the unreality of spacetime, the primacy of consciousness over matter, which he bases on some particulars of quantum mechanics and other fashionable stuff. Finally, the author presents the idea of conscious realism and defines its ambition and objectives this way:” Conscious realism makes a bold claim: consciousness, not spacetime and its objects, is fundamental reality and is properly described as a network of conscious agents. To earn its keep, conscious realism must do serious work ahead. It must ground a theory of quantum gravity, explain the emergence of our spacetime interface and its objects, explain the appearance of Darwinian evolution within that interface, and explain the evolutionary emergence of human psychology.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I wholeheartedly agree with the FBT theorem and find many examples of its application presented in this book quite interesting. However, in more complex situations that humanity encountered a few hundred years ago when it achieved limits of expansion within the natural environment, a more sophisticated approach had to be developed in order to overcome the Malthusian trap. This approach is called science, and it allows for overcoming human perception faults by implementing multiple sensor technologies and automated analysis of results. Consequently, science allows indirect perception of objective reality by putting human subjective perception out of the processing loop. However, I think it is just a misnomer to seek the existence of consciousness outside of the human head, either at the quantum level or as a product of social networks. The quantum part is mainly a meaningless exercise in complex mathematical modeling. At the same time, social consciousness is just an expression of refusal to accept the complexity of interaction between a multitude of human individuals, each of which thinks and acts in some distinctive way and, therefore, cannot be managed without direct violence of force or indirect violence of resource denial. Finally, the author’s discussion of religion and science leads to a typical attempt to combine two separate and incompatible approaches to modeling human life and the universe around it in some kind of all-inclusive intellectual construct. I think that it is just not needed. Humans are pretty capable of living with two separate models in their heads at the same time, using whichever better fit to support their needs at the moment. So, there is no problem with scientists effectively working with materials dated in millions of years and believing in the Bible that defines the universe’s age as 6,000 years. It creates cognitive dissonance only if one needs consistency between models. However, if one looks at these models just as a tool of life, then he would use science to do what it is good at: predict what will happen in the future based on conditions observable now while using religion to connect with others, overcome life’s challenges, and obtain the support of a cohesive group of co-believers.
20230101 Plomin, Robert – Blueprint
This book is about DNA and its impact on who we are as persons. It goes beyond the usual discussion on nature vs. nurture, stressing an essential point of feedback between these two factors: our nurture, or, in other words, the process of interaction with the environment , is defined by our nature. It is demonstrated very nicely by research on twins. Another interesting point is that there is hardly such a thing as gene/feature direct correlation. Any particular feature of a person is defined by a multitude of minor variations in many, often thousands of genes.
Yet another point is that human features are varied within ranges, so it is hard to define what is normal and what is not. The other, somewhat surprising, point is that many identifiable parameters of the environment, such as parents, school, and so on, have minimal impact on a person’s development, so everything is defined by the combination of DNA and unpredictable peculiarities of the environment. The final and astonishing point is that the role of DNA is increasing with age rather than decreasing, which one would expect because of increased exposure to the environment over the years.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like the logic and presentation of this book. However, quite a few new research results and corresponding points are somewhat surprising to me, even if the moment I read about them these points become evident. One such point is the strong feedback connection between DNA and the environment. A simple example would be the naturally cautious person would never go into dangerous places where he would encounter a highly impactful experience that would become an essential part of the nurture of a less cautious person who went to such a place. In short, this book made me slightly change my understanding of DNA vs. Environment from 50/50 to something more like 70/30, but with high levels of non-linearity, making any such breakdown meaningless. In short, human personality is complex and develops in a chaotic environment, so, despite the important or maybe even dominant role of DNA, it remains unpredictable and, quite possibly, will always remain so.
20221225 – On Being Certain
This book is about how we know what we know and how to differentiate facts and reality from belief into something being facts and reality, even if it is just the result of chemistry in the believer’s brain. Here is how the author defines the central thesis:” The revolutionary premise at the heart of this book is: Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.” The critical part of the book is the author’s attempt to “dispel the myth that we “know what we know” by conscious deliberation.” Finally, the author explicitly presents his objective in this book:” My goal is to strip away the power of certainty by exposing its involuntary neurological roots. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas—from opposing religious or scientific views to contrary opinions at the dinner table.
MY TAKE ON IT:
My attitude to this issue is simple. There are two methods of perceiving the external world: religious and scientific. Evolutionary, the first method, ensures an individual’s behavior that benefits the group, even if such behavior leads to the individual’s demise. In contrast, the second method assures an individual’s behavior that benefits this individual and his/her children, even if such behavior damages the group’s cohesion and existence. Both types of behavior are based on our neural circuitry as it developed from DNA after the influence of the environment. Each method provides individuals with two powers, both necessary for survival. The religious method provides complete explanatory power: who the individual is, how the world works, what the individual had to do and how. However, this method has nearly zero predictive power and, therefore, must be constantly adjusted to prevent pain and suffering from cognitive dissonance.
On the other hand, the scientific method provides very limited explanatory power. It, therefore, is clearly inferior to the religious method in supporting the group’s cohesiveness and controlling individual behavior. However, it is the only method that provides limited predictive power. Despite being limited, the predictive power of the scientific method allows humans to control the environment to an increasing extent. This control produces things that do not exist without human intervention, eventually making human life a lot better than before the scientific method expanded beyond its mainly unconscious use by individuals into more formal and, therefore, transferrable applications.
Here are a couple of examples I would like to offer:
- The scientific method at the individual level: the toddler learns to walk via a long process of trial and error until the toddler’s brain circuitry develops sufficient parameters to reliably predict how the body’s situation in space will change depending on the activation of one or another set of muscles.
- The religious method at the group’s level: the belief in global warming that persists regardless of 60+ years of failures to predict climate changes and events correctly. The supporters of this religion constantly demand more public money while threatening a global catastrophe if the money is not provided. All other features change frequently: they could predict cooling, warming, or dramatic instantaneous switches between cooling and warming. However, they would never ever predict what really happens: moderate climate changes caused by a multitude of factors, human activities included, that require reasonable technological adjustments. This religion’s explanatory power regarding what happened is infinite and includes highly sophisticated math and computer models. However, its predictive power is precisely zero, which anyone could observe by looking at any materials produced by this religion’s adherents 20 or more years ago, either books, movies, or lectures.
20221218 – Our Inner Ape
This book looks at humans from the point of view of their similarities and dissimilarities with their closest surviving relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos. It nicely demonstrates human bipolarity when we combine chimps’ aggressive and violent behavior with their constant and often murderous strive for dominance with mainly peaceful and sexually obsessed bonobos. It is interesting how much the character of both these species, to a significant extent, is defined by their relations between sexes: male-dominated chimps and female-dominated bonobos. We, humans, are a bit more complicated with our mostly male-dominated societies at the face combined with often concealed female dominance. The nice picture below shows how close we are to our relations, which at least somewhat explains all of this:
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a nice reminder of our evolutionary roots, which explains our societal structures and individual behavior. However, unlike our close relatives, we invented language and control over the microclimate around us using fire, clothes, housing, effective hunting, and militaristic organization. All these inventions allowed us to take over the world and eventually move from a life of struggle for survival to a life of enjoyment when survival could be taken for granted. We are not all there yet, but we will probably arrive there after some 100 or something years of additional development. I do not doubt it will happen, but the most interesting question is – HOW?
20221211 – Cascades
This book explores unpredictable and seemingly spontaneous changes in complex networks. When some random event initiates a dramatic increase in the network’s activities to implement massive qualitative change, the results are various and unpredictable. Sometimes the change is successful, and the intended result occurs. Sometimes the change occurs but in a very different shape and form than intended. Finally, the most frequent occurrence: the activity slowly decreases, and the network returns to its original state. The author analyses how exactly it happens and looks at specific details of the processes that lead either to the change’s success or failure. The book reviews successes such as the Ukrainian maidan movement and failures such as Occupy movement. The author’s most crucial point is that the old world of hierarchies is going away, and the new world of networks is coming, and it will dominate the human future. In the afterword, the author even provides six steps plan for how to implement a significant qualitative change:
1. IDENTIFY A KEYSTONE CHANGE
2. MAKE A PLAN
3. BUILD A NETWORK OF SMALL GROUPS
4. INDOCTRINATE GENOMES OF VALUES
5. CREATE PLATFORMS FOR PARTICIPATION, MOBILIZATION, AND CONNECTION
6. SURVIVE VICTORY
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a lovely review of the process of mass changes in human societies. I would only notice that the novelty of the network’s role in the change is somewhat overstated. I think it is because the author, like many others in the contemporary world, takes the interconnectedness of modern networks for granted when everybody can easily connect to everybody else. Significant societal changes always occurred even when connections were very slow and the new ideas expanded over decades or centuries rather than days and hours. The key characteristics of the process did not change that much. Similarly, the struggle between networks and hierarchy is not something new.
In my opinion, the distribution of the control over resources among nodes of either network or hierarchy (human individuals) is much more important for the change process than interconnectedness. I would even suggest that one could come up with a formula for drastic change:
The change occurs when the share of distributed resources under the control of individuals unsatisfied with the status quo and capable of coordinating their effort is higher than the totality of resources under the control of supporters of this status quo. The enormous contemporary interconnectedness of the network mitigates the coordination of distributed resource applications. However, it is also essential that easy access to information about who supports what and how makes allegiances fluid, consequently speeding up the process of change.
20221204 – The Proof
The author defines this book as an expansive overview of the history of the idea of providing evidence as proof of statements in various situations when such statements define outcomes of legal processes, scientific and/or religious beliefs, and results of political competition. He describes it as based on his “own experience decades ago as a trial lawyer dealing with the law of evidence on a daily basis, followed by more than forty years of teaching, studying, and writing about the law of evidence. This book is not about law, but it draws on the law as a source of occasional wisdom and more than occasional illuminating examples.” This review includes the discussion of the concept of evidence, an analysis of testimony in the broad sense, the discussion the validity of “expert opinion,” and, finally, the evaluation of human individuals that provide testimonies, their character and methods of reasoning, which in inevitably impact truthfulness of their testimonies.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a very detailed and pretty good review of the history of prof and evidence from its earlier forms to contemporary statistical and scientific methods. I agree entirely that such discussion is very important in our time when information flow is filled with fake news and sometimes “deep fake” documentary evidence. Unfortunately, the author has a severe case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, which clearly demonstrates the use of fake evidence at the beginning of the book when the author insists that Trump’s statement about election manipulation is absolutely false. As the prove, the author provides the statements of a couple of Republican senators. In reality, nobody really knows whether the amount of election manipulation was sufficient to change an outcome. The only thing that is absolutely clear is that the elections were conducted in an unusual way with the massive change in processes due to Covid. The author inadvertently demonstrated a typical mistake when the fight for pro and contra of a statement excludes the truth of the statement’s correctness or falsity being just unknown.
My attitude is simple – there are no ways to evaluate the correctness of a great many statements about the past just because no statement could fully describe complex reality, which always includes some contradictory factors. Therefore, the only way to deal with it is just to accept the idea that the most important is forward-looking development of the processes that would make negative results much more difficult to achieve. So, for example, for elections, it should be a secret vote by the voter, whose identity is proved just before the vote. This vote should be cast using unchangeable media such as paper and in such a way that nobody could have the ability to impact this vote or know how exactly this voter voted.
Other interesting points are quasi-scientific proofs and experts. Both these methods include complex processes and statements and are therefore prone to manipulation. This problem could be handled by attaching some kind of betting average of true/false predictions of outcomes to individual experts and their specific predictions. There is excellent research on the actual results of expert predictions that demonstrated results slightly worse than random. In brief, the truth of a statement is often in the eyes of the beholder, and there is not much one can do about it except for the simple (true/false) statements about the future that could verify an expert’s competence or lack of it thereof.
20221127 – The End of Stress
This book does not just discuss stress and its impact on the human body. Here is the author’s definition:” This book was written to emphasize the following paradox: stress protects under acute conditions, but when activated chronically it can cause damage and accelerate disease. In our more jaded moments we view being stressed out as the normal, even inevitable, consequence of life in a fast-paced world. But although stress in the sense of challenging events is inevitable to some degree, being stressed out is not. It is not inevitable or normal for the very system designed to protect us to become a threat in itself.”
The basis of the discussion contains two crucial notions:
- Homeostasis is often described as an organism’s need to maintain a steady internal state.
- Allostasis is produced by a swift and intricately organized system of communication. It links the brain, which perceives a novel or threatening situation; the endocrine system (chiefly the adrenal glands), which is primarily responsible for mobilizing the rest of the body); and the immune system for internal defense. Allostasis is often thought of as the fight-or-flight response because, taken to the extreme, it prepares for just those two eventualities. The main idea is to get maximum energy to those parts of the body that need it the most.
The author points out that stress is a very beneficial adaptive process when it is brief and used to support the “flight or fight” process, but when it is long-lasting and cannot be resolved quickly, it produces a strong negative effect on the human body. The author calls it the “Allostatic Load” and describes its workings and impact in detail.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a valuable review of stress-related processes in the human body and that everybody who cares about the good functioning of their body could use the provided information to ensure such good functioning.
20221120 – How Mind Change
This book is about persuasion and techniques developed by psychologists to apply it successfully. The author defines the objective this way: “Persuasion is not coercion, and it is also not an attempt to defeat your intellectual opponent with facts or moral superiority, nor is it a debate with a winner or a loser. Persuasion is leading a person along in stages, helping them to better understand their own thinking and how it could align with the message at hand. You can’t persuade another person to change their mind if that person doesn’t want to do so, and as you will see, the techniques that work best focus on a person’s motivations more than their conclusions.” The book provides multiple examples of successful changes of mind that occur internally when a person experiences some kind of cognitive dissonance resulting in such change. However, the bulk of the book is dedicated to presenting the research results and reviewing successful methods of manipulation applied to changing people’s minds. For example, the author describes in detail such methods as “Deep Canvassing” and “Street Epistemology” used by democratic activists. Here are the steps:
TO SUMMARIZE DEEP CANVASSING
- Establish rapport. Assure the other person you aren’t out to shame them, and then ask for consent to explore their reasoning.
- Ask how strongly they feel about an issue on a scale of one to ten.
- Share a story about someone affected by the issue.
- Ask a second time how strongly they feel. If the number moved, ask why.
- Once they’ve settled, ask, “Why does that number feel right to you?”
- Once they’ve offered their reasons, repeat them back in your own words. Ask if you’ve done a good job summarizing. Repeat until they are satisfied.
- Ask if there was a time in their life before they felt that way, and if so, what led to their current attitude?
- Listen, summarize, repeat.
- Briefly share your personal story of how you reached your position, but do not argue.
- Ask for their rating a final time, then wrap up and wish them well.
HERE ARE STEPR FOR STREET EPISTEMOLOGY
- Establish rapport. Assure the other person you aren’t out to shame them, and then ask for consent to explore their reasoning.
- Ask for a claim.
- Confirm the claim by repeating it back in your own words. Ask if you’ve done a good job summarizing. Repeat until they are satisfied.
- Clarify their definitions. Use those definitions, not yours.
- Ask for a numerical measure of confidence in their claim.
- Ask what reasons they have to hold that level of confidence.
- Ask what method they’ve used to judge the quality of their reasons. Focus on that method for the rest of the conversation.
- Listen, summarize, repeat.
- Wrap up and wish them well.
Here is a very nice graphic example of how successful change in attitudes to family occurred over time:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is an excellent summary of manipulative techniques when a well-trained activist could influence an unprepared person of another persuasion. The key here is to make sure that one deals with unprepared persons who do not have the tools and knowledge to defend their views. Actually, I do not think that all this is that new. The salespeople used a lot of this for ages, albeit it was developed not in psychological laboratories but rather based on empirical experience in the field.
Another essential caveat is to avoid substantial discussion that could easily backfire by strengthening the views of ideological others if their position is more realistic and beneficial to them. As long as the substance could be avoided, these others could be moved in small steps away from the original position, or at least to develop doubt in its validity.
The problem for leftists overall, either Soviet communists or American democrats, is that the reality comes in every time after achieving political power. Whether this power was achieved via mass violence and could be held for generations or via manipulation of people and falsification of election results, therefore lasting only until the next election, the reality of leftists in power is always painful. This pain could come in the form of starvation and misery for decades or in the relatively benign form of high inflation and economic stagnation. Still, in either case, it eventually leads to the removal of leftists from power, at least until the economy is restored, life becomes better, and, once again, people become open to manipulation.
20221113 – The End of the World
The main idea of this book is that the post-Cold War world of the last 30+ years, with its globalization and security, is coming to an end, but it is not really the end of the world. This current world is based on American military and economic dominance, which protected trade routes across the globe, provided the dollar as the global currency, and more or less enforced international legal order. However, unlike many observers, the author does not expect it to result from the American decline and rise of authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. Instead, he sees it as a result of Americans losing interest in maintaining the global world order and turning inside to developing and protecting their well-being, economic prosperity, and security. The author foresees massive structural changes in American society, making Americans too busy fixing their society to look after anybody else. “This is round seven for those of you with minds of historical bents. Americans survived and thrived before because their geography is insulated from, while their demographic profile is starkly younger than, the bulk of the world. They will survive and thrive now and into the future for similar reasons. America’s strengths allow her debates to be petty, while those debates barely affect her strengths.” Without American involvement, there is nobody else with sufficient economic and military power to either maintain the existing global order or establish the new one. The author dismisses the fashionable idea of future China dominance. He believes that this country is on the brink of disaster due to its demographic decline, the rise of ideological control that would stifle the economy, and the generally low probability of producing conditions that would attract others to join the world of Chinese dominance.
So, the author’s prognosis is that 2020-2040 will be decades of struggle and disasters for many countries while Americans are busy rebuilding and reindustrializing their country. After this process is completed, America will return, and his prognosis is:” In the coming age, the gap between North America and the bulk of the world will be, if anything, starker. Never before in human history has the premier power from the previous era emerged so unassailably dominant at the beginning of the next.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion, this is a pretty good analysis, and I agree with most of its inferences. However, I think that America would never return to the isolation of the XIX century or anything close to this because Americans are way too much interconnected with the world. Instead, I expect the world’s new, albeit temporary, division into two parts. It would be the free world that includes America and most developed countries that belong to the ideologically Westers world and the poorly coordinated authoritarian world from China to Russia and their ideological siblings with a multitude of ideologies from communism to Islamism and everything in between. Instead of the Iron Wall, I would expect something that would look more like a Stainless steel wall. This wall should be impenetrable for the flow of technology from the free world to the authoritarian world and have a few gates for individuals who prefer another world to the one they were born into. I hope that eventually, the deep understanding will sink in that any interaction providing this hostile authoritarian world access to high technology causes highly negative military implications. The complete isolation of authoritarians would make its self-destruction much more straightforward and save the free world from a need to compete technologically in the military area. History clearly shows that the Cold War would have ended much earlier without the mass transfer of technology from the West to the Soviets in the 1940s, including nuclear weapons and whatnot. It would also end with the complete destruction of anti-human communist ideology rather than with a transfer to another form of authoritarianism – oligarchical capitalism.
20221105 – The Immigrant Superpower
The essential point of this book is that immigration is power, and the USA became big and powerful to a significant extent due to the massive immigration in the XIX century when waves of European immigrants settled the territory between two oceans. This history extends to the present time when after some 60 years of hiatus from the 1920s to 1980, the mass inflow of immigrants resumed, this time from Latin America and Asia. Here is an excellent graphic presentation of this process based on the percentage of foreign-born:
In addition to providing an excellent and detailed narrative of emigration history and its economic, political, and technological impacts, the book reviews the current political struggle around the issue of immigration, both legal and illegal. Here is how the author defines the objective of this book: “I hope this book has made an effective case for the strategic advantages of immigration—brains, brawn, and bravery—in addition to its centrality to the national creed.” The author also offers five strategies that should improve the situation:
- Utilize immigration as a foreign policy tool.
- Develop immigration alliance agreements.
- Redefine the refugee program to promote human rights.
- Set standards, not ceilings.
- Executive action: overhaul work visas
MY TAKE ON IT:
As a legal immigrant from the former USSR, I find a typical framework of immigration discussion somewhat meaningless and sometimes even hilarious. For example, complaints that illegal immigrants violate immigration laws, which American bureaucracies routinely ignore. Similarly, the funny expectation that businesses would comply with laws violation of which never punished while generating significant profit.
I also find it curious that democrats believe that legal and illegal immigrants could become their reliable voting bloc in the long run. Immigrants, by definition, are people with higher-than-average energy, ambition, and entrepreneurship levels. Otherwise, they would not leave their habitual environment for the vagaries of immigrant life. Sure, in the short run, they use all give aways and free staff they can get, supporting democrats. But a few years later, when these higher-than-average qualities bring immigrants success and quality of life unachievable in their old countries, democrats would not find worse enemies than these people.
The final point I’d like to make. With a minor exception when some Muslims with fundamentalist religions or quite a few people with nationalistic beliefs put these beliefs ahead of the American creed, the immigrants are more patriotic than native-born mainly because native-born have no clue how lucky they are to be Americans. The table below shows that ability to compare America with other nations, inherent to the immigrant experience, makes people significantly more patriotic than natives.
20221029 – Chatter
This book explores an essential feature of human existence: internal chatter. The author defines it this way in the introduction:” Chatter consists of the cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that turn our singular capacity for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing. It puts our performance, decision making, relationships, happiness, and health in jeopardy. We think about that screwup at work or misunderstanding with a loved one and end up flooded by how bad we feel. Then we think about it again. And again. We introspect hoping to tap into our inner coach but find our inner critic instead.” Then the discussion goes into why it happens and how it impacts our behavior and relationships with others. In conclusion, the book provides a set of tools to deal with the chatter and hopefully achieve the condition of clear and constructive thinking. Here is the list of tools:
- Use distanced self-talk.
- Imagine advising a friend.
- Broaden your perspective.
- Reframe your experience as a challenge.
- Reinterpret your body’s chatter response.
- Normalize your experience.
- Engage in mental time travel.
- Change the view.
- Write expressively.
- Adopt the perspective of a neutral third party.
- Clutch a lucky charm or embrace a superstition.
- Perform a ritual.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think the internal flow of verbalized thoughts is the key to understanding the human condition because humans live their lives in the imaginary world only marginally connected to reality. This imaginary world simultaneously includes past, present, and future, defining human actions, whether these actions are kinetic or communicative. Depending on how close our internal imaginary world is to reality, these actions will be successful or unsuccessful in achieving the intended result.
It also defines our memories. Interestingly enough, in a few well-documented cases when human infants were raised by animals and brought into normal environments, they had no recollection of their life before language acquisition. Actually, every one of us would have a tough time remembering anything from our life for the first two years when we have no tool for internal chatter. So, the point is one should not be afraid of the inner chatter but rather look at it as a vital part of existence that should be consciously controlled to assure its consistency with objective reality.
20221022 – A Sense of Self
This book explores human memory, how it forms, what parts of the brain are involved, and how much memory formation depends on the individual’s emotional condition. It also looks at the interconnection between memories and an individual’s personality. The author presented a very brief description of the content before each of the two parts:
PART 1: Memory is the medium through which we filter present experience and create a sense of time, place and person. Through my own experiences as a clinician and scientist and through the experiences of my patients, we will see how neural pathways carry sensations from the outside world to become representations in the brain, and the role that emotions play as an intrinsic part of the memory process. We then dive into the brain’s memory factory of the hippocampus, the emotional fire-spark of the amygdala and the rag and bone shop of the insula to understand the inner workings of the brain. Finally, I will explore why we fail to even register some things, while vividly remembering others.
PART 2: The neural networks in our brain change from infancy to old age. Ideally suited to sensation gathering and discrimination, the infant brain develops into an organ adapted for abstract reasoning. The knowledge we imbibe and the events we experience become interwoven in the dendritic tangles of the ever-changing brain, shaping our sense of self and identity. We will explore how current experience constantly takes apart and reconstructs memory. A culture’s collective memory ensures both an ever-expanding knowledge base and a sense of a shared past. In the final chapter I sort through some of our oldest collective memories as passed down in fairy stories, as well as through my childhood steeped in folklore and the stories of my patients, who taught me that the real matter of memory is experience.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think the most important thing to understand about the human brain overall and specifically its memory function is the dynamic character of its condition. Neurons are constantly being created and destroyed, activated and disactivated, building new connections and losing the old ones. In short, the flow of time does not only relate to the external environment. It also relates to our internal environment: personality, self-understanding or sometimes self-misunderstanding, our internal image of others, and so on. In short, this dynamic character leads to a human’s dependency on self-activity and interactions with others just to maintain this human’s brain in good working condition. Probably more than any other part of the human body, the brain depends on the well-known and somewhat trivial idea:” Use it or Lose it” So, suppose one wants to keep his brain in good condition, even later in life, when external demands on one’s physical or intellectual efforts disappear. In that case, intellectual activity is an absolute necessity.
20221015 – Catching Fire
This book offers a fascinating and very plausible theory of how humans moved from being just another type of pack animal to a unique kind of animal, very different from all others. This theory is based on the fact that humans are the only animal that does the cooking. The process of using heat to change the parameters of the food, making it much more easily digestible and tasty, invented by proto-humans, produced an essential change in their environment. This change included a drastic decrease in time and biological resources required to digest food, freeing proto-humans to interact, cooperate, and eventually develop the human brain and consciousness. Furthermore, these new forms of application of bio-resources significantly decreased human dependence on the environment, ultimately resulting in contemporary societies with their high levels of abundance of everything.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this book’s main idea is valid and supported by sufficient evidence. It really makes a lot of sense, and I agree entirely with the idea that cooking changed human biology and was a necessary factor in humans becoming humans. I would only add that if one looked at it a bit wider as a part of the overall process of humans changing environment to fit their needs, and in turn, the new environment changes human DNA via evolution. This loop of changes is not over and will not be over for a while. It started with changes of a small piece of food by using fire to make it more digestible, then moved on to changes in the part of the environment close to the body in the form of clothes, then moved to houses, roads, machinery, dams, and irrigation. Humanity is now moving to the next step in this process by establishing control over the global environment, climate, etc. It is a long process, and we are probably still in the early stages. However, it is essential to understand this process’s initial stages, so humans can understand where they are coming from and where they are going.
20221009 – The Great Experiment
This book is about diversity and democracy, their compatibility or lack thereof. It discusses the grand experiment that European elites embarked on at the beginning of the XXI century: to open highly developed welfare states of Europe to massive immigration from culturally different countries and try to achieve some kind of democratic accommodation between these diverse people. The book constantly refers to another great experiment of the creation and development of United States of America that combined diverse immigrants from all over Europe and forged the most productive, powerful, and wealthy society that ever existed. The author clearly states what he wants to achieve in this book:
” In part 1, I explain why it is so hard for the great experiment to succeed. Humans are very prone to forming in-groups and discriminating against outsiders. This helps to explain why diverse societies have often suffered from anarchy, domination, or fragmentation. To avoid these common pitfalls, they need to find ways to keep humanity’s instinct toward groupishness in check.
In part 2, I put forward an ambitious vision for what diverse democracies might one day look like. Their citizens can be true to their deepest convictions, charting their course through life in the confident knowledge that they are free from both the oppressive powers of the state and the restrictive norms imposed on them by their own elders. They feel a shared commitment to their country rooted in its civic traditions and its everyday culture. Their public spaces resemble a vibrant park where each group can do its own thing, but people from different backgrounds often choose to interact. And finally, the informal rules that govern how people treat one another encourage them to seek out greater mutual understanding and solidarity, holding on to the idea that the citizens of diverse democracies can come to create a meaningfully shared life.
Finally, in part 3, I explain why it is realistic to pursue this ambitious vision for the future of diverse democracies, and speak to what both citizens and policy makers can do to help turn it into reality. Over the past decades, diverse democracies have made genuine progress toward raising the living standards of minority groups and accepting them into the societal mainstream. They can build a more integrated culture and political system, avoiding a dystopian future in which the main political cleavage runs between natives and immigrants, or whites and “people of color.” And while there is no panacea for the serious challenges and injustices that remain, realistic changes in public policy, electoral politics, and the choices we make in our everyday lives can hasten the arrival of such thriving diverse democracies.”
The author also offers a metaphor for successfully accommodating the newly diverse society of natives and immigrants into one viable democracy: the public park. The rules are as follows:
- A public park is open to everyone. Parks allow visitors to do things on their own, to congregate in likeminded groups, or to pursue joint activities with complete strangers.
- A public park gives its visitors options. Visitors pursue a huge variety of legitimate activities in parks. They run or walk, read or talk, play sports or share food. That great variety is a very good thing. But for a park to remain safe and attractive, its visitors need to afford one another the same rights and freedoms they themselves wish to enjoy.
- A public park creates a vibrant space for encounter.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this book quite naïve, despite the author’s allocation of the whole part to cataloging what could and does go wrong in a diverse society. The best way to demonstrate it is the comparison between the contemporary diversification of European societies to the formation of the most diverse country in the world, the USA:
I believe that mass immigration would stop very soon if it did not already. The mass movement of non-elite natives will force the strict limits on immigration well before immigrants obtain sufficient power to impose their ways on natives. Then, deprived of hopes to achieve dominance, most immigrants would switch to the American mode of accommodation and become regular citizens not materially different from natives over a few generations.
20221002 – Why We Fight
The first part of this book investigates the reason for mass violence between people, organized in various structures from small street gangs or massive empires. Then, it combines these reasons into five types:
This first is unchecked interests. The costs of war are the main incentive for peace, but when the people who decide on war aren’t accountable to the others in their group, they can ignore some of the costs and agony of fighting.
The second reason is intangible incentives. There are times when committing violence delivers something valued, like vengeance or status or dominance.
The third way bargains fall apart comes from uncertainty. The fact that you don’t have the same information as your rivals means that attacking is occasionally the best strategy, even if fighting is detrimental.
Fourth is something called a commitment problem. Usually, when your rival grows powerful, your best option is to concede something. But what if you’re warned of your opponent’s rise in advance? You can strike now, while you’re still strong, and avert your decline.
Fifth and finally, our misperceptions interfere with compromise. We are overconfident creatures. We also assume others think like us, value the same things we do, and see the world the same way. And we demonize our enemies and attribute to them the worst motives.
The second part discusses five ways to maintain peace and, in conclusion, proposes ten commandments that should be applied to maintain peace:
- Thou Shalt Judge the Easy from the Wicked
- Thou Shalt Not Worship Grand Plans and Best Practices
- Thou Shalt Not Forget All Policymaking Is Political
- Honor Thy Margins
- Thou Shalt Find the Path by Exploring Many
- Thou Shalt Embrace Failure
- Thou Shalt Be Patient
- Thou Shalt Set Sensible Goals
- Thou Shalt Be Accountable
- Find Your Margin
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think the five complex reasons for organized violence are way too much, making a simple process more complicated than it should be. In my opinion, there are only two reasons for violence between human-controlled entities, whether these entities are individuals or empires. These too reasons are:
- Intention to change the current situation that is perceived as unsatisfactory into a new condition that is more satisfactory to the initiator of violence
- Strong enough belief that the cost of violence would be less than the benefits, whether material or psychological, that could be achieved due to this violence.
Correspondingly, I believe that the only two processes that could lead to peace:
- The one and only approach that would always guarantee peace is to be much stronger than the opponent in material ability to inflict damage and convincingly demonstrate the will to use this ability. Such peace would be reliable as long as both factors are in the place
- The auxiliary process is to find accommodation with an adversary that would at least temporarily diminish its level of dissatisfaction with the current situation and generate in the adversary the hope that its satisfaction will eventually be achievable. Such peace would be unreliable and should be used only as a temporary tool.
I want to provide two examples, one real and another speculative:
- The real one was the Korean war, when after two years of Truman’s failing war conducted against a much weaker enemy, but with the primary objective to avoid escalation, the new Eisenhauer administration quickly achieved peace after announcing the doctrine of mass retaliation.
- The speculative one is the current war of Russian aggression against Ukraine. In 1996 USA and Russia guaranteed Ukraine its territorial integrity and peace. In exchange, Ukraine transferred its thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles to Russia. However, starting in 2014, Russia initiated aggression against Ukraine without any meaningful interference from the USA, demonstrating the complete emptiness of USA guarantees. Imagine that back in 2014 USA announced that it had no intention to interfere, removed its guaranties, and, as compensation, transferred a few hundred nuclear warheads to Ukraine. I wonder if anybody would doubt that, in this case, we would not have now the XXth century-style massive war in Europe.
20220925 – Fossil Future
This book presents a new and different approach to the “catastrophic global warming problem”. This approach is philosophical, meaning it features a systemic view that includes a cost/benefits analysis of fossil fuels and their role not only as one of the essential sources of electricity but also as one and only viable source of transportation energy. The main inferences are:
- Fossil fuels are cheap and effective, and the benefits of their use far exceed all conceivable negative consequences of the resulting increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.
- Whatever these negative consequences are, there is no reason to believe that they would match the catastrophic predictions of quasi-scientists with a long history of failed catastrophic predictions such as Paul Ehrlich and political hacks such as Al Gore, which make big bucks off these predictions.
- Using fossil fuels provides humanity with effective technological methods to control microclimate with heating and air-conditioning that allow humans to habituate in all environments, from the extreme cold of the Arctic to the extreme heat of Equatorial deserts.
- Nuclear power can not only match but exceed the effectiveness and efficiency of electricity production but there is no alternative to fossil fuels as the energy source for mobile machinery.
- Using fossil fuels is highly moral because it supports the well-being of billions of people. In contrast, suppression of such use is highly immoral because it deprives billions of people of good lives or even causes large-scale suffering and death.
- Philosophically, the movement against all forms of human impact on the environment derived from philosophical ideas of humans being parasites on nature and Earth and, therefore, should be restricted, suppressed, or even eliminated in the name of some kind of supreme environmental justice.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the approach of this book very interesting, and I mainly agree with the author’s philosophical and technological ideas. I think humans are creatures with big brains that were evolutionary developed to handle rapid climate changes that the genetic evolution could not handle due to its slow processes that mainly rely on random changes in DNA. The only thing that I would like to add is that one should not underestimate environmental warriors’ political, careerist, and profit motivations. The benefits include tenured positions in universities, money made from governmental transfers to multiple “clean energy” boondoggles, and the ability to use government coercion against competitors in the academy, politics, or business. I see this struggle as a small part of the global ideological and political war between supporters of the Hierarchical form of human organization when resources are concentrated under the control of government bureaucrats and distributed from the top down and the Cooperative form of human organization when resources distributed between private owners and then reallocated via voluntary exchange.
20220918 – The Power Paradox
The author wrote this book in a very clear and concise way. Here is how the author defines the central proposition of this book: “The power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain the capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others. Still, the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.”
The author then defines 20 principles of power, groups them into five chapters, and discusses them in detail. Here they are:
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice try, and while I could agree with some of these principles, others look somewhat unrealistic. So let me go through them one by one:
PRINCIPLE #1 Power is about altering the states of others.
I think it is only partially correct: as much power is sometimes required, not allow others to change one’s state by others.
PRINCIPLE #2 Power is part of every relationship and interaction.
PRINCIPLE #3 Power is found in everyday actions.
The whole area of competitive market interactions contradicts these two statements. Neither buyer nor seller has the power to change the state of other, and the vast majority of potential transactions just never occur, consequently not changing the state of the potential buyer or seller
PRINCIPLE #4 Power comes from empowering others in social networks.
This idea would be a huge surprise for countless dictators, criminals, and dominant chimpanzees who changed the state of others without empowering anybody.
PRINCIPLE #5 Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.
PRINCIPLE #6 Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.
PRINCIPLE #7 Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.
PRINCIPLE #8 Groups punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.
The groups actually do not exist as thinking or acting entities. They are just a shortcut for designating more or less synchronized actions of many people, with some having more influence than others. The greater or smaller good has nothing to do with possession or lack of such influence. Instead, the objectives of individuals in possession of such influence define the actions of these people.
PRINCIPLE #9 Enduring power comes from empathy.
PRINCIPLE #10 Enduring power comes from giving.
PRINCIPLE #11 Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.
PRINCIPLE #12 Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.
Enduring power comes from all above only in the environment of voluntary interactions between people, which is not necessarily the most frequent form of interaction.
PRINCIPLE #13 Power leads to empathy deficits and diminished moral sentiments. PRINCIPLE #14 Power leads to self-serving impulsivity.
PRINCIPLE #15 Power leads to incivility and disrespect.
PRINCIPLE #16 Power leads to narratives of exceptionalism.
All these “leads” are highly dependent on the personality of individuals possessing power and their objectives in life. Generally, the very process of power acquisition causes the selection of individuals with the propensity of resorting to all the above.
PRINCIPLE #17 Powerlessness involves facing environments of continual threat. PRINCIPLE #18 Stress defines the experience of powerlessness.
PRINCIPLE #19 Powerlessness undermines the ability to contribute to society. PRINCIPLE #20 Powerlessness causes poor health.
People very seldom, if ever, are powerless. It is more of a choice that people make. Even a slave has a choice: to comply with the demand of a master or take the punishment for non-compliance. In the worst-case scenario, it could be a choice between life and death, but one could hardly call powerless a soldier rising from the trenches to attack the enemy.
20220910 – Free Speech
This book traces the history of free speech, or, more precisely, the history of censorship from its ancient beginning to its current condition and potential future development. It mainly reviews the co-development of technology and people’s use of it to express their ideology and suppress the expression of the ideology of others. The book strongly stresses the value of free speech as the necessary condition of prosperity in all its forms: material or psychological. Here is the main point as the author presents it:” To impose silence and call it tolerance does not make it so. Real tolerance requires understanding. Understanding comes from listening. Listening presupposes speech. By connecting past speech controversies with the most pressing contemporary ones, I hope to demonstrate just how much humanity has gained from the gradual spread of free speech—and just how much we stand to lose if we allow its continued erosion in this most recent digital phase of the age-old conflict between authority and free expression.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think free speech is vital for all people’s good life and prosperity. However, it is obvious that the speech could be used as a weapon to condition a mass of people to commit all kinds of not very nice things, from high school bullying to genocide. I do not believe that suppression of speech could effectively fight fake news or hate speech. It was proved historically many times over and quite convincingly. Neither suppression of Bolshevik propaganda in czarist Russia nor suppression of Nazi propaganda in Weimar Germany prevented the rise to power of two of the most disgusting regimes in human history: the Third Reich of Nazis and Communists’ Soviet Union. I think the one and only tool against propaganda should be a massive and necessary coercive increase in speech. Here is how it could work:
Step 1. Some propaganda outlets, like New York Times or CNN, massively promote the false story of Trump being a Russian spy.
Step 2. Trump formally accuses them in a specially designed legal forum. Let’s call it the Special Information Court.
Step 3. Special Information Court conducts a public hearing online when both sides can present the material proving for their position.
Step 4. The Special Information Court decides that Trump is right and there is no evidence of his connection to Russia, leave alone being a Russian agent. Then the punishment should be a coercive presentation of materials supporting Trump’s position in the same amount of time and prominence as was previously used for propaganda operations.
In other words, if New York Times published 1000 articles on the front-page accusing Trump of being a Russian spy, it would have to publish 1000 articles with the same or a close number of words on the front page by individuals designated by Trump to compensate for the damage. Similarly, CNN would have to allow the same amount of prime time to present Trump’s side of the story.
Unlike the current situation when retraction is limited to the two lines on the last page and has no real effect, such a remedy would be very effective without limiting the freedom of CNN and the New York Times to present their original story as they wish.
20220904 – The Rule of Law
This book is about the history of laws, where and why they came from, who and how used these laws, and the direction of their future development. The idea is to understand the necessity of laws for the proper functioning of a complex society and the inseparable link of the laws to the general ideological makeup of the society, including dominant religions and/or quasi-religions such as communism, fascism, and wokeism. Another idea is to provide a comparative analysis of laws and human behavior in major civilizations: European with its Judeo-Christian foundation, Mideastern with its Islamic foundation, Chinese with its semi-secular Confucian and other foundations, and Indian with its Caste-based foundation. In addition, the book also looks at laws created outside of the states by all kinds of groupings of the people who managed to escape the cage of states: from tribes to gangs.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book provides an excellent review of the development of law in various civilizations and the application of these laws in real life. I think that laws are pretty much a tool used by people within a hierarchy of power to assure algorithmically maintained transfer of decisions from the top down with minimal distortion and control over the application of these decisions. The growing complexity of societies led to the slow transformation of laws from easily changeable by top leaders’ set of rules unequally applied to individuals at lower levels of the hierarchy to the independently existing in the minds of the population beliefs about wrong and proper behavior and methods of control over it. Eventually, it led to the emergence of civilizations in which leaders of the state hierarchy were expected to be enforcers of the rules rather than givers. Moreover, it required equal application of rules to everybody, consequently significantly decreasing the arbitrary power of leaders. In short, the algorithmic and non-arbitrary application of laws became imperative.
20220827 – American Muckraker
This book was written by the leader of Project Veritas. – the investigative media group that uses hidden video recordings to uncover all kinds of wrongdoing by politically connected, protected by media and Democrats leftist activists, corporate and government bureaucrats. The book reviews all aspects of this process and demonstrates how difficult and sometimes even dangerous the attempts to bring into public knowledge the machinations of these people are. It not only shows the mechanics of the process but also delves into the psychology and motivation of people who do this necessary job.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me, the most interesting part of this book is motivation. The job of exposing communists, semi-communists, and their sympathizers was always dangerous and thankless. It is because the dominant intelligentsias’ beliefs are generally collectivistic and support Marxist ideology. Moreover, this part of the elite controls media, journalism, entertainment, and practically all command heights of the culture. Consequently, people who stand up against leftists’ wrongdoing are subject to litigation, cancellations, shameless libel, and everything else conceivable.
Nevertheless, there are such people. Luckily for the Western semi-democratic world, they seldom end up in Gulag or with a bullet in their head – a common practice in communist countries from the former USSR to present-day China or Cuba. Maybe this is one of the main factors why the miseries of socialism and communism inflicted by the Western elite on the population come in a relatively mild form. Something like the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Great Recession of the 2000s, or not yet the Great, but considerable inflation of today, all are comparatively small disasters. These calamities are mild compared to the communist government-organized famine in Ukraine in the 1930s – 3 to 5 million dead or, on a larger scale, famine in China in the 1960s – 30-60 million dead. As long as such groups as Veritas exist and cannot be entirely suppressed, the damage from collectivistic ideologies, whether Commies or Nazis or Wokes, will remain relatively mild, but only in comparison.
20220820 – The Battle over Patents
This book came out from the results of the work of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution Working Group on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Prosperity (Hoover IP2). It is concerned with the distribution of economic surplus generated by innovations via the mechanism of government-granted monopoly on the use of innovations via the legal enforcement of the patents. The book reviews many facets of the patent system, its impact on economic development, and its many faults. But however bad these faults are, they are not the main issue. That’s how the authors define it:” The meaningful question, therefore, is not how patent systems are imperfect, but why historically they have come to dominate all other methods of encouraging inventive activity. The chapters in this book pursue that question at length. Because this is a work of social science, not a mystery novel, permit us to outline a brief version of the answer that we came to as a group. Patents dominate because they create a property right that facilitates a productive division of labor, because they allow firms to transfer technological knowledge to one another, even across countries, and because they allow for incremental improvements to existing technologies. In short, patent systems foster the kind of decentralized, cumulative improvement that extends the frontiers of what is economically possible.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
As it exists now, I think the patent system has already outlived its usefulness and increasingly became the break on innovation rather than its accelerator. The reason is the treatment of innovations as material property to be distributed between mainly corporate entities. The typical consequence is when the transfer of all intellectual property developed by an individual to the corporation is the condition of employment. The complex innovations such as software development create high-value products, either Windows or Facebook, consisting of the multitude of inventions created by thousands of individuals but concentrated via a legal system under the control of a few individuals at the top of the corporation. Moreover, when formalized as a patent, it could be transferred from one entity to another, correspondingly moving economic rewards away from the actual innovators to others better versed in the legal system rather than technology. These issues increasingly demonstrate to potential innovators that they have very little chance of getting economically rewarded for the dedication required to produce something new and valuable.
I think that the new and different system should substitute the current system. In this new system, intellectual property is an inalienable property of an innovator. It should be automatically licensed to anybody based on standard or arbitraged conditions that provide adequate economic returns to the innovator. With the current proliferation of automated data collection functionality and coming AI-based functionality, it should be pretty feasible to trace who came up with a sufficiently new, non-trivial, valuable idea and implemented it to the demonstratable level. As a result, the merit would be allocated between human individuals who created the innovation. The task of redesigning and implementing the system of rewards for value created by innovations would not be easy. Still, it will become necessary unless we want to go back to some neo-feudal system when value produced by peasants is transferred to the lord to use as the lord wishes.
20220813 – White Working Class
This book describes very nicely what the working class is, which is really true middle class, and how it differs from other classes of American society: poor, professionals, and the wealthy elite. It also concentrates on increasing challenges for people in this group created by globalization, outsourcing of manufacturing, and the disappearance of American lore of business as a family, either small or big. The disappearance of the job as a source of belonging and change to a job as the transactional process also removed the stability from many people’s lives, causing severe psychological distress. The book also reviews many political issues that separated this group of people from their former champion – the democratic party. This change created a new political division in America: The Middle (Working) Class being fleeced by the Government vs. United forces of the wealthy elite and the poor Underclass prospering or surviving via receiving the Government’s largess either in the form of a tenured professorship or welfare checks and free services. The book also reviews economic and psychological commonalities between people of different races in this class. The author formulated the book’s central message this way:” It’s a simple message: when you leave the two-thirds of Americans without college degrees out of your vision of the good life, they notice. And when elites commit to equality for many different groups but arrogantly dismiss “the dark rigidity of fundamentalist rural America, this is a recipe for extreme alienation among working-class whites. Deriding “political correctness” becomes a way for less-privileged whites to express their fury at the snobbery of more-privileged whites. If you like what that dynamic is doing to the country, by all means continue business as usual. I don’t, for two reasons. The first is ethical: I am committed to social equality, not for some groups but for all groups. The second is strategic: the hidden injuries of class now have become visible in politics so polarized that our democracy is threatened. Another key message is that elite truths don’t make sense in working-class lives. Working-class truths do, and my hope is that I’ve provided a window into why. If we’re not going to provide elite lives for the broad mass of people, neither can we expect them to embrace elite truths.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I do not accept the typical division of contemporary society into classes based on income. I think income has little relevance in society when nobody is starving while housing and staff are available for everybody, albeit of different quality. The critical difference is how people get resources to maintain whatever is their way of life:
- The poor have no property and have little to offer to others, so they have to do simple work where they are easily substituted by others and have little to no bargaining power.
- Middle Class possesses some valuable material property like a farm, shop, or similar small business, or valuable intellectual property such as experience in doing some complex job, which provides some serious bargaining power. However, in both cases, these properties need the application of significant effort to produce good returns.
- The elite possesses a large amount of property, usually material like inherited or acquired wealth or prestige that allows obtaining resources with little or no effort.
In my opinion, the current problems are caused by a massive decrease in the need for human effort to produce goods and services, making a great many people of the Middle class redundant, consequently pushing them into the rank of poor. So naturally, this causes people to become upset and unhappy, quite possibly leading to massive changes in the structure of society.
20220806 Dimsdale, Joel – Dark Persuasion
This book provides a detailed description of developments in the science of animal and human behavior and applications of this science for attempts to control this behavior. First, the book briefly discusses pre-scientific methods of controlling people via forced religious conversion, torture, and other crude tools. Then it looks at the most famous examples such as the works of Pavlov, Cold War experimentation with drugs and environmental/ideological brainwashing, Stockholm syndrome, and the latest development in the use of social media. The conclusion is that despite or maybe with the extensive help of contemporary science, brainwashing or, more precisely, coercive persuasion continues to exist everywhere and perhaps becomes even more effective than it used to be.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Coercive persuasion is the core characteristic of human existence and probably relates to non-coercive persuasion at a ratio of 10 to 1. One only needs to look a bit wider when to see the coercion applied softly via approval/disapproval of behavior and even thoughts by surrounding people. It is very seldom when an individual can go against generally accepted beliefs and behavior norms. This coercive persuasion is a historical norm and has existed in all societies until recently. The interesting process began when the new, scientific method of thinking was invented just a few centuries ago. Suddenly, some societies in which the new way of thinking obtained a foothold began rapid technological progress, which made these societies dominant due to the military advantages of high technology. The other side of the picture was that the population’s well-being was also greatly improved. The current paradox is that the advancement of science made coercive persuasion much more effective, consequently limiting or even eliminating the progress of science. Moreover, anti-freedom societies like China and Russia got access to technology, including military technology developed in pro-freedom societies. Internal anti-freedom forces such as leftist movements are currently on the offensive, trying to move the world to the new dark age of communism and fascism. The catch is that only when individuals have absolute freedom to think and experiment outside of some paradigm – the area where real solutions reside, does the scientific way of thinking work. This fundamental freedom drives technological or social progress if combined with sufficient resources. I would hope that enough people appreciate the value of freedom enough to fight for it by limiting the elite’s power to produce fakes and deceptions. Coercive persuasion becomes impossible if a sufficient share of the active population supports freedom, but it becomes inevitable if liberty is rejected.
20220730 – Evolution of Beauty
This book’s main objective is to change the approach to the Darwinian idea of natural selection by separating from it sexual selection, which the author considers a fundamentally independent driver of evolution. The book’s first half analyzes sexual selection based on birds’ research, while the second part is dedicated to humans. Overall, the book moves into a mixed scientific and political discussion about the existing scientific paradigm in biology, homosexuality, and feminism.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The scientific/experimental part of the book is really interesting, providing quite a few little-known and non-trivial information. However, the scientific/ideological part of separate sexual selection by the beauty of the animal in the eyes of the female beholder seems logically weak. Despite the author’s specific rejection of the idea of sexual selection being a part of natural selection, I think that it is the only reasonable approach. From an evolutionary point of view, there is no difference between an animal’s failure to pass genes to the next generation because of being eaten by predators or because of being rejected by members of the opposite sex. I see nothing special about sexual selection working opposite to environmental factors. If one divides the environment into many different factors, quite a few would undoubtedly work against each other. It relates not only to biology but also to any conceivable, more or less complex system. A simple example would be any computer in which the memory size and speed of downloading / uploading data work against each other. Another example would be an eternal struggle between armor and maneuverability of tanks. Of course, biology is a lot more complex, and sexual selection could work in or out of sync with other selection pressures, but it is not different from other factors.
20220723 – Culture Hack
This book reviews many differences and a few similarities between three cultures: Japanese, Chinese, and American. Here is a table presenting the key points of difference:
The book attempts to clarify to all sides, but mainly to Americans, these differences and help to adjust behavior in such a way as to achieve, if not harmony, then at least non-confrontation.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The presentation of the cultures in this book is quite interesting. Still, I think that it is pretty outdated because we all live in an informationally saturated environment when individuals of all cultures are surrounded by generic contemporary culture that expresses itself in all conceivable forms. It includes similar living conditions, clothes, modes of transportation, food, and even language. I can provide an excellent example from my own life. 30+ years ago, I emigrated from USSR to the USA and nearly completely cut connections with Russian culture and language. Because of the war, I have recently started watching the news in Russian. I was amazed how many words converted from English are now used in everyday Russian. So, my point is that the world is rapidly becoming increasingly homogeneous, while individuals’ environments are becoming more heterogeneous. One excellent indicator is the cuisine. It used to be that one eats burgers in America and sushi in Japan, but now one can eat both types of food in both places. The same applies to everything, even business meetings. Practically any business meeting that I participated in for the last 30 years included people from different countries, regardless of whether this meeting occurred in Annapolis, Las Vegas, Paris, or London. In short, we are in the process of forming a universal human entity. I hope it would be a democratic and federalist entity derived mainly from Western patterns, not a totalitarian and highly centralized entity derived from Chinese or Russian patterns.
20220716 – Dangerous Ideas
This book reviews the history of censorship all over the world in some detail. It is a sad but at least somewhat hopeful story because penalties for promoters of “dangerous ideas” became a lot milder than they used to be. For example, to lose a tenure track or managerial position in a woke company looks a lot less unpleasant than to be quartered or burned alive. Nevertheless, some essential things never change. The people out of power always support freedom of expression, while people in power always find such freedom cumbersome and causing troubles that should be suppressed by all means necessary. Whether these are English puritans, Russian Bolsheviks, or contemporary American Wokes, it is always the same. This book is pretty good for the first six chapters as the history. The 7th chapter about the current situation is hard to read due to the author’s severe case of Trump derangement syndrome. Sometimes it comes to the level of the caricature when, for example, the author simultaneously supports the court’s not allowing Trump to block some commenters on his Twitter account and the permanent blocking of Trump’s account by Twitter management.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that unlimited freedom of speech is an absolute necessity if people want to be free. No insult to individuals or groups, no amount of emotional distress, and no number of fake news could justify free speech limitation because it is impossible to find a fair judge who would separate truth from lies and facts from fakes. However, unlimited freedom often leads to its use by enemies of freedom to manipulate people into giving them power, which they use to deny freedoms to others. Nevertheless, I think that it is not an unsolvable problem. What could be done is to determine what is acceptable and what is not clearly and formally. For example, to insult somebody should be acceptable, but calling to cause physical harm should not. The way to separate fake news from real should not be giving some political activists power to become self-appointed fact-checkers. It would be much better to use well-established processes of the legal system and courts to define if some piece of information is fake and force the producer of such fake to provide the same amount of resources to clarify this fake. For example, the proper treatment of much fake news about Trump’s connections with Russians would force all media outlets to allocate the same resources to clear people’s minds from this fake. The lesson of being forced to allocate tens of thousand hours of prime time repeating that it was fake would cause CNN and others to be much more responsible in their reporting. It would be nice but probably never happen. What will happen is the infinite continuing attempts to manipulate people one way or another and the rise of AI tools to fight such manipulation.
20220709 – The Narrow Corridor
This book is based on the Hobbs’s idea about the necessity of Leviathan – the big and powerful state to keep people in line and prevent them from killing each other. However, the book also considers the Leviathan’s tendency to become the biggest oppressor and killer of them all. Consequently, the offered solution is to keep Leviathan shackled, meaning to limit its power by applying various tools such as democratic election, division of power, and so on. The book’s general approach is to define two actors: Leviathan and Society, as competitors for power and use historical analysis to define what is the goldilocks’ distribution of power between these actors that provide the best results. Such results occur when the Leviathan is shackled and kept within a narrow corridor of power distribution. Here is the graphic illustration including various paths into a beneficial corridor:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this is a pretty good analysis, and the idea of shackled Leviathan is a pretty good approach. However, I believe that any analysis at the level of abstractions such as the state or the society is inherently deficient because these abstractions do not think, feel, or act. Only human beings do, and therefore any actionable analysis should have individual humans as its object. My approach is to analyze how unique people make or fail to make a living in a specific environment based on their resources and external forces that impact them. In my view, it all comes down to the position of individuals among other individuals and the resources under the control of these individuals. There are only two conceivable positions, albeit they are always mixed: either individuals control a clearly defined set of resources, including their own bodies or other people have such control. Therefore, it is always a combination of private property (formal or informal) and place in a Hierarchy that defines wellbeing or lack thereof for each individual. Consequently, the solution for maximizing wellbeing should be to maximize private property as much as possible and limit Hierarchy as the method of interaction between individuals to levels of absolute necessity.
20220702 – Think Again
This book’s main reason for existence is to call for better analysis of any problems whatsoever that could be done by continuously rethinking previous conclusions, especially when new data may lead to modification of these conclusions. The book looks at the wide variety of thinking methods, recognizing how many of the most popular ways are non-effective and often even harmful. The book also provides quite a few recommendations for improving this process at individual and group levels. It also provides an excellent graphic representation of various parts of the discussion, starting with this one:
MY TAKE ON IT:
In this book, I found quite a few ideas and approaches that I believe in and use all the time. Even so, it is still advantageous to look again at the well-organized and systematically expressed result of research and experience that provides additional support for these ideas and approaches. In any case, the constant rethinking of one’s beliefs is necessary if a person does not want to get out of sync with reality and fail in whatever this person is trying to achieve. In short, this book describes a nice set of tools that could improve the results of the process presented in the graph below, so the “Me” at the end of the process is better off than at the beginning:
20220625 – The Decline and Rise of Democracy
This book describes the origins of Democracy as a form of the organization of society, its historical development, and its current condition. Unlike most such books, it correctly claims that this form was widely spread around the world rather than being uniquely Western and provides pretty good evidential support to this claim. The book also similarly traces the origins, development, and modern forms of autocracy. The book offers a fascinating comparison between these two forms: what conditions are made one or other of them preferable and what results are produced by each as evaluated using a neutral formal approach such as calorie consumption of the population. The book’s scope includes Europe and all major societies and cultures, including the Islamic world and China. One of the main conclusions is that Democracy historically produced ambiguous effects. However, it was a necessary condition for creating the modern industrial world. It is still the one and only form of society that supports its continuing progress.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is an excellent review of two primary forms of human societies: Democracy vs. Autocracy, which provides a good understanding of conditions in which they generate better or worse results for the population’s wellbeing. The only thing that I would note as a bit of deficiency is the insufficient stress on problems resulting from interactions between societies with these two forms either via trade or knowledge exchange or variety of conflicts including military. I think it is essential for people to understand that most of the achievements of autocracies, either the economic growth of China or the military-industrial complex of Russia, result from parasitic attachment to a modern, mainly democratic, and somewhat free world. The former – China’s case of spectacular economic growth results from the direct transfer of industries from the West to China in exchange for the ability to produce things cheaply without regard to any human rights, labor rights, and any environmental considerations. The latter case of Russia’s power was initially prompted by its role as a Western ally in the war against Nazi Germany and the widespread communist ideology among Western intellectuals. Both cases are at the end of their rope, mainly due to the mistake of leaders of these two autocratic societies who thought they were strong enough to challenge and subdue the Democratic world to their will. The currently ongoing war of Russia against Ukraine clearly demonstrates the illusional character of Russian military power. It is quite possible that in the near future, this war will prompt people in the Democratic world to reevaluate the idea of inclusion of increasingly totalitarian China in technological, industrial, and trade exchanges that make it stronger and inspire their dreams of dominance. The following on disconnect of totalitarian China from these exchanges will prove that its economic power is as illusory as Russia’s military.
20220618 – Wrath America Enraged
This book is about American anger turning into American Wrath. The book defines it this way:” What turns anger into wrath? Two things: first, a significant number of people who share the sentiment and who sense their common affront; second, their collective sense that they face an impossible situation.”
Here is the list of the main themes explored in the book
- The political anger of the 2020 presidential election.
- The pervasive but barely noticeable smog of anger in contemporary life.
- The representation of anger in American popular culture.
- The change in sense of anger over time: movement from the culture of prizing self-control to a culture that prizes self-expression, which often means unleashed anger.
- The materials of cultural expression.
- The aspects of self-control and interplay between pretending to be angry and actually being angry.
- The examination of figures in American history who exemplified self-control or who proudly renounced it.
- The 1994 midterm elections – the so-called Gingrich Revolution, the success of which was attributed by the left to the rise of “angry White males.”
- The angry racial and sexual-identity politics that came front and center in the 2016 presidential election.
- The changes in the ways Americans instructed themselves in how to experience injustice and role of the Donald.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the contemporary anger many Americans experiences comes not that much from technological changes brought by social media and polarization. The condition when the population divided itself into closed groups that do not understand each other, have different values, and pursue different objectives in life was always the case. I think the problem is not that much in the polarization of the information environment but rather in the separation of the living environment when, instead of the everyday need to deal with others, the majority of Americans can deal only with people they want to deal with. People used to live in the environment of a small town or a few city blocks and had to deal with the local baker or butcher whether they liked it or not, creating mutual non-political dependency, which kept politics and correspondingly angers on the margin of everyday existence. People who live now in the environment of supermarkets and online delivery could go on for decades without knowing the name of their neighbors and therefore do not need non-political accommodation to others and moderating their anger. Another reason for the anger growing into the wrath is the increased role of the government in many aspects of life, providing to or taking away resources from people. In early America, with a small government, these transfers were small, and so was the anger caused by the inherent unfairness of this process. Today, when the government is big, anger and feeling of powerlessness are caused by the scale of excessive taking or insufficient giving. In a totalitarian society, these feelings are suppressed due to the fear of violence. In a real democracy, such feelings would be directed toward winning elections. In corrupted democracy, when elections are at least partially fake, and bureaucrats and politicians increasingly allocate public resources to themselves, this angers transfers into the Wrath and accumulates potential until it will explode.
20220611 – How We Learn
This book presents a set of ideas about learning, why it is the process essential for life, how it occurs, and what helps and what hinders it. The book also discusses in details machine learning, how it is different from human learning, and the overall prospects of artificial intelligence. The book provides seven specific definitions of the learning:
LEARNING IS FORMING AN INTERNAL MODEL OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD
LEARNING IS EXPLOITING A COMBINATORIAL EXPLOSION
LEARNING IS MINIMIZING ERRORS
LEARNING IS EXPLORING THE SPACE OF POSSIBILITIES
LEARNING IS OPTIMIZING A REWARD FUNCTION
LEARNING IS RESTRICTING SEARCH SPACE
LEARNING IS PROJECTING A PRIORI HYPOTHESES
After defining the meaning of the learning, the book reviews human learning processes and compares them with machine learning. Next, it describes the neurology of the learning process and the changes in the human brain that it causes. The final part of the book discusses four pillars of the learning:
- Attention, which amplifies the information we focus on.
- Active engagement, an algorithm also called “curiosity,” which encourages our brain to ceaselessly test new hypotheses.
- Error feedback, which compares our predictions with reality and corrects our models of the world.
- Consolidation, which renders what we have learned fully automated and involves sleep as a key component.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book provides complete and well-supported by research data descriptions of the learning process, how it occurs, and how it impacts the human brain. This description is valid and utterly consistent with my own learning experiences. I would also add that learning is an absolutely critical part of human existence, without which such existence becomes meaningless and dull. For example, one could look at the fate of the famous patient HM, who lost the ability to retain the new memories due to the trauma. He could not recognize his doctor even after decades of meeting him nearly every day. I would be interested in a similar description and analysis of the processes related to the long term accumulation of the knowledge and its changes over a long time when results of the new learning sometimes push out results of the previous learning, sometimes add up to it, but most often create some recombination of old and new in the highly unpredictable mix. It would be fascinating because it would explain how people’s personalities change over time. It would also be interesting because it recombines old and new learning, generating new ideas and inventions. Finally, I wish I had known lots of information presented in this book many years ago when I went through much formal learning. It conceivable could make this learning quite a bit easier.
20220604 – How Dictatorships Work
Here is how the author defines it:” The order of the book follows the common sequence of challenges faced by dictatorial elites: (1) initiation, the seizure of power; (2) elite consolidation; (3) the extension of rule to society – policy implementation and information gathering; and (4) breakdown.” The book is based on the review and statistical analysis of dozens of dictatorships that existed over the last century. It analyses some of them in great detail to demonstrate the most typical features of each dictatorship’s life cycle phase. A very curious is the breakdown phase for which the author provides a nice graph:
MY TAKE ON IT:
A dictatorship is a pretty popular form of social organization well suited for situations when society is in military competition with neighbors or has a diverse population with unreconcilable aspirations of either territorial or religious or ethnic dominance. However, as well as it is fit for the situation of actual or potential violent fights, it is very poorly suited for effective economic development and even worse suited to support technological and scientific advancement. While forcing people into compliance and coerced coexistence, it also provides concentrated resource allocation to achieve the dictator’s and supportive elite’s simple objectives at the expense of lower quality of life for the non-elite, making regular people unhappy and frustrated. This situation makes societies under dictatorships fall behind of the societies with such systems of governance that support individual freedom, including resource allocation via institutions of private property. Individual freedom with resources allows experimentation with an infinite multitude of resource allocations in search of profit and/or psychological satisfaction. Since future discoveries and most effective resource allocations are unknown, it results in much more effective and efficient production of goods, services, and knowledge, making free societies rich and prosperous way beyond dictatorships’ abilities.
20220528 – The Down of Everything
This book represents an entirely new approach to human history when viewed not as a progressive movement from one form of society less complex and productive to another – more so. It instead compares different forms of human societies, all complex and all supporting human existence at various levels of material and psychological well-being: often making a simple comparison of societies impossible. A good example is the encounter of Native American and European Civilizations when the former provides better conditions for human flourishing as defined by individual preferences of people intimately familiar with both. In contrast, the latter offers better military action and technological development organization. The book also presents an interesting thesis about the causes of West European Enlightenment It finds these causes in encountering Native American philosophy of life.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this book very interesting, and historical data well support its ideas. I also think that all humans and their societies are highly complex, and the designation of some of them as primitive is pretty much meaningless. Unlike the authors of this book, I do not care about inequality but do care about resource allocation. In my view, as long as everybody has enough resources to maintain a decent condition of life and the freedom to interact with others to combine resources and efforts, everything is just fine. Only when some people obtain resources by taking them from others or even making them into their own resources, do I think society has a big problem. Overall, I believe that we are now at the end of history, which is the story of fights of the grouping and cooperating animals for territories and resources. The end of history comes when these animals complete turning themselves into humans capable of satisfying all material needs via automatic productive facilities and mainly busy meeting their psychological and intellectual needs via self-directed actions while voluntary cooperating with others.
20220521 – The Tyranny of Merit
The book defines its crucial point: “In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners must believe they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.” Then it proceeds to review how people become winners or losers in the competition for a better life in a meritocratic society, which becomes less and less meritocratic over time. A significant part plays credentialism when formal testing and educational credentials rather than actual work results define winners. Finally, after reviewing all issues related to meritocracy from all conceivable angles, the book concludes:” Equality of opportunity is a morally necessary corrective to injustice. But it is a remedial principle, not an adequate ideal for a good society.” And even more:” But if the common good can be arrived at only by deliberating with our fellow citizens about the purposes and ends worthy of our political community, then democracy cannot be indifferent to the character of the common life. It does not require perfect equality. But it does require that citizens from different walks of life encounter one another in common spaces and public places. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences. And this is how we come to care for the common good. The meritocratic conviction that people deserve whatever riches the market bestows on their talents makes solidarity an almost impossible project. For why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
From my point of view, the whole discussion of meritocracy, equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome, and so on is specific to the Hierarchy. It refers to how individuals would obtain places in this Hierarchy. Whether it occurs by the grace of God and good inheritance, either social – aristocracy or biological – DNA and hard work, does not matter. I believe that the Hierarchy as the method of societal organization has a very limited range of effective use: when there is a need to sacrifice some people to benefit others, such as in war. In normal life, when everybody has sufficient, albeit unequal amounts of resources, the Ownership method would do much better. However, contemporary technology created opportunities for establishing the Ownership method as dominant. When this happened, the meritocracy would become as outdated for human flourishing as inheriting an aristocratic title from parents.
20220514 – Mine!
This book is about ownership, or more specifically, about popular misconceptions about this notion. It reviews six such misconceptions and allocates a chapter to each, demonstrating why usual beliefs are wrong. The book also defines how it works and what it is all about:” Once you understand how the rules actually work, you will see the drama taking place beneath our workaday concept of ownership. Governments, businesses, and ordinary people are constantly changing the rules on who gets what and why. Each of these choices creates winners and losers. And this has always been so. At its core, human society exists to help us deal with competing claims to scarce resources—whether food, water, gold, or sexual partners—so that we don’t kill each other too often.” It also discusses the potential future development of human society and the notion of ownership.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It all looks like there are only two conceivable methods of controlling resources: ownership and hierarchy. In ownership, individuals have control over resources and interact, either voluntarily exchanging them as needed or cooperating in combining them. In a hierarchy, individuals control resources via some structural relationship when the superior directs the action of the inferior. Reality always presents some combination of these methods. This book nicely demonstrates the complexity of realistic controls over resources and the inadequate character of simplified beliefs about ownership. The book correctly points out that the critical issue is “who decides?”. My answer would be that individuals should decide as much as possible with all and any coordination between them occurring voluntarily. I understand that it is not always possible, but it is the objective humanity should strive to achieve if its members have a good life.
20220507 – The Aristocracy of Talent
This book defines meritocracy this way:” A meritocratic society combines four qualities which are each in themselves admirable. First, it prides itself on the extent to which people can get ahead in life on the basis of their natural talents. Second, it tries to secure equality of opportunity by providing education for all. Third, it forbids discrimination on the basis of race and sex and other irrelevant characteristics. Fourth, it awards jobs through open competition rather than patronage and nepotism.”
The book then reviews the history of ideas that promote the meritocratic society and the success of these ideas in creating contemporary Western societies and their democratic forms. However, it also reviews the current growing crisis of meritocracy and its slow conversion into the new aristocracy that depends more on the inheritance of genes and wealth than on the results of individual actions. Finally, it discusses the ongoing revolt against meritocracy from the left and the right, stressing the need to find ways to retain this resource allocation method.
MY TAKE ON IT:
My attitude to meritocracy is simple: as long as it is real, it is the best way to allocate power and control over resources. However, my philosophy is that the power of some people over others has to be minimized to the lowest level possible, at least to the extent that everybody has enough to pursue whatever objectives they desire. Whether these objectives are limited to enjoying one’s life or include some grandiose goals is not essential. What is critical is that pursuing these goals involved only voluntary interactions with others, which means the market, and excluded coercive interactions, which means robbery, violence, and government interventions. Consequently, the meritocracy would work via practical consequences of individual actions rather than via formal evaluation of an individual’s abilities. Minimizing violence and government use would automatically lead to selecting the best people for obtaining good results rather than the best people for getting high grades.
20220430 – From Zero to One
This book discusses the issue of qualitative change when the state of the system changes from 0 to 1, which is entirely different than quantitively evolving from 1 to 2. This discussion proceeds mainly in the business area about building businesses that create new things that did not exist before. It touches on many relevant areas and concludes by presenting four future development scenarios, only one of which will be realized.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree with most of the ideas expressed in this book, especially in the business area. However, the most significant problem of them all, is the gigantic social change we are going through today, which is the growing redundancy of humans for the production of goods and services. The book does not explicitly recognize this problem, leave alone propose a solution. Instead, the authors allocate lots of attention to founders, stressing their role in going from zero to one, which is understandable because they belong to this personality type. But it is insufficient because the founders could exist only when everybody’s survival and even minimal satisfaction were guaranteed. Otherwise, all energy would be spent on survival, meaning just moving from condition 1 – the level below survivability, to 1.01 – the level of minimal survivability. It is also an excellent guide to the logic and circumstance of business innovation.
20220423 – Spies, Lies, and Algorithms
This book reviews a few known successes and many failures of the American Intelligence community, its continuously growing structure, its history, its present dysfunctionality, and its increasingly complicated future. The main point this book makes is the dramatic increase of the information available to civilians, who are often capable of providing better analysis than multibillion-dollar agencies of the intelligence community. The second point is that cyber intelligence has become both: a growing business industry and a growing hobby for many people. The result is such an increase in the scale of intelligence community failures that one could not possibly even imagine a couple of dozen years ago. An excellent example would be an acquisition by Chinese intelligence of OPM security clearance data on millions of Americans.
MY TAKE ON IT:
After reading about the apparent dysfunctionality of the American intelligence community, I should be distraught and scared, but I am not. Being somewhat familiar with both sides of Cold War intelligence and security competition, I believe that the stupidity and dysfunctionality of former Soviet and now Russian intelligence significantly exceeds the same of their American counterpart. I am pretty sure the same applies to Chinese. So, all things being otherwise equal, Americans would win. However, I would like to suggest a few upgrade measures that could make such an outcome guaranteed:
- Remove all generic security clearances and substitute them with clearances for a specific document. With current technology, it is not that difficult to keep in the database for each document names of individuals authorized to use this document. Similarly, it should not be a problem to save in the database entry for each individual code of documents this individual is authorized for. The ability of private Manning or technician Snowden not only to read but also download millions of classified documents was beyond any conceivable level of incompetency of officials responsible for the design of the security protocol.
- Combine all agencies into two, each of them covering the full scope of intelligence services and competing between themselves.
- Keep public track record for senior intelligence officials, so consistently failed individuals could be excluded from positions of responsibility.
- Change attitude to defectors from the enemy side by treating them as our own under suspicion in treason, meaning constant surveillance combined with conditional trust. Retaliate for any harm to them as if they were our own and provide them with the same level of support. For example, if Kennedy provided the same level of support to Cubans on Playa Giron as they were marines, Cuban people would not need to endure 70 years of communist tyranny.
20220416 – Work
This book reviews various types and nature of work, from hunter-gatherers to agricultural labor to work in the contemporary economy, whether as salaried people or self-controlled high-tech workers. The book is based not only on theoretical knowledge but also on detailed anthropological observations of hunter-gatherers and the destruction of their world after an encounter with more powerful societies. The book also looks at functional developments of the work process in energy, production, and use of tools. It also analyses the development of various forms of interaction with the environment, whether concerning types of living: cities vs. villages vs. nomads or division and organization of labor and trade. Finally, the book discusses our automated future, which inevitably includes the creative destruction of the currently existing form of society. It is unclear how it will look, but it has to be sustainable or else…
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an excellent description of the historical development of human interaction with the environment in the process of resource acquisition from the earlier stages typical to the most animals to uniquely human and very complex contemporary world. This description is nearly utterly consistent with my understanding of these processes, so there is little to add. However, I would like to expand something that the book only hints at: “Other interesting approaches propose extending the fundamental rights we give to people and companies to ecosystems, rivers, and crucial habitats.”. I believe it will be a crucial change in the organization of society if all people get equal and unalienable property rights on all forms of shared and undividable resources. If implemented, such an organization would provide necessary resource flow to everybody without the need for work as the long automated process could generate such resource flow. However the idea of giving rights to non-humans such as “environmental systems” means just giving power to some people to control activities of others under pretense of defending these “rights”. This approach would lead to no good because it would mean fighting between humans for representing rights of these “environmental systems”, which would be no different than traditional fight for resources.
20220409 – Collective Illusions
This book is about conformity and the human tendency to comply with authority in fear of short-term punishment even at the cost of losing long-term benefits. The idea is to look at the process of such compliance that usually includes lying, accommodation to dominant ideas and powerful leaders even if one does not believe these ideas and despises these leaders. The author also suggests using some specific tools to overcome this problem. These include asking questions such as “why we do it this way?” and rejecting living by the lie. Finally, the essential tool in overcoming illusions is maintaining congruence of one’s personality, actions, and behavior.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Everything here is pretty much nice, meaningful, and even somewhat helpful, especially concerning empirical research results. It would be wonderful if “the living in truth” would not be so detrimental to one’s health in typical situations of totalitarian societies like the USSR and even semi-totalitarian groups as American Academy today. People read Solzhenitsyn and have no clue how unusual is his case, not because he was a great writer, but because he survived. The noncompliance with dominant opinions and behaviors always has a cost, which could be very steep. If one to survive, it is essential to keep the balance between maintaining congruence of one’s personality and continuing existence of one’s body. It is not for nothing that the same people that were heroic revolutionaries before the Russian revolution when they were fighting czar’s political police – Okhranka became scared and highly compliant non-heroes with Stalin’s NKVD. It was not easy, but it was heroic to go on hunger strike when newspapers promoted, and many people admired one’s heroism. And the hunger strike is entirely different thing when nobody cares about it, while one is already starving to death anyway. In short, always consider the price and your readiness to pay it.
20220402 – How Civil Wars Start
This book discusses the results of sociological research based on an analysis of the hundreds of civil wars in the XIX and XX centuries. It identifies the key parameters that create conditions for societies’ breakdown into Civil War. First, the condition of the Anocracy– the state of society being strictly between autocracy and democracy, is necessary but insufficient. On a scale of -10 to 10, it is -1 to +1 when war occurs and -6 to 6 when serious troubles arise. The addition to Anocracy, the fractioning of the society into multiple factions, some of which are rising up at the expense of others that are going down, is an additional factor. Finally, the loss of hope for peaceful resolution of problems either via fair elections or via negotiations makes violent competition all but unavoidable.
Chapter 1: The Danger of Anocracy
Chapter 2: The Rise of Factions
Chapter 3: The Dark Consequences of Losing Status
Chapter 4: When Hope Dies
Chapter 5: The Accelerant
Chapter 6: How Close Are We?
Chapter 7: What a War Would Look Like
Chapter 8: Preventing a Civil War
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this book very interesting and quite curiously separated into two. On one side, it is the work of the social scientist based on the wealth of experimental data thoroughly processed and analyzed that resulted in a very well-formulated and well-communicated model of societal degradation into the factions fighting each other to death. It is an excellent analysis, and I generally agree with its inferences. On the other side, it is a primal scream of the white women of North European background heavily indoctrinated into leftist, racist antiwhite ideology who consistently expresses hope to see “black and brown” people becoming the majority and expunging whiteness of America while substituting it with some kind of benevolent form of National-Socialism. All this combined with the extreme form of Trump derangement syndrome. I think that the first side is well worth reading, and the second side deserves skipping without any loss of value whatsoever.
20220326 – Woke Racism
Key Insights per Thinkr:
- Third Wave antiracists have formed a religious, enlightened “Elect,” and their vision and agenda are not to be questioned.
- Third Wave antiracism has all the hallmarks of a religion, from clergy and apocalyptic vision, to a doctrine of original sin.
- The religion of antiracism is not helping black people.
- There are three practical, achievable adjustments that antiracists should back if they really want to see black communities thrive: Legalize drugs, Teach to Read fluently, and provide non-college opportunities.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The idea that Wokeism is a religion sounds pretty convincing. It does have lots of indicators of religious fanaticism. However, I think it is valid only in a somewhat insignificant number of cases. Similar to National-Socialism and Communism, it is just ideologically formulated to strive for power over other people. Even so, only a small minority of the wokes would sacrifice anything significant in this struggle. The majority of wokes are white, and all this is just a good career move that often helps to move ahead by undermining somebody else more qualified or more deserving. It is pretty typical for totalitarian regimes when someone is trying to move to a better position at work by informing Gestapo that somebody who occupies the coveted position has Jewish grandma or informing NKVD that the neighbor who has a bit bigger room is not sufficiently in awe of Stalin. The totalitarianism currently established in American Academia and quickly moving to other areas of life is not that different. The only real remedy for this malaise is the change of environment so that anybody that demands the punishment of others for thought crime would be immediately punished. For example, a group of professors signing a demand to fire somebody for politically incorrect twit should find themselves unemployed. Somehow, I doubt that it would be that many religious Wokes / Elect to make such demands after one occurrence of just retaliation.
20220319 – Taxing the Rich
This book discusses taxation of the rich mainly in democratic countries when such measure requires the support of the people. It reviews such reasons as the ability to pay the compensation for privileges provided to the rich by the government. It presents results of sociological research that provided a few main categories of support for taxation:
- Equal Treatment [fairness]—Preference for the government treating citizens the same through a proportional or flat tax.
- Ability to pay [fairness]—Specifies that the rich are better able to afford or will be less harmed by a tax increase than the poor.
- Compensatory [fairness]—Suggests a higher tax on the rich is justified because of other inequalities or advantages.
- General Fairness [fairness]—Refers to fairness but not specifically to “Equal Treatment,” “Ability to Pay,” or “Compensatory” conceptions of fairness. These responses are often of the form “because it’s fair” and were employed to justify choices for both Plan A (proportional) and Plan B (progressive).
- Progressive Treatment—Argues for a plan that taxes the rich more or poor less but does not give any reason why.
- Economic Efficiency—Argues that the preferred plan is good for the economy in some way.
- Self-interest—Chooses the plan that makes the respondent better off economically.
Then the book reviews taxation history, trying to answer such questions as to when, why, and how taxing of the rich was implemented. Finally, it provides detailed reviews of taxation use as the tool of social mobilization during wars and as a tool of society stabilization necessary to prevent explosion due to inequality and perceived unfairness of society’s organization.
Part One — Debating Taxation
1. Why Might Governments Tax the Rich?
2. Treating Citizens as Equals
Part Two — When have Governments Taxed the Rich?
3. The Income Tax over Two Centuries
4. Taxing Inheritance
5. Taxes on the Rich in Context
Part Three — Why have Governments Taxed the Rich?
6. The Conscription of Wealth
7. The Role of War Technology
8. Why Taxes on the Rich Declined
9. What Future for Taxing the Rich?
MY TAKE ON IT:
The main reason for taxation in all its forms is the necessity to leave production processes mainly to the private sector. When the private sector creates resources, taxation as a form of robbery is necessary to obtain resources for the unproductive part of the population. The history of the socialist countries in the XX century, in which taxation was not really needed because most of the resources were created within the framework of the top-down government hierarchy, clearly demonstrated that it was not effective in producing goods and services that people need even for survival, let alone prosperity. It is not a new phenomenon. From ancient times to our day and from Egyptian pharaohs to contemporary presidents and prime ministers, the common knowledge is that private business produces wealth.
In contrast, the government hierarchy needs to take this wealth from others to spend. Traditionally, the elite did it with brute force ideologically supported by religious or quasi-religious teachings. However, when such teachings somewhat wear out due to scientific progress and individual use weapons such as firearms and IEDs become available, these traditional methods lose most of their power.
It is evident that contemporary somewhat oligarchical democracy is just a new tool for wealth transfer away from its producers to the governmental elite. It is then distributed throughout the government hierarchy from the elite members at the top to the welfare recipients at the bottom. What is very interesting, and what this book very capably presents, is the process of modern ideological conditioning in the environment of democracy. It shows how this conditioning allows such transfer, how justifications work on the population’s minds, and how emergencies such as wars allow moving tax rates up. Another point that I’d like to make is that increased productivity makes lots of people redundant for production and dependent on welfare handouts, often in the form of meaningless, even if well-paid jobs. The increase in numbers of such people provides expanding base for support of tax increases. However, too much taxes and ideological denigration of producers inevitably decrease the willingness of these people to produce. Why would a mentally fit person start a business, work hard, and use their talents to make something if the fruits of this effort are taken away? It would be much more beneficial and prestigious to use these talents and hard work to get a good place in the hierarchy and then just enjoy a good life at somebody else’s expense.
20220312 – Wiser
This book describes what authors believe is the scientific approach to wisdom. The authors also intend to help people become wiser by explaining wisdom, its components, and how one could enhance it. Here are the key points:
Prosocial Attitudes and Behaviors. These include empathy, compassion, and altruism. What exactly do these terms mean? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings and thoughts of another. Compassion involves translating empathy into helpful behavior. Altruism is opposite of egoism and refers to actions to help another person without expecting any external rewards. Can you put yourself in others’ shoes and do you want to help those in need? In psychology, there is a concept called “theory of mind,” which describes the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, desires, emotions, knowledge—to both yourself and others. Theory of mind is essential to behaviors like compassion, where we often act out of a recognized connectedness with others.
Emotional Stability with Happiness. This is the ability to maintain self-control, while preferring positive feelings to negative ones. “Anger is a brief madness,” observed the ancient Roman poet, Horace. Few acts are done well when driven by unthinking passions.
Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance of Uncertainty. The latter involves acknowledging that different but equally valid perspectives exist and that things can change, including one’s deeply held thoughts and beliefs, over time and with new knowledge, experience, and insights. It means recognizing that other people may have different beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives and that people with different belief systems need not be considered evil or unintelligent. But while we accept uncertainties in life and diversity of perspectives, one cannot sit on the fence too long or too often. One must act when action is called for, based on the information at hand, knowing that the decision could later prove to be the wrong choice. Deciding not to act is also a decision.
Reflection and Self-Understanding. These include insight, intuition, and self-awareness. Are you able to analyze yourself and your motivations, your strengths and weaknesses? Understanding oneself is much more difficult than people think.
Social Decision-Making and Pragmatic Knowledge of Life. These relate to social reasoning and the ability to give good advice, as well as share life knowledge and life skills. Wisdom not shared is wisdom not gained but lost.
Spirituality. It should be noted that spirituality is not the same as religiosity. The latter typically refers to organized or cultural systems of belief. Religion can be and often is spiritual in nature, but its practices vary considerably in societies and around the world. Spirituality is a more universal constant, a core human belief in something larger than the individual and the society. It leads to a feeling of humility as well as comfort in going beyond the stresses of everyday life. Spirituality can include religion, but it can mean and embrace much, much more.
The authors provide a somewhat interesting discussion about the structure of the human brain, its features learned from observation of individuals with impaired brain functionality, and the relation of age and behavior they consider wise. They also provide IQ-type tests supposedly measuring an individual’s level of wisdom.
Part l: What Is Wisdom?
Chapter 1: Defining Wisdom
Chapter 2: The Neuroscience of Wisdom
Chapter 3: Wisdom and Aging
Chapter 4: Measuring Wisdom
Part Il: Components of Wisdom
Chapter 5: Cultivating Compassion
Chapter 6: Emotional Regulation with Happiness
Chapter 7: Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance
Chapter 8: Self-Reflection, Curiosity, and Humor
Chapter 9: Spirituality
Part III: Enhancing Practical and Societal Wisdom
Chapter 10: Becoming Wiser Faster
Chapter 1 1: Wisdom Boosters
Chapter 12: The Future of Wisdom
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that an attempt at a purely scientific approach to wisdom and its acquisition is kind of unwise. Science is the method of developing intellectual tools for predicting the future, at least probabilistically. Wisdom is the human ability to optimize behavior to achieve the most effective balance between two contradictory needs of assuring survival: obtaining individuals benefits, even if at the group’s expense, vs. providing benefits for the group, even at the expense of individual well-being. I agree that such ability is changing with age and is malleable. However, I doubt that it could be the subject of adequate training, just because it is highly dependent on circumstances of life and such circumstances are always unique and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the catalog of behavior that correlates with high quality of life could be helpful for people who either do not have enough living experience or experienced a low quality of life.
20220305 – The Spaces Between Us
This book is about the space surrounding any animal, humans included, serving as a multilayered protection bubble. The brain constantly monitors this space and applies various measures to indicate danger or opportunity.
CHAPTER 1 The Second Skin
CHAPTER 2 A Startling Discovery
CHAPTER 3 The Flight Zone of the Zebra
CHAPTER 4 The French Stare Too Much, and My Lover Has a Bulgy Nose
CHAPTER 5 Monkey Versus Ping-Pong Ball
CHAPTER 6 Kissing in the Dark
CHAPTER 7 Hand-to-Mouth and Other Shocking Surprises of the Motor Cortex
CHAPTER 8 Super-Flinchers and Nerves of Steel
CHAPTER 9 The Peripersonal Radar in Humans
CHAPTER 10 Wrapping Personal Space Around My Black & Decker
CHAPTER 11 Why It’s Sexy to Let a Vampire Bite Your Neck, and Other Social Consequences of Peripersonal Space
CHAPTER 12 The First Smile
CHAPTER 13 The First Laugh
CHAPTER 14 The First Cry
CHAPTER 15 The Personal Dimension of Personal Space
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is an interesting take on the interactions between animals and the environment. There is a direct link between the complexity of animal brains, the effectiveness of monitoring the space around the animal, and complex rituals developed to handle these processes between individuals. It is also fascinating with humans because it is highly dependent on the culture of the specific individual. The information about relevant scientific research and the author’s personal experience with the disorder of space controlling provides some insights into the human and space-around relationship and processing. I think that the ongoing process of humanity‘s transfer from the multitude of groups with different space-related rituals into one combined group based on a more complex but generally unified set of rituals will support much better communications and interactions between individuals.
20220226 – Rationality
Key Insights per Thinkr:
- We humans are capable of brilliant, incisive thought and also are vulnerable to the oldest tricks in the book.
- Reason is so fundamental to life that you can’t make a case against reason without relying on it.
- When we cannot negotiate and resolve problems with the tools reason provides, society becomes divided and bellicose.
- It is much easier to ground morality in reason than to ground it in God.
- The stock answers to the question, “What is wrong with people?” only scratch the surface.
- Suffering and confusion flourish when mythology oversteps its bounds and masquerades as realism.
1. How Rational an Animal?
2. Rationality and Irrationality
3. Logic and Critical Thinking
4. Probability and Randomness
5. Beliefs and Evidence (Bayesian Reasoning)
6. Risk and Reward (Rational Choice and Expected Utility)
7. Hits and False Alarms (Signal Detection and Statistical Decision Theory)
8. Self and Others (Game Theory)
9. Correlation and Causation
10. What’s Wrong with People?
11. Why Rationality Matters
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the very question posed by the division of human behavior into rational and irrational is mainly meaningless. Like all other animals, humans are evolutionary conditioned to act so that it is beneficial either to the survival of an individual or a group this individual belongs to. Therefore, the approach should be not a critic of human irrationality but a search for understanding of action assuming that these actions benefit survival. The seeming irrationality comes from the complexity of human existence, which by far exceeds the complexity of formal analytical tools. Consequently, attempts to analyze human behavior with these formal tools are like measuring a 3-dimensional multifaced figure based on its projection on the plain. The typical example of irrationality discovered by psychologists and behavioral economists is the human tendency to choose A over B, B over C, and C over A. From the point of view of Boolean logic, it is wrong. However, if A, B, and C are multifeatured objects, such choice could be perfectly logical if each object has a combination of at least two features so one can prefer 1 & 2 over 2 & 3. 2 & 3 over 3 & 1. And, finally, 3 & 1 over 1 & 2.
Overall, it is a pretty good compilation, except for a somewhat hilarious part when the author’s light form of Trump derangement syndrome (TDS) causes him to provide some vivid examples of absolutely irrational thinking. However, it is a slight handicap in this generally solid work.
20220219 – The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State
This book mainly responds to the popular ideas promoted by supporters of “Entrepreneurial State” that claim that all achievements of individual entrepreneurs result from government activities that created infrastructure and support the rule of law. Specifically, it is directed against Mazzucato – an Italian economist, who is getting more and more power as an adviser to the government. She and other promoters of such ideas, such as Piketty and Obama, with his “you did not build your business. The government did it”. The authors methodically go step by step through pseudo-economic ideas promoted by these people and demonstrate that these ideas are not workable and often based on false data and an entirely discredited ideology of socialism.
Part I – Popular, But Mistaken, Economic Ideas
1. Introducing Mazzucato
2. Statism and Its Allies
3. Statist Intervention Is Not Innocent
Part II – Innovism Has, In Fact, Worked Bottom-up
4. The Great Enrichment Came Not from the State but from Liberty
5. “Driving” from the Top Is Not Its Explanation
6. Bottom-Up Does Work
7. Economic History Rejects Mazzucato’s Hypothesis
8. There Is No “Linear Model”
9. The Internet, for Example, Was Not Invented by the State
10. Bottom-Up, Then, Is Pretty Good
11. One Must Measure the State with a Sample of the Economy
Part III – Statism Has Never Worked
12. The State Should Have a Role, but Should Not be the Director
13. For Understandable Reasons the State Is Bad at Innovation
14. Most Governments, After All, Are Demonstrably Incompetent
15. State Foresightedness Is Implausible
16. The Hypothesis of Significantly Imperfect Market Has Never Been Tested
17. Stakeholder Theory is Defective
Part IV – The Political Economy of Mazzucato is thoroughly Illiberal
18. Mazzucato Distrusts Ordinary People
19. Keynesian Mastery Takes Away Dignity
20. The Market Accords Dignity
Part V – Illiberalism Leads to Deep Technical Errors
21. The Economic Errors of Lawyers and Pre- 1870s Economists
22. The Top-Down and Legacy-Payment of Statism are Illiberal
23. The Supply-Chain Fallacy Underlies Mazzucato’s Method
24. The Enchaining of Human Action Reverts to a Labor Theory of Value
25. What Sort of Economy Do People Want?
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very nice book, and it could be very educational for anybody who still doubts that socialism is not working in any of its multiple forms. It failed either as fully totalitarian state ownership of the means of production as in the USSR, or as corporatist socialism of Mussolini, or in its currently popular reincarnation as “the big benevolent government” of welfare states. I think that the idea of socialism was quite scientific at the time of Marx in the XIX century as a hypothesis. Still, many countries’ experiences have thoroughly discarded it by now. What is clear is that any supporters of communism and socialism are either illiterate bums, both economically and historically, or just plain power-hungry immoral crooks. Considering the dismal state of education elsewhere in the world, I would say that the people until their mid-twenties usually belong to the former type because of miseducation. As to professional economists, I do not see how any of them who still support socialism could be anything but one of the latter types – crooks.
20220212 – Burdens of Freedom
The author briefly describes the central theme of this book as: “The contrast between Western and non-Western ways of life is the great division in the world today, both within and between countries. On one side of that great divide, America—due chiefly to the world’s most individualist culture—has leapt to wealth and power. In such a society, particularly, power grows from the bottom up. It begins with ordinary people who take action toward their own goals and, in so doing, enrich and empower the nation.” On the other side is contemporary China, the country with deep collectivistic culture and history that seemingly presents an alternative when the power goes from the top down, forcing everybody to subordinate their lives to the vision and wishes of leaders at the top.
Chapter One Introduction
The chapter presents the key points and overall structure of the book. It also discusses overall cultural differences between the western and non-western people, resources availability, which primarily derived from these differences, and the balance of economic and other forms of national power between two prominent representatives: America as quintessential individualistic and China as collectivistic societies.
Part One: History and Culture
This part discusses how history led to the development of the specific culture and points out that Western and especially American individualism largely explains the primacy of this part of the world.
Chapter Two: History
This chapter looks at the history of both Europe and the non-western world, dividing it into static vs. dynamic civilizations. The author presents it as competition between control and Freedom and reviews how this competition developed over time in different cultures. Until recently, this competition has increasingly demonstrated the superiority of the Western ways in all areas of human activities. Still, the new challenge from collectivistic cultures of Asia shows that high levels of development could be achieved when suppression of individual Freedom continues unabated in some areas, mainly political and cultural, but alleviated in the economy.
Chapter Three: The End of History
This chapter initially discusses ideas of “the end of history” popular at the end of the Cold War and makes the case that it did not end but became much more complicated. Then, it provides side by side graphic representation of politics before and after:
It also makes the point that the old assumption of sameness of all people regardless of their cultural background proved wrong and should be tossed away. Here is the author’s suggestion:” The Western political tradition, in fact, is antiquated. It explicates the issues that have been resolved in history, but not the deepest struggles that confront us after history. To address them, we need a new intellectual tradition. It must focus on cultural difference, not sameness; on human nature, not Freedom or equality. It will inevitably give greater place to values of order and authority, and a lesser place to Freedom or autonomy, than intellectuals favor. To reinterpret individualism as a culture of obligation rather than Freedom, as I do in this book, is already a step down that road.”
Chapter Four: Cultural Difference
The chapter first points out that the main differences between cultures are not binary but graduate: the West is somewhat more individualistic than the non-west. The chapter then discusses the variances of three critical attributes:
- Individualism vs. Collectivism
- Moralism vs. Situational Ethics
- Theory vs. Experience
The chapter then provides two graphic models of variations:
The conclusion points out differences in approach and assertiveness between cultures, making it very difficult to understand each other.
Chapter Five: The Origins of Difference
This chapter discusses the origin of differences, which it assigns to various factors from economic and social conditions to demography, history, religion, and philosophy. Finally, it looks at Europe and its most prominent countries with its culture: America and Britain. The conclusion is that typical western attitude that people in other countries want to be like them. In reality, this attitude is entirely out of the base.
Part Two: Other Roots of Power
In this part, the author looks outside the culture at other features of existence and systematically goes through the most important of them, such as:
Chapter Six: Geography;
Chapter Seven: The Market;
Chapter Eight: Good Government
However, all these factors are strongly linked to the culture, creating a kind of feedback loop. For example, with its relative independence of individuals and availability of multiple choices, the market makes a very different morality than living within some collective that imposes strict compliance on others with little if any alternatives. Correspondingly, the western understanding of good government features the interaction of more or less independent agents when people outside of government perceive themselves as customers or even bosses who theoretically could fire all government leaders and bureaucrats. On the other hand, non-western understanding features a nearly opposite approach when people outside of government are dependent on the government for their wellbeing and therefore do whatever they can to be in good graces of whatever bureaucrat they are dealing with. The author also discusses an important topic of reconciliation between Freedom and order, the challenge relevant mainly to western societies. The overall conclusion is that all these features that make the West into what it is are not easily transferrable to other cultures.
Part Three: Challenges at Home
This part looks at the Western burdens of Freedom, which come from the internal drive to pursue one’s own goals in contrast to the burdens of non-freedom imposed on individuals from outside. Sometimes these burdens are too much for some individuals, who would rather be cared for by others.
Chapter Nine: Freedom as Obligation
This chapter goes more deeply into why Freedom requires obligations, first in theory and then more concretely. Finally, it defines that the current threat to American Freedom comes mainly not from any foreign country but from the decline of individualism within America.
Chapter Ten: Social Problems; Chapter Eleven: Immigration
Chapters 10 and 11 analyze the decline, which is apparent in the recent demoralization of the working class and also in the long-standing problem of entrenched poverty. Recent immigration is also weakening the individualist character of American society. Non-Western newcomers bring valuable assets to America, just as past immigrants did, but they must also join a mainstream culture that still shoulders the burdens of Freedom. An ideal America is a multicultural society that remains individualistic.
Part Four: Future Challenges
Chapter Twelve: The Future of Primacy; Chapter Thirteen: Policy Directions
In the two final chapters, the author considers the implications of this cultural perspective for American policy both at home and abroad. He contrasts the United States with other centers of power, especially Asia:” American primacy seems likely to continue; Asian culture is too cautious and too centered on immediate interests for these countries to lead the world as the West and America have done. Against all its rivals, only the United States possesses both the will and the capacity to lead. That potential, however, depends on the maintenance of an individualist way of life at home.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the idea of Freedom requiring hard work, sometimes fighting, and always imposing obligation is not new and even maybe somewhat trivial. However, the author’s stress on the individualism of American culture and its consequences in the form of better economic outcome, less corruption, and higher quality of life, while basically correct, is not sufficiently explanatory. What is missing, in my opinion, is a more comprehensive look at the circumstances of American life, which are different from other countries by the availability of resources under individual control. The American typically owns individually both material property and their own human capital. At the same time, in other places, it is often the family or some hierarchical structure that has the power to direct individuals and suppress any external competition. For example, an American not happy with a job or living location or any other life parameters can change these parameters much easier than people in different cultures.
Moreover, an American typically has more access to other people’s resources, mainly because these resources are widely distributed among the population rather than concentrated in the hands of some government hierarchy. Finally, the cost of a failure is much smaller in America than in other places because the culture is formed in circumstances of the open frontier, so one could overcome the failure by “going West”. As to competition from Asian culture, I guess meaning China, I also optimistic because whatever errors America will make, whatever failures she endures due to incompetence and corruption of its elite, the incompetence and corruption of China’s communist elite would easily double or triple American levels of corruption and incompetence. One also had to add that rigid hierarchical structure would stick to an error much longer and cause much more damage than a flexible network of individuals controlling distributed resources that compete against each other. Only conversion of America into a quasi-socialist society by the elite could cause it to fail. Still, this process seems to encounter fast-growing resistance, so it will probably stop well before the damage becomes existential.
20220205 – Creation of Inequality
This book reviews massive amounts of historical and anthropological data to demonstrate how inequality develops in different societies and the causes of such development. It also suggests that the value of inequality as an effective tool for development is probably exhausted. It is time to start switching back to a more natural mode of human relations that has worked very well for a very long time – an egalitarian society.
Part l: Starting Out Equal
ONE: Genesis and Exodus
This chapter discusses the origins of humanity in Africa, its distribution worldwide, and the initial development of the surplus either in the form of labor investment into improving gathering opportunities for the next season or fish smocking to save it for later use. Archeologists found these and similar cases dated long before the switch to agriculture. The chapter also describes human colonization of the Earth, its forms in various environments, and its impact on human behavior and DNA that created the varieties of adjustments such as skin color adjusted to the amount of sunlight available in different locations. It then asks why all this started occurring only about 20 000 years ago, while contemporary humans have at least 100,000 years of existence. The answer the author provides: is that it all was linked to the formation of families and then clans, which began competing, including the military, for prestige and possessions. At the end of the chapter, the author notes that society with clans has a greater inequality level than societies without.
TWO: Rousseau’s “State of Nature”
This chapter begins by referencing Rousseau’s speculative ideas about the state of nature. It proceeds to review how archeological research and real-live hunter/gatherers, observed by anthropologists in recent times, fit into these ideas’ framework. Next, the author discusses several Eskimo tribes, archeological work on prehistoric Folsom culture in Colorado, and several African tribes. The results demonstrated the egalitarian nature of these societies. The author contrasts this to the behavior of our close relatives – chimpanzees who constantly fight for dominance and maintain strict hierarchy even in small groups.
THREE: Ancestors and Enemies
This chapter discusses the origin of violence and links it mainly to the formation of clans. It notes that individual violence in hunter/gatherer societies is usually regulated quite effectively by revenge, either directly against the perpetrator or via substitution by another member of the perpetrator’s group. The chapter reviews the oldest archeological evidence for group violence from the Nile Valley: Jebel Sahaba, the anthropological research in the Andaman Islands in 1906-1908, and Australian and Tasmanian tribes. The author concludes that despite increased violence due to the emergence of clans, inequality did not significantly increase. The author also points out the emergence of the trade mainly in ritual related goods, accumulation of which could increase the prestige of one induvial comparatively to another. Still, it was far from creating the foundation of severe levels of inequality.
FOUR: Why Our Ancestors Had Religion and the Arts
The author begins this chapter by summarizing a set of typical features of hunter/gathering societies and how they relate to inequality:
1. Generosity is admirable; selfishness is reprehensible.
2. The social relationship created by a gift is more valuable than the gift itself.
3. All gifts should be reciprocated; however, a reasonable delay before reciprocating is acceptable.
4. Names are magic and should not be casually assigned.
5. Since all humans are reincarnated, ancestors’ names should be treated with particular respect.
6. Homicide is unacceptable. A killer’s relatives should either execute him or pay reparations to the victim’s family.
7. Do not commit incest; get your spouse from outside your immediate kin.
8. In return for a bride, the groom should provide her family with services or gifts.
9. Marriage is a flexible economic partnership; it allows for multiple spouses and variations.
In addition to these principles, which imply no inequality among members of society, we also encountered some premises that allowed for a degree of inequality. They were as follows:
10. Men have the capacity to be more virtuous or ritually pure than women.
11. Youths should defer to seniors.
12. Late arrivals should defer to those who were here first.
In those societies that featured lineages, clans, or ancestor-based descent groups, the following new premises appeared:
13. When lineages grow and divide, the junior lineage should defer to the senior lineage, since the latter was here first.
14. You are born into your family, but you must be initiated into your clan.
15. The bad news is that initiation will be an ordeal. The good news is that you will learn ritual secrets, become more fully a member of your ethnic group, and perhaps gain virtue.
16. Any offense against a member of your lineage or clan, such as murder or serious insult, is an offense against that entire social unit. It requires a group response against some member (or members) of the offending group.
17. Any armed conflict should be followed by rituals of peacemaking.
The author then discusses the cosmology and religion of these societies and concludes that the typical ideological setup is the source of difference between human and chimpanzee groups concerning dominance and inequality. Here is how the author formulated this point: “When we look at hunters and gatherers, we see a dominance hierarchy as clear as that of chimpanzees. It is, however, a hierarchy in which the alphas are invisible supernatural beings, too powerful to be overthrown by conspiracy or alliance, and capable of causing great misfortune when disobeyed. The betas are invisible ancestors who do the bidding of the alphas and protect their living descendants from harm. The reason human foragers seem, superficially, to have no dominance hierarchy is because no living human can be considered more than a gamma within this system.”
FIVE: Inequality without Agriculture
This chapter once again refers to Rousseau’s ideas about reasons for the human switch to agriculture and the consequent development of inequality. However, the author points out that inequality is not necessarily linked to agriculture in all cases and reviews many societies from this angle. These are the Chumash of the California coast, the foragers of Vancouver Island, the Historic Nootka, and the History Tlingit of Alaska. The author concludes that because the availability of natural resources is unequal in different places and periods, the hunter/gatherers initially create multiple sharing methods to compensate for this variance. However,
the formation of clans transforms it into a group competition with some groups and lineages rising in prestige and power and some falling. Eventually, it forms hereditary inequality.
Part II: Balancing Prestige and Equality
SIX: Agriculture and Achieved Renown
This chapter describes several societies in which anthropologists observed the process of the transfer to agriculture. These were Gana of the Kalahari region in the 1960s, Chimbu, and some other tribes in New Guinea. Here is a typical list of changes:
1. The creation myth was revised to claim that spirit ancestors (among their other teachings) showed humans how to garden.
2. Even those tribes with a history of immediate-return economy converted to a delayed-return economy, justifying the investment of labor in clearing and planting gardens.
3. Prohibitions against hoarding were relaxed so that gardeners could begin storing plants such as yams and sweet potatoes.
4. Previous behaviors in which men shared meat with everyone and women collected plants only for their family were modified. Now men pressured their wives to produce surplus plants for lavish feasts to which guests were invited.
5. Bride-price escalated.
The author also describes tribesmen’s recollections of warfare as it existed before colonialist-imposed pacification and the related process of raising “Big Men,” which slowly moved to become a hereditary position. This process was mainly based on achievement at war and accumulating surplice resources to sponsor communal building and rituals.
SEVEN: The Ritual Buildings of Achievement-Based Societies; EIGHT: The Prehistory of the Ritual House
These two chapters describe the structure and use of ritual buildings and how they came into existence. In addition, it provides a pictorial description of a few of them discusses the meanings and implementation of related rituals.
NINE: Prestige and Equality in Four Native American Societies
In this chapter author how some individuals have risen over the others in the traditional communities of the Tewa, Hopi, Mandan, and Hidatsa and the result of this process: “All four groups struck a balance between personal ambition and community spirit. These ethnic groups created a socially accepted way for talented individuals to rise to positions of respect while working to prevent the development of a hereditary nobility.”
Part III: Societies That Made Inequality Hereditary
TEN: The Rise and Fall of Hereditary Inequality in Farming Societies
After stating that archeology provides very little information about the formation of hereditary inequality, this chapter looks at several living societies at different stages of this process. Finally, the author presents the comparison of two cultures: gumlao and gumsa:
The premises of gumlao society were as follows:
1. All lineages are considered equal.
2. All villages in a territory are politically autonomous.
3. Each village has a headman, to whom no tribute is owed.
4. Debts require modest repayment, with what we would call interest. (We discuss this in detail later.)
5. The price for all brides is the same.
6. Men of lineage A marry women of lineage B. Men of lineage B marry women of lineage C. Men of lineage C marry women of lineage A.
7. All siblings are equal. It makes no difference whether one is born first or last.
8. When a lineage grows and divides, there is no senior or junior division; both are equal.
9. One’s loyalty is to the place where one lives.
10. Each headman is to be advised by a council of elders.
11. Land is controlled by all the lineages that originally entered the region. Late arrivals must negotiate for land.
12. Everyone makes sacrifices to his or her household ancestors, to one of the lesser sky spirits, and to one of the lesser earth spirits.
13. The head of each lineage does the above and also makes sacrifices to a regional spirit, to a sky spirit other than the supreme spirit Madai, and to an earth spirit other than the supreme spirit Shadip.
In contrast, the premises of gumsa society were as follows:
1. All lineages are ranked relative to one another.
2. Villages are no longer autonomous; all settlements within a territory are controlled by a single chief.
3. Everyone who does not belong to the chief’s lineage must pay him tribute, usually in the form of a thigh from every animal sacrificed.
4. Individuals of high hereditary rank must pay more compensation (interest) for their debts.
5. Families of elite brides can request a higher bride-price.
6. The giver of the bride is considered superior to the recipient.
7. To encourage older sons to leave home and found a new lineage elsewhere, all property is left to the youngest son.
8. Any lineage that grows and splits results in senior and junior lineages, with the former dominant.
9. One’s loyalty is to one’s lineage rather than to a place.
10. The hereditary chief is to be advised by a council of lineage heads.
11. All land is controlled by the chief’s lineage.
12. Lower-ranking people continue to make sacrifices to their household ancestors, and to lesser sky and earth spirits. Chiefs alone make sacrifices to the regional spirit of their lineage, as well as to the supreme sky spirit Madai, his daughter Hpraw Nga, and the supreme earth spirit Shadip. Chiefs are allowed to sacrifice to the highest spirits of Earth and sky, because those spirits are now considered remote ancestors of the chief’s lineage.
ELEVEN: Three Sources of Power in Chiefly Societies
This chapter uses some Polynesian tribes and rank societies of America and Bemba in Africa to describe the changes in the social logic:
1. Achievement-based groups pursued their own versions of life force. The Naga obtained it from the heads of their enemies. The Mandan obtained it from self-induced suffering. Chiefly Polynesians, however, possessed it from birth and could increase it or lose it depending on their own behavior.
2. Leaders in achievement-based societies had expertise of various kinds. They could memorize thousands of sacred names, like the villagers of Avatip, or develop skills at moka, like the people of Mt. Hagen. They could master ivory carving or eagle trapping. In the chiefly societies of Polynesia, however, certain craftsmen were more respected than others, for example, the makers of war canoes, purveyors of sumptuary goods, or carvers of giant statues such as those on Easter Island.
3. In achievement-based societies, bravery in war was already a path to renown. Chiefly societies converted war to a strategy of territorial expansion. Tired of negotiating for the products of a neighboring region, chiefs might just subjugate the region and demand its products as tribute. This enhanced the value of military prowess.
TWELVE: From Ritual House to Temple in the Americas; THIRTEEN: Aristocracy without Chiefs; FOURTEEN: Temples and Inequality in Early Mesopotamia; FIFTEEN: The Chiefly Societies in Our Backyard; SIXTEEN: How to Turn Rank into Stratification: Tales of the South Pacific
These chapters provide detailed anthropological data about this process in the various societies observed over the last century of research.
Part IV: Inequality in Kingdoms and Empires
SEVENTEEN: How to Create a Kingdom;
In this chapter, the author looks at the logic of creating kingdoms and illustrates it by describing how it happened in Hawaii with Kamehameha, Africa with Shaka Zulu, Hunza in India, and Madagascar tribes in recent times. Generally, this process depends on the ability of a rising chief to do one or more of these things:
1. Step up demand for resources from their own subjects, which may lead to revolt.
2. Intensify production through technological improvement, which will likely increase wealth but not necessarily sociopolitical complexity.
3. Expand the territory from which they get their resources, which will probably require the subjugation of neighbors.
EIGHTEEN: Three of the New World’s First-Generation Kingdoms; NINETEEN: The Land of the Scorpion King; TWENTY: Black Ox Hides and Golden Stools; TWENTY-ONE: The Nursery of Civilization; TWENTY-TWO: Graft and Imperialism; TWENTY-THREE: How New Empires Learn from Old
These chapters retell the stories of well-known ancient kingdoms from Egypt pharaohs to America’s Aztec and Incas, all subjects of massive archeological and historical research.
Part V: Resisting Inequality
TWENTY-FOUR: Inequality and Natural Law
This chapter summarizes the development of inequality by first stating that biological evolution defines success as population growth of the species, and humans succeeded in it by developing agriculture, states, and eventually empires. All this occurred via social development rather than biological change. The author defines the starting point like this:
The logic of small-scale foragers has its own first principles. The following would be typical:
- There is an invisible life force within us.
- Certain spirits, places, and objects are sacred.
- Individuals differ in virtue.
- Generosity is one of those virtues.
- Older, initiated people tend to be more virtuous than younger, uninitiated people.
- Later arrivals in a territory are obliged to defer to earlier arrivals.
- Our way of life is inherently superior to that of our neighbors.
After that, the humans moved first to achievement-based inequality, which turned into hereditary inequality, and the author recounts evidence of how it happened. Finally, the author laments the current condition of the American society, which moved far away from its origins as an egalitarian society that abolished hereditary privilege. His advice to get to the better place is to put hunter/gatherers in charge or at least emulate their principles.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an excellent review of archeological and anthropological research of the appearance and development of inequality. I personally have the simplistic view that natural inequality between individuals is pretty small, not exceeding 30%-60%, something like the difference between 5’10” average person with IQ-100 and 7’ basketball player or MENSA member with IQ=160. The inequality comes from society’s organization, and it is a temporary phenomenon. This phenomenon is operational only while the human society moves from its origins as hunter-gatherers living off the natural environment to its destination. This destination would feature individuals living off the sustainable environment modified to meet human needs and based on the multitude of automated processes and artificially created materials, both organic and non-organic. The main activity of these individuals would be the pursuit of happiness, mainly in the form of psychological satisfaction. This kind of arrangement could not possibly come from a socialist reorganization of the society into one huge bureaucratic hierarchy. The socialist/super bureaucratic state tried and failed each time. The return to equality will come from an ownership-based restructuring of society in such a way that every individual would have clearly defined, unalienable, and sufficient access to resources. It is possible to achieve if everybody pays for everything they use, which belongs equally to everyone. For example, a star basketball player’s compensation would be much higher than a non-star player but not hugely higher if both have to pay the royalty for the invention of basketball, tools, communications, and everything else these players use, which belongs equally to all. By the way, history shows that such star players would still do their best because the fame and prestige proved to be good enough reward by and in itself.
20220129 Ramaswamy, Vivek – Woke Inc.
The main idea is to use the author’s own experience to demonstrate the nature of Wokeism the danger it presents to American democracy and way of life. Another idea presented in the book relates to the novel use of legal doctrines limiting actions of top corporate management and enforcement of their fiduciary responsibilities
INTRODUCTION The Woke-industrial Complex
This chapter presents the key point of Wokeism: “Basically, being woke means obsessing about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Maybe climate change too.”
However, it is even more important to explain this phenomenon’s real objectives – power and wealth. Therefore, the author demonstrates how it works based on his own experience as CEO.
CHAPTER 1 The Goldman Rule
In this chapter, the author discusses the main rule of the American business he learned working at Goldman: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”. The author then tells the story of how it works at the top corporate levels using the Woke ideology: anti-white racism, BLM, stakeholder movement to transfer wealth from shareholders to management, and whoever woke ideologists designate as recipients. The author defines it as crony capitalism 2.0. Finally, he retells some stories of his interactions with top-level business leaders promoting Wokeism, stressing that some are pretty sincere.
CHAPTER 2 How I Became a Capitalist
This chapter retells the author’s story: the child of immigrants growing in the USA with regular visits to the old country who eventually achieved the top of American corporate leadership via education and entrepreneurship rather than by climbing the corporate ladder.
CHAPTER 3 What’s the Purpose of a Corporation?
This chapter initially retells the author’s being pushed out from the company he had founded because of his refusal to submit to Wokeism. Then it discusses the nature of corporate ownership and the purpose of the corporation how it was developed throughout history. The author also discusses how limited liability corporations are used to protect social activism. Finally, he also proposes a solution:” For those like me who believe the rise of Wokenomics represents a problem for democracy, the simple answer is to limit the scope of limited liability of the corporation to cover only the set of activities it was intended to cover. A corporation ought to be free to pursue activities that go beyond the pursuit of profit—America is a free country, after all—but to the extent that it does, its social-activist shareholders shouldn’t receive any special protection from direct liability. There is no government regulatory action needed here. Just a simple legal fix—arguably a form of deregulation—that clarifies that the construct of limited liability is… well, limited”.
CHAPTER 4 The Rise of the Managerial Class
This chapter discusses how big business management captured nearly complete control and often enriched themselves at the expense of shareholders. The author demonstrates how technocrats use stakeholder capitalism to expand their power into areas they could not invade before and how it hurt shareholders and consumers. Once again, the author makes a suggestion:” HOW DO WE end the tyranny of the corporate managerial class? Here’s a thought: limit the scope of the business judgment rule (or the BJR, as it’s often called). In practice, most examples of stakeholder capitalism in the real world start with a CEO who decides to use the company’s corporate platform to solve a social problem. This often results in the CEO making bad business decisions that have negative externalities for democracy. Yet they are aided by the BJR, a corporate privilege that is designed to protect CEOs and corporate directors from being sued for bad business decisions that they make. There are good reasons for this legal doctrine, but today it applies far too broadly in a way that is toxic both for companies and for democracy.”
CHAPTER 5 The ESG Bubble
ESG stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” and the author testified as an expert in Congress during hearings about this. The author makes a case that ESG would lead to asset bubbles as it already happened in 2008. It is also less profitable because it puts other objectives at par or even above profits. He also tells an interesting story of how government regulations of the pharmaceutical industry created business opportunities for him to start up a multi-billion business, which as a non-public entity could work outside of these regulations. The author also looks at reports that ESG businesses outperform others. As one could expect, these non-commonsensical claims do not stand to scrutiny, even if politically motivated institutional investors prop up ESG companies.
CHAPTER 6 An Arranged Marriage
This chapter begins with the story of the successful matchmaking of the author’s parents. It then proceeds to use the analogy of marriage for an alliance of top corporate management with the “Occupy Wall Street” woke mob against the middle class. Finally, the author points out that this marriage will probably not be very successful due to incompatibility of interest.
CHAPTER 7 Henchmen of the Woke-Industrial Complex
This chapter looks at another exciting part of the woke/capitalist alliance: money flow. It works pretty much this way: big business pays money to woke non-profits either directly or via settlements with the government, so wokes do not attack this business, but do attack their competitors. This deal would not be possible without the massive support of government bureaucracy, especially the DOJ that became a subsidiary of DNC for all practical purposes. The author provides a few examples of how it works in real life.
CHAPTER 8 When Dictators Become Stakeholders
In this chapter, the author documents the alliance of big business and woke non-profits expanded to the international scene to include the Chinese communist party, which became the big player in this game. They have a lot of gold, so they can extensively use Goldman’s rule. The author strays a bit into his company’s story to provide an example of how a billion dollars investment made all the difference needed for huge success after the failure of the original plan.
CHAPTER 9 The Silicon Leviathan
This chapter discusses the monopolistic nature of Silicon value big businesses such as Google and Facebook and their attempt to suppress the free flow of information and provide massive financial support to the Democratic party. The author reviews the constitutional and legal sides of this massive intervention and expresses great concern that his children may not live in the free country that America used to be.
CHAPTER 10 Wokeness Is Like a Religion; CHAPTER 11 Actually, Wokeness Is Literally a Religion
In these two chapters, the author looks at the psychological and behavioral aspects of the wokeness and concludes that it has all indicators of religion.CHAPTER 12 Critical Diversity Theory
In this chapter, the author discusses the case of wokes attacking their own Larry Summers and similar occurrences and present his own suggestion: Critical diversity Theory, which seeks intellectual diversity, rather than biological diversity:
CHAPTER 13 Woke Consumerism and the Big Sort
This chapter discusses the Big Sort of Americans by political affiliation and attitudes that are happening over recent years. The author refers here all the way back to the struggle between federalists and anti-federalists and their different attitudes to diversity. Finally, the author concludes that Americans should promote their identity as first and foremost Americans, and race and political identities should be demoted, or the country would see a big fight between races and other identities.
CHAPTER 14 The Bastardization of Service
Here the author uses his own experience as upward mobile youth acquiring all kinds of formal qualifications necessary to get into the top college: volunteer work, social justice activism, and all other BS forms that substituted something that used to be internally driven service to others into self-serving activity. The author promotes the idea of mandatory civil service as a tool to establish and maintain the universal American identity.
CHAPTER 15 Who Are We?
This chapter discusses the meaning of America and the need to bring back the idea of E Pluribus Unum and live up to this idea.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book presents a realistic picture of the current American malaise of wokeness from the point of view of the person who was extremely successful in using opportunities of education and entrepreneurship open for intelligent people capable of being effective in the environment of big government, big education, and other forms of massive corruption that constitute contemporary American society. It is also fascinating in the description of the author’s intellectual and psychological development that eventually put him at odds with other establishment members and changed the direction of his life. The most interesting thing here is the author’s ideas about legal options that could be used against woke members of the establishment that abuse their positions at the top of public entities, either corporations or government or non-profits, to use government or shareholders resources to promote their ideology of wokeness and even suppress other people’s constitutional rights. In my opinion, the last few years removed the veil of hypocrisy that covered the existing and constantly growing gap between interests of government-dependent, prospering, and often parasitic elite and lower classes and interests of the middle class who usually pays for this prosperity with the decrease in quality of their life.
Typically these interests would be reconciled via election process when members of elite supporting competing sides find some accommodation more or less acceptable for everybody while interchanging place in power. However, the last few years saw the united front of the elite against the middle class represented by rich non-elite Trump who unexpectedly jumped at the top of the governmental machinery. The panicked elite responded by completely destroying any semblance of normalcy via massive bureaucracy resistance, media hostility, opportunistic pandemic use, and eventually rigged elections. I am afraid that the successful removal of Trump could be a pyrrhic victory for the elite with a high price to be paid and maybe even soon.
20220122 – In The Know
The introduction defines this book as an attempt to close the gap between popular notions about Intelligence, which is often not supported by scientific research, and expert opinion based on such research. To make things clear, the author provides the definition of Intelligence generally supported by a consensus of scientists:
Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings – “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do. (Gottfredson, 1997a, p. 13)
The author also provides here samples of IQ test questions, some minimally required statistical concepts, and a bit of history. Below is a general overview of the presented ideas and data.
Section 1 The Nature of Intelligence
Intelligence Is Whatever Collection of Tasks a Psychologist Puts on a Test
FALSE – all cognitive tasks measure Intelligence in one way or another, which allows using factor analysis to arrive at a consistent g factor.
Intelligence Is Too Complex to Summarize with One Number
FALSE – Since all cognitive tasks are highly correlated, it is possible to derive a common factor that predicts performance on the wide variety of such tasks
IQ Does Not Correspond to Brain Anatomy or Functioning
FALSE – The correlation is well established, but only at a high level. The details would require massive research effort.
Intelligence Is a Western Concept that Does Not Apply to Non-Western Cultures
FALSE – g factor equally strong in Western and non-Western people, the cultural differences notwithstanding.
There Are Multiple Intelligences in the Human Mind
There is no empirical confirmation that there are independent levels of Intelligence in different functional areas of human activities.
Practical Intelligence Is a Real Ability, Separate from General Intelligence
Attempts to identify some practical intelligence areas independent from g were not successful. However, some non-cognitive human traits impact practical abilities that define the success or failure of an effort.
Section 2 Measuring Intelligence
Measuring Intelligence Is Difficult
FALSE – Intelligence is relatively easy to measure, and practically any cognitive task does it to some extent. Different knowledge bases and experiences do not relate to IQ tests designed to neutralize differences in backgrounds.
The Content of Intelligence Tests Is Trivial and Cannot Measure Intelligence
FALSE – the simple measurement can easily produce a reasonable estimate of a complex phenomenon. The author provides an analogy with a simple thermometer measuring the complex heat process.
Intelligence Tests Are Imperfect and Cannot Be Used or Trusted
The “imperfect” part is TRUE, but the results are good enough to be used and trusted, as confirmed by empirical data.
Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Diverse Populations
FALSE – professionally developed tests show consistent results unbiased by race and other irrelevant factors. The author provides an interesting description of the process in Ellis Island that pretty much demonstrated the validity of tests.
Section 3 Influences on Intelligence
IQ Only Reflects a Person’s Socioeconomic Status
The “ONLY” part is FALSE because genetics play an essential role: generally, about 50%. However, research demonstrated that adopted children do have higher IQ and that children in educated households get to hear more words, spend more time with adults, have better food, and so on, which has at least some impact on IQ
High Heritability for Intelligence Means that Raising IQ Is Impossible
FALSE –the incidents with lead poisoning and other environmental factors demonstrate that they have a material impact on IQ.
Genes Are Not Important for Determining Intelligence
FALSE – genes are essential for everything from height to digestion to IQ. It is always a combination of nature and nurture.
Environmentally Driven Changes in IQ Mean that Intelligence Is Malleable
TRUE – as demonstrated by adoption studies, the Flynn effect, and individual fluctuation. Most of the improvements over time are at the population level, while IQ measure the variation within a population
Social Interventions Can Drastically Raise IQ
Extreme neglect drives IQ down, but all known interventions, especially highly tested preschool programs, demonstrated only temporary improvements that disappeared over time.
Brain-Training Programs Can Raise IQ
So far, no program has demonstrated a significant improvement. However, there is no proof that no program never will.
Improvability of IQ Means Intelligence Can Be Equalized
FALSE – it is a statistical impossibility since IQ measures variation, not an absolute value. Neither genetic nor environmental components could be feasibly equalized for everybody.
Section 4 Intelligence and Education
Every Child Is Gifted
FALSE – also a statistical impossibility because all children are different.
Effective Schools Can Make Every Child Academically Proficient
It depends on what is considered proficiency. The difference will remain, but some specific level could be achieved by everybody, providing it is low enough.
Non-cognitive Variables Have Powerful Effects on Academic Achievement
TRUE – no school grades based on IQ only, so lower IQ could be compensated by hard work and discipline, at least to some extent. Similarly, a high IQ would not help if one is lazy and undisciplined.
Admissions Tests Are a Barrier to College for Underrepresented Students
TRUE – they are, but eliminating them would not change the factual differences in IQ. All attempts to equalize failed and will always fail, but selection based on proportionality deprives the brightest of opportunities they could use to produce benefits for all. In contrast, force-feeding opportunities to less bright would only mean squandering these opportunities.
Section 5 Life Consequences of Intelligence
IQ Scores Only Measure How Good Someone Is at Taking Tests
Here is a lovely picture of correlations:
Intelligence Tests Are Designed to Create or Perpetuate a False Meritocracy
FALSE – Tests were designed to simplify the selection of people to do more or less complex tasks. Ideas of meritocracy and ideology around it came later.
Very High Intelligence Is Not More Beneficial than Moderately High Intelligence
Research does not support the idea of a threshold about which higher IQ does not matter. However, IQ always works in the mix with many other factors. Therefore, simplified correlation does not work either.
Emotional Intelligence Is a Real Ability that Is Helpful in Life
There is no evidence that EQ works or even exists, and multiple attempts to raise EQ failed to produce results.
Section 6 Demographic Group Differences
The author begins by presenting fundamental principles:
Males and Females Have the Same Distribution of IQ Scores
Here is the conclusion:” While males and females are equal in average Intelligence, the distribution of their abilities differs in other ways. However, in broad non-g cognitive abilities – like spatial ability, verbal reasoning, and mathematical reasoning – mean differences do exist. Females tend to score higher (on average) on verbal abilities, while males have higher average performance on spatial ability and mathematical reasoning. Across these abilities, though, the differences average out to produce equal means on overall IQ. An important difference exists in variability in cognitive abilities. Males have a standard deviation that is 5–15% larger than the standard deviation for females. As a result, there is a greater percentage of males than females at the high and low extremes of most abilities.”
Racial/Ethnic Group IQ Differences Are Completely Environmental in Origin
The author provides a very detailed discussion well supported by statistical data but concludes that there are genetic differences even if everybody wants it not to be so. The author also discusses the inevitability of such differences due to the diverse evolutionary path of races.
Unique Influences Operate on One Group’s Intelligence Test Scores
Here the author discusses X-factor that supposedly generates differences between groups. Here is the definition:
The author reviews four different candidates to be X-factor and concludes that none of them meets the definition’s requirements.
Stereotype Threat Explains Score Gaps among Demographic Groups
The recently popular explanation of differences by the Stereotype Effect failed, mainly due to the replication crisis in psychology. The failure of confirmation does not mean proof of existence. It requires new research with a better methodology, including rigorous replication of results.
Section 7 Societal and Ethical Issues
Controversial or Unpopular Ideas Should Be Held to a Higher Standard of Evidence
The only criteria for science should be true or false, with ethical constraints necessary to prevent damage. Other than that, more knowledge is always better than less.
Past Controversies Taint Modern Research on Intelligence
This part is mainly about Eugenics, its popularity, and later disgrace due to its use by Nazis. Eugenics as an idea is mainly irrelevant by now, and it should not impact contemporary genetic research in any way.
Intelligence Research Leads to Negative Social Policies
Here the author provides some guidelines:
- First, do not promise more than a policy or program can deliver.
- Second, stick to facts – not wishful thinking. Many of the misconceptions that I deal with in this book are ideas that people want to believe.
- Third, do not ignore genetics. Nearly every trait or life outcome is partially influenced by genes
Intelligence Research Undermines the Fight against Inequality
The critical point here is that people are different but must be treated equally legally and ethically. The author also presents very interesting results that demonstrate how little IQ and other scores are relevant to actual live decision making:
- Randomly guessing which individual is more intelligent will be correct 50.0% of the time.
- Discriminating on the basis of race and assuming that the European American is always more intelligent results in a correct decision 76.0% of the time.
- Ignoring race and using IQ scores to identify which person is smarter increases decision accuracy to 94.2%.
- Using race and IQ scores to identify which person is smarter lowers the accuracy slightly to 94.0%.
In other words, ignoring race produces better decisions.
Everyone Is About as Smart as I Am
FALSE – people are different, and individuals with higher IQs are better at solving cognitive problems than people. The author calls for compassion and helps people with lower abilities rather than keeping them in contempt.
In conclusion, the author provides the summary of the book:
The author concludes by stressing the value of intelligence research and expresses hope that helps to promote a better comprehension of the world.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is an excellent collection of research results and presentations of the current level of knowledge about human Intelligence, its measurement, and relevant popular conceptions, some true and some false. I want to stress a few points related to these themes.
The first one is that everybody without exception should have not only compassion for others with lower IQ but also humility that is absolutely necessary if one thinks about the reality of the Bell Curve: if you are in the top 1%, it means that on this planet with about 8 billion people there are 80 million individuals more intelligent than you are. Or, if one goes local: 3.2 million people in the USA are also more intelligent than you are.
The second point is that it would be best to stop looking at IQ and another psychological testing as a tool to define a place in a hierarchy. The objective should not be selecting people for the slots higher or lower in the hierarchy. Instead, it should be the better understanding of self and adjusting your actions so that planned results are achievable and effective in producing the best quality of life one can have in the place and time of his/her/its existence.
20220115 – Affluence without Abundance
Part One. Old Times
1. The Rewards of Hard Work
This chapter looks at the usual misconception about the life of hunter-gatherers as the struggle for survival and hard work. It rejects this view based on the author’s experiences as an anthropologist living with authentic hunter-gatherers. In reality, it is much more like a beautiful future imagined by Keynes when productivity is so high that people need to work just 15 hours per week to get all they need. In reality, 15 hours a week is all those hunter-gatherers need to hunt and gather enough resources from the environment to satisfy all their needs,
2. The Mother Hill
This chapter touches on the Khoisan hunter-gatherer’s philosophy, their genetic relations to other populations, and their evolution and way of life, based not on growth and expansion but on sustainability or what one can call stagnant interactions with the environment. The chapter also noted that this way of life, while effective for human flourishing, fails to provide tools for defense when an encounter occurs with agriculturalists. The typical result is that agriculturalists’ higher productivity, numbers, and technology allow them to push hunter-gatherers away from their territory, enslave, or annihilate them.
3. A Beachside Brawl
This chapter retells the story of European arrival to this area, the first encounters, and the specific story of da Gama and Dias.
4. The Settlers
This chapter expands this history to the present times. It includes discussion on the relations between farmers of European descent with locals, including lots of ugly interactions, exploitation, and forced labor. The situation somewhat improved after the independence of Namibia, but the old way of life was destroyed anyway.
5. Living in the Moment
This chapter looks at the psychology of hunter-gatherers. It notes their different understanding of time when only present exists, albeit it changes cyclically. Consequently, they have no notion of delayed returns, investment, and multi-step production processes. Instead, their economics based on immediate returns and knowledge base contains details about the usefulness of the environment at any given period of natural cycles.
6. Tsumkwe Road
This chapter narrates the first encounters of hunter-gatherers with anthropologists and the consequent constantly increasing intensity of the research. It also narrates the parallel development of interactions with the contemporary world, with the Tsumkwe road being a symbolic representation of these interactions
Part Two. The Provident Environment
7. The Hollow Tree
This chapter discusses the author’s experience of visiting the site starting in 1994. The author observed environmental changes caused by external forces: farmers that made this environment lose its ability to support hunter-gatherers. The chapter also discusses the difference between attitudes of hunter-gatherers and farmers, the former accepting natural settings and adjusting to them, while the latter changing the natural environment to fit their needs.
8. Strong Food
This chapter discusses attitudes to food, which hunter-gatherers divide into strong and weak food. For example, the strong food in the area with insufficient water contains more liquid. Also, the food obtained via hunting is considered strong and worth the higher time expenditure required by its acquisition. It also discusses the reasons for the absence of obesity among hunter-gatherers, and it is not from lack of food. It is rather a form of a combination of food consumption on an “as needed” basis and constant physical movement – per research, about 7-8 miles per day.
9. An Elephant Hunt
This chapter looks at another essential part of the local environment – elephants, poacher hunting, and countermeasures. The especially effective was allowing regulated hunt with the sale of licenses and organized tours that created lots of incentives for locals to protect elephants and maintain their population.
10. Pinnacle Point
This chapter looks at the archeological findings that demonstrated the uninterrupted habitation of people in the place where contemporary hunter-gatherers live. These findings also showed the stability of technology, which is, while sufficiently complex to meet human needs, nevertheless did not develop that much over time. The chapter explicitly discusses hunting technics and equipment, demonstrating that it was reasonably sufficient to assure that nearly half of calories came from meat. The chapter also points out that the stability of technology over the centuries has nothing to do with the cognitive abilities of these people. On the contrary, they quickly familiarized themselves with multiple artifacts of contemporary life and used them as needed.
11. A Gift from God
This chapter discusses hunting and general attitude to animals and changing environment of the animal world. It also describes how the fire was used to preprocess food, making people much more efficient food consumers and freeing them from consuming low-quality food. It also concludes that hunter-gatherers’ meat consumption in everyday conditions was at the first world level.
12. Hunting and Empathy
This chapter discusses various hunting technics. But more interesting is that te critical cultural relationships are established between hunters and animals that allow maintenance of a sustainable way of life for all. It specifically stresses that these relationships are based on empathy and understanding of animals as companions and adversaries.
13. Insulting the Meat
This chapter discusses hunting-related relationships within groups directed at strict maintenance of egalitarian mores. Specifically, it looks at the typical behavior of the group’s diminishing level of hunter’s success. The value of acquired meat is insulted with the objective to prevent the hunter from being arrogant. Then the chapter proceeds to discuss the use of hierarchy and its role or, more precisely, lack thereof in relations between people. It also looks at so-called “demand sharing” that somewhat regulates whatever property could be identified and gift-giving procedures.
Part Three. New Times
14. When Lions Become Dangerous; 15. Fear and Farming; 16. Cattle Country; 17. Crazy Gods; 18. The Promised Land
The last part of the book tells the sad story of the destruction of hunter-gatherers’ way of life by an encounter with the contemporary world that turned these “affluent without abundance” from well adjusted and generally happy egalitarians sustainably living off the environment into poor and often unhealthy people living off miserly welfare handouts and low paid unskilled jobs.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my view, this is not just a description of the disappearing lifestyle that humanity maintained for hundreds of thousand years, but also the foundation for the projection into the future when humans may return to somewhat similar arrangements, only based not on harmonious interaction with the naturally existing environment, but based on the newly developed environment with fully automated processes of production of goods and services. If something like that happens, humanity could once again move to a highly egalitarian arrangement of society that must be the most effective way to pursue happiness since it is very much in synch with the human evolutionary background. Obviously, the agriculture-based invention of property and hierarchy is not going away. Still, the new forms of the egalitarian society could be based on an extensive distribution of ownership of everything with violent hierarchical structures limited to maintaining effective and efficient resource allocation and individual rights.
20220108 – Incognito (Brain)
Here is how the author identifies the main idea of this book:” Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, bloodhounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you’ve ever taken to be yours.”
1. There’s Someone in My Head, But It’s Not Me
This chapter first identifies the theme of this book, and then it discusses various cases of small detail changing human perception either about beauty or many other things. It then makes the statement about the author’s position:” Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts.” It also makes the positioning statement:” The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity.” Further, the author discusses the history of thoughts about consciousness from Thomas Aquinas to Freud and poses many questions about human behavior,
2. The Testimony of the Senses: What is Experience Really Like?
This chapter discusses the complexity of human perception, providing multiple examples that it is not a simple process of reading sensory input but a rather complex process of interpreting the multitude of inconsistent signals from the environment. This process sometimes produces quite different results from the same input, and the author provides several examples of visual illusions when the same picture is perceived differently. The typical example is “vase vs. two profiles.” The discussion includes the eye scanning process, blind spot, text reading, etc. The author also makes a significant point that blind people who recovered vision later in life still could not see because their brains did not develop the neural networks necessary for the interpretation of visual signals. Finally, the author also discusses the perception of time, which he also defines as a construction.
The conclusion the author makes is this:” So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don’t. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true, that doesn’t mean it is true. The most important maxim for fighter pilots is “Trust your instruments.” This is because your senses will tell you the most inglorious lies, and if you trust them—instead of your cockpit dials—you’ll crash. So the next time someone says, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” consider the question carefully.”
3. Mind: The Gap
This chapter defines the unconscious as the gap between:” what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing.” The author presents an example of chicken sexers – people who select chickens by sex without fully understanding how they do it, just based on acquired experience. He then expands on other similar workings of the unconscious. After this discussion, the author moves to discuss the process for the development of subconscious hunches and similar processes:” When the brain finds a task it needs to solve, it rewires its own circuitry until it can accomplish the task with maximum efficiency. The task becomes burned into the machinery. This clever tactic accomplishes two things of chief importance for survival.” The author defines these two things a speed and energy efficiency. Finally. The author arrives to the conclusion:” Evolutionary selection has presumably tuned the exact amount of access the conscious mind has: too little, and the company has no direction; too much, and the system gets bogged down solving problems in a slow, clunky, energy-inefficient manner.”
4. The Kinds of Thoughts That are Thinkable
Here the author discusses human limitations:” What you are able to experience is completely limited by your biology. This differs from the commonsense view that our eyes, ears, and fingers passively receive an objective physical world outside of ourselves. As science marches forward with machines that can see what we can’t, it has become clear that our brains sample just a small bit of the surrounding physical world.” The author discusses the notion of umwelt for an organism, meaning the totality of inputs that create this organism’s world. For example, radio waves were outside human umwelt until technology changed it. The author also discusses a condition of synesthesia, when the inputs are perceived idiosyncratically, as when a person can see music. After reviewing the development of humans as a combination of inherited features and results of social interactions that define human behavior, the author concludes:” We’ve seen in this chapter that our deepest instincts, as well as the kinds of thoughts we have and even can have, are burned into the machinery at a very low level. “This is great news,” you might think. “My brain is doing all the right things to survive, and I don’t even have to think about them!” True, that is great news. The unexpected part of the news is that the conscious you is the smallest bit-player in the brain. It is something like a young monarch who inherits the throne and takes credit for the glory of the country—without ever being aware of the millions of workers who keep the place running.”
5. The Brain is a Team of Rivals
This chapter discusses human complexity using real-life examples of inconsistent human behavior, poetic expression of “I am large, I contain multitudes,” an analogy with various forms of government: “Democracy of mind.” The author even refers to a two-party system: Reason and Emotion. Here is the author’s summary of the chapter:” The main lesson of this chapter is that you are made up of an entire parliament of pieces and parts and subsystems. Beyond a collection of local expert systems, we are collections of overlapping, ceaselessly reinvented mechanisms, a group of competing factions. The conscious mind fabricates stories to explain the sometimes inexplicable dynamics of the subsystems inside the brain. It can be disquieting to consider the extent to which all of our actions are driven by hardwired systems, doing what they do best, while we overlay stories about our choices. Note that the population of the mental society does not always vote exactly the same way each time. This recognition is often missing from discussions of consciousness, which typically assume that what it is like to be you is the same from day to day, moment to moment. Sometimes you’re able to read well; other times you drift. Sometimes you can find all the right words; other times your tongue is tangled. Some days you’re a stick in the mud; other days you throw caution to the wind. So, who’s the real you? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne put it, “There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.” A nation is at any moment most readily defined by its political parties in power. But it is also defined by the political opinions it harbors in its streets and living rooms. A comprehensive understanding of a nation must include those parties that are not in power but that could rise in the right circumstances. In this same way, you are composed of your multitudes, even though at any given time your conscious headline may involve only a subset of all the political parties.”
6. Why Blameworthiness is the Wrong Question
This chapter references the Texas sniper with the damaged brain. It discusses whether it is possible to blame people for their actions if these actions are caused by biological factors such as DNA or brain damage outside of their control. As usual, this discussion moves to free will and presents events and experiments that demonstrate that actions often occur outside of conscientious control. However, the author provides a unique point of view: “I propose that the answer to the question of free will doesn’t matter—at least not for the purposes of social policy—and here’s why. In the legal system, there is a defense known as an automatism. This is pled when the person performs an automated act—say, if an epileptic seizure causes a driver to steer into a crowd. The automatism defense is used when a lawyer claims that an act was due to a biological process over which the defendant had little or no control. In other words, there was a guilty act, but there was not a choice behind it… So, I’m going to propose what I call the principle of sufficient automatism. The principle arises naturally from the understanding that free will, if it exists, is only a small factor riding on top of enormous automated machinery. So small that we may be able to think about bad decision making in the same way we think about any other physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease. The principle states that the answer to the free-will question simply does not matter. Even if free will is conclusively proven to exist one hundred years from now, it will not change the fact that human behavior largely operates almost without regard to volition’s invisible hand.”
The author nevertheless states that “Explanation does not equal exculpation” and
Offer a graphic representation of dynamic approach based on the level of technological development:
After that, the author discusses what he calls:” A FORWARD-LOOKING, BRAIN-COMPATIBLE LEGAL SYSTEM.” He also looks at the maturation of the human brain and human inequality and concludes that legal measures should be based on modifiability to align punishment with neuroscience. The author especially stresses that his position does not mean letting criminals go free, but instead defining appropriate action, precisely:” The concept and word to replace blameworthiness is modifiability, a forward-looking term that asks, what can we do from here? Is rehabilitation available? If so, great. If not, will the punishment of a prison sentence modify future behavior? If so, send him to prison. If punishment won’t help, then take the person under state control for the purposes of incapacitation, not retribution.”
7. Life After the Monarchy
This chapter discusses scientific progress overall and its philosophical reflection, including the understanding of humans. The author discusses how difficult it is for people to accept the materiality of who they are despite the enormous amount of evidence demonstrating the impact of mechanical and chemical interferences on the human condition, from thought processes to physical actions. The author also discusses the complexity of nature/nurture interaction and provides a simple and interesting example based on a short/long combination of alleles of two genes controlling serotonin in everybody’s genome:
In short, humans are defined by both nature and nurture in complex and unpredictable combinations. The reduction to materialism does not simplify the analysis of human thoughts and behaviors. Here is the author’s final word:” In the same way that the cosmos is larger than we ever imagined, we ourselves are something greater than we had intuited by introspection. We’re now getting the first glimpses of the vastness of inner space. This internal, hidden, intimate cosmos commands its own goals, imperatives, and logic. The brain is an organ that feels alien and outlandish to us, and yet its detailed wiring patterns sculpt the landscape of our inner lives. What a perplexing masterpiece the brain is, and how lucky we are to be in a generation that has the technology and the will to turn our attention to it. It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is time to finally recognize that there is no clear division between the human mind and brain or between the role of nature vs. nurture in human development. This book provides a pretty good set of real-life examples and experimentation supporting these two statements. It also provides an excellent discussion on the individual’s control over his/her actions and blame that could or could not be assigned as a result. I also like the idea that this is not relevant to the reality of crime and punishment because the goal should be preventing crime from happening rather than inflicting retribution on the perpetrator. However, I think that in real life, retribution and prevention functions could not be separated. For example, I am always puzzled by the statement that capital punishment does not prevent crime. As far as I know, no dead criminal murdered or caused harm to anybody else, while it is not unheard of for murderers convicted to life in prison to kill again. Somehow, it is challenging for quite a few highly educated people to move from abstract thinking about “general deterrence” to simply understanding that dead people do not do anything, crimes included.
The only thing that I probably do not entirely agree with the author is about the complexity of a mind/brain being comparable to the cosmos. I think that despite a huge number of neurons in the human brain, unlike the universe, it is finite and therefore comprehensible and could be modeled or even artificially recreated if not on a silicon basis, then biologically or even mathematically. However, I do not think that it will be done on a regular basis beyond scientific research. What is the point in creating artificial humans when plenty of them are produced naturally. Indeed, technologically developed specialized brain-like systems will be and already are made, but they are just tools. They will remain tools forever because, after a tragedy or two with artificially developed conscious beings, the cruelty and meaningless of such exercise would become evident, and it would stop. I think that eventually, people would understand that a complex dynamic system is not possible to fully control externally, as well as reliably predict its behavior, so it would be better not to play with fire.
20220101 – The Hunter-Gatherer Guide
The main idea of this book is to apply the authors’ knowledge of evolutionary biology to the contemporary situation and derive clear recommendations for behavior both individual and a group not only in general but also in specific functional areas of human life. It is also to point out the dangers of the current situation when even humans’ formidable ability to handle changes could be overwhelmed by the temp and scale of changes currently occurring in technology and society.
In the beginning, the authors retell how they nearly got into a dangerous situation because of the lack of local environmental knowledge. Then, they discuss how much people lost what used to be necessary for survival: local knowledge, tradition, norms of behavior, and such. They make a point of how much unusual it is for the traditional human world and how difficult it would be to adjust:” The best, most all-encompassing way to describe our world is hyper-novel. As we will show throughout the book, humans are extraordinarily well adapted to, and equipped for, change. But the rate of change itself is so rapid now that our brains, bodies, and social systems are perpetually out of sync.”
The authors suggest that the only way to handle this novel situation is via science and discuss their experience as scientists. They also define science:” science is a method that oscillates between induction and deduction—we observe patterns, propose explanations, and test them to see how well they predict things we do not yet know. We thus generate models of the world that, when we do the scientific work correctly, achieve three things: they predict more than what came before, assume less, and come to fit with one another, merging into a seamless whole.”
Finally, they conclude:” Our species’ pace of change now outstrips our ability to adapt. We are generating new problems at a new and accelerating rate, and it is making us sick—physically, psychologically, socially, and environmentally. If we don’t figure out how to grapple with the problem of accelerating novelty, humanity will perish, a victim of its success.”
Chapter 1: The Human Niche
The discussion of the human niche begins with the story of the slow movement of humans to America via Beringia and how humans adjust to changes. Here how the authors see critical components of human nature that facilitate such adjustment:” Most of the best ideas that our species has generated, the most important and powerful ideas, have been the result of a group of people who had different but consilient talents and vision, non-overlapping blind spots, and a political structure that allowed for novelty.” The authors stress the paradox of human ability to become specialists as individuals while maintaining a wide range of functionality as a group. Next, the authors discuss consciousness and culture, their interplay, and the uniqueness of human use of “collective consciousness.” They provide a fascinating approach to all this:” Homo sapiens therefore oscillate between two dominant modes. When we face problems for which our prior understanding is inadequate, we become conscious. How do we feed ourselves in this new land? We plug our minds into a shared problem-solving space and share what we know. Then we parallel process—proposing hypotheses, providing observations, offering challenges—until we arrive at a new answer, one that an individual would rarely reach alone. If the result works well when tested in the world, it gets refined and then driven into a more automatic, less deliberative layer. This is culture. The application of culture to the circumstances for which it is adapted is the population-level equivalent of an individual being in the zone.”
Another interesting point that the authors make, as evolutionary biologists, is related to fitness, which they define this way:” fitness is indeed often about reproduction, but it is always about persistence. A successful population can ebb and flow through time. What a successful population can’t do is go extinct. Extinction is failure. Persistence is success—and the reproduction of individuals is only one factor in the persistence equation.”
The authors also provide a couple of notions that are critical for understanding human evolutionary processes:
Chapter 2: A Brief History of the Human Lineage
This chapter discusses the biological classification of human evolution from the very beginning starting with Plant and all the way to humans. Here are the first and last pictures:
The authors also provide functional characteristics and a high-level timeline of human development:
- Oscillating between these two challenges—ecological dominance and social competition—we became expert at exploring new niches. We are the ultimate niche switchers.
- By forty thousand years ago, many populations of people were engaged in hunting and gathering that was even more cooperative and forward-looking.
- Seventeen thousand years ago, when the most famous cave art in Europe, at Lascaux, was being created, Beringians had likely become Americans and were spreading across two vast continents.
- Ten to twelve thousand years ago, people were beginning to farm.
- By nine thousand years ago, permanent settlements were forming; in the Middle East, Jericho may have been Earth’s first city.
- Eight thousand years ago, at Chobshi, in the Andes of modern Ecuador, people took cover in a shallow cave, and hunted by funneling guinea pigs, rabbits, and porcupines off a short cliff, retrieving the corpses at the bottom, with which they made food and clothing.
- By three thousand years ago, much of Earth’s landscape had been modified by human activity—by hunter-gatherers, by agriculturalists, and by pastoralists.
- Seven hundred years ago, some humans were in Europe
Here is also a graphic representation:
Chapter 3: Ancient Bodies, Modern World
This chapter discusses multiple differences between WEIRD people and people untouched by wealth and education. These differences are both physiological and psychological. From this, the authors define a test for a feature being adaptation or not:
After that, the authors discuss different types of trade-offs: allocation and design constraints. Finally, to summarize the discussion, the authors provide the kind of user manual for dealing with the new and unknown so the following chapters discuss multiple areas of human existence and, for each, provide similar recommendations for the evolutionary approach:
Chapter 4: Medicine;
Chapter 5: Food
Chapter 6: Sleep
Chapter 7: Sex and Gender
Chapter 8: Parenthood and Relationship
Chapter 9: Childhood
Chapter 10: School
Chapter 11: Becoming Adults
Chapter 12: Culture and Consciousness
Chapter 13: The Fourth Frontier
In this last chapter, the authors move to the broader picture looking at the development of a whole society. They review challenges and define the next frontier:” The fourth frontier is the idea that we can engineer an indefinite steady state that will feel to people like they live in a period of perpetual growth, but will abide by the laws of physics and game theory that govern our universe. Think of it like the climate control that allows the inside of your house to hover at a pleasant spring temperature as the world outside moves between unpleasant extremes. Engineering an indefinite steady state for humanity will not be easy, but it is imperative.” They also talk about the senescence of civilization and suggest building a system based on such principles:
- Not optimize for a single value. Mathematically speaking, if you try to optimize for any single value, no matter how honorable—be it liberty or justice, decreasing homelessness or improving educational opportunities—all other values, every single other parameter, will collapse. Maximize justice, and people will starve. Everyone may starve equally, but that’s small recompense.
- Create a prototype for your system. After that, continue to build prototypes. Do not imagine that you know from the beginning what the final system will look like.
- Recognize that the fourth frontier is inherently a steady state, whose characteristics are ours to define. We ought to strive to create a system that:
- Liberates (that is, that frees people to do rewarding, interesting, awesome stuff),
- Is antifragile,
- Is resistant to capture, and
- Is incapable of evolving into something that betrays its own core values. In the technical language of evolution, we need a system that is an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, a strategy incapable of invasion by competitors.
The authors also discuss challenges and the need to jump curves when usual processes stop working. Here is a graphic representation:
The final set of suggestions:
The epilogue presents the rules for life that the authors linked to 8 days of Hanukkah:
Day 1: All human enterprises should be both sustainable and reversible.
Day 2: The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Day 3: Only support systems that tend to enrich people who have contributed positively to the world.
Day 4: Don’t game honorable systems.
Day 5: One should have a healthy skepticism of ancient wisdom, and engage novel problems consciously, explicitly, and with robust reasoning.
Day 6: Opportunity must not be allowed to concentrate within lineages.
Day 7: Precautionary principle: When the costs of an action are unknown, proceed with caution before making change.
Day 8: Society has the right to require things of all people, but it has natural obligations to them in return.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The approach to the current situation through the lens of evolutionary biology is generally sound but not sufficient. The authors’ recommendations are excellent, and I agree with most of them. However, I do not think individual behavior adjustments based on these recommendations would do the trick. People need some vision of the future condition of the system to act consistently and persistently, even if this vision is not completely clear. This vision should also be simple and linked to modifying the system of relations between people rather than to individual behavior only. Religions used to be able to do it pretty well, including the religion of socialism and communism, but they also tend to lead to obsession, fanaticism, and destruction. We can see it now in the current religion of wakeism. I hope that America’s relative freedoms would help resolve existing problems by updating the system of society’s organization to match currently achieved technological levels. Still, we are probably at the beginning of a protracted period of disturbances before we’ll complete this upgrade.
20211225 – Most Things Fail
The author formulated the main idea of this book as consisting of three themes:” The main theme of this book is to develop a general explanation of the pervasive nature of failure in the world of human societies and economies. Though there are striking parallels between the social and economic world and the world of biology there is, however, a fundamental difference between the two: the process of evolution in biological species cannot be planned. Species cannot act with the intent of increasing their fitness to survive. In contrast, in human society, individuals, firms and governments all strive consciously to devise successful strategies for survival. They adapt these strategies over time and alter their plans as circumstances change. Yet, despite this apparent contrast, eventually, in both biological evolution and human social and economic activity, failure strikes.
A second theme of this book is to understand this seeming paradox. How can it be that not just failure, but the patterns of failure, are so similar in biology and human organization when there is such a sharp contrast between the abilities to act with the conscious intent of improving one’s prospects for survival?
The third theme, developed in particular towards the end of the book, is that failure can be highly beneficial. In the real world in which strategies evolve and which is itself the outcome of a dynamic process of change, failure at the level of the individual component part can, paradoxically, enhance the fitness of the system as a whole.”
After stating his opinion about the general inevitability of failure, the author refers to two examples of consistent long-term failure: racism and poverty. He then refers to Evolution that clearly demonstrates the necessity of failure for development. Finally, the author presents key themes of this book and stresses that his primary method is comparing the theory with evidence, unlike many other works in social sciences and economics that avoid such comparison, often substituting it with complex mathematical models.
1 The Edwardian Explosion
Here the author uses the analogy of the Cambrian explosion from evolutionary biology to characterize the economic explosion in England in the late XIXth century. It featured outside investors financing the new venture based on limited liability protecting them. The author then discusses the improvement in living standards that resulted from the rapid economic growth. However, this development’s outcome also included an increase in scale of business enterprises and the creation of monopolies. From this, the author moves to discuss multiple business failures and provides a nice table:
2 A Formula for Failure
Here the author expands the discussion to the search for reasons for failures after noting that the economic profession generally tends to ignore failures even though it is the fate of 10% of all businesses every year. The economic methodology is mainly directed to the search of market equilibrium, and the author discusses how little this approach helps explain real-world economic processes. The special attention the author allocates to the failure to properly analyze risk vs. uncertainty:” Risk refers to situations in which the outcome cannot be known with certainty, but the probability of any given outcome is understood perfectly. A simple example would be a toss of a fair coin. There is a fifty– fifty chance of it being either heads or tails. If we are gambling on the next toss being heads, there is a risk that we will lose our money if it turns out to be tails. But we know precisely what the chances are. Uncertainty, in its strict sense, refers to situations in which the probability of the various outcomes is itself unknown.” The author also uses multiple examples of real-life events and studies demonstrating a considerable difference between economic decision-making as presented in theory and as real live decision makers actually do it. From this, the author makes a pretty reasonable inference:” The capacity of firms to deal with market situations in a cognitive sense, their capacity to process information and turn it into knowledge, is small compared to the sheer scale of the problems which confront them. Companies can never deal completely with the complexity of the real world. The uncertainty that shrouds the future is not so much a veil as an iron curtain. In the current state of scientific knowledge, it cannot be penetrated. There is ample opportunity at any point in time for any firm, no matter how large, to fail.”
3 Up a Bit, Then Down a Bit
The author begins this chapter by briefly recounting the story of the increase of governments expenses and overall influence on the economy. Then, he specifically looks at the impact of this increase on the unemployment data and finds that it was not that significant:” If we compare the period from 1946 to the present day with the period 1870–1938, we see that, on average, as a proportion of the economy as a whole, the public sector was well over twice as large. Yet the average unemployment rate from 1946 has been no less than 4.5 per cent. In other words, only very marginally lower than in the period 1870–1938, despite the massive rise in the importance of the public sector in the economy. And although the highest rate in any single year, at 11 per cent, was less than the 14 per cent of the 1930s, unemployment never fell below 1 per cent in the entire period since the Second World War.” After that, the author looks at social mobility and Gini coefficients within countries and between countries:
At the end of this chapter author once again refer to a critical intellectual construct of economics: general-equilibrium theory and stresses how inconsistent it is with real-life developments. He makes this statement:” In order to control a system – any system, whether an economy, a biological system or a machine – we need to be able to do two things: first, make forecasts which are reasonably accurate in a systematic way over time; and second, understand with reasonable accuracy the effect of changes in policy on the system one is trying to control.” And, since the only thing really proved about economic forecasts is their persistent failure, he concludes:” It may seem implausible that economic systems behave as if they were almost random. However, this near-random quality does not mean in any way that the individual components of an economy – people, firms, governments – take decisions at random. On the contrary, they act with purpose and intent. But the consequences of these millions upon millions of individual decisions, interacting with each other all the time, lead to an overall outcome, for total output (GDP), say, that appears as if it were close to being random. The sheer dimensions of the problem are simply too great for the system to be understood properly. There are simply too many factors that determine the outcome, and whose relative importance alters over time, for the complete picture ever to be grasped.”4 Making Sense of Segregation
This chapter starts with reference to Marx and Engels and their indirect responsibility for innumerable crimes committed in the name of communism. Then, he discusses the complete failure of Marxism as a politico-economic theory. From this point, the author discusses various forms of segregation, both geographical and housing, between groups of people along class or religious or racial lines. Next, he discusses the persistence of such segregation despite the multitude of efforts by the government to promote integration. Finally, the author discusses the reasons and process of segregation, including the fascinating example of algorithmically generated segregation based on a very simple rule of preferences:
5 Playing by the Rules
This chapter begins with reference to Alfred Marshall, Francis Edgeworth and their debate whether the market could be analyzed and understood based on supply/demand equilibrium or it is just too complex and unpredictable to obtain any meaningful understanding and correspondingly correct forecast. The author then discusses the general development of economic theory and the addition of the game theory and later psychology to the mix. At the end of the chapter, the author presents his conclusion:” A key paradox begins to emerge from all this. Humans, whether acting as individuals or making collective decisions in companies or governments, behave with purpose. They take decisions with the aim of achieving specific, desired outcomes. Yet our view of the world which is emerging is one in which it is either very difficult or even impossible to predict the consequences of decisions in any meaningful sense. We may intend to achieve a particular outcome, but the complexity of the world, even in apparently simple situations, appears to be so great that it is not within our power to ordain the future.”
6 A Game of Chess
This chapter discusses the incompleteness of information available to acting agents, contrasting it with complete information available to chess players. He begins with another paradox:” Humans can take decisions with intent, acting with the purpose of achieving specific targets. As we noted in the Introduction, this ability to act with intent is sharply different from the process of biological evolution, which takes place at random. Yet both cases, whether human strategy or the evolution of species, are characterized by widespread failure. The human ability to act with purpose and intent seems not to imply in any way that the actual outcome will be the desired one.”
The author then proceeds to discuss the contemporary economic theory that moved beyond the notion of full informed agents making perfect choices based on supply and demand to the concepts of partially or even wholly misinformed agents acting not only based on external data but also based on their internal psychological processes. However, even for chess, in which the quality of the game improved over time, the author suggests limitations of improvements due to the game’s complexity. As to the game of life, which is infinitely more complex than chess:” Individuals, firms, governments, households may lack access to complete information. Even more importantly, they do not have the cognitive ability to process it in a way which finds the single, optimal choice. Particularly when confronted with decisions that have consequences in the future, the problem of finding the ‘best’ move, the best strategy, is simply too hard. Instead, agents look for reasonably good strategies which avoid obvious loss, and they find it very difficult to learn better strategies. Armed with this view of the world, we return to the problem of failure and extinction.”
7 ‘The Best-Laid Schemes …’
Here the author expands the chess analogy further, noting that it is not only incomplete information but also the character of the rules of the game that make a difference. In real life, rules and goals are dynamic and constantly change, unlike static and well-known rules of chess. The author provides some examples and discusses in detail Harold Hotelling’s beach and ice cream model that demonstrates an exponential increase in complexity with any change in assumptions that make the model more realistic. He makes the point that this complexity makes a complete solution impossible. However, at the same time, he demonstrates that a simple strategy could produce “good enough” results.
8 Doves and Hawks
The author discusses another model in this chapter: Armen Alchian’s “Dove and Hawks”. He demonstrates how volatility is embedded in complex biological systems, sometimes leading to cyclical changes when some parameter, such as the ratio of lynx to hares, moves periodically from one extreme to another. The author also discusses Vito Volterra’s work:” A Mathematical Theory of the Struggle for Life, ” describing dynamic equilibrium between species. Finally, the author also describes some relevant samples of English literature.
9 Patterns in the Dark
Here, the author continues juxtaposing biology, Darwin’s evolution and economy, and Adam Smith’s capitalism. He describes the process of evolution and stresses that the pace of evolution is variable, referring to the “Cambrian explosion”. Moreover, the research shows that there is some multi-million years cycle of extinction with the interdependency of size and frequency:
The author then sets up the framework for moving to economics in the next chapter:” Excitingly, power law, or very near power law, relationships have been identified very recently in many areas of economic activity. Perhaps most exciting of all, the relationship that describes the pattern of extinctions amongst firms appears to be virtually identical to that which describes biological extinctions. For certain types of system, as diverse as those in which biological species and modern firms flourish and die, we may have the first inklings of a general theory not of evolution but of extinction.”
10 The Powers that Be
The author begins this chapter with the statement that describes biological processes fully apply to economics with:” the size distribution of the largest American companies was well described by a power law, a finding subsequently generalized across all US firms”. The author then discusses the relation between the size of cause and scale of the event:” Most of the time, small events, small shocks to the system, will only have small impacts, and large shocks will usually have big consequences. But the fact that we observe power-law behavior in a system tells us that the system operates in ways that mean that these relationships do not always hold. Sometimes, a very small event can have profound consequences, and occasionally a big shock can be contained and be of little import.” He also presents some analysis of types of networks and resulting variance in their behavior, illustrating all this by the story of financial debacle such as LTCM. Finally, the author also provides an extinction graph for both economic and biological species:
11 Take Your Pick?
In this chapter, the author reviews two theoretical approaches to the problem of extinction. One approach assigns cause to external shocks, while the other to the internal development of the system. The author uses business cycles as an example when one approach points to an external event such as a war that violates the equilibrium of the economic system. At the same time, another looks for internal causes such as money supply than misallocation of resources, eventually leading to a crash.
The author discusses Mark Newman’s exogenous model of extinctions and Richard Sole and S. Manrubia’s endogenous model. Interestingly enough, both models: “capable of generating results that are compatible with the key empirical evidence on extinction in the biological fossil record.”
12 Resolving the Dilemma
The author begins here by noting that there are clear cases of purely exogenous or endogenous causes and then discusses various parameters of a system that sometimes provide for the survival of the strong shocks but sometimes lead to extinction from the much smaller ones. The conclusion the author presents is this:” In the biological world, both the exogenous and endogenous extinction models in their pure form can account for the key patterns observed in the extinction of species, but the strictly endogenous model, in which firms are connected to each other and have impacts on each other’s fitness, translates far better into socio-economic systems than does the strictly exogenous one.
However, as we have noted several times, in the human world of social and economic organization, in practice failure and extinction almost certainly arise from a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors, of external shocks and the purely internal interactions of the component parts of the system. The internal network of connections and how it evolves over time are the most important causes of extinctions, but external shocks will often play a role as well. We now explore the implications of making the model even more realistic by introducing external shocks into the self-generating explanation of extinction.”
13 Why Things Fail
Here the author discusses the results of testing models in real-life that demonstrate their very limited usability. An example he looks at in detail is the Philips Curve. However, the author also stresses that: “A great advantage of a theoretical model is that we can create artificial worlds. In other words, we can change the rules of behavior and see what happens.”
The author concludes this chapter with clear inference:” To repeat a key phrase which needs to be hard-wired into the brain of every decision-maker, whether in the public or private sector, intent is not the same as outcome. Humans, whether acting as individuals or in a collective fashion in a firm or government, face massive inherent uncertainty about the effect of their actions. Whether it is the great characters of tragedy or giant corporations such as Microsoft, the future remains covered in a deep veil to all. Species, people, firms, governments are all complex entities that must survive in dynamic environments which evolve over time. Their ability to understand such environments is inherently limited.
These limits are a fundamental feature of the systems we have discussed, whether biological or whether in the realm of human social and economic organization, in which the individual agents are connected through networks which evolve over time. These limits can no more be overcome by smarter analysis than we are able to break binding physical constraints, such as our inability to travel faster than the speed of light. This is why things fail.
14 What Is to Be Done?
The author begins this chapter by stating that:” Yet humanity is not completely powerless in the face of the Iron Law of Failure. There are positive attitudes, positive steps that policy-makers, in both the public and private domains, can take. Moreover, failure at the individual level can paradoxically be beneficial for the health of the system as a whole.” He then proceeds by discussing works of Schumpeter and Hayek, the former advocating some degree of monopoly as preferable to pure competition, while the latter theoretically demonstrated that market-based economies are superior to planned ones due to superiority of distributed specific knowledge processing over-concentrated and therefore necessarily simplified knowledge processing. The author then uses examples with civil aviation industries and practically unregulated money supply in the USA until the early XX century that successfully supported a colossal expansion of the American economy for more than a century. The author then looks at the relation between extinction fitness of agents and the system as a whole, demonstrating its inverse relationship in the model:
After that, the author reviews and laments the current policies of big governments that support various agents for political reasons, consequently negatively impacting the system’s overall fitness. However, the author also stresses that:” But it is not the size of the state as such which has brought this about. Different western countries have experienced different sizes of state intervention in the economy, and there is no obvious relationship between this and economic performance. And, as we have seen, the period in which the state has seen a massive increase in its importance in western society has also been the period in which most countries moved away from rather than towards the outcomes that the social democratic model promised. Unemployment is up. Crime has increased. Income inequality has widened. And social mobility has fallen.”
In the end, the author provides his solution to the problem of the unpredictability of results and inevitable failures, which is: “‘Innovate, innovate!’ – that is the guiding principle which companies have used to try to overcome the inherent and pervasive uncertainty which surrounds all their decisions. It is the best strategy for individual survival, and it is a strategy from which we all, as consumers and citizens, have benefited immensely.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
My views are in complete agreement with the main positions of the author of this book: the future is unpredictable, and all that one can do is to try developing maximum fitness and flexibility to avoid extinction due to the wider range of shocks, endogenous or exogenous. I think it is applicable for all levels, from individuals to businesses of all sizes to the states and nations. I believe insufficiently highlighted is the tradeoff between redundancy and efficiency, necessitated by all this. The improvement in extinction fitness requires investment in a broader range of functionality that would necessarily decrease efficiency. The only way such increase is possible is if decision makers’ well-being strongly depended on the consequences of these decisions because otherwise, they would always prefer current efficiency. The lack of solid feedback for government or big business bureaucracy is probably the most crucial reason for societal failures at all levels.
A good example would be the decision of American airlines to avoid implementing security measures similar to Israeli airlines before 9/11 because of their cost, which was just a few thousand dollars. The following disaster had little impact on the lives of either airline’s management or government bureaucrats “responsible” for security while costing a lot in lives and treasure for people. If it were a small private business, its owners would be out of business and probably wholly wiped out by lawsuits forcing all others to include effective security measures as a necessary cost of doing business. As it is, the government implemented costly and ineffective bureaucracy of TSA, which demonstrated by such reports:” Federal agents posed as passengers and attempted to sneak fake guns and explosives onto flights. The results showed they were successful in getting past security 95 percent of the time. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/20/politics/tsa-whistleblower-airport-safety-invs/index.html”
20211218 – Minds Make Societies
Here is the author’s statement on the main idea of this book:” The following chapters chart some elements of this naturalistic science of human societies, from the way we form groups to the way we interact in families, from human attraction to religious notions to their motivation to create ethnic identity and rivalry, from the intuitive understanding of economics to their disposition for cooperation and friendship. This should not imply that we now know all there is to know about those topics—far from it. But we can already perceive how they make more sense in the context of human evolution. There is great promise in that vision, some would have said even grandeur, if we can make progress in explaining human behavior as a natural process.”
Introduction: Human Societies through the Lens of NatureIn the introduction, the author points out that studying human societies the new approach, closely resembling the general scientific approach to studying nature, produced critical advancement by using evolutionary biology and psychology. The author presents several questions that he hopes to answer with the new approach, such as:
WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE SO MANY THINGS THAT AIN’T SO?
WHY POLITICAL DOMINATION?
WHY ARE PEOPLE SO INTERESTED IN ETHNIC IDENTITY?
WHAT MAKES MEN AND WOMEN DIFFERENT?
ARE THERE DIFFERENT POSSIBLE MODELS OF THE FAMILY?
WHY ARE HUMANS SO UNCOOPERATIVE?
WHY ARE HUMANS SO COOPERATIVE?
COULD SOCIETY BE JUST?
WHAT EXPLAINS MORALITY?
WHY ARE THERE RELIGIONS?
WHY DO PEOPLE MONITOR AND REGIMENT OTHER PEOPLE’S BEHAVIORS?
After asking questions, the author presents some rules for answering them:
Rule I: See the Strangeness of the Familiar
Rule II: Information Requires Evolved Detection
Rule III: Do Not Anthropomorphize Humans!
Rule IV: Ignore the Ghosts of Theories Past
The author completes the introduction by describing the positive program of the research of human social behavior.
Six Problems in Search of a New Science
One: What Is the Root of Group Conflict?
In this chapter, the author promotes a few ideas related to the human grouping that he believes the science supports:
- The contemporary nations are mainly recent inventions
- People develop and then cling to ethnicity as the tool to recruit others into their group.
- Humans are “groupish” – they join a group naturally and form their attitude and behavior about issues depending on in or out of group situations.
- People develop particular coalition psychology that synchronizes mental representations of the world, strengthening the link between the group members and preventing defection.
- People create the coalitional institutions assigning people to diverse stereotypes
- They also build the large group by signaling their belonging via appearances
- The separation into groups quickly leads to violence whether the groups are ethnic, religious, or just sports fans.
The author also discusses Hobbes vs. Rousseau’s visions of human nature, noting that reality is much more complicated than either one. He then reviews features of primitive warfare. At the end of the chapter, the author looks at the diversity of contemporary societies and stresses that it causes to many people.
Two: What Is Information For? Sound Minds, Odd Beliefs, and the Madness of Crowds
Here the author discusses various strange panics, mysteries of junk culture, and other similar things. He also looks at human biology’s “good design” when even infants possess lots of intuitive knowledge that support quick learning and effective accommodation to the environment. The author then reviews information processing in societies, concluding that people are not gullible, so all kinds of rumors, mysteries, and conspiracy theories are pretty helpful. His conclusion is:” We generally assume that information is transmitted because of its epistemic value, its connection to the way things are and to potential consequences for fitness. That explains the transmission of vast domains of cultural knowledge, but also of deceptive communication, which favors the deceiver’s interests precisely because it is false. But epistemic value is not the only factor that motivates humans to spread information. The need to be seen as a reliable source, the requirement to detect threat information, the urge to recruit others in collective action, or at least to gauge their potential commitment, are powerful factors. As they are not directly affected by the value of the information transmitted, junk culture is in some conditions both epistemically disastrous and evolutionarily advantageous.”
Three: Why Are There Religions? … And Why Are They Such a Recent Thing?
In this chapter about religion, the author reviews the meaning of various supernatural combinations and their spirituality. The main point that the author stresses is that it all has some adaptive value, or at least used to have. The current world is seemingly moving away from this, but it is not necessarily the case. The author sees contemporary development as the threefold path:
- The first is the path of indifference. This is a situation in which most people evince no great interest in the doctrines or teachings of the different religions. Naturally, like other human beings, people in this context are still attracted to the products of supernatural imagination. Generally treated as fiction, these supernatural notions can sometimes lead to the “extraordinary popular delusions”
- The second path is that of spirituality. The term is of course vague, which is rather apposite, as the beliefs people usually call spiritual are notoriously nebulous. Spiritual movements are focused not on particular statements about the world but on the exploration of various techniques and disciplines of the self.
- The third path is the coalitional path. Affiliation to a particular doctrinal religion turns into ethnic or cultural identity and triggers the thoughts and motivations of coalitional psychology, including the clear separation between those who belong and the outsiders, the valuation of the group’s collective goals, the assumption that the welfare of outsiders is a loss for the group, the close monitoring of other people’s commitment, the attempts to deter defection by making it very costly, and so forth.
Here is the author’s conclusion:” One should not take these three paths as an exhaustive description of the way religious representations could be handled by human minds. Nor should we think of the three paths as alternative and exclusive futures. They might coexist in the same place, and even in the same community. The difference between them lies in individual cognitive processes, whereby religious representations are mostly seen as possibly interesting fictions (indifference), as a way to cultivate the self (spirituality), or as the foundation of group solidarity and intergroup hostility (coalitions). We cannot, on cognitive grounds alone, predict the relative prevalence of these three paths. We can only be sure of very general probabilistic claims—for instance, that increased security favors indifference to religions, that some prosperity is required for spiritual interests, that coalitional recruitment is among the strongest forces in social interaction.”
Four: What Is the Natural Family? From Sex to Kinship to DominanceIn this chapter, the author poses some questions about various forms of families and looks at it mainly from the point of view of evolutionary fitness under variety of circumstances. He stresses that the way sex works for evolution is not direct but rather via promises. He then discusses gender and dominance why and how it defines political orders and domestic oppression. The last part of the chapter is about collective oppression when all men collectively oppress all women.
Five: How Can Societies Be Just? How Cooperative Minds Create Fairness and Trade, and the Apparent Conflict between Them
This chapter discusses human cooperation, altruism, and commons. The author initially treats it as a mystery but then demonstrates that such interactions are usually mutually beneficial and therefore fully justified from the evolutionary point of view. The author also discusses the ideas of justice, where they came from. At the end of the chapter, the author summarizes it this way:” If all this is valid, our conceptions of justice seem to lead to a paradox. The reason humans could develop trade, and expand it far beyond the confines of small-scale production and local consumption, is that we have a set of evolved dispositions for mutually advantageous transactions, based on strong intuitions and motivations concerning ownership and participation in collective action. Because of these mental dispositions, we created an extraordinarily complex economic world, and the prosperity that comes from this complexity. The world created consists in countless products and services, whose existence cannot be explained by our intuitive systems. They seem to appear, but no intuitive system represents the conditions under which they appear. So they are treated by some mental systems as a windfall. This in turn activates our communal sharing preferences and intuitions, which make certain conceptions of justice, notably the distribution of available wealth, both intuitive and compelling, that is, easy to process and convincing. But the notion of redistributing wealth violates some intuitive expectations, to do with effort and reward—those who contribute more should receive more—and of course ownership—those who produce are entitled to what they produced. Redistribution implies some limits to these expectations. Some people may contribute a lot more than others but receive only a little more than others. Some may have to relinquish part of what they produced, in the form of progressive taxation. So, the policies intuitively preferred because of one intuitive system (sharing) clash with preferences from another intuitive system.
There are of course many sophisticated ways of going past this conflict between different sets of intuitive preferences. But that is the point—they are sophisticated, they require the work of scholars, and it takes some effort to learn them, because our mental equipment does not provide us with an intuitive resolution of this inconsistency. Humans seem to generate trade because of fairness, and trade creates results in so much impersonal production that the imperatives of fairness seem to clash with the requirements for trade.”
Six: Can Human Minds Understand Societies? Coordination, Folk Sociology, and Natural Politics
In this last chapter, the author discusses politics and human perception of it. At the beginning of the chapter, he points out that:” HUMANS WERE DESIGNED BY EVOLUTION to live in societies, but they may not understand how societies work. This may seem paradoxical. Man was classically described as the political animal; many people in many places seem to be attentive to political processes and be emotionally engaged in political action; and many people, it seems, even enjoy talking about politics. Political programs, political disputes, and political arguments, not to mention revolutions and reform, all convey general ideas about the way a society works and ought to work, how institutions are created and maintained, how different groups and classes interact, and so forth. Such ideas are not the preserve of specialists; they fill everyday debates and justify opinion among all or most citizens of mass societies.”
The author discusses social complexity, the origin of politics, and typical toolkits of “Collective Actions” and “Hierarchy”. He then looks at what he calls “Folk Sociology” and systematically reviews its principles, consequently mainly rejecting most of them. The list of Folk sociology’s principles looks something like that:
Principle I: Groups Are Like Agents
Principle II: Power Is a Force
Principle III: Social Facts Are Things
The author also discusses Folk sociology as a coordination tool and seeks to derive some lessons for modern politics.
Conclusion: Cognition and Communication Create Traditions
The Author begins this part by pontificating about the nature of culture and then suggests:” So, dispensing for the moment with confusing notions of culture, we have two questions for a natural science of societies, namely, How do people converge on similar representations through communication? and Why are some themes so common in such diverse, unrelated societies? At the risk of ruining the surprise, I should reveal that these are in fact one and the same question, which we can address in a rigorous manner by considering the way human minds infer new representations from communication.”
To answer this question, the author first looks at traditions and then analyses the transmission as selection. Next, he discusses the in-depth development of social essentialism, intuitions and reflections about other groups, and other cognitive processes that define a culture. He concludes by presenting his vision of the future development of the scientific approach to social sciences:” So, rather than a new philosophy, the scientific approach to human societies is grounded in a set of simple attitudes and healthy habits that are in fact rather natural to empirical scientists in other fields of inquiry. One of these is deliberate eclecticism, a decision to ignore disciplinary boundaries and traditions, so that evolutionary findings can inform history, economic models can be based on neurocognitive foundations, and cross-cultural comparisons on ecology and economics. The other habit is a healthy embrace of reductionism. For a long time, social scientists were horrified at the very notion of reduction, and they would clutch their pearls at the very thought of explaining social phenomena in terms of physiology, evolution, cognition, or ecology. The mere mention of psychological or evolutionary facts in descriptions of culture would, according to that academic version of the one-drop rule, irretrievably pollute the social scientific brew. But, in rejecting that form of reduction, social scientists were rejecting what is the common practice of most empirical scientists. Geologists do not ignore the findings and models of physics, they make constant use of them. The same goes for ecologists with biological findings, and for evolutionary biologists with molecular genetics. It was only recently that social scientists realized that these empirical disciplines were all actually making progress, and that may have to do with the systematic use of reduction in this sense, promising a vertical integration of different fields and disciplines.55 That integration is now happening. There is a great hope in these rudiments of a science that would follow the path originally traced by philosophers, historians, and moralists toward explaining the emergence of societies, a truly unique outcome of evolution by natural selection.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
Here are my brief answers to the questions the author discusses in this book:
WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE SO MANY THINGS THAT AIN’T SO?
Because people had to rely on other people for information and these other people have other objectives more vital to them than truth and correspondingly adjust information to support these objectives.
WHY POLITICAL DOMINATION?
Because political domination allows people to obtain goods and services from others without giving anything in exchange, it even enables the use of others as disposable tools.
WHY ARE PEOPLE SO INTERESTED IN ETHNIC IDENTITY?
Because the ethnic identity provides at least some security in the permanent competition of us against them, whether this competition is peaceful or violent.
WHAT MAKES MEN AND WOMEN DIFFERENT?
Biology and its role in survival. For the group survival in competition with other groups, women are precious as the foundation of reproduction and individual survival, while men are disposable, being auxiliary for reproduction, but key ingredient in competition with other groups for resources and therefor the foundation of the group survival.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT POSSIBLE MODELS OF THE FAMILY?
Yes, and there are many models. We’ll probably see the new and completely different models when technology allows reproduction without a naturally high workload on women.
WHY ARE HUMANS SO UNCOOPERATIVE?
Because to survive in an environment with limited resources, sometimes one needs to fight for resources with others.
WHY ARE HUMANS SO COOPERATIVE?
Because in some cases, cooperation provides for an increase in available resources while fighting leads to a decrease.
COULD SOCIETY BE JUST?
It depends on the meaning of “just.” Since different people understand it differently, it is an impossibility.
WHAT EXPLAINS MORALITY?
Groups of people in which individuals comply with a set of rules favorable for survival outcompete the groups with no rules
WHY ARE THERE RELIGIONS?
Because true belief increases the probability of compliance with morality rules by making rule enforcement by supernatural force inevitable, whether in the near future or the future life.
WHY DO PEOPLE MONITOR AND REGIMENT OTHER PEOPLE’S BEHAVIORS?
Because supernatural forces seldom, if ever, provide sufficient evidence of rules enforcement. So, people constantly monitoring each other’s compliance with the rules compensate for this deficiency, also providing a mechanism for rules’ adjustment to what people believe is essential and what is not.
20211211 – Virtuous Violence
This book’s main idea is that violence in all its forms is often moral and even obligatory in the eyes of perpetrators and services to regulate their social relationships. Another purpose is to provide modeling of such relationships regulation and apply these models to the historical occurrence of violence and relevant empirical research in psychology to demonstrate how it all works. Finally, it presents some ideas on inhibiting the use of violence.
1 Why are people violent?
“Chapter 1 lays the foundations for the book, stating the theory in the simplest terms, then explaining what we mean by “violence” and what we mean by “moral,” and then briefly comparing virtuous violence theory with previous approaches that address the morality of violence.”
So here is the author’s definition:” “violence “consists of action in which the perpetrator regards inflicting pain, suffering, fear, distress, injury, maiming, disfigurement, or death as the intrinsic, necessary, or desirable means to the intended ends.” The author notes that people normally are not inclined to use violence but do it if they are driven by morality and strive to be virtuous. The author explains this unusual stand by providing this definition of morality:” So we define morality in two ways, which we believe coincide and are indeed two sides of the same psychology. Morality consists of a certain set of evaluative emotions, as well as a certain set of intentions. The motives and emotions concern the feelings that something should or should not be done, while the intentions concern making relationships what they should be. When we posit that most violence is morally motivated, we mean that the person doing the violence subjectively feels that what she is doing is right: she believes that she should do the violence, and she is actually moved by moral emotions such as loyalty or outrage. At the same time, moral refers to the evaluation of action, attitudes, motives, or intentions with reference to an ideal model of how to relate.” The author also discusses in this chapter the cultural relativity of morality and the cultural attitudes to pain and suffering, which are not evil but rather positively good in some cultures. Finally, the author discusses the origins and forerunners of his virtuous violence theory and identifies the book’s scope. The book’s key point, which defines its scope, is an approach to violence as a tool people use to regulate relationships according to cultural rules. In this case, the violence, however bad, is moral in the eyes of its perpetrator. Except for some sadistic and psychopathic personalities, people who inflict violence typically do not enjoy the process but perceive it to be the moral duty they have to fulfill.
2 Violence is morally motivated to regulate social Relationships
“Chapter 2 presents the analytic structure we will be employing throughout the book to understand the social-relational nature of violence: the four fundamental relational models, their essentially cultural implementation, their constitutive phases, and how they are linked into larger metarelational configurations. This completes the foundation and erects the framework of virtuous violence theory.”
The author here defines four elementary relational models (RM) underlying the infliction of violence:
- Communal Sharing: Unity (CS)
- Authority ranking: hierarchy (AR)
- Equality matching: equality (EM)
- Market pricing: proportionality (MP)
The author also defines six ways of how each model generate, shape, and preserve social relationships:
1. Creation: violence that is intended to form new relationships, either between strangers or in a way that fundamentally changes a pre-existing relationship.
2. Conduct, enhancement, modulation, and transformation: violence that comprises the relationship itself – enacting, testing, enforcing, reinforcing, enhancing, honoring, attenuating, or transforming it.
3. Protection: people’s belief that they have a moral entitlement to protect themselves and their relationship partners.
4. Redress and rectification: punishment, making someone “pay a penalty,” retaliation, revenge, purification, restoration of honor, violent sacrificial offerings, or self-punishments in response to transgressions that threaten relationships.
5. Termination: unlike the previous relationship functions, violence not meant to create, protect or restore the relationship but to have it permanently cease. In some cases, this violence is meant to free someone from relational obligations that they can no longer fulfill, such as in cases of euthanasia or Japanese seppuku.
6. Mourning: action in response to the loss of an important relationship due to the other’s departure, defection, or death.
The author also provides a graphic representation for various scenarios.
3 Defense, punishment, and vengeance
Chapter 3 makes the crucial point that people often feel that it is right and necessary to use violence for defense, punishment, or retribution.
Here the author discusses the types of violence that in most cultures considered not only legitimate but also required. In addition to defense, it includes vengeance and retribution.
4 The right and obligation of parents, police, kings, and gods to violently enforce their authority
Chapter 4 explores the moral motives for violent enforcement of legitimate authority.
After a brief reference to history and philosophy, the author discusses corporal punishment of children, military and policing violence, perceived violence by God(s), and other cases of violence by authority. Here is the author’s take on motivation:” The moral motivations for violence grow out of the dyadic relationship between the perpetrator and the victim; but also, and sometimes even more strongly, out of metarelational models linking the relationship between perpetrator and victim to their relationships with third-party nobles, ecclesiastics, and deities; and, in turn, they grow out of those first, second, and third parties’ relationships with fourth parties such as the king, and to an important degree with other subjects of the nobles, congregants of the church, and worshippers of God.”
5 Contests of violence: fighting for respect and solidarity
Chapter 5 illuminates the moral motives for regulating relationships consisting of contests of violence such as jousts, martial and contact sports, or confrontations between gangs.
In this case, the morality of violence comes from its metarelational character. Its use against individuals out of the group allows one to establish and enhance their position, whether as a knight, warrior, gang member, or whatnot.
6 Honor and shame
Chapter 6 characterizes honor and shame as motives for violence in many cultures and subcultures, and we unpack the metarelational moral motives for violence that comprise the framework for the Trojan War and Homer’s account of the violent regulation of relationships among the ancient Greeks.
The author provides many references to works describing specific cultures in which honor and shame play an oversized role in human behavior. He also discusses particular functions such as guest-host relationship, honor killing, and honor among thieves. He then provides a detailed analysis of the metarelational honor model, which organized the violence of the Trojan War.
Chapter 7 describes national leaders’ moral motives for going to war, and soldiers’ moral motives for killing and dying.
Here the author discusses the motivation of leaders and nations that initiate a war and applies his model to actual historical events such as the Vietnam war. The author then looks at the real people who kill: soldiers, fighters, and terrorists. Finally, he analyses moral motivations such as compliance with orders from leaders of the group, protection of comrades in a battle, defense of one’s people or ideology, and so on.
8 Violence to obey, honor, and connect with the gods
In Chapter 8 we consider how humans violently constitute social relationships with gods and spirits, including human sacrifice and excruciating self-torture. After showing that these six types of violent practices are morally motivated to constitute critical social relationships, we pause to explicate virtuous violence theory more precisely.
Here is the author’s characterization of the overall discussion so far:” We have reached the midway point of the book, having characterized the moral motives and relationship-constitutive phases of defense, punishment, vengeance, fighting for respect and solidarity, violence ordered by and committed by authorities, honor violence, violence in war, and violent sacrifice.”
9 On relational morality: what are its boundaries, what guides it, and how is it computed?
Chapter 9 considers more deeply the links between moral and immoral motives for violence, showing that morality is not defined by forms of actions or their material consequences. Rather, morality is culturally defined by local precedents, prototypes, and precepts for implementing the four universal relational models (RMs). We also show that both impulsive and reflectively considered violence are mostly morally motivated.
Here is the key statement describing the author’s position on the perceived morality of violence:” violence is morally motivated when the perpetrator intends the violence to regulate a relationship in a manner that is congruent with the cultural preos as the perpetrator perceives them.” The author illustrates this by presenting a wide variety of cultural norms that define the morality of violence, from traditions of Nuer hunter-gatherers to the 53-page NATO Rules of Engagement Manual MC 362–1. The final question that the author discusses in this chapter:” Is morally motivated violence rational and deliberative or emotional and impulsive?”. The answer is: it is both.
10 The prevailing wisdom
This allows us in Chapter 10 to show how virtuous violence theory either encompasses or complements previous theories that violence results from sadism, psychopathy, rational cost-benefit calculation, or, conversely, failures of rationality. The author discusses the psychology and nature of killers and provides the summary table:
11 Intimate partner violence
Then we tackle forms of violence that people may be loath to acknowledge could be morally motivated, but, in fact, often are: intimate partner violence;
The author notes that Intimate partner violence is widespread and often morally motivated to regulate relationships
Chapter 12 explicitly discusses a frequent form of violence – rape, including gang rape and rape in warfare.
13 Making them one with us: initiation, clitoridectomy, infibulation, circumcision, and castration
Chapter 13 demonstrates that moral motives to constitute critical relationships with or among their children drive people to perform violent initiation rites on boys, to excise or infibulate girls, and to castrate boys.
The discussion here relates to various initiation rates that often include some form of physical mutilation.
We discover in Chapter 14 that moral motives drive the leaders who order torture and their minions who enact torture on victims, as well as the wider public who condone torture.
Here the author concentrates on motivation for torture as it is experienced by those who order torture and those who inflict it. The author also describes some experiments designed to define public attitudes to torture. Here is his conclusion:” In short, authorities order torture to sustain or restore their AR relationship with the victims. The torturers themselves are typically motivated by hierarchy: the desire to sustain and enhance AR relationships with the torturer’s superiors, or competitive AR relationships with peers. Torturers see torture victims as enemies existing outside the CS group, and they are motivated by MP proportionality to acquire information for the common good, using the most efficient means possible, particularly when time and resources are scarce. Public approval of torture is often driven by EM sentiments of vengeance, making the victim suffer as punishment for the evil he is thought to have done.”
15 Homicide: he had it coming
Chapter 15 investigates the motives of killers; we see that most homicides are morally motivated and the killers’ peers and neighbors feel that they did exactly what they should have done. Even mass murderers and mentally ill killers typically kill because they genuinely feel that their victims deserve to die.
The brief conclusion:” In short, when people kill, they usually do so because they feel that a crucial relationship is being threatened or has been violated, that their position in a crucial relationship is as stake, or that the relationship has reached an intolerable state and cannot be rectified, yet they cannot simply withdraw from it by ceasing to interact.”
16 Ethnic violence and genocide
Chapter 16 analyzes lynching and genocide, which sustain what the perpetrators and their reference groups perceive as legitimate, natural, and morally necessary relationships with their victims’ ethnic group or race.
Here the author, for some reason, mixes two different types of ethnic or racial violence: lynching and genocide. However, the author stresses that in both cases, the important feature is a dehumanization of victims.
17 Self-harm and suicide
When we look at suicide and non-suicidal self-injury, we discover that violence against the self is also intended to rectify critical relationships: the person who hurts herself feels that violence makes the relationship right.
The author’s conclusion:” All of these studied cases converge on the conclusion that non-suicidal self-injury and suicide are intended to constitute relationships, especially to rectify or terminate relationships, but sometimes to sustain a crucial relationship by staying with a partner who has died. The subjective phenomenology of injuring or killing oneself is moral as well: it is motivated by shame, guilt, moral outrage, loyalty, love, or the need to evoke love, guilt, or shame. Violence against the self has a lot in common with violence against others, both emotionally and with respect to its regulative functions.”
18 Violent bereavements
Chapter 18 illuminates the final constitutive phase of violence. In quite a few cultures in diverse parts of the world, people mourn the deaths of loved ones by seriously injuring themselves or others, or by going out to kill some random innocent person – and then, eventually, by also killing the witch or sorcerer or manifest assailant whom they hold responsible for the death.
The author describes a variety of cases when people killed or otherwise hurt in process of mourning for an elite person in order to provide this person with support in the existence after the death. He also discusses rage as result of death, that sometimes could be directed at others.
19 Non-bodily violence: robbery
Here authors conclude their empirical ethnological and historical investigations by considering robbery. Though robbers have obviously instrumental motives, it turns out that often they are highly morally motivated to regulate relationships with victims who don’t deserve what they have, or shouldn’t have flaunted what they had. The authors conclude the book with five chapters of further theoretical explorations building on virtuous violence theory:
20 The specific form of violence for constituting each relational model
21 Why do people use violence to constitute their social relationships, rather than using some other medium?
The authors’ answer is:
- it is necessary to attract participants’ and others’ attention to a constitutive transformation of the relationship;
- it is necessary to raise the stakes in the relationship because the relationship is crucial;
- they are constituting the relationship, rather than merely conducting (performing) it;
- there is a great deal at stake;
- people are responding to transgression through redress or protection rather than regulating relationships in other ways;
- people are acting according to CS and AR relational models rather than more dispassionate EM and MP relational models;
- people have no good alternative ways to regulate the relationship, nor do they have alternative relationships, so they cannot simply leave this relationship and start a new one;
- the violence will enhance the metarelational models within which the perpetrator–victim relationship is embedded or enhance the constituent relationships that comprise those metarelational models.
22 Metarelational models that inhibit or provide alternatives to violence
Here the authors discuss how their metarelational model may inhibit violence. They present graphics of their model and qualitatively summarize the variable effects of metarelational models in three tenets:
1. The more important and the more numerous the other relationships that are linked through metarelational models to the focal relationship, the greater their potential effects (facilitating or inhibiting) on the frequency, intensity, and lethality of the violence in the focal relationship.
2. The greater the imbalance between the number and importance of linked relationships that are enhanced by violence in the focal relationship, compared to the lower number and importance of linked relationships that are jeopardized by violence in the focal relationship, the greater the frequency, intensity, and lethality of the violence in the focal relationship. And vice versa.
3. In general, the more metarelational models in which a relationship is embedded, the less violence will occur in it (less frequent, less injurious, less lethal). This is because, more often than not, violence in one relationship undermines or jeopardizes most other relationships linked to the focal relationship, and most relationships are mostly peaceful. That is, most people don’t want most of their associates to be harmed. People typically sanction or avoid people who are violent in other relationships – for their own safety, and because the harm to the victim is objectionable to most of the people who relate to the victim. That is, most of the time most relationships inhibit violence in most of the other relationships in the metarelational models that they are enmeshed in. So, on the whole, the more metarelational models a relationship belongs to, the less violence will tend to occur in it. But, as we have seen, there are many exceptions, the most dramatic of which are cultures of honor and shame.
23 How do we end violence?
Here authors discuss alternatives to violence such as Civil disobedience, hunger strikes, and so on. They also present a list of steps that in their opinion, could reduce any kind of violence:
1. Generate precedents, prototypes, and precepts for non-violent relationship regulation.
2. Generate precedents, prototypes, and precepts that prohibit violent relationship regulation.
3. Generate metarelational models that make important and desirable social relationships follow from and contingent on non-violent relationship regulation. Thus, make peaceful relationship regulation reliably foster other good relationships.
4. Conversely, make violent regulation of any relationship irreconcilable with positive relationships with the perpetrator of violence. Publicly demonstrate to perpetrators that their violence hurts good people whom they should care about, and whom the people they care about. Shame, shun, and ostracize those who are violent to anyone.
5. Make these preos and metarelational models definite and clear, so there is no latitude or ambiguity about the unacceptability of violent relationship regulation.
6. Develop near-unanimous consensus among the primary groups, reference groups, and respected leaders of potential perpetrators, ensuring that nearly everyone adopts the peaceful preos and the metarelational models that ensure them.
7. Ensure that these preos and metarelational models are universal common knowledge: everyone knows them, everyone knows that everyone else knows them, and everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows them.
24 Evolutionary, philosophical, legal, psychological, and research implications
In this final chapter the authors discuss variety of implications and summarize it in 5 points:
1. At the most basic level, any controlled studies of first-person accounts of violence among either criminal or civilian populations should reveal the presence of moral motives, and these motives will be more prevalent than evidence of self-regulatory failure, instrumental gain, moral disengagement, dehumanization, or sadistic pleasure and psychopathy.
2. Meanwhile, if some violence is seen as obligatory, then doing violence requires increased self-regulatory control. A parent who hates to see his child in pain but knows that a good spanking is what the child needs will be less likely to be able to carry out the punishment when he is tired or his self-control is otherwise diminished. We predict that support for some forms of costly punishment, the kind of punishment that the actor believes is right and obligatory but that requires self-control, will be reduced under conditions of depletion, challenging the view that self-regulatory failure always increases the likelihood of violence.
3. Regarding rationalist approaches to violence, the addition of material incentives for peace can actually increase support for violence. We propose that in the same way that the addition of material incentives often weakens intrinsic motivation, providing material incentives to engage in violent action may lead participants to consider the violence in instrumental rather than moral terms. Hence, adding material incentives when none are currently present may reduce the propensity to engage in violence if the material benefits are small and the potential costs are great.
4. To the extent that dehumanization does facilitate violence, we should expect selective dehumanization of victims to occur, depending on the moral motives of the perpetrators, such that different kinds of violence may be tied to different kinds of dehumanization when it actually occurs. Thus, there is no reason to expect victims of retributive punishment or revenge to be deprived of mental capacities related to feeling pain, as this is necessary for the violence to have its intended effect, nor should the victim be deprived of capacities for reason or intention, as they are what make the victim deserving of punishment. Victims may, however, be deprived of certain moral emotions, such as compassion or empathy. But, of course, victims of initiation rites such as genital excision or violent hazing are often beloved members of the community, so they should be seen as capable of having moral emotions, and to the extent that their stoic endurance of pain is a crucial aspect of the initiation, they should be seen as capable of feeling pain as well. Only under conditions where perpetrators harm someone they are not morally motivated to harm (i.e., the motivation is non-moral) or where they are a passive third-party to harm, do we expect perpetrators to fail to perceive their victims as experiencing pain.
5. If violence is morally motivated to satisfy relational aims, then support for specific forms of violence will depend on the RM and corresponding moral motive people are using. For example, collateral damage, wherein some innocents are sacrificed in order to bring about a greater benefit, should be seen as more morally right when people are relating according to MP, but should be seen as more morally reprehensible when people are relating according to CS, wherein we are all in this together and anyone’s pain is my own pain. Similarly, when relating according to EM, people will feel that a person is required by equality to respond to violence with the same violence in return, but when relating according to AR, people will feel that violence may be committed only by superiors toward subordinates, not vice versa.
The book ends with a very brief coda reflecting on the nature of theory and the merits of inductively generating theory and broad explanations by observing and comparing the widest possible range of naturally occurring phenomena.
The authors recommend a question for any encounter with violence:
- Is it morally motivated?
- Which RM is the person constituting?
- Which constitutive phases is the violence intended to realize?
- What are the metarelationships that facilitate or inhibit the violence?
- What led the perpetrator to use violence to regulate the relationship, rather than alternative means?
MY TAKE ON IT:
I always was doubtful about the typical characterization of violence as something abnormal and done by especially bad people. There are plenty of examples of highly violent people becoming absolutely normal and well-behaving or absolutely normal people becoming extremely violent. One of such examples would be Germany after WWII. Millions of former German soldiers who survived the war came home and mainly behaved as peaceful and nice people. From 1939 to 1945, these soldiers killed many millions of civilians, including children. Sometimes they did it reluctantly, sometimes enthusiastically, but always diligently.
Nevertheless, after the war, there was no wave of violence or explosion of crime in Germany. This example nicely supports the main points of this book that violence is seldom related to psychological problems of individuals but rather prompted by the cultural norms and prevailing at the moment ideology of society. I also find the author’s modeling of violence pretty convincing and supporting evidence comprehensive enough to agree with most of his points. The only thing that I think is overcomplicated is the author’s recommendations on the elimination of violence. I like the way hunter-gatherers handled in-group violence: starting with mocking and contempt, slowly increasing pressure, and, if necessary, quick elimination of irreparably violent individuals by all group members. The same could not be fully applied to violence between states due to extreme costs of contemporary wars, but complete economic isolation, denial of access to technology, and other forms of pressure could do the trick. Overall, I think that the only way to prevent violence is making retaliation or suppression of it inevitable and so costly for the perpetrator that the very idea to use it would become unthinkable.
20211204 – Doom
The main idea is to apply historical analysis and comparison to a contemporary situation characterized by the COVID pandemic and the Cold War with China, then clarify all the challenges resulting from this. The author also reviews several ideas about the cyclical character of society’s development and the variety of non-cyclical catastrophic events, both natural and artificial.
The author begins with his attendance of Davos just when COVIS pandemics had been starting and then describes the allure of doom and uncertainty of catastrophic events. He defines five categories of unpreparedness, which he characterizes as political malpractice:
- Failure to learn from history
- Failure of imagination
- Tendency to fight the last war or crisis
- Threat underestimation
- Procrastination, or waiting for a certainty that never comes
The author points out the lack of incentives for preparedness:” Leaders are rarely rewarded for what they did to avoid disasters—for the non-occurrence of a disaster is rarely a cause for celebration and gratitude—and more often are blamed for the pain of the prophylactic remedies they recommended.” At the end of the introduction, the author discusses some statements of Elon Mask about the future possibilities of singularity or destruction of the civilization and concludes that it is all unknowable.
- The Meaning of Death
This chapter discusses a death, its representation in literature and pop culture, its philosophical meaning, its statistics, and its retreat in recent times due to advances in medicine and improved quality of life:
The author completes this chapter by pointing out the difficulties in quantifying the impact of various disasters, including economic and military disasters. He also referred to locational specifics, noting that COVID was 150 times less deadly than the Spanish flu of 1918, but in New York City, many more people died in 2020 than in 1918-19.
2. Cycles and Tragedies
In this chapter, the author discusses the search for cycles of human development, including various disasters. The author refers to the variety of authors from ancients- Polybius to contemporaries such as William Strauss and Neil Howe, who proposed cycle of “High” – “Awakening” – “Unraveling” and finally a “Crisis.”, Peter Turchin’s “Secular Cycles” with four phases:
1. Expansion: Population is growing rapidly, prices are stable, and wages keep pace with prices.
2. Stagflation: Population density approaches the limits of carrying capacity; wages decrease and/or prices rise. Elites enjoy a period of prosperity, as they can command high rents from their tenants.
3. General crisis: Population declines; rents and prices fall, and wages rise. Life might improve for the peasantry, but the consequences of an enlarged elite sector begin to be felt in the form of intra-elite conflict.
4. Depression: This phase of endemic civil war ends only when the elite has shrunk to the point that a new secular cycle can begin.
He also reviewed in detail the work of Jared Diamond and his twelve-step strategy for coping with a national crisis:
The chapter’s final part discusses how language reacts to times with neologisms like SNAFU or FUBAR.
- Gray Rhinos, Black Swans, and Dragon Kings
In this chapter, the author complains that many people, including world leaders, are unfamiliar with the history of disasters and often claim that it is unprecedented, whatever the current catastrophe is. Next, the author provides a brief review of multiple catastrophic events and a brief discussion of the Chaos theory and its butterfly effect. Finally, as an excellent graphic example of huge populations constantly living at the edge of disaster, the author provides an Earthquake locations map:
This chapter is about human networking. The author starts with discussions about disasters between philosophers from Voltaire to Kant and even provides an excerpt from Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” about human psychology when one’s own minor problems are much more important than catastrophic disasters elsewhere. After that, the author refers to his previous work on networks that he summarizes in six headings:
1. No man is an island
2. Birds of a feather flock together.
3. Weak ties are strong.
4. Structure determines virality.
5. Networks never sleep.
6. Networks network. He then discusses how human networks transmit various diseases and plagues and provides a map of pilgrimages and trade routes that were used since ancient times:
5. The Science Delusion
This chapter briefly describes the impact of various infections on human societies and their history. It includes discussions about malaria that limited access to tropical areas, the plague that changed the course of Europe, smallpox that cleared up America from its native population, and so on. The chapter also reviews attempts to fight diseases, often without any understanding of them whatsoever. Finally, it looks at the successes of the late XIX and XX centuries that actually worked.
6. The Psychology of Political Incompetence
This chapter is somewhat philosophical, discussing Tolstoy’s approach to history as an uncontrolled and unpredictable movement of millions vs. a process when leaders actually control masses, at least partially. The second part of the chapter looks at political systems, especially democracy, and how they managed natural and manufactured catastrophes, especially famines and wars. Finally, the author provides a summary table for famines:
The author also discusses British-specific events and the tendency to repeat the same political mistakes over and over again. Finally, the author ends this chapter by discussing how empires fall and the impossible dreams of the next generation of leaders about restoration, which usually do not end well.
7. From the Boogie Woogie Flu to Ebola in Town
This chapter looks at the history of the 1957-58 pandemic in the USA and compares its handled then with the COVID pandemic now. He finds material deterioration in the quality of American leadership and bureaucracy despite a huge increase in their quantity and costs. He also looks at the same events, processes, and comparisons worldwide. Finally, the author compares the views of Steven Pinker and Martin Rees and concludes that Rees was correct when:” In 2002, the Cambridge astrophysicist Martin Rees publicly bet that “by 2020, bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties* in a single event.”
8. The Fractal Geometry of Disaster
This chapter is about accidental catastrophes such as Titanic or Bhopal or Challenger, or Chernobyl, caused by human imperfections or plain errors.
9. The Plagues
This chapter looks at the current COVID pandemic, its origins, development, and handling by the media, politicians, and the people. Unfortunately, all of them demonstrated high levels of incompetence and irrationality.
10. The Economic Consequences of the Plague
Here, the author discusses the pandemic’s long- and short-term economic consequences and provides some numbers based on various analyses, all huge and imprecise. Lots depend on future developments, way beyond the scope of this book. The author also allocates quite a bit of space to political polarization in America that seems to be increased with the pandemic, clearly hampering effective handling of the situation.
11. The Three-Body Problem
The final chapter is about China, its rise, and its constantly increasing aggressiveness. The author links it to COVID and other catastrophes. He notes that the China issue is the only issue in American politics in which there is a bipartisan agreement. The author also discusses other geopolitical events of recent years, concluding that we are at “the foothills of a Cold War.” He concludes that the Cold War is already underway, and all that could be done is to avoid it from turning into the Hot War.
Conclusion: Future Shocks
The conclusion pretty much summarizes the book in such a way:
- COVID-19 will be to social life what AIDS was to sexual life: it will change people’s behavior.
- Most big cities are not “over.” COVID demonstrated the difficulty of remote work
- The consequences of the pandemic are not clear, but history indicates that a comeback would make America stronger.
- There are other threads on the horizon, some of them resulting from the coming mass changes due to AI.
- The new Cold War with China is underway, and it is not clear who will win.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a pretty straightforward presentation of current and previous catastrophic events and their consequences. I am well familiar with ideas of cyclical development, and even if recent events arrived right on schedule, I still think that the future is unpredictable. I believe it depends not on some cosmic powers but on actions that people apply here and now and, if these actions are effective, we are at the brink of the new world, maybe even a lot better than our current world. The author’s attention to China and the new Cold War is fully justified. This problem had to be handled much more seriously than it was done by Trump’s administration, leave alone Biden’s appeasement. However, I think that China’s internal weakness, which is not that obvious right now, as well as America’s inner strength, will produce a very positive outcome for everybody. It will be precious for Chinese people if the final result is communists’ removal from power and real prosperity.
20211127 – The WEIRDEST People in the World
The author provided an outstanding graphical presentation of the main ideas of this book:
Prelude: Your Brain Has Been Modified
The author begins with the beautiful presentation of what reading does to people:
- Specialized an area of your brain’s left ventral occipito-temporal region, which lies between your language, object, and face processing centers.
- Thickened your corpus callosum, which is the information highway that connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
- Altered the part of your prefrontal cortex that is involved in language production (Broca’s area) as well as other brain areas engaged in a variety of neurological tasks, including both speech processing and thinking about others’ minds.
- Improved your verbal memory and broadened your brain’s activation when processing speech.
- Shifted your facial recognition processing to the right hemisphere. Normal humans (not you) process faces almost equally on the left and right sides of their brains, but those with your peculiar skill are biased toward the right hemisphere.
- Diminished your ability to identify faces, probably because while jury-rigging your left ventral occipito-temporal region, you impinged on an area that usually specializes in facial recognition.
- Reduced your default tendency toward holistic visual processing in favor of more analytical processing. You now rely more on breaking scenes and objects down into their component parts and less on broad configurations and gestalt patterns.
The author proceeds to discuss other forms of the impact of culture on the human body and psychology and then links all this to the Protestant branch of Christianity.
The author also presents essential ideas of this book:
- Religious convictions can powerfully shape decision-making, psychology, and society. Reading the sacred scripture was primarily about connecting with the divine, but the unintended side effects were big, and resulted in the survival and spread of some religious groups over others.
- Beliefs, practices, technologies, and social norms—culture—can shape our brains, biology, and psychology, including our motivations, mental abilities, and decision-making biases. You can’t separate “culture” from “psychology” or “psychology” from “biology,” because culture physically rewires our brains and thereby shapes how we think.
- Psychological changes induced by culture can shape all manner of subsequent events by influencing what people pay attention to, how they make decisions, which institutions they prefer, and how much they innovate. In this case, by driving up literacy, culture induced more analytic thinking and longer memories while spurring formal schooling, book production, and knowledge dissemination. Thus, sola scriptura likely energized innovation and laid the groundwork for standardizing laws, broadening the voting franchise, and establishing constitutional governments.
- Literacy provides our first example of how Westerners became psychologically unusual. Of course, with the diffusion of Christianity and European institutions (like primary schools) around the world, many populations have recently become highly literate. However, if you’d surveyed the world in 1900, people from western Europe would have looked rather peculiar, with their thicker corpus callosa and poorer facial recognition.
Part l: The Evolution of Societies and Psychologies
I. WEIRD Psychology
In this chapter, the author defines who are the WEIRD people: “raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” After that author provides results of multiple research results comparing these people with others, which identifies their specific characteristics:
- Self-understanding via roles, rather than relations,
- Propensity to feel the guilt as failure to meet one’s own standards rather than a shame – the failure to meet standards of others.
- High tolerance for relayed rewards (marshmallow test)
- Trust to others
- Obsession with the intentionality
The author provides several graphs comparing WEIRD people with others per these parameters and map for levels of individualism around the world, which is synonymous with the WEIRDness:
The author also provides a summary table for psychological features:
2. Making a Cultural Species
In this chapter, the author retells the story of Bill Buckley and his observations of the lives of Australian aborigines. The author refers to his previous book about cultural learning and the evolution of societies. The author defines the essential point of this chapter in such way:
- Humans are a cultural species. Our brains and psychology are specialized for acquiring, storing, and organizing information gleaned from the minds and behaviors of others. Our cultural learning abilities directly reprogram our minds, recalibrate our preferences, and adapt our perceptions. As we’ll see, culture has devised many tricks for burrowing into our biology to alter our brains, hormones, and behavior.
- Social norms are assembled into institutions by cultural evolution. As powerful norm-learners, we can acquire a wide range of arbitrary social norms; however, the easiest norms to acquire and internalize tap deeply into aspects of our evolved psychology. I’ve highlighted a few aspects of our evolved psychology, including those related to kin-based altruism, incest aversion, pair-bonding, interdependence, and tribal affiliation.
- Institutions usually remain inscrutable to those operating within them—like water to fish. Because cultural evolution generally operates slowly, subtly, and outside conscious awareness, people rarely understand how or why their institutions work or even that they “do” anything. People’s explicit theories about their own institutions are generally post hoc and often wrong.
3. Clans, States, and Why You Can’t Get Here
Here the author discusses the initial development of societies and their scaling up via intergroup competition development of the “fit” between social norm and institutions. Finally, the author presents five processes that operate intergroup competition:
- War and raiding: Any social norms, beliefs, or practices that generate greater cooperation, stronger in-group solidarity, or other technological, military, or economic advantages can spread via intergroup conflict, as groups with more competitive institutions drive out, eliminate, or assimilate those with less competitive institutions. Abelam institutions were spreading via this process in the Sepik.
- Differential migration: Whenever possible, people will migrate from less prosperous or secure communities to more prosperous and secure ones. Since immigrants, and especially their children, adopt the local customs, this differential migration drives the spread of institutions that generate prosperity and security, as more successful communities grow at the expense of less successful ones. This is what happened as the refugees created by the Abelam onslaught fled into Ilahita’s secure embrace.
- Prestige-biased group transmission: Individuals and communities preferentially attend to and learn from more successful or prestigious groups. This causes social norms and beliefs to diffuse from more successful groups to less successful ones and can drive the spread of more competitive institutions. However, since people often cannot distinguish what makes a group successful, this also results in the transmission of many norms and practices that have nothing to do with success, including things like hairstyles and music preferences. In Ilahita, the elders decided to explicitly copy the Tambaran from the successful Abelam. Along the way, Ilahita and other communities also copied the Abelam’s elaborate yam-growing magic, which probably didn’t contribute to anyone’s success.
- Differential group survival without conflict: In hostile environments, only groups with institutions that promote extensive cooperation and sharing can survive at all. Groups without these norms either retreat into more amicable environments or go extinct during droughts, hurricanes, floods, or other shocks. The right institutions allow groups to thrive in ecological niches where other groups cannot. This process can operate even if groups never meet each other.
- Differential reproduction: Norms can influence the rate at which individuals have children. Since children tend to share the norms of their community, any norms that increase birth rates or slow death rates will tend to spread. Some world religions, for example, have spread rapidly due to their fertility-friendly beliefs, such as those involving gods that eschew birth control or nonreproductive sex.
The author traces the development of tribes and clans all the way to premodern states as the process typical for all and shows its graphic representation:
Then he asks the question: why WEIRD societies move away from this path.
4. The Gods Are Watching. Behave!
The search for an answer to the question in chapter 3 leads the author to the Gods. First, he looks at behavioral differences between believers and atheists in “dictator” and other games. He then reviews the development of the religions as the necessary launchpad for contemporary societies because:” The psychological impacts of beliefs about godly desires, divine punishment, free will, and the afterlife combine with repetitive ritual practices to suppress people’s tendencies toward impulsivity and cheating while increasing their prosociality toward unfamiliar coreligionists. At a group level, these psychological differences result in lower crime rates and faster economic growth.” However, the author stresses that this does not explain the specificity of WEIRD societies.
Part II: The Origins of WEIRD People
5. WEIRD Families
Here the author begins a close investigation of WEIRD societies starting with the families. But, first, the author provides a list of typical traits:
He reviews the historical development of the family institution of WEIRD societies and recognizes a specific pattern that includes:
- Monogamous nuclear families with neolocal residence,
- Late marriage, with the average ages of both men and women often rising into the mid-20s.
- Many women never marry: By age 30, some 15–25 percent of northwestern European women remained unmarried.
- Smaller families and lower fertility:
- Premarital labor period:
All this created a very different result than the one observable in other societies.
6. Psychological Differences, Families, and the Church
In this chapter, the author concentrates on critical differences for each of which he provides supporting data and research results. These differences are:
- Kinship Intensity and Psychology
- Individualism, Conformity, and Guilt
- Impersonal Prosociality
- Prevalence of Universalism over In-Group Loyalty.
- Impersonal Punishment and Revenge
- Intentionality in moral judgment
- Analytic Thinking
In conclusion, the author presents a causal pathway for this global psychological variation:
7. Europe and Asia
In this chapter, the author demonstrates how uneven historical development of the church in Europe impacted the development of different patterns, summarizing it this way:
- The patterns we’ve seen in Europe parallel those we saw globally in the last chapter. The longer a population was exposed to the Western Church, the weaker its families and WEIRDer its psychological patterns are today. Except now, our comparisons within European countries leave much less room for alternative explanations. These patterns can’t be explained by colonialism, “European genes,” democratic institutions, economic prosperity, or individual-level differences in income, wealth, education, religious denomination, or religiosity.
- The effect of kin-based institutions on people’s psychology is culturally persistent. The adult children of immigrants, who grow up entirely in Europe, still manifest the psychological calibrations associated with the kin-based institutions linked to their parents’ native countries or ethnolinguistic groups.
- Some similar patterns of psychological variation can also be detected in other large regions, including in China and India. Crucially, while this psychological variation probably traces to regional differences in kinship intensity, its underlying causes relate not to the Church but to ecological and climatic factors that made irrigation and paddy rice cultivation particularly productive over the population’s history.
8. WEIRD Monogamy
In this chapter, the author analyses impact of monogamy on various aspects of life and even biology via changes in testosterone levels in men. This impact changed many attitudes from increasing equality because a king and commoner could have only one wife to applying intuitions and insights gained from living in monogamous nuclear families when forming towns, guilds, and religious institutions in the 10th – 11th centuries.
Part III: New Institutions, New Psychologies
9. Of Commerce and Cooperation
The author begins with a discussion of the result of anthropological studies with the use of games. Here is the representation of the results:
The overall inference is that typical Western behavior and attitudes are highly connected to market development and urbanization. Here is the author’s diagram explaining this connection:
10. Domesticating the Competition
In this chapter, the author discusses the power of competition and its impact on people’s psychology. As usual, it relates to military competition – the wars, but then it developed into the peaceful market competition. The author formulates it this way:” Europeans Made War, and War Made Them WEIRDer.” The author also stresses the role of religion, specifically monasteries, which, together with other voluntary organizations such as universities and guilds, promoted interaction between strangers and the development of trust between unrelated people. Here is the crucial point that author makes:” …our modern institutional frameworks incorporate various forms of intergroup competition that drive up people’s inclinations to trust and cooperate with strangers and may influence other aspects of our psychology. People learn to work in ad hoc teams, even if those teams are composed of a bunch of strangers. The engine of intergroup competition pushes against the within-group forces of cultural evolution, which often favor self-interest, zero-sum thinking, collusion, and nepotism. Our WEIRD institutional frameworks began developing during the High Middle Ages, as people who were increasingly individualistic, independent, nonconformist, and analytic started asserting themselves into voluntary associations, which in turn began to compete. In the long run, competition among territorial states favored those that developed ways to harness and embed the psychological and economic effects of nonviolent intergroup competition. Of course, no one designed this system, and few even realize how it shapes our psychology or why it often works.”
11. Market Mentalities
This chapter reviews how to market mentality expresses itself in some curious way:
The author also discusses time management, how work becomes virtuous, and high levels of patience and self-regulation typical for WEIRD people. He links it to the Big-5 of psychology, defines them as WEIRD-5, and stresses that non-WEIRD people demonstrate only some of these dimensions. At the end of the chapter, the author notes:” …we have explored the origins and evolution of some of the major aspects of WEIRD psychology. However, there is every reason to believe that the psychological variation we’ve seen represents only a thin slice of the total diversity that exists around the world. Moreover, in explaining some of this psychological variation, I’ve considered the influence and interaction of kin-based institutions, impersonal markets, war, benign intergroup competition, and occupational specialization. These likely capture only a small fraction of the myriad ways that cultural evolution has shaped people’s brains and psychology in response to diverse institutions, religions, technologies, ecologies, and languages. All we’ve done is poke our heads below the surface and look around. This psychological iceberg is clearly big, but we can’t tell exactly how big, or how deep into the murky depths it goes.”
Part IV: Birthing the Modern World
12. Law, Science, and Religion
Before switching to the emergence of the modern world, the author summarizes four key aspects of WEIRD psychology:
- Analytic thinking: To better navigate a world of individuals without dense social interconnections, people increasingly thought about the world more analytically and less holistically/relationally. More analytically oriented thinkers prefer to explain things by assigning individuals, cases, situations, or objects to discrete categories, often associated with specific properties, rather than by focusing on the relationships between individuals, cases, etc. The behavior of individuals or objects can then be analytically explained by their properties or category memberships (e.g., “it’s an electron”; “he’s an extrovert”). Troubled by contradictions, the more analytically minded seek out higher- or lower-level categories or distinctions to “resolve” them. By contrast, holistically oriented thinkers either don’t see contradictions or embrace them. In Europe, analytical approaches gradually came to be thought of as superior to more holistic approaches. That is, they became normatively correct and highly valued. Internal attributions:
- Internal Attributes: As the key substrates of social life shifted from relationships to individuals, thinkers increasingly highlighted the relevance of individuals’ internal attributes. This included stable traits like dispositions, preferences, and personalities as well as mental states like beliefs and intentions. Soon lawyers and theologians even began to imagine that individuals had “rights.”
- Independence and nonconformity: Spurred by incentives to cultivate their own uniqueness, people’s reverence for venerable traditions, ancient wisdom, and wise elders ebbed away. For good evolutionary reasons, humans everywhere tend to conform to peers, defer to their seniors, and follow enduring traditions; but, the incentives of a society with weak kin ties and impersonal markets pushed hard against this, favoring individualism, independence, and nonconformity, not to mention overconfidence and self-promotion.
- Impersonal prosociality: As life was increasingly governed by impersonal norms for dealing with nonrelations or strangers, people came to prefer impartial rules and impersonal laws that applied to those in their groups or communities (their cities, guilds, monasteries, etc.) independent of social relationships, tribal identity, or social class. Of course, we shouldn’t confuse these inchoate inklings with the full-blown liberal principles of rights, equality, or impartiality in the modern world.
Then the author proceeds to discuss Universal Laws, Conflicting Principles, and Individual Rights, Representative Governments and Democracy, and Protestantism as the WEIRDest religion. He then combines all of this into “Dark Matter or Enlightenment”
13. Escape Velocity
In this chapter, the author presents his view on how these psychological changes eventually led to technological changes and the industrial revolution. He specifically identifies the key technologies:
- Printing press (1440–1450 CE)
- Steam engine (1769)
- Spinning mule (1779)
- Vulcanized rubber (1844–1845)
- Incandescent light bulb (1879)
Another fascinating approach is the author’s positing “collective brain” that produced the contemporary technological world. Here is the graph of the growth of such brain:
At the end of the chapter, the author provides an excellent concise summary:” To close, let’s summarize this chapter on a Post-it. To explain the innovation-driven economic expansion of the last few centuries, I’ve argued that the social changes and psychological shifts sparked by the Church’s dismantling of intensive kinship opened the flow of information through an ever-broadening social network that wired together diverse minds across Christendom. In laying this out, I highlighted seven contributors to Europe’s collective brain: (1) apprenticeship institutions, (2) urbanization and impersonal markets, (3) transregional monastic orders, (4) universities, (5) the Republic of Letters, (6) knowledge societies (along with their publications like the Encyclopédie), and (7) new religious faiths that not only promoted literacy and schooling but also made industriousness, scientific insight, and pragmatic achievement sacred. These institutions and organizations, along with a set of psychological shifts that made individuals more inventive but less fecund, drove innovation while holding population growth in check, eventually generating unparalleled economic prosperity.”
14. The Dark Matter of History
In this chapter, the author provides answers to the questions he posed at the beginning of this book:
The author also discusses other factors that could have an impact on development previously presented by Jared Diamond. He partially agrees with this approach but limits its validity to about 1000 AD, after which it is losing explanatory power, especially regarding the industrial revolution. The final part of this chapter discusses the interplay between affluence and psychology, the role or lack thereof of the genetics of different populations, and a globalized future of humanity.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the author’s approach fascinating, very logical, and pretty convincing. However, I think that he overestimates the role of Christianity and later Protestantism in the development of individualistic Western societies and psychology. I believe that it comes from the original division of Western societies into the multitude of small polities competing and fighting with each other in all areas of life. This fighting occurs at such a level that it created a sweet spot between too much division that minimizes interaction between multiple polities and people and too much concentration into one polity that would suppress intellectual diversity. This sweet spot allowed individuals to move from one polity to another, interact intellectually, and develop human capital movable from place to place. In short, even since Greek city-states, long before Christianity, Europe provided some space for individual accumulation of Human capital. It demonstrated its value beyond the narrow stretch of one’s tribe.
Moreover, constant migration between polities created the flow of such capital between the polities. Moving to places with a higher return also supported the development of individualistic attitudes when people were getting much better off without their tribe rather than within. Another critical point is that Western society developed expansive legal systems of individual property rights well before Christianity. In contrast, such systems are still not fully implemented even in the contemporary world in non-western societies. The ownership is essential because no individualism is possible without individual property of at least some resources supporting nonconformist behavior.
20211120 – Exercised
The author’s main idea is to demonstrate that physical inactivity is the preferable state not only of contemporary western people but also all known hunter-gatherers. By itself, inactivity is nearly as energy-consuming as a physical activity because the primary energy expense is the process of metabolism. Nevertheless, inactivity is still detrimental to health because the human body is a machine optimized for activity. Even if hunter-gatherers prefer to be idle, they have to walk and overall be active a lot because otherwise, they would have nothing to eat. So the second part of the book demonstrates that contemporary western people should find a way to be active or pay the price in the form of deterioration of their bodies and suffering from illnesses unknown to people forced to be physically active by the circumstances of their lives.
The author discusses his discovery that subsistence farmers in Kenia, people living close to old ways, never exercise. Moreover, if left alone, they would prefer to stay in rest, as does any regular person in the developed world. He points out that humans did not evolve to exercise, but he still agrees that it is very healthy. The author defines this as a paradox and makes the following statement:” The mantra of this book is that nothing about the biology of exercise makes sense except in the light of evolution, and nothing about exercise as a behavior makes sense except in the light of anthropology.” The author also defines here the structure of the book:” After an introductory chapter, the first three parts roughly follow the evolutionary story of human physical activity and inactivity, with each chapter spotlighting a different myth. Because we cannot understand physical activity without understanding its absence, part 1 begins with physical inactivity. What are our bodies doing when we take it easy, including when we sit and sleep? Part 2 explores physical activities that require speed, strength, and power such as sprinting, lifting, and fighting. Part 3 surveys physical activities that involve endurance such as walking, running, and dancing, as well as their effect on aging. Last but not least, in part 4 we will consider how anthropological and evolutionary approaches can help us exercise better in the modern world. How can we more effectively manage to exercise, and in what ways? To what extent, how, and why do different types and doses of exercise help prevent or treat the major diseases likely to make us sick and kill us?”
One: Are We Born to Rest or Run?
The author begins with a chapter describing the Ironman endurance competition in Hawaii and the traditional footrace in Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. He finds both grueling, arduous, and unnatural for human beings. The next step is the critic of “the myth of the athletic savage.” The author’s point is that people from the undeveloped world do not enjoy running or exercising. It is just that their everyday life forces them to apply lots of physical efforts, inadvertently preparing them for marathons and other such things. The author also reviews the UN measurement of the physical activity level (PAL) and defines it this way:” If you are a sedentary office worker who gets no exercise apart from generally shuffling about, your PAL is probably between 1.4 and 1.6. If you are moderately active and exercise an hour a day or have a physically demanding job like being a construction worker, your PAL is likely between 1.7 and 2.0. If your PAL is above 2.0, you are vigorously active for several hours a day. Although there is much variation, PALs of hunter-gatherers’ average 1.9 for men and 1.8 for women, slightly below PAL scores for subsistence farmers, which average 2.1 for men and 1.9 for women. …Here’s another, startling way of thinking about these numbers: if you are a typical person who barely exercises, it would take you just an hour or two of walking per day to be as physically active as a hunter-gatherer”.
The last part of the chapter discusses the history of exercise as nationalistic preparation for war on one hand and as the medicalized process on the other.
Part l: Inactivity
Two: Inactivity: The Importance of Being Lazy
This chapter discusses inactivity as the natural condition of humans and other primates, which are even less active than human hunter-gatherers. The author reviews research on the calories expenditure that demonstrated little difference from exercise: about 2/3 or 63% is energy spent in the condition of the rest – just to maintain metabolism. The author narrates in detail about the study conducted at the University of Minnesota during WWII that starved several healthy men, limiting them to 1500 calories until they got to extreme condition. Here is the conclusion:” The key lesson to digest from the starving men’s dramatically lower resting metabolic rates is that human resting metabolisms are flexible. Most critically, resting metabolism is what the body has opted to spend on maintenance, not what it needs to spend.”
As clarification of this lesson, the author presents energy-use options and comparison charts:
The final word here is that inactivity, if natural and the normal condition of humans is to economize energy expense. The problem is that one had to spend energy to get food and fuel, so the tradeoff was necessary, but now we can get lots of food with practically no energy expenditure, which got us out of natural balance.
Three: Sitting: Is It the New Smoking?
The main point of this chapter is that sitting, like any other inactivity, is not healthy and leads to inflammation and accumulation of fat. The author discusses the results of multiple research confirming this link and recommends an active sitting. The author also provides a picture supporting these points:
Four: Sleep: Why Stress Thwarts Rest
This chapter discusses another important activity – sleep. The main point here is that it is pretty personal, so recommendations of 8 hours and other such “one size fits all” advice are usually not correct. However, the author also presents a typical structure of sleep:
Part II: Speed, Strength, and Power
Five: Speed: Neither Tortoise nor Hare
In this chapter, the author discusses the intensity of exercise and the speed of human running, comparing it with other animals. He then discusses the pluses and minuses of long runs vs. fast runs and how they impact muscles. His conclusion supports the High-intensity interval training *HIIT” and stresses that human bodies developed for various activities so that any activity would be valuable.
Six: Strength: From Brawny to Scrawny
In this chapter, the author discusses the external presentation of physics and fashion to imitate the paleo way of life. The author reviews research on hunter-gatherers’ lifestyles and physical activities regimens. The final part of the chapter discusses muscle aging, and here is a graph demonstrating this process:
Seven: Fighting and Sports: From Fangs to Football
In this chapter, the author looks at various team sports that somewhat emulate fighting and discusses the impact of the human propensity to fight on the human body. Here is the author’s conclusion:” In the final analysis, humans are physically weaker than our ancestors not because we evolved to fight less but because we evolved to fight differently: more proactively, with weapons, and often in the context of sports. Along the same lines, we didn’t evolve to do sports to get exercise. As a form of organized, regulated play, sports were developed by each culture to teach skills useful to kill and avoid being killed as well as to teach each other to be cooperative and nonreactive. Sports took on the role of providing exercise only when aristocrats and then white-collar workers stopped being physically active on the job. Now in the modern, industrial world we market sports as a means of exercising to stay healthy (I’m still not convinced about darts). Yet true to their evolutionary roots, many sports still emphasize skills useful for fighting and hunting that involve strength, speed, power, and throwing projectiles.”
Part III: Endurance
Eight: Walking: All in a Day’s Walk; Nine: Running and Dancing: Jumping from One Leg to the Other;
In this part, the author looks in somewhat mechanical details at various activities such as walking and running. He provides a graph comparing chimps, hunter-gatherers, and westerners:
Ten: Endurance and Aging: The Active Grandparent and Costly repair Hypothesis.
The final chapter of this part looks at aging and how it developed over the ages. Here is the description of one of the experiments. It started in the mid-1960s with a group of 25 years old. The first part of the experiment looked like this:” first to spend three weeks in bed and then to undergo an intensive eight-week exercise program. The bed rest was ruinous. When they were finally allowed to arise from their beds, the volunteers’ bodies resembled forty-year-olds’ by many metrics: they were fatter, had higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, less muscle mass, and lower fitness. The eight ensuing weeks of exercise, however, not only reversed the deterioration but in some cases led to net improvements.”
The second part was conducted 30 years later:” Three decades of typical American lifestyles had not been kind to the original volunteers: they had each gained about fifty pounds, had higher blood pressure and weaker hearts, and were less fit and healthy in numerous ways. But they agreed to be studied once more as they tried to undo the consequences of thirty sedentary years with a six-month program of walking, cycling, and jogging. Fortunately, this second late-in-life exercise intervention helped the volunteers lose about ten pounds and, most astoundingly, largely reversed their decline in cardiovascular fitness. After six months of moderate exercise, the average volunteer’s blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cardiac output returned to his twenty-year-old level. Many other studies confirm the anti-aging benefits of exercise.”
So, here are alternatives presented in the graphic form:
Part IV: Exercise in the Modern World
Eleven: To Move or Not to Move: How to Make Exercise Happen; Twelve: How Much and What Type? Thirteen: Exercise and Disease
This part contains multiple recommendations and “how-to” for exercise. It also provides data about the impact of exercise on various age-related diseases. Finally, the benefits are nicely summarized in these graphs:
Here the author summarizes the final point of this book:” Researching and writing this book has convinced me that a philosophy for how to use one’s body is just as useful as a philosophy for how to live one’s life. All of us get only one chance to enjoy a good life, and we don’t want to die full of regret for having mislived it, and that includes having misused one’s body. By following deep and ancient instincts to avoid the discomfort that comes with physical exertion, we increase the chances we will senesce faster and die younger, and we become more vulnerable to many diseases and chronic, disabling illnesses. We also miss out on the vigor, both physical and mental, that comes from being fit. To be sure, exercise is no magic pill that guarantees good health and a long life, and it is possible to live a reasonably long and healthy life without exercising. But thanks to our evolutionary history, lifelong physical activity dramatically increases the chances we will die healthy after seven or more decades.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
The philosophy and supporting research presented in this book is entirely consistent with my attitude to health and exercise issues. I believe that the human body is a biological machine evolutionary optimized for 3-4 hours of daily medium-level physical activity such as walking, picking up fruits and vegetables, setting up traps, throwing projectiles, and consequently consuming a moderate amount of food obtained via these activities. As with any other machine optimized for some conditions, it would work well and last long in these conditions and could break down if it is underloaded or overloaded. Even mechanical contraptions made of steel break down if they regularly run in overdrive or get rusty if they are not used. So it seems to be a common feature of any machine, whether made out of steel or muscles. The only thing that I do not entirely agree with the author is about types of exercise. I think it should be proportionally more helpful if it imitates the physical activities of hunter-gatherers as close as possible. Such things as bicycles, tennis, and other sports could be less efficient in maintaining the human body in good shape.
20211113 – We Want Workers
Here is how the author defines it:” One underlying theme of this book is that viewing immigrants as purely a collection of labor inputs leads to a very misleading appraisal of what immigration is about, and gives an incomplete picture of the economic impact of immigration. Because immigrants are not just workers, but people as well, calculating the actual impact of immigration requires that we take into account that immigrants act in particular ways because some actions are more beneficial than others. Those choices, in turn, have repercussions and unintended consequences that can magnify or shrink the beneficial impact of immigration that comes from the contribution to widget production.”
Chapter 1 • Introduction
In the introduction, the author describes the main points of this book, which could be summarized this way:
- Immigration is not just an economic process but rather a societal change of the receiving country’s culture and mores because immigrants, legal or illegal, bring their culture and beliefs with them.
- There are always winners and losers among the native population, both economically and politically
- The official social science is not science anymore because its prominent leaders openly proclaim that it has ideological objectives to support immigration and fight xenophobes and right-wing opponents of unlimited immigration.
The author also briefly retells his own story as a child immigrant from Cuba growing in the immigrant community and succeeding in American society.
Chapter 2 • Lennon’s Utopia
This chapter is quite interesting because the author used Lennon’s “Imagine” – a beautiful song of the economically illiterate poet about global socialism and open borders to apply the logic of economic science. Here is the table demonstrating results:
After reviewing the economic consequences of open borders with the mass migration of low-skill South workers to the North, the author looks at the other flow – high-skill immigrants to the North advertised as highly beneficial due to productivity spillovers. This analysis produces another table:
The final point that the author makes in this chapter:” The fact that immigrants affect the receiving country in many other ways—changing social customs, the norms that guide everyday interactions, the cultural milieu, and the political environment—will remain hidden in the background, even though these consequences themselves have an economic impact.” The author stresses that it is not possible to know full impact of mass immigration, but one thing is clear from the work of Putnam: “Immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races tend to “hunker down.” Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.”
Chapter 3 • How We Got Here
In this chapter, the author looks at the history of immigration to the USA. Here is the graphic:
The author also discusses illegal immigration and provides an interesting note on their counting methodology:” …the Census Bureau periodically conducts surveys of the population and asks the respondents where they were born. The answers give us an estimate of how many foreign-born people are actually living in the country. In rough terms, the difference between the number of foreign-born persons actually living in the country and the number of legal immigrants who should be living in the country is the DHS estimate of the number of undocumented persons”
It is evident that nobody really knows. There is also a table demonstrating where immigrants came from, and it is no surprise that the vast majority is from Latin America. Finally, the last interesting table in this chapter show immigrants’ characteristics:
Chapter 4 • The Self-Selection of Immigrants
In this chapter, the author presents two opposite opinions. One is that they are the “best and brightest” who do well in America, and another is that they are misfits who bring crime and all kinds of calamities. The author stresses that, in reality, immigrants are different. There are many of both types, but one thing is unquestionable: they are all self-selected. Finally, he discusses various economic parameters of immigrants from different places and provides a graph demonstrating the differences:
Chapter 5 • Economic Assimilation
This chapter looks at the immigrants’ economic status over time and its link to assimilation or lack thereof. The author provides several graphs demonstrating that level of assimilation decreasing with mass immigration when the new immigrants create isolated conclaves where they can maintain their culture, language and make a living without joining an American culture. Finally, the author makes these points:
“First, rapid economic improvement during an immigrant’s lifetime is not a universal aspect of the immigrant experience, even in a country like the United States, which is typically thought of as being very socially and economically mobile.
Second, immigrants assimilate when the incentives to do so are particularly strong, and they do not when there is less need for assimilation (as when there are large ethnic enclaves).
Third, it is tempting to conjecture that the presence of mass migration before 1920 and after 1980 hindered the economic progress of those immigrant waves. Notably, the interval between those two migrations happens to be the period when restrictive immigration policies, combined with the economic debacle of the Great Depression and the political upheaval of World War II, greatly limited the number of immigrants.”
Here is one of such graphs:
Chapter 6 • The Melting Pot
In this chapter, the author discusses the workings of the Melting Pot and whether it is still working or not. Then, he looks at the conditions of immigrants’ children and finds that the usual perception of their rapid progress is somewhat overoptimistic. Here are the actual data:
At the end of the chapter, the author discusses cultural changes in America that prevent the melting pot from working correctly:
- Assimilation is a choice. It used to be very beneficial economically, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs that used to demand and reward assimilation significantly decreased these benefits.
- The political class of America used to encourage assimilation, but now it is actively resisting it
- The welfare state automatically improves the economic conditions of immigrants from developing countries, consequently changing the composition and motivations of the immigrant population.
In the end, the author concludes:”…the historical experience probably has little to teach us about the next few decades, and it should not be relied on to predict either a rosy future or a looming debacle. Instead, the lesson to keep in mind is that the melting pot will operate most efficiently when that outcome is in the immigrants’ self-interest.”
Chapter 7 • The Labor Market Impact
The author begins this chapter with the story of a meatpacking factory that, after the immigration enforcement raid, which removed the illegal immigrant workforce, hired black Americans at higher wages. The author concludes:” So what is the lesson that eludes the Cato Institute and the Center for American Progress but that Crider quickly grasped when it had to? It is not that immigrants do jobs that natives don’t want to do. It is instead that immigrants do jobs that natives don’t want to do at the going wage.”
The author provides a numerical estimate of the impact across the board:” The most credible evidence—based solely on the data—suggests that a 10 percent increase in the size of a skill group probably reduces the wage of that group by at least 3 percent.”
After that, the author reviews a natural experiment of moving a large group of immigrants from Cuba to Miami. Here is a comparison graph:
The author also retells the story of the Bush administration’s attempts to rely on the politically motivated study promoting immigration as a boon for all Americans while refusing to explain how they produced such a fantastic result. In short, here is the author’s position:” In my view, the most credible evidence on the labor market impact of immigration comes from studies that do not rely on models of hypothetical economies. Despite the many data problems that real-world studies often encounter, at least that evidence is not tainted by assumptions that offer tempting opportunities to manipulate the data and weave a narrative. The historical relation between the wages of specific skill groups and immigration into those groups summarizes what we know for sure: the earnings of the groups most affected by immigration grow at a slower rate.”
Chapter 8 • The Economic Benefits
The author first presents his modeling of economic benefits from immigration. Here is how he describes the result:” This estimate depends on the many assumptions built into the hypothetical economy. Nevertheless, the exercise says something both useful and surprising: it is mathematically impossible for this widely used framework to spit out a huge number for the immigration surplus. A $50 billion surplus in the context of an $18 trillion economy is not that big a deal; it is less than three-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. The calculation also reveals that this small surplus conceals a large redistribution of wealth. Native workers lose $516 billion, while native-owned firms gain $566 billion. If one wishes to believe that natives, on the whole, benefit from immigration and that the surplus is about $50 billion, it follows from the same calculation that native workers are sending a half-trillion-dollar check to their employers.”
The author then presents a fascinating discussion on the impact of very high skill immigration using two examples: Jewish mathematicians expelled from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and mass migration of Soviet mathematicians after the fall of the USSR. In the first case, the overall productivity of American universities improved due to the immigration of Einstein, von Neumann, and others. Still, it did not impact the productivity of the Arian professors remaining in Germany. Here is the overall picture of the productivity of their students:
A somewhat different picture appeared in the 1990s mainly because Soviet and American mathematicians worked in different fields during the Cold War. The arrival of the Soviet mathematicians crowded out Americans from the Soviet areas because the overall size of the market for mathematicians did not change:
The final part of the chapter discusses H-1B visas. Again, it provides pretty convincing evidence that the driver is not too few educated American professionals, but rather lower price of Indian professionals.
Chapter 9 • The Fiscal Impact
The author begins this chapter with a reminder that the immigrants are also human beings, in addition to being workers, which obviously has a severe fiscal impact. The author then demonstrates how statistics could be manipulating the same data to obtain different results. He does it by presenting data for the immigrant on welfare either by household (curtain #1) or by an individual (curtain #2). The trick is that children born to immigrants in the USA are not immigrants, so their welfare recipients are counted as natives. Here is the result:
The author then looks at different long-term fiscal impact calculations and finds that they are definitely negative in the short run and probably negative in the long run. Here is the author’s overall conclusion:” This conclusion contradicts the narrative that immigration is good for everyone. It also contradicts the claim that immigration is harming the average American. Instead, the reality is much more nuanced. Although the mythical average person may be unaffected, immigration creates many winners and losers. This redistribution of wealth—in an economy where the size of the native economic pie remains relatively fixed—is the key insight I have gleaned from decades of research on the economics of immigration. After all is said and done, immigration turns out to be just another government redistribution program. And this lesson sheds a lot of light on which groups are on which side of the immigration wars.”
Chapter 10 • Who Are You Rooting For?
In this chapter, the author provides a concise and very clear summary of the results of his research and insights obtained from it:
•Not everyone wants to move to the United States, and those who choose to move are fundamentally different from those who choose to stay behind. The nature of the selection, however, can vary dramatically from place to place. The United States will attract high-skill workers when we offer a higher payoff for their abilities, but the high-skill workers will stay behind if they can get a better deal at home. The fact that different kinds of people will want to move out of different countries (and that the skills they bring are not always transferable to the American setting) creates considerable inequality in economic outcomes across immigrant groups at the time of their arrival.
•Assimilation is not inevitable. The speed of economic assimilation—the narrowing of the gap in economic outcomes between immigrants and natives—depends crucially on conditions on the ground. Sometimes those conditions speed up the process, and sometimes they slow it down. In fact, economic assimilation today is far slower than it was two or three decades ago. This trend, however, masks crucial differences in the assimilation of different immigrant groups. Some groups assimilate very rapidly and some do not. Typically, groups that are more skilled and that do not have access to large and vibrant ethnic enclaves assimilate faster.
•The experience of the descendants of the Ellis Island–era immigrants shows that the melting pot did indeed melt away the differences in economic outcomes across those ethnic groups, but it took nearly a century for the melting pot to do its job. The same process may be starting to take place with the current mass migration, as the children of today’s immigrants earn higher wages and exhibit less ethnic inequality than their parents did. But we truly do not know how things will pan out in the next few decades, because the economic and social conditions that kept the melting pot busy throughout the 1900s may not be reproducible in the next century.
•Immigrants affect the job opportunities of natives. The laws of supply and demand apply to the price of labor just as much as to the price of gas. The data suggest that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers in a particular skill group probably lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent. The temptation to play with assumptions and manipulate the data, however, is particularly strong when examining this very contentious issue, so the reported effects often depend on such assumptions and manipulations. Our look inside the black box of how research is done suggests one lesson: the more one aggregates skill groups, the more likely one hides away the specific group of affected workers—making it harder to document whether immigration made anyone worse off. The more laser-focused the group of native workers examined, the easier it is to detect that immigration affected the targeted group.
•Immigrant participation in the workforce redistributes wealth from those who compete with immigrants to those who use immigrants. But because the gains accruing to the winners exceed the losses suffered by the losers, immigrants create an “immigration surplus,” a net increase in the aggregate wealth of the native population. However, the surplus is small, about $50 billion annually. That calculation also suggests a half-trillion-dollar redistribution of wealth from workers to firms. The surplus could be much larger, if there are many exceptional immigrants and if some of the unique abilities brought by those immigrants rub off on the native workforce.
•The welfare state introduces the possibility that the gains measured by the immigration surplus might disappear if immigrants are net users of social assistance programs rather than net contributors. There is little doubt that immigrants receive assistance at higher rates than natives, creating a fiscal burden in the short run. In the long run, immigration may be fiscally beneficial because the unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable and will require either a substantial increase in taxes or a substantial cut in benefits. Immigrants expand the taxpayer base, perhaps helping to spread out the burden. It is extremely difficult to accurately measure the fiscal benefit in the long run, however, because much depends on the assumptions made about the future path of taxes and government spending.
•It is probably not too far-fetched to conclude that, at least in the short run, the economic gains captured by the immigration surplus are offset by the fiscal burden of providing public services to immigrants. Given the scale and the skill mix of the immigrants who entered our country in the past few decades, the economic impact of immigration, on average, is at best a wash. This near-zero effect conceals a substantial redistribution of wealth from workers to firms.
•The argument that open borders would exponentially increase the economic gains from immigration depends crucially on the perspective of immigrants as workers rather than immigrants as people. The multi-trillion-dollar gains promised by the proponents of open borders could quickly disappear (and even become an economic debacle) if immigrants adversely influence the social, political, and economic fabric of receiving countries. In the end, the impact of open borders will depend not only on whether the movers bring along their raw labor and productive skills, but also on whether they bring the institutional, cultural, and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book pretty much confirms my understanding of the immigration problem with the wealth of data and excellent analysis of this data. I think that immigration, as just about everything else, is not “good” or “bad”, but rather “it depends” proposition. It depends on the types and quality of immigrants and the types and quality of their supporters. There are three different types of immigrants:
- the ones who come to obtain a better life at somebody else’s expense, correctly believing that the American welfare state would provide this opportunity
- the ones who come to earn better life by using opportunities that America offers, but generally reject assimilation because they consider their own culture superior to the American culture
- the ones who want to become Americans and ready and able to put in the effort necessary to do it, not only because they want to get better returns on their effort, but also because they value the opportunity to be free as only Americans could be.
I think that the best solution would be to establish such processes that would filter out the individuals of the 1st type, provide temporary status for the individuals of the 2nd type, and provide all necessary help to individuals of the 3rd type.
However, I think that this is only partially relevant to the problem. The immigrants do not have control over borders – politicians do. And politicians do all they can to open these borders, and they do it for one and only reason – transfer wealth away from the American middle class to themselves. The immigrants, especially illegal, are just a conduit for such transfer. Any other reasons the politicians come up with: humanitarian consideration, empathy, and other staff is just a cloud of smoke to conceal real motives. The motive of enrichment is common for both republicans and democrats, but the latter have another, maybe even more powerful, motive – political power.
The Democratic party is inherently racist and conducts its calculations based on race with the hope of achieving a permanent majority by using a coalition of non-whites against whites. Their dream is to actually recreate the old slave-owning South, which used to have a small caste of planters (by the way, a few of them black), black slaves working the fields, and a stupid white racist majority accepting economically inferior status in exchange for the pride of belonging to “superior” race. The civil rights movement of the 1960s demonstrated that most whites are not stupid racists anymore and prefer good economic opportunities to racial pride with poverty. The new arrangement the Democratic party hopes to establish would be automated and globalized production, with wealth concentrated in the hands of the government-controlled by a small caste of credentialed people (some of them black or brown) and distributed from the top-down, with black and brown minority/majority supporting this caste and accepting economically inferior status in exchange for the pride of belonging to “superior” race. The open borders are just a tool to achieve this minority/majority demographics.
20211106 -The Logic of Violence in Civil War
The main idea is to present the author’s theory of violence in civil wars. This theory includes such core notions as selective vs. indiscriminate violence, five levels of control distribution between political actors: 2 areas of complete control of one side, two areas of incomplete control, and one contested area where neither side dominates, and a considerable role of information collected via denunciations and support of the population. The author not only formulated his theory but also provided massive empirical support based on data from multiple civil wars, especially on the Greek Civil war, which is the author’s specialty.
The introduction includes discussing historical puzzles when some villages are massacred during various civil wars, but others nearby remain untouched. It also discusses the meaning of civil wars, the book’s goals, the road map of the book, and a bit of the history of the project.
Here is the author’s definition:” Civil war is defined as armed combat within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outset of the hostilities.”
And here is the author’s high-level description of the book:” I begin with a simplified and abstract characterization of violence in civil war, yet one that stands on well-specified conceptual foundations. I analytically decouple civil war violence from civil war. I show that despite its many different forms and the various goals to which it is harnessed across time and place, violence in civil war often displays some critical recurring elements. Rather than just posit this point, I coherently reconceptualize observations that surface in tens of descriptive accounts and demonstrate that seemingly random anecdotes tend to be facets of the same phenomenon. The positive component of the book consists of two parts: a theory of irregular war and a microfoundational theory of violence (with two strands: indiscriminate and selective). Unlike existing work, the theory stresses the joint character of civil war violence, entailing an interaction between actors at the central and local levels, and between combatants and noncombatants. This interaction is informed by the demands of irregular war, the logic of asymmetric information, and the local dynamics of rivalries. Hence the theory differs from existing accounts of violence that stress exclusively macrolevel motivations and dynamics, pinpoint overarching and preexisting cleavage structures, and characterize violence as “wanton,” “indiscriminate,” or “optimal” from the users’ point of view.
From the theory, I specify a model of selective violence that is consistent with the theoretical characterization, in which the interaction between actors operating at different levels results in the production of violence in a systematic and predictable way. This exercise yields counterintuitive empirical predictions about the spatial variation of violence at the microlevel, which I subject to an empirical test using data I collected in Greece. The empirical test confirms the explanatory power of the theory in a limited setting, whereas evidence from a wide array of civil wars suggests broader plausibility. Of course, the general validity of the theory awaits further empirical testing.
Finally, I explore two implications of the theory, looking first at mechanisms of “intimate” violence and then at how the modalities of violence identified can help inform our understanding of cleavage formation – that is, how and to what degree national-level or “master” cleavages map onto local-level divisions.”
This chapter repeats the author’s definition of civil war and discusses its various examples, starting with the ancient Greeks. This discussion is mainly about different forms of the violence, its process, outcomes, and specifics of occurring in Peace and War. The author also discusses here the scope of violence, its aims, and production:
In this chapter, the author discusses what he calls “pathologies” of the literature about wars and violence. These pathologies include five biases:” the partisan bias (taking sides), the political bias (equating war with peace), the urban bias (overlooking bottom-top processes), the selection bias (disregarding nonviolence), and the overaggregation bias (working at too high a level of abstraction).” After this definition, the author reviews each bias in detail with extensive reference to examples in the professional literature.
Here is how the author describes the content of this chapter:” I reconstruct, specify, and contrast four general arguments inspired by different theoretical traditions. The first thesis, present in many historical and descriptive accounts, flows from Thomas Hobbes’s insight linking the breakdown of political order to violence. The second, transgression, points to domestic armed challenge as being transgressive of established norms, thus triggering violence. The third account, polarization, can be found in historical and sociological research and stresses deep ideological or social divisions, highlighting the predictably violent effects of what Carl Schmitt described as total enmity. The last thesis stresses violent responses triggered by security concerns related to the technology of warfare practiced in civil wars. I review several theoretical and empirical facets of these arguments and select the last thesis as the most appropriate theoretical foundation for a theory of violence in civil war.”
Before going into detail about the theoretical traditions, the author describes the exceptional barbarity of civil wars. In such conflicts, the victims are often noncombatants well familiar with each other. Then, the author analyzes the Hobbesian breakdown of society during the civil war using specific parameters, such as:” brutalization, revenge, security dilemma, and medievalization.”
The analysis of the transgression comes down to a discussion of lawful vs. unlawful warfare. The author refers to the historical distinction between” Bellum hostile and Bellum Romanum or Guerre mortelle.”
For the polarization, the author looks at causes of conflict, whether they are ideological, ethnic, or something else: ” The causes of polarization may be found at the intersection of structural conditions, political institutions, and the action of political entrepreneurs who succeed in turning real or perceived differences into polarized politics. At the individual level, polarization manifests itself as “fanaticism”: an uncompromising and passionate commitment for a particular cause that overcomes other connections between people and leads to a willingness to shed one’s own blood as well as the blood of others. Exemplary statements are encountered in most conflicts.”
After that, the author discusses the technology of warfare:
- Irregular war as a revolutionary war
- Irregular war as “medieval” war
- Irregular war as a struggle for security
At the end of the chapter, the author concludes: “Four different theoretical accounts for violence in civil wars – breakdown, transgression, polarization, and warfare – have been identified, reconstructed, and discussed in this chapter, in order to clarify the choice of foundation on which to build the current theory of violence in civil wars. Each account has great merit and continues to stand as a strong basis from which to answer a variety of questions surrounding civil war and violence. Violence is a complex phenomenon, and it clearly encompasses multiple processes and mechanisms. Ultimately, they must be operationalized and tested empirically. Nevertheless, a deductive theory of violence in civil war must arise from a simple and clear foundation.”
4 A Theory of Irregular War I: Collaboration
This chapter lays out the first part of a theory of irregular war as the foundation on which the author builds a theory of civil war violence. The author discusses the relation between irregular war and geographical space and derives key implications for the nature of sovereignty in civil war. The author then turns to the issue of popular support, where he distinguishes between attitudinal support (preferences) and behavioral support (actions). The author argues in favor of a framework that makes no assumptions about the underlying preferences of the vast majority of the population and only minimal assumptions about behavioral support, in which complex, ambiguous, and shifting behavior by the majority is assumed, along with a strong commitment by a small minority. Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the institutional context within which interactions between political actors and civilians take place.
5 A Theory of Irregular War II: Control
This chapter analyzes the relation between collaboration and control and argues that military resources generally trump the population’s prewar political and social preferences in spawning control. In turn, control has a decisive impact on the population’s collaboration with a political actor. However, the amount of military resources required for the imposition of complete and permanent control in a country torn by civil war is enormous and, therefore, typically lacking. This places a premium on the effective use of violence as a key instrument for establishing and maintaining control – and thus for generating collaboration and deterring defection; in turn, effective violence requires discrimination.
The author presents two main propositions:
Proposition 1 The higher the level of control exercised by an actor, the higher the rate of collaboration with this actor – and, inversely, the lower the rate of defection.
Proposition 2 Indiscriminate violence is counterproductive in civil war.
In brief: “…to be effective, violence must be selective.”
6 A Logic of Indiscriminate Violence
This chapter specifies the logic driving indiscriminate violence. Proposition 2 posits that indiscriminate violence is counterproductive in civil war contexts. If this is so, then why is it observed so often? Addressing this puzzle calls for a theory of indiscriminate violence. The author begins by examining how and when indiscriminate violence is observed. Next, he discusses its logic and specifies the conditions under which it is counterproductive. The author then reviews four arguments that account for why indiscriminate violence is observed, despite its apparent counterproductivity, including the specious observation of indiscriminate violence because of truncated or misinterpreted data and its commission as a result of ignorance, cost, and institutional constraints. The author also argues that indiscriminate violence emerges when it does because it is much cheaper than its selective counterpart. Yet, any “gain” must be counterbalanced by its consequences. Thus, indiscriminate violence is more likely either under a steep imbalance of power between the two actors or where and when resources and information are low. In the absence of a resolution of the conflict, even indiscriminate actors are likely to switch to more selective violence.
Here are reasons that, the author believes, lead to indiscriminate violence:
- The Artifact: “The low visibility of selective violence may lead to a gross overestimation of indiscriminate violence.”
- The Ignorance: “Ultimately, ignorance must be qualified as a cause of indiscriminate violence because political actors often seem aware of its deleterious effects from the outset.”
- The Cost: “Identifying, locating, and “neutralizing” enemies and their civilian collaborators one by one requires a complex and costly infrastructure.” It is a lot cheaper to apply violence indiscriminately.
- Institutional Distortions: the author uses the American war in Vietnam as an example when leadership overinvested in firepower and neglected information collection and analysis.
The author also provided a graph for consequences:
7 A Theory of Selective Violence
The author presents the following argument:” Selective violence presupposes the ability to collect fine-grained information. The most effective way to collect it is to solicit it from individuals, which explains the ubiquity of the practice of denunciation in civil war. Denunciation is central to all civil wars, with the probable exception of a subset of civil wars where no actor attempts to obtain the collaboration of members of groups that allegedly support its rival and where all relevant information is in the public domain, conveyed by visible individual identities.” Selective violence is possible only if political actors have access to information that allows identifying targets. Consequently, the author looks in detail at sources of such information – denunciation and what motivates people to do it. The author also uses the economic approach to this process as presented in the following graphs:
The author also presents some math describing this process. At the end of the chapter, he concludes:” This chapter has specified a theory of selective violence in civil war as a joint process, created by the actions of both political actors and civilians. The key resources around which the process is arrayed are information and violence. Political actors need information in order to be able to target selectively, to distinguish from among the sea of civilians those who are abetting the enemy. Civilians have information, which they provide through denunciation, which can be either political, or, more likely, malicious, in hopes that the violence of the political actors will be directed against those denounced. There is, significantly, a great potential for abuse in such a system, but violence need only be perceived as selective in order to avoid the pitfalls of indiscriminate violence. Denunciation will only occur in such situations in which its benefits, be they psychological or material, outweigh the predicted costs; the most significant cost would be retaliation, quite possibly in the form of a counterdenunciation by the victim or the victim’s family to the other political actor. Hence, denunciation will only occur when potential denouncers perceive the political actor as able to protect them from retaliation.”
8 Empirics l: Comparative Evidence; 9 Empirics II: Microcomparative Evidence
In these two chapters, the author provides empirical evidence related to his theory of violence. The author collects this evidence from multiple sources with the most detailed information from the author’s area of expertise: the Greek civil war in the 1940s.
The intimacy here relates to the specific character of civil wars when fighters are neighbors, often know each other, and have the know-how to maximize damage and suffering. The author explicitly analyses all kinds of denunciations, their circumstances related to the type of war: occupation, ethnic, ideological, anti-colonial, and so on. The summary:” This chapter has provided a theoretical account of the nature and causes of intimate violence in civil war, one derived from the theory of selective violence and its focus on the joint production of violence. This account helps solve a key puzzle: political violence is supposed to stand at the exact opposite pole of criminal violence, yet both share a critical common feature: intimacy. In doing so, this chapter reconciles two separate research programs long perceived to be incompatible with each other: one focusing on small-scale interpersonal violence (exemplified by Gould 2003) and one focusing on large-scale political violence. By alluding to a process through which the grand issues of the conflict and the actual dynamics on the ground connect to each other (or fail to), this chapter also lays the foundation for the next and final chapter, which elaborates the theoretical implications of this disjunction.”
11 Cleavage and Agency
The author makes a key point in this chapter that civil wars are complex events, not easily fit into simple ideological or ethnic cleavage. Here is the author’s characterization:” …actions in civil wars, including “political violence,” are not necessarily political and do not always reflect deep ideological polarization. Identities and actions cannot be reduced to decisions taken by the belligerent organizations, to the discourses that are produced at the center, and to the ideologies derived from the war’s master cleavage. Hence, an approach positing unitary actors, inferring the dynamics of identity and action exclusively from the master cleavage and framing civil wars in binary terms is misleading; instead, local cleavages and intracommunity dynamics must be incorporated into theories of civil war, as illustrated by the theory of selective violence. Second, and counter to Hobbes, civil war cannot be reduced to a mere mechanism that opens up the floodgates to random and anarchical private violence. Private violence is generally constrained by the logics of alliance and control – that is, by national elites and supralocal actors. Civil war fosters a process of interaction between actors with distinct identities and interests. It is the convergence between local motives and supralocal imperatives that endows civil war with its intimate character and leads to joint violence that straddles the divide between the political and the private, the collective and the individual.”
Here the author restates the goal of this book as:” to specify exactly if, how, when, where, and for whom violence “pays.” Simply put, indiscriminate violence is an informational shortcut that may backfire on those who use it; selective violence is jointly produced by political actors seeking information and individual civilians trying to avoid the worst – but also grabbing what opportunities their predicament affords them. In both instances, violence is never a simple reflection of the optimal strategy of its users; its profoundly interactive character defeats simple maximization logics while producing surprising outcomes, such as the relative nonviolence of the “front lines” of civil war.” The author also makes an interesting statement that “civil wars privatizes politics.” In the end, the author briefly describes the current state of the field of history and psychology of wars and tries to define the place of his book within this field.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me, this book was very educational, opening a point of view I had not really considered before. Somewhat surprising was the extent to which control of the location and power of political actors to inflict violence defines people’s behavior. I was also slightly intrigued by the dynamics of selective vs. indiscriminate violence that the author describes so well and with so much empirical support. I also think that the author is absolutely correct about the complexity of civil wars and intermixing of private and political, especially as it is expressed via denunciations. One big lesson, quite applicable to the current ongoing cold civil war in the USA, is that, like any war, the side capable of inflicting more damage on the opponent in the right places at the right time will win. So the approach of seeking common ground and compromise could be a losing strategy, at least until complete control is established over the political landscape.
20211030 – Facing Reality
The author’s main idea is to call attention to the dismal condition of the American polity that is under severe stress due to racial tensions and identity politics. The author is afraid that the American creed, which he defines as a multiracial and mainly classless society, is falling apart. Therefore, he calls to action, rejuvenating and restoring this creed. Consequently, the author allocates the bulk of the book to demonstrate the real differences between races in IQ and crime rates with factual data and statistics. However, he points out that racial discrimination directed against Whites and Asians and designed to suppress their statistical advantages is not just unfair but dangerous. If Whites, who are the majority of the population, become another special interest group, the society in its current form could not survive.
The author defines current reality as the struggle for America’s soul, and he wrote this book to clarify two facts that people are afraid to look at:” The first is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different means and distributions of cognitive ability. The second is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different rates of violent crime. Allegations of systemic racism in policing, education, and the workplace cannot be assessed without dealing with the reality of group differences.”
Chapter One: The American Creed Imperiled
The author presents his understanding of the American creed as expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” and then describes the recent American history of the successful civil rights movement. Then the author moves to describe developments of the XXI century that challenged this American creed. The key component of this development is identity politics, defined this way:” The core premise of identity politics is that individuals are inescapably defined by the groups into which they were born – principally (but not exclusively) by race and sex – and that this understanding must shape our politics.” The author also defines another component that he intends to defy: “…the premise that all groups are equal in the ways that shape economic, social, and political outcomes for groups and that therefore all differences in group outcomes are artificial and indefensible. That premise is factually wrong. Hence this book about race differences in cognitive ability and criminal behavior.”
Chapter Two: Multiracial America
This chapter begins with the description of multiracial America:
After describing the general racial breakdown of the population, the author discusses the racial geography of multiracial America. It includes the big cities which went from the white majority to the minority. The total population of big cities (500,000+) is 127 million people, or 39% of the population. Outside the big cities, the European percentage raises to 71%. The author also presents the color-coded map of racial distribution:
Chapter Three: Race Differences in Cognitive Ability
In this chapter, the author presents his position on the race’s average cognitive ability in the groupings. His contentions are:
- When Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Latins take tests that are related to cognitive ability, their group results have different means.
- Race differences between Africans and Europeans in cognitive test scores narrowed significantly during the 1970s and 1980s, but the narrowing stopped three decades ago.
- Scores on today’s most widely used standardized tests, whether they are tests of cognitive ability or academic achievement, pass the central test of fairness: They do not underpredict the performance of lower-scoring groups in the classroom or on the job.
The author also refers to several specific studies and explains how to interpret the results. For example, here is the table demonstrating group variance:
At the end of the chapter, the author discusses the meaningfulness of these findings.
Chapter Four: Race Differences in Violent Crime In this chapter, the author uses a similar statistical approach to analyzing the racial group differences in criminal activities. The data mainly relate to 13 states of the USA and summarize in several tables that all demonstrate similar trends. Here is the summary of the findings.
Chapter Five: First-Order Effects of Race Differences in Cognitive Ability
In this chapter, the author enumerates the effects of cognitive deficiencies. For example, in the job market, these are the impacts:
- Measures of cognitive ability and job performance are always positively correlated.
- The size of the correlation goes up as the job becomes more cognitively complex.
- Even for low-skill occupations, job experience does not lead to convergence in performance among persons with different cognitive abilities.
- For intellectually demanding jobs, there is no point at which more cognitive ability doesn’t make a difference. Increases in IQ scores are statistically associated with increases in productivity at every level of cognitive ability.
For impacts on educational achievement, the author provides the statistical result of the admission tests to professional training.:
At the end of the chapter, the author presents the consequences of affirmative actions:
“The 2014–2018 American Community Survey found that Africans, at 13 percent of the population, accounted for only 3.6 percent of CEOs, 3.7 percent of physical scientists, 4.4 percent of civil engineers, 5.1 percent of physicians, and 5.2 percent of lawyers. Latin percentages in those prestigious occupations ranged from 5.3 to 7.6 percent, but Latins are almost 18 percent of the population, so their underrepresentation was nearly the same.
The picture flips when race differences in cognitive ability and job performance are taken into account. Africans and Latins get through the educational pipeline with preferential treatment in admissions to colleges and to professional programs. Their mean IQs in occupations across the range from unskilled to those requiring advanced degrees are substantially lower than the mean IQs for Europeans in the same occupations. Race differences in measures of on-the-job performance are commensurate with the differences in cognitive ability.
I think it is fair to conclude that the American job market is indeed racially biased. A detached observer might even call it systemic racism. The American job market systemically discriminates in favor of racial minorities other than Asians.”
Chapter Six: First-Order Effects of Race Differences in Crime
In this chapter, the author reviews the consequences of high crime levels of minority groups. The author looks at big cities and finds that many crimes and arrests occur in specific zip codes. He links it to the stunted economic activity: the result of high cost and even danger of doing business in the high crime areas. The author also reviews the multiple political interventions and government expenses, none of which produce sustainable improvement. Similarly, the high crime protected by massive grievances industry makes policing defensive when police officers are concerned more with protecting themselves than anything else. The author also discusses small-city and rural America, where crime is much lower and, interestingly enough, much less varies by race.
Chapter Seven: If We Don’t Face reality
The final chapter represents the author’s sum of all fears. He laments his previous neglect regarding identity politics as just a college student game and states his belief that it now presents an existential threat to America. His big fear is that the white majority respond to growing defamation and discrimination against it with its own identity politics. The author provides parallel to BLM movement and warns:” “The question asks itself: If a minority consisting of 13 percent of the population can generate as much political energy and solidarity as America’s Blacks have, what happens when a large proportion of the 60 percent of the population that is White begins to use the same playbook? I could spin out a variety of scenarios, but I don’t have confidence in any of them. I am certain of only two things.
First, the White backlash is occurring in the context of long-term erosion in the federal government’s legitimacy. Since 1958, the Gallup polling organization has periodically asked Americans how much they trust the federal government to do what is right. In 1958, 73 percent said “always” or “most of the time.” Trust hit its high point in 1964, when that figure stood at 77 percent. Then it began to fall. By 1980, only 27 percent trusted the government to do what is right. That percentage rebounded to the low 40s during the Reagan years, then fell to a new low, 19 percent, in 1994. It rebounded again, hitting a short-lived high of 54 percent just after 9/11. Then it plunged again, hitting another new low, 15 percent, in 2011. It has been in the 15–20 percent range ever since. A government that is distrusted by more than 80 percent of the citizens has a bipartisan legitimacy problem.”
In the end, the author calls:” The return to an embrace of the American creed must be a celebration of America’s original ideal of equality under the law.” He believes that it is possible if the supporters of the American creed on both sides of the political divide start expressing their support loudly and actively. They should also stop demonizing each other, express the belief that the people on the other side also love this country, and start looking for compromises.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I generally agree with the author that the balkanization of America currently underway could lead to tremendous pain and suffering. To me, the idea that non-elite whites would sheepishly agree to be second-class citizens and passively suffer all kinds of restrictions and humiliations to pay for sins of the past seems to be just plain unrealistic. However, I do not think that accurate restatement of racial groups deficiencies would help with this problem. Actually, I believe that elite whites who actively promote identity politics are not just well familiar with statistically lower IQ and high crime rates of blacks and Hispanics but count on it to help them stay in power. Nothing could be more threatening to some mid to upper-level bureaucrat or politician than some lower-middle-class high IQ kid striving to move up and push this bureaucrat out of the comfy place. Therefore, for such bureaucrats and politicians, the identity politics that would substitute this dangerous kid with a lower IQ but a racially correct alternative is just too great of an instrument to fend off this threat. The best way to correct this issue is to disregard statistical differences and demand an individual approach with double-blind selection for candidates to any preferred and competitive position. Anything else should be treated as open racism, regardless of whether it is anti-black, anti-white, or anti-Hispanic. The individuals at the higher levels of government, educational, or corporate hierarchies should be immediately fired and treated the same way afterward as sexual predators, so people would be alerted if they move in nearby areas.
20211023 – Escaping Paternalism
The main idea is to review behavioral economics at a very detailed level and demonstrate that its promoters’ claims are often excessive, often based on research isolated from reality, and greatly simplify rationality or lack thereof in human behavior. However, the overriding objective of this book is to provide viable intellectual tools for rejection of the attempts to limit individual freedom via the coercive intervention of bureaucrats and politicians into individual decision-making under the pretense of better knowledge of what people need than these people themselves.
The Rise of the New Paternalism
The Old versus the New Paternalism
A Sampling from the Behavioral Paternalist Agenda: Sin Taxes, Default Enrollment in Savings Plans, Cooling-Off Periods, Risk Narratives, Graphic Images, Employee-Friendly Terms in Labor Contracts, Outright Bans;
A Gauntlet of Challenges
Caveats and Clarifications: Arguments versus Policies, Behavioral Arguments for Nonpaternalist Policies, Freedom and Autonomy;
People, Not Puppets
This introduction describes the new paternalism recently developed from behavioral economics. Authors suggest that it is different from old paternalism, which stated that elite experts better know what is best for people than people themselves. The new paternalism forfeits this claim and claims not to dictate but discover peoples’ wants. The new paternalists also claim to know how to make better decisions, and they want the power to nudge people to act correctly. The authors define the key objective of the book as:” presenting the conceptual and consequentialist case against behavioral paternalism. Inasmuch as the case for behavioral paternalism rests on its supposedly beneficial consequences, our response in most respects constitutes an immanent critique.”
2 What Is Rationality?
Explicit and Implicit Components of Purposeful Behavior
Rules as a Tool of Rationality
Bounded Rationality and the Limits of Models
The Functional Value of Biases and Errors
Positive, Normative, and Prescriptive
This chapter defines the new notion of inclusive rationality:” Inclusive rationality means purposeful behavior based on subjective preferences and beliefs, in the presence of both environmental and cognitive constraints. This notion of rationality preserves the core notion of purposefulness, and in that sense, it should seem familiar. But unlike other notions of rationality – many of which were invented for modeling purposes but have since taken on a life of their own – inclusive rationality does not dictate the normative structure of preferences and beliefs a priori. Instead, it allows a wide range of possibilities in terms of how real people select their goals, form and revise their beliefs, structure their decisions, and conceptualize the world. Their preferences and beliefs may be inchoate, incomplete, inconsistent, mutable, and dependent on context. Inclusive rationality can thus encompass choices and strategies that would not make sense under more restrictive notions of rationality.” The authors present specific features of inclusive rationality and discuss how it differs from formal rationality and irrationality. They also discuss conscious and unconscious components of purposeful human behavior, bounded rationality that limits human reasoning abilities, and resulting deficiencies in human actions in achieving the best available results. Finally, the authors provide the list of issues that pretty much invalidates behavior economists’ claim to be able to improve people lives by manipulating their behavior in the “correct” direction:
- They may assume, in accordance with ordinary conversational norms, that experimenters provide only information that is relevant to solving the problem – i.e., no irrelevant or “tricky” information. They do not immediately assume the experimenters are trying to fool them.
- They may resist the distinction between the validity of a syllogistic inference (e.g., “People with red hair are Martians, John has red hair, therefore John is a Martian”) and the truth of a conclusion itself (John is not a Martian). Normally, in everyday life, it is the truth that is more important.
- They may not assume that prior probabilities about something – such as the likelihood that someone has a disease – must be equal to the “base rates” from the population provided to them. Instead, their priors may be affected by their evaluation of the significance of the base rates to a particular problem in front of them – say, whether a specific person who chose to visit the doctor and chose to take a test has the disease. Treating priors in this way is fully consistent with the subjectivist Bayesian view that prior probabilities are subjective – a fact frequently ignored in the rush to deem subjects “irrational.”
- They may not agree with model-builders on the informational equivalence of different descriptions of a situation. Instead, they may infer implicit information or advice from how a problem is presented. For example, they may perceive an important difference between a stated probability of success equal to 0.7 and a stated probability of failure equal to 0.3. Perhaps the former conveys greater optimism, despite the formal mathematical equivalence of the two statements. Conversational norms and expectations do not always align with logic and probability theory. The former can be adaptive in the real world while the latter is adaptive on experimental tests. Which is more important?
- They may attach satisfaction or utility to things other than what the analysts expect. For instance, they may value an object more because it is theirs already. Or they may care about feelings of gain and loss experienced during the experiment, not just how much money they have when they leave the laboratory. Or they may gain satisfaction purely from having a particular belief, irrespective of its truth (“My wife is beautiful and my children are gifted”).
Finally, at the end of the chapter, the authors clearly state their position:” The simple fact that individuals do not behave in accordance with standard theories is not evidence of failure in this broader normative sense. It is certainly not evidence in favor of fixing their behavior. The norms of standard neoclassical rationality are not prescriptions for better behavior. Behavioral economists have unfortunately accepted the prescriptive relevance of the received theory even as they have rejected its predictive accuracy in a wide range of behavior. In this book, the authors are mainly concerned with the normative and prescriptive aspects of rationality. Therefore, their disagreement is with both standard and behavioral economics, given that both are wedded to the same prescriptive view of rationality.
3 Rationality for Puppets:
The Axioms of Preference Rationality
Neoclassical Rationality as the Behavioral Welfare Standard
The Origin of Neoclassical Rationality in Economic Theory
Rational Violations of “Rational Preference”: Preference Discovery, Preference Formation, Economizing on Cognitive and Noncognitive Effort, Preference Rotation, Illustrative Examples;
What About the Money Pump?
Description and Redescription
The Non-Sequitur of Resolving Preference Inconsistencies
Interpreting Behavioral Inconsistency
Authors’ Conclusions: “Behavioral paternalists rest their case on the evidence that normal people violate basic tenets of rationality. But what do they mean by rationality? It turns out behavioral economists use the same definition of rationality as their neoclassical counterparts. Neoclassical or “puppet” rationality rests on two axioms – completeness and transitivity – that together impose a form of consistency on the structure of people’s preferences. Other characteristics of neoclassical rationality, such as framing invariance and independence of irrelevant alternatives, derive from these more basic axioms. Although behavioral paternalists have rejected neoclassical rationality as a positive description of human behavior, they have nevertheless maintained it as a normative standard. In this chapter, we have argued that this was a mistake. The axiomatic definition of rationality was developed primarily, if not entirely, for positive (i.e., descriptive or explanatory) analysis. The axioms justified the use of utility functions, an important step along the path to proving propositions such as the existence of a competitive market equilibrium. They made economic models mathematically tractable, and they facilitated the generation of testable hypotheses. In short, they enabled the creation of simple, functional, and often quite useful puppets to populate economic models, thereby satisfying the needs of the model-builders. But however useful the neoclassical axioms may have been for positive purposes; they never had a strong normative justification. They may be violated in many reasonable ways. Normal people may be found in the process of discovering their preferences, or even the process of creating them. They may decide, consciously or otherwise, that the costs of completely rationalizing their preferences exceed the benefits of doing so, and so they allow their preferences to remain inconsistent. A variety of examples show that people’s preferences may be incomplete or intransitive for understandable reasons that do not obviously demand correction. Our inclusive notion of rationality allows for all of these deviations from the neoclassical structure. The simplistic axioms of puppet rationality cannot capture the breadth and variety of how real human beings evaluate options and make choices. Many of the problems discussed in this chapter are not new, but presenting them together here demonstrates that the normative case for puppet rationality is extraordinarily weak, at least outside of special cases. The neoclassical axioms of preference may have descriptive or explanatory value – or, given the work of behavioral economists, they may not. But to call them “rationality requirements” is normatively arbitrary. If we gave them another name – say, “structural assumptions” – they would still perform the function for which they were created without deceiving economists or the public into thinking that nonconforming behavior or preferences need to be “fixed.”
4 Preference Biases:
Intertemporal Trade-Offs and Time-Discounting Inconsistencies: Time: Objective and Subjective, Preference Reversal, Intransitive Intertemporal Choices, Do Nonstandard Intertemporal Decision-Makers Suffer?
Endowment Effects: Loss Aversion as a Cause of Endowment Effects, Status Quo Bias as a Cause of Endowment Effects; Mere Ownership as a Cause of Endowment Effects, Contrary Evidence;
Affective Forecasting: Impact Bias as Procedural Artifact? Cognitive Feedback: Attention and Learning;
Authors’ Conclusions: “In this chapter we have shown that the phenomena known as “preference biases” are far more complex than they are often portrayed to be. Sometimes more penetrating analysis shows that the evidence for their existence is weak. Other times they are (at least partially) artifacts of imprecise or misdirected questioning of subjects. And yet other times, evidence suggests they may function as adaptations to a broader set of behavioral and environmental factors than are normally considered. Even more importantly, the normative analysis of biases is often arbitrary. Biases are typically demonstrated by showing inconsistencies in preferences and then choosing one set as normative. But alleging inconsistencies does not in itself enable us to say which preferences are normative – particularly when other behavioral factors play a role in generating the behavior in question. For example, there is good evidence to suggest that both short- and long-run discount rates are “contaminated” and therefore neither has a clearly better claim to superiority. Or, as we’d rather say, neither is contaminated; they just are what they are. Agents do not typically exhibit pure neoclassical preferences. And this is not obviously a bad thing. In the real world, agents need not be worse off by their own lights when their behavior exhibits what outside observers would regard as bias.”
5 The Rationality of Beliefs:
The Functions of Beliefs and Learning: Optimistic Beliefs;
Rational Violations of Classical Logic: Logical Equivalence versus Informational Equivalence, Wason Selection Test: Confirmation Bias? Nonmonotonicity, Wason Selection Test as Maximizing Expected Information Gain;
The Conjunctive Effect:
Conversational Norms and the Maxim of Relevance, Interpretation of Intersecting Events as Mutually Exclusive, Inductive Confirmation of Hypotheses;
Bayes’ Rule, Base-Rate Neglect, and Belief Revision: Base Rates Are Not Necessarily Prior Probabilities, Changing Causal Structure and Base-Rate Instability, False-Alarm Rates and Hit Rates May Not Be Independent of Base Rates, Magnification of Errors in a Noisy World, Not All Base Rates Are Created Equal;
Availability Bias and Frequency Judgments: Pinning Down the Meaning of Availability, Diagnosticity and Availability,
Overconfidence and Probability Judgments: How to Make Guesses on Trivia Questions, Degrees of Confidence versus Subjective Probabilities, Subjective Probabilities and Objective Frequencies, When Is the Implied Expectation Consistent with the Actual Frequency, When Is the Implied Expectation “Overconfident” but the Frequency Judgement Accurate? Coherence or Adapted Frameworks? The Data: Extreme Format Dependence, The Economics of Prediction: Trade-Offs
Authors’ Conclusions: “We have covered a wide range of cognitive operations and phenomena in this chapter – from the logical to the probabilistic. We have found that the literature on cognitive biases, vast though it is, tends to fail in one fundamental respect: recognizing the pragmatic and contextual nature of rational decision-making. The mistake that is constantly and consistently made is to equate rationality with an abstract system of thought unrelated to the purposes and plans of individuals in the environments in which they find themselves. In a related manner, the literature also fails to take into account the socially legitimate expectations of the participants in experiments that the researchers should not provide extraneous or misleading information. These are problems that go to the very heart of the “heuristics and biases” research program. Our perspective, by contrast, recognizes that beliefs serve a purpose – and that purpose is not always truth-tracking. Beliefs can direct attention and provide motivation. Beliefs can be a source of direct satisfaction. Even when beliefs perform a primarily truth-tracking function, there is no uniquely correct way to form and revise beliefs in real-world environments characterized by uncertainty and change. Most importantly, people in realistic contexts do not think like strict logicians and probability theorists – nor should they. While economists and psychologists are greatly concerned with the deductive consistency of beliefs, regular people need not share that concern. People acquire tools for different types of challenge in the wild, and they should not be expected to abandon all such tools when they enter the laboratory. In the study of beliefs, just as in the study of preferences, behavioral researchers have made the mistake of conflating their models with reality – and, when reality fails to conform to the model, judging it deficient.”
6 Deficient Foundations for Behavioral Policymaking:
Context-Specificity of Psychological Findings: Contextuality of the Effect of Moods and Emotions, Contextuality of Loss Aversion and Reference Points, Context-Specificity in Context
Generalizing Quantitative Results from the Lab to the Real World: Stated Choice and Revealed Choice, Quantitative Generalizability, Reproducibility, The Population of Relevance;
Failure to Account Adequately for Incentives: Incentives: Clearing Away the Confounds, Incentive Effects, Learning and Experience, Learning and Errors, Policy Implications of Learning and Incentives
Small-Group Debiasing: Small Groups and Task Performance (Conjunctive Effect. Wason Selection Test. First-Order Stochastic Dominance. Probability Assessment. Probability Matching.) Small Groups and Preference Biases (Myopic Loss Aversion. Present Bias.)
Self-Regulation: Context-Dependence of Self-Regulation, Automaticity of Much Self-Regulation, Biases as Self-Regulation, Self-Regulatory Processes Mistaken for Agent Naivete, Significance of Underestimating the Extent of Self-Regulation, Self-Regulation and the Opportunity Costs of Executive Function
Authors’ Conclusions: “In a survey of the literature on the use of technical research by policy actors, Bogenschneider and Corbett (2010) identify twelve criteria by which the usefulness of research is evaluated for policy purposes. Among those, three stand out as having critical significance for the behavioral and cognitive research we have discussed in this chapter. They are:
- Definitiveness: Results are clear.
- Generalizability: Results are applicable to the jurisdictions or populations of interest to the policymaker.
- Policy Implications: The links between results and policy are clear.
Unfortunately for behavioral paternalism, the research displays serious deficiencies with regard to these criteria. First, it is hard to claim that the results are clear-cut. When incentives, learning, group debiasing, and self-regulation have not been adequately assessed, it is not clear which results we can confidently export to the world of public policy. Second, generalizability is uncertain because the results are highly contextual, the rate of reproducibility is unknown and possibly quite low, and the populations studied do not necessarily resemble those targeted by policy. Finally, the link between results and policy recommendations is far from clear. What appear as biases may in specific contexts actually be debiasing techniques. And the failure of quantitative results to generalize opens the real possibility of overcompensating for perceived biases. Recall our introductory remarks that the claims in this chapter constitute immanent criticism. Even if we agreed that the standard rationality norms of neoclassical and behavioral economics provided an appropriate basis for prescribing public policy, the tools that real people use to achieve their goals and to shape their own behavior are multifarious and resistant to description by simple models. To craft policies that help agents reduce their biases, we still need reliable scientific knowledge about how, when, and where those biases operate, their strength in real-life settings, the extent to which agents learn about and correct biases on their own, and so on. These questions are still largely unanswered, although we can hope that future research will begin to fill in the blank spaces.”
7 Knowledge Problems in Paternalist Policymaking:
A Typology of Knowledge Requirements: Knowledge of True Preferences, Knowledge of the Extent of Bias, Knowledge of Self-Debiasing and Small-Group Debiasing, Knowledge of Dynamic Impacts on Self-Regulation, Knowledge of Counteracting Behaviors, Knowledge of Bias Interactions, Knowledge of Population Heterogeneity;
The Empirical Search for True Preferences: Augmented Revelatory Frame Approach, Unified Behavioral Revealed Preference
The Practically Insurmountable Knowledge Problem;
Authors’ Conclusions: “Behavioral economists overreach when they confidently attribute the increase in 401(k) participation after automatic enrollment to countering biases by creating sticky defaults that people passively accept. Much of the increase in participation is likely attributable to improved information and the recommendation effect of the new default. Biases such as anchoring, limited salient options, and loss aversion do not seem as plausible in this context. While present bias may be operative with regard to decision-making costs, its importance is diminished as decision complexity is reduced. Since automatic enrollment improves the information position of agents, it reduces the complexity of decision-making. Thus, even if employees overweight initial decision costs due to present bias, the impact of this bias is substantially reduced due to the fall in decision costs. Policy-oriented behavioralists are also mistaken in suggesting that the welfare effects of automatic enrollment are unambiguously positive to all groups. There are heterogeneous effects, especially in the class of former optimizers and, in general, when the knowledge of the planners is poor. There are distributional effects within the category of retirement benefits. In addition, there are also a number of substantial unintended consequences, including increased consumer debt and early withdrawal of retirement savings. These have been ignored in previous research because of the narrow focus on 401(k) activity. Behavioralists are also likely mistaken in claiming that the greater use of automatic enrollment observed in recent years is a consequence of private paternalism. The appearance of such may be the result of an excessively loose or vague concept of paternalism – a topic we will address directly in Chapter 10. Employers in the United States are not currently required to provide an automatic-enrollment default. They are still maximizing profits and engaging in mutually advantageous bargains with their employees. How likely is it that they have suddenly become benevolent paternalists under the influence of behavioral economics? Finally, we have to wonder why so much attention has been focused on automatic enrollment versus other options. Given the evidence that information and recommendation effects play a significant role in explaining default stickiness, why not advocate explicitly providing the information and recommendations in question?68 Such messages could be provided in the presence of either the traditional default or active choice. Changing the default rule seems a very indirect way of conveying messages that could be provided directly, especially since implicit messages can easily be misunderstood. We surmise that the focus on automatic enrollment derives from the presence of other (or additional) motives – specifically, the desire to increase retirement savings irrespective of whether that is what any particular individual truly wants”.
8 The Political Economy of Paternalist Policymaking
Rational and Irrational Mechanisms of Government Failure
Concentrated Benefits, Diffuse Costs
Bootleggers and Baptists
Public choice Paternalism in Practice: The Definition of Overweightness and Obesity, Regulation of Cigarettes and Vaping, USDA Nutritional Guidelines
Public Sector Irrationality
Types of Bias that Affect Policymaking: Action Bias, Overconfidence and the Illusion of Explanatory Depth, Confirmation Bias, Availability and Salience Effects, Affect and Prototype Heuristics, Present Bias and Hyperbolic Discounting
Authors’ Conclusions: Even if policymakers (including voters) were perfectly rational, there would be good reason to doubt that democratic government would generate well-designed paternalist policies. The diffusion of responsibility and accountability inherent in our form of government creates poor incentives for people to become well informed and to demand policies that genuinely track the public interest. Instead, legislators and bureaucrats will tend to promote laws and regulations that garner the support of highly motivated parties, including moralists and activists who want to promote values that others may not share, experts and academics who wish to see their research make an impact, and special-interest groups that stand to benefit financially from paternalistic laws. If policymakers are subject to the same cognitive biases that behavioral economists attribute to regular people, we should expect the policymaking process to be even worse. Such biases are more worrisome in the public sector than the private sector, because the public sector offers far worse incentives for people to curb their irrational tendencies and numerous opportunities to indulge pleasing beliefs and prejudices at low cost. Furthermore, poor decisions in the public sector almost by definition affect large numbers of people who have little or no input into them; in other words, government policy is rife with externalities. As a result, we should expect paternalist (and other) policymaking to suffer from the effects of action bias, overconfidence, the illusion of explanatory depth, confirmation bias, availability bias, and other cognitive limitations. Although we have considered both rational and irrational contributors to government failure separately, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how they interact. Behavioral economics indicates that certain types of argument will be more likely to succeed in the political sphere: those that emphasize the urgent need for taking action; those that downplay complexity and emphasize simple solutions; those that flatter people’s current beliefs and attitudes; those that rely on easily recalled and vivid illustrations of alleged problems; and those that emphasize the benevolent goals of the policies in question. Given these tendencies, we should expect the highly motivated parties mentioned earlier to exploit them to advance their agendas. Activists, academics, experts, and industry lobbyists have strong rational incentives to craft their policy proposals so as to maximize their appeal to irrational voters and legislators.
9 Slippery Slopes in Paternalist Policymaking
The Logic of Slippery Slopes
Gradients and Vagueness in Behavioral Paternalism: How Behavioral Paternalism Creates New Gradients, How Behavioral Paternalism Exploits Existing Gradients;
Slippery Slopes with Rational Policymakers: Altered Incentives Slopes, Authority and Simplification Slopes, Expanding Justification Slopes, Application to Smoking Bans, On Experts versus Ordinary People;
Slippery Slopes with Cognitively Biased Policymakers: Action Bias, Overconfidence, and Confirmation, Present Bias and Hyperbolic Discounting,
Availability and Salience, Framing and Extremeness Aversion, Affect and Prototype Heuristics
The Paternalism-Generating Framework
Rejoinders to Behavioral Paternalist Responses
Authors’ Conclusions: “Slippery-slope arguments are often treated dismissively, sometimes even consigned to lists of logical fallacies as a form of spurious reasoning. Without doubt, some writers do deploy slippery-slope arguments in a casual and imprecise way by simply asserting that seemingly attractive policy A will lead to clearly awful policy B. But this error does not mean all slippery-slope arguments are invalid. Rather, it means that we should pay attention to the specific processes – often probabilistic rather than deterministic – that connect one policy to another, as we have sought to do in this chapter. The slippery slope is a broad category, and many different mechanisms and processes fall under its umbrella. As such, it can be difficult to describe all slippery slopes in summary form. Nevertheless, certain features characterize many, though not all, types of slope. In particular, slopes tend to occur in the presence of vague and ill-defined concepts – what we have called gradients. Consequently, the same features of behavioral paternalism that are problematic on a conceptual level also raise concerns on a pragmatic level. In the earlier chapters of this book, we argued that the theoretical and empirical foundation of behavioral paternalism is fundamentally vague. It relies on distinctions that often fail to hold up under scrutiny, and that in any case cannot be reliably identified in practice. Policies based on such unstable moorings are almost bound to drift from their original justifications, because the justifications were weak and imprecise to begin with. Another common feature of slippery slopes is the presence of multiple and diffuse decision-makers, many lacking in accountability for outcomes. When accountability is lacking due to diffuse responsibility, delayed consequences, and unclear objectives, decision-makers will typically display both rational ignorance and rational irrationality. Whatever cognitive biases are present in the private sector will tend to be magnified in the public sector, thereby creating the room necessary for the gradual drift of policies away from their initial purposes as well as the purposeful movement of policy under the influence of moralists and rent-seekers. If behavioral paternalists genuinely care about personal autonomy, as some claim, then they ought to take slippery-slope concerns more seriously than they have thus far. And if behavioral paternalists care about the implementation of thoughtful and well-designed policies, as virtually all of them claim, then they should worry about how slope processes could warp their nuanced justifications and well-intentioned plans. To ignore the risk of slippery slopes is to commit an error that behavioral paternalists often caution against: focusing on present gains at the expense of future (and uncertain) losses. To repeat: the slope risk must be counted among the costs of the initial policy intervention. What, then, can be done to avoid, or more realistically to minimize, the danger of paternalist slopes? We have suggested some of the answers in this chapter. They involve, among other things, rejecting the paternalism-generating framework suggested by behaviorally minded thinkers, and adopting instead a paternalism-resisting framework. Such a framework would emphasize the distinction between voluntary and coercive action, as well as the distinction between private and state action.”
10 Common Threads, Escape Routes, and Paths Forward
Common Threads: The Complexity of Inclusive Rationality, The Indeterminacy of Welfare Criteria, The Role of Incentives and Learning, The Rush to Policy
Escape Routes: Revert to Objective-Welfare Paternalism, Appeal to Obviousness, Shift the Burden of Proof, Loosen the Definition of Paternalism, Rely on the “Libertarian Condition”, Invoke the Inevitability of Choice Architecture, Focus on the Irrational Subset of the Population, Rely on Extreme Cases, Treat Behavioral Paternalism as a Toolbox, Invoke Fiscal Externalities
Recommendations: Replace Puppet Rationality with Inclusive Rationality, Reject the Paternalism-Generating Framework, Have Reasonable Expectations of Policymakers, Maintain Important Distinctions
A Better Path Forward: The authors begin discussion here with the Harm Principle: “the idea that we are justified in coercing people only for the purpose of preventing harm to others “. The authors stated their believe that the behavioral paternalists reject this principle, sometimes explicitly demanding coercion use for “the better good” but sometimes implicitly by trying create conditions when people forced to do what is “good for them”. The author also stated their position:” we believe others may be making mistakes that harm their well-being, we are free to tell them so. We may even beg and plead if the situation warrants. The advantage of this approach is that it offers potentially useful information and perspective while still respecting people’s right to choose for themselves. After all, they probably have information and perspective on their own lives that outsiders lack. “
The authors also discuss the promotion of behavioral economics as a form of self-help, which they do not mind: “Behavioral economists and psychologists have produced a great body of insights on how human beings make decisions. While many of these insights are not as solid as we’ve been led to believe, they have nevertheless advanced our knowledge of the human mind. Our exploration of behavioral paternalism has forced us to question ideas and concepts that we once thought unassailable. We have, among other things, become more acutely aware of the failings of the neoclassical model of preferences and beliefs – which in turn drove us toward the notion of inclusive rationality that we have presented in this book. Therefore, we should not be understood as rejecting the whole of behavioral economics.” What they do mind are attempts to use it as tools of coercive policymaking: “It is jarring, to say the least, to see social scientists pointing out the errors of private individuals – and then failing to consider that social scientists and policymakers are also subject to error. It is frustrating to see behavioral researchers demonstrating the complexity of real decision-making processes – and then ignoring that complexity when recommending regulatory corrections of those very processes. It is simply baffling to see behavioral economists showing how real behavior deviates from neoclassical norms – and then insisting that behavior must conform to those norms or else be judged deficient.”
In the end, the authors reject entirely the behavior economists’ attitude: “…approach humanity from a position of presumed superiority, like puppet masters correcting the behavior of errant puppets.” Instead, the authors insist on:” approach them as fellow human beings doing the best they can, trying to improve their own choices, and offering friendly advice on how others might do the same.”
In short, the experts’ advice should remain advice, not a coercive policy.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I greatly appreciate the authors’ effort in producing such a detailed and effective review of behavioral economics and the attempts of its application to policymaking. It is clearly a critical part of the contemporary clash of ideologies. On one side is the ideology of freedom when people do what they want if it does not harm anybody. On the other side is the ideology of the “better” people making decisions for everybody. It is interesting how people transformed the latter ideology throughout time: from God-appointed kings and aristocracy to all-knowing “scientific” socialist and communists, to “scientific” experts wielding not theoretical works of Marks, but experimental research of behavioral economics. As far as I am concerned, I do not want anybody making decisions for me for the simple reason that whatever is the decision, I’ll pay the cost. This book also reasonably demonstrated that the scientific foundation of behavioral economics is quite shaky, so the quality of decisions would be poor. I hope that the currently growing wave of rejection to the rule of “betters” would get solid scientific backing from this book and other works like that.
20211016 – Unsettled
The main idea is to present the vast amount of actual data about climate change to help people understand the problems and their scales. The author makes the point that climate change is real, but its consequences are greatly exaggerated. Unfortunately, elites’ global political and financial interests drive this exaggeration to the extreme with the use of unreliable models, massive propaganda in the media, and corruption of science. The author also presents potential solutions and a set of requirements for them.
The introduction begins with the facts from US assessment that remain mainly unknown because they contradict the prevailing propaganda narrative:
- Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.
- Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.
- The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.
The author then presents his credentials as a scientist and administrator with enough clout to convene a scientific workshop to assess the condition of climate science. Here is what the author discovered:
- Humans exert a growing, but physically small, warming influence on the climate. The deficiencies of climate data challenge our ability to untangle the response to human influences from poorly understood natural changes.
- The results from the multitude of climate models disagree with, or even contradict, each other and many kinds of observations. A vague “expert judgment” was sometimes applied to adjust model results and obfuscate shortcomings.
- Government and UN press releases and summaries do not accurately reflect the reports themselves. There was a consensus at the meeting on some important issues, but not at all the strong consensus the media promulgates. Distinguished climate experts (including report authors themselves) are embarrassed by some media portrayals of the science. This was somewhat shocking.
- In short, the science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.
Because the author is a natural and honest scientist and despite being a lifelong Democrat, he felt compelled to write this book and provide accurate information about the current condition of climate science, which is very different from the media’s portrayal.
Part l: The Science
Part I clarifies how the climate has changed, how it will change in the future, and the impact of those changes. It also offers some basics about the official assessment reports that we look to for answers to those questions.
Chapter 1. What We Know About Warming
The chapter explains both the importance and challenges of obtaining quality observations of the earth’s climate (which is not the same as its weather) over many decades; it also reviews some of the indications of a warming globe and puts them in a geological context. This chapter provides information about trends in climate via multiple graphs and pictures. Generally, it demonstrates some warming, but it is not catastrophic and even practically insignificant at the long-term scale. Here are the essential graphs:
Chapter 2. Humble Human Influences
Chapter 2 then turns to how the earth’s temperature arises in the first place—from a delicate balance between warming sunlight and cooling heat radiation. We’ll see that this balance is disturbed by both human and natural influences, with greenhouse gases playing an important role. Because the climate is very sensitive, we need an accurate and precise understanding of those influences and how they’ve changed over time.
This chapter demonstrates the complexity of factors impacting climate, some of them causing the warming and some cooling:
Chapter 3. Emissions Explained and Extrapolated
The most important human influence on the climate is the growing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. This is the focus of Chapter 3—particularly, how the connection between CO2 emissions and concentration diminishes the prospect of even stabilizing growing human influences. Here is the graph of greenhouse emissions growth:
Chapter 4. Many Muddled Models
Computer models of how the climate responds to human and natural influences are the subject of Chapter 4. Drawing upon the author’s half-century involvement with scientific computing and the authorship of a pioneering text on that subject, he shows how they work, what they tell us, and some of their deficiencies. These dozens of sophisticated models are what scientists use to make their projections. What the media cites in their coverage—alas, they give results that differ significantly not only from each other but from observations (that is, they’re right in a few ways, but wrong in many others). In fact, the results have become more divergent with each generation of models. In other words, as our models have become more elaborate, their descriptions of the future have become less certain. In other words, contemporary models are far from being scientifically sound tools because they too much rely on assumptions and, most important, have little predictable power:
At the end of the chapter, the author concludes: “The uncertainties in modeling of both climate change and the consequences of future greenhouse gas emissions make it impossible today to provide reliable, quantitative statements about relative risks and consequences and benefits of rising greenhouse gases to the Earth system as a whole, let alone to specific regions of the planet.”
Chapter 5. Hyping the Heat
Chapter 5 is the first of five chapters dealing with contradictions between the science and the prevailing notion that “humans have already broken the climate,” exploring areas where the facts and popular perception are at odds (and probing the source of those discrepancies). This chapter focuses on record high temperatures in the US—they’re no more common today than they were in 1900, yet you wouldn’t know that from the misrepresentations of an allegedly authoritative assessment report. The chapter discusses the regularly occurring hype about temperature records and provides data demonstrating that it is not justified:
He concludes:” There have been some changes in temperature extremes across the contiguous United States. The annual number of high temperature records set shows no significant trend over the past century nor over the past forty years, but the annual number of record cold nights has declined since 1895, somewhat more rapidly in the past thirty years.”
Chapter 6. Tempest Terrors
Chapter 6 likewise explains why experts conclude that human influences haven’t caused any observable changes in hurricanes, and how assessment reports obscure or distort that finding. Once again, the author demonstrates that there is some increase, but not that significant:
Chapter 7. Precipitation Perils—From Floods to Fires
In Chapter 7, the author describes the modest changes seen in precipitation and related phenomena over the past century, discuss their significance, and highlight some points likely to surprise anyone who follows the news—for instance, that the global area burned by fires each year has declined by 25 percent since observations began in 1998. Here are the data:
Chapter 8. Sea Level Scares
Chapter 8 offers a levelheaded look at sea levels, which have been rising over the past many millennia. We’ll untangle what we really know about human influences on the current rate of rise (about one foot per century) and explain why it’s very hard to believe that surging seas will drown the coasts anytime soon. Similarly, to other discussed parameters, sea level is rising but not that significantly and not out of historical patterns:
Chapter 9. Apocalypses That Ain’t
Chapter 9 covers a trio of oft-cited climate-change impacts (fatalities, famine, and economic ruin), predictions of which are belied by the historical record and assessment report projections, even if it’s hard to discern this when reading the reports themselves. Nevertheless, for each of these, the author demonstrates the triviality of the impact, even for worst-case scenarios. Moreover, the actual trend in death rates is going down:
Chapter 10. Who Broke “The Science” and Why
Chapter 10 takes up the question of “Who broke it?”—why the science has been communicated so poorly to decision makers and the public. The author describes how overwrought portrayals of a “climate crisis” serve the interests of diverse players, including environmental activists, the media, politicians, scientists, and scientific institutions.
Chapter 11. Fixing the Broken Science
Chapter 11 closes out Part I by describing how we might improve communication and understanding of climate science, including adversarial (“Red Team”) reviews of the assessment reports, best practices for media coverage, and what non-experts can do to be better informed and more critical consumers of all science media—but especially about the climate. Here the author provides a list of the symptoms of science manipulation:
- Anyone referring to a scientist with the pejoratives “denier” or “alarmist” is engaging in politics or propaganda.
- Any appeal to the alleged “97 percent consensus” among scientists is another red flag.
- Confusing weather and climate is another danger sign.
- Omitting numbers is also a red flag.
- Yet another common tactic is quoting alarming quantities without context.
- Non-expert discussions of climate science also often confuse the climate that has been (observations) with the climate that could be (model projections under various scenarios).
Part II: The Response
Part II begins its discussion of the response story by drawing a distinction between what society could do, what it should do, and what it will do in response to a changing climate—three very different issues often conflated, even by experts. The author also provides context for society’s response:
- Keeping human influences on the climate below levels deemed prudent by the UN and many governments would require that global carbon dioxide emissions, which have been rising for decades, vanish sometime in the latter half of this century.
- Emissions reductions would have to take place in the face of strongly growing energy demand driven by demographics and development, the dominance of fossil fuels, and the current drawbacks of low-emissions technologies.
- These barriers, combined with the uncertainty and vague nature of future climate impacts, mean that the most likely societal response will be to adapt to a changing climate, and that adaptation will very likely be effective.
Chapter 12. The Chimera of Carbon-Free
Chapter 12 illuminates the issue by discussing the formidable challenges in meaningfully reducing human influences on the climate, including the lack of progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreement. Here author reviews impact of different countries on the global emissions and how it changes over time. Two graphs represent this process:
Chapter 13. Could the US Catch the Chimera?
Chapter 13 sheds some light on the could issue by discussing the tremendous changes it would take to create a “zero-carbon” energy system in the US. Here is the illustration of the challenge:
The author discusses in details policy features required to decrease emissions in the USA.
Chapter 14. Plans B
Chapter 14 completes the response story with a discussion of “Plan B” strategies that allow the world to respond to a climate changing from either human or natural causes—adaptation, which will happen, and geoengineering, which could be deployed in extremis. Here are the key points that the author makes about adaptation:
- Adaptation is agnostic. Humans have been successfully adapting to changes in climate for millennia, and for most of that time, they did so without the foggiest notion of what (besides the vengeful gods) might be causing them. Thus, while the information we have now will help guide adaptation strategies, society can adapt to climate changes caused by natural phenomena or by human influences.
- Adaptation is proportional. Modest initial measures can be bolstered as and if the climate changes more.
- Adaptation is local. Adaptation is naturally tailored to the different needs and priorities of different populations and locations. This also makes it more politically feasible. Spending for the “here and now” (e.g., flood control for a local river) is far more palatable than spending to counter a vague and uncertain threat thousands of miles and two generations away. Further, local adaptation does not require the global consensus, commitment, and coordination that have proved so far elusive in mitigation efforts.
- Adaptation is autonomous. It is what societies do, and have been doing, since humanity first formed them—the Dutch, for example, have been building and improving dikes for centuries to claim land from the North Sea. Adaptation will happen on its own, whether we plan for it or not.
- Adaptation is effective. Societies have thrived in environments ranging from the Arctic to the Tropics. Adapting to a changing climate always acts to reduce net impacts from what they would be otherwise—after all, we wouldn’t change society to make things worse!
The author provides a very nice and information-intensive graph for future handling of emissions:
In the end, the author discusses the reasons for writing this book, its descriptive rather than prescriptive character, and his belief that climate science needs improvement. He also suggests increase research into possible measures in case of unexpected climate emergencies such as geoengineering.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like this book a lot because of its no-nonsense approach and the wealth of data presented in an easily digestible format. I also believe that humans impact the climate, and so do ants, chickens, volcanos, asteroids, and many more factors, either living or not. However, about the issue of the scale of such impact, I believe it is moderate. It creates no real danger to existence and prosperity of humanity unless the excretable part of this humanity – the global elite succeed in imposing unreasonable restriction on energy consumption and life for everybody else. Nevertheless, I am optimistic and believe that when people start feeling this impact on their wellbeing, they will respond; hopefully, they do it peacefully and use the democratic process to bring power crazies to the heel.
20211009 – Noise
The main idea is to demonstrate that errors in judgment happen all the time, and it is not a random occurrence. It is also to present the complex character of these mistakes as a combination of bias and noise, eventually recommending tools for managing this issue and maintain strict decision hygiene.
Introduction: Two Kinds of Error
The introduction presents the book’s central theme: handling human errors, and describes two types of such errors: noise and bias. It also shows graphic representation with A on target, B – noisy, C – biased, and D – a mix of noise and bias.
Part l: Finding Noise
This part explores the difference between noise and bias, showing that public and private organizations can be noisy. It reviews two areas: sentencing (public sector) and insurance (private sector).
1. Crime and Noisy Punishment
This chapter presents the result of various research projects that convincingly demonstrate judge decisions depend on many irrelevant factors such as lunchtime, weather, and whatnot. It discusses Marvin Frankel’s organization “The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights” and its legislative achievement in establishing sentencing guidelines. Here are data from the study of results:” expected difference in sentence length between judges was 17%, or 4.9 months, in 1986 and 1987. That number fell to 11%, or 3.9 months, between 1988 and 1993.” In 2005 congress changed guidelines from mandatory to advisory, and variance between sentences by different judges nearly doubled.
2. A Noisy System
This chapter discusses noise in the insurance business. First, it describes the result of the noise audit in the insurance company that discovered 55% variance in underwriters’ premium estimates, even if executives’ expectations were around 10%. It then analyses how this could happen and concludes that it resulted from the illusion of agreement. The further discussion includes psychological processes that lead to this, costs of high noise levels, and the need for regular noise estimates and measures to decrease it.
3. Singular Decisions
This chapter discusses singular decisions vs. recurrent decisions and concludes that these are also quite noisy. The main point here is singular decisions are the same as recurring decisions made only once, so people should apply the same noise-reducing technics in both cases.
Part II: Your Mind Is a Measuring Instrument
Part II investigates the nature of human judgment and explores how to measure accuracy and error. It discusses how human decisions are susceptible to both bias and noise. This part makes an interesting point:” judgment can therefore be described as measurement in which the instrument is a human mind. Implicit in the notion of measurement is the goal of accuracy—to approach truth and minimize error.”
4. Matters of Judgment
This chapter presents a case study about CEO selection as an example of the judgment process overloaded with relevant and irrelevant information. First, it offers the idea of internal signal:” The essential feature of this internal signal is that the sense of coherence is part of the experience of judgment. It is not contingent on a real outcome. As a result, the internal signal is just as available for nonverifiable judgments as it is for real, verifiable ones.” Further, it reviews ways to evaluate judgment even if results are often inconclusive. It also discusses the value of consistency and defines noise as an inconsistency that damages the system’s credibility.
5. Measuring Error
This chapter discusses how much bias and noise contribute to error. The main point here is that decision-makers should handle noise as rigorously as bias because it could cause similar levels of damage. This chapter also provides a bit of simple statistical tools relevant for measuring bias and noise.
6. The Analysis of Noise
This chapter demonstrates the use of tools to analyze noise in sentencing. It uses the breakdown of the system noise into the Level and the Pattern noises:
- Level noise is variability in the average level of judgments by different judges.
- Pattern noise is variability in judges’ responses to particular cases.
It also gives formula: System Noise2 = Level Noise2 + Pattern Noise2
The conclusion: “Level noise is when judges show different levels of severity. Pattern noise is when they disagree with one another on which defendants deserve more severe or more lenient treatment. And part of pattern noise is occasion noise—when judges disagree with themselves.”
7. Occasion Noise
This chapter discusses the noise from multiple small, difficult-to-measure factors. The repetitive estimates of unknown data demonstrated that the best assessment comes as an average of numerous estimates, with the first being usually closer to the truth. It parallels multiple individual estimates with one estimate by the crowd and finds it correct, naming it “the crowd within.” This chapter also discusses sources of occasional noise: psychological such as mood, gullibility, weather, and so on. The main point is that individuals are not constantly the same, and their behavior and decisions depend on multiple factors. It refers to interesting research demonstrating a 19% drop in granting asylum if the previous two positive asylum hearings. The conclusions are: “Judgment is like a free throw: however hard we try to repeat it precisely, it is never exactly identical.” and “Although you may not be the same person you were last week, you are less different from the ‘you’ of last week than you are from someone else today. Occasion noise is not the largest source of system noise.”
8. How Groups Amplify Noise
This chapter reviews group decision-making and finds it even noisier than individual decision-making. It occurs due to an increase in number and influence of irrelevant factors:” Who speaks first, who speaks last, who speaks with confidence, who is wearing black, who is seated next to whom, who smiles or frowns or gestures at the right moment.” The chapter reviews groups’ music downloads, various referenda, and web comments in the UK and the USA. The chapter also discusses informational cascades when a slight change in the sequence of presentations creates a path-dependent dynamic of support to one decision. The final part of the chapter discusses group polarization when one idea initially gets incrementally higher support than others later, resulting in increasingly higher support when people rush to join the majority. It generally leads to higher levels of noise and errors. The conclusion:” Since many of the most important decisions in business and government are made after some sort of deliberative process, it is especially important to be alert to this risk. Organizations and their leaders should take steps to control noise in the judgments of their individual members.”
Part III: Noise in Predictive Judgments
Part II explores predictive judgment, the use of rules and algorithms, and the superiority of these methods over humans in predictive power.
9. Judgments and Models
This chapter compares the accuracy of predictions made by professionals, by machines, and by simple rules. The conclusion is that the professionals come third in this competition. The chapter compares the new employee’s performance prediction based on human judgment and formal modeling and algorithms to reach this conclusion. The model beats humans not only in this case but also in clinical predictions. Moreover, it is true not only for formal modeling but also for modeling individual approaches. The model of a person predicts future outcomes better than this person’s judgment.
10. Noiseless Rules
This chapter explores why algorithms are better than experts and shows that noise is a significant factor in human judgment’s inferiority. Predictions are accurate to the extent that prediction matches outcome as measured by the percent concordant (PC). PC of 50% is a random match, and higher means more predictable power. Here is a nice graph for complexity increase:
The chapter analyses this and concludes that, generally, simple rules work better. However, AI machine learning produces even better results. The chapter then reviews an example of better bail decisions. In the end, the chapter discusses the reasons people distrust algorithms and rules.
11. Objective Ignorance
This chapter discusses an essential limit on predictive accuracy: most judgments are made in a state of objective ignorance because many things the future depends on can not be known. The chapter reviews the meaning of objective ignorance in-depth and provides multiple examples from pundits to judges and bail panels. One fascinating point here is the defiance of ignorance and human overconfidence, which adds a lot to the noise, lowering decision-making quality.
12. The Valley of the Normal
Finally, this chapter shows that objective ignorance affects not just an ability to predict events but even the capacity to understand them—an essential part of the answer to the puzzle of why noise tends to be invisible. The chapter also describes a large-scale longitudinal project tracing thousands of children and families over decades, analyzing predictions and outcomes. The result:” The main conclusion of the challenge is that a large mass of predictive information does not suffice for the prediction of single events in people’s lives—and even the prediction of aggregates is quite limited.” In other words, it demonstrated the difference between knowledge based on data and understanding of the situation that could produce a valid prediction. In the end, the chapter provides the following list of the limits of agreement:
- “Correlations of about .20 (PC = 56%) are quite common in human affairs.”
- “Correlation does not imply causation, but causation does imply correlation.”
- “Most normal events are neither expected nor surprising, and they require no explanation.”
- “In the valley of the normal, events are neither expected nor surprising—they just explain themselves.”
- “We think we understand what is going on here, but could we have predicted it?”
Part IV: How Noise Happens
Part IV explores psychological causes of noise, “including personality and cognitive style; idiosyncratic variations in the weighting of different considerations; and the different uses that people make of the very same scales.”
13. Heuristics, Biases, and Noise
This chapter presents three important judgment heuristics on which System 1 extensively relies. It shows how these heuristics cause predictable, directional errors (statistical bias) as well as noise. For example, these errors could be aiming at the same bull’s eye but hitting different spots or aiming at different bull’s eyes but hitting the same place. The authors discuss substitution, conclusion, and other psychological biases. They caution against blaming errors on unspecified biases and distorting evidence to fit prejudgment based on the first impressions. They also suggest that biases common for a group create systemic bias, but if biases are different, it just makes more noise.
14. The Matching Operation
This chapter focuses on matching—a particular operation of System 1—and discusses the errors it can produce. It mainly comes down to the difference in measurement scales when the exact estimate creates errors because of scaling mismatch.
This chapter turns to an indispensable accessory in all judgments: the scale on which the judgments are made. It shows that the choice of an appropriate scale is a prerequisite for good judgment and that ill-defined or inadequate scales are an important source of noise. Here authors provide the formula for measuring noisy scales:
Variance of Judgments = Variance of Just Punishments + (Level Noise) 2 + (Pattern Noise) 2
They also provide a graphic representation for punitive scales:
This chapter explores the psychological source of what may be the most intriguing type of noise: the patterns of responses that different people have to different cases. Like individual personalities, these patterns are not random and are mostly stable over time, but their effects are not easily predictable. Here is another formula:
(Pattern Noise)2 = (Stable Pattern Noise) 2 + (Occasion Noise) 2
17. The Sources of Noise
This chapter summarizes the previous discussion about noise and its components. It also proposes an answer to the puzzle raised earlier: why is noise, despite its ubiquity, rarely considered an important problem? Here is a combined graphical representation of Mean Square Error (MSE):
Part V: Improving Judgments
Part V explores ways to improve human judgment.
18. Better Judges for Better Judgments
This chapter discusses the characteristics of superior judges. Authors look at such characteristics as Intelligence and Cognitive style. They also discuss the role of true experts, who produce verifiable predictions and respect-experts – people with credentials who make unverifiable statements.
19. Debiasing and Decision Hygiene
This chapter reviews many attempts to counteract psychological biases, with some clear failures and some clear successes. It also briefly reviews debiasing strategies and suggests a promising: asking a designated decision observer to search for diagnostic signs that could indicate, in real time, that a group’s work is being affected by one or several familiar biases. The authors look at Ex Post and Ex Ante debiasing and provide some experimental data on this. They also discuss debiasing limitations. One of the methods they discuss is a decision observer with a checklist to assure proper coverage of biases and decision points. Overall, they suggest strict decision hygiene to decrease both biases and noise.
20. Sequencing Information in Forensic Science
This chapter reviews the case of forensic science, which illustrates the importance of sequencing information. The search for coherence leads people to form early impressions based on the limited evidence available and then to confirm their emerging prejudgment. This makes it important not to be exposed to irrelevant information early in the judgment process. The authors review an example of fingerprint analysis and how various biases and noise impacted its quality. They also stress the need for a second opinion that has to be independent to be meaningful.
21. Selection and Aggregation in Forecasting
This chapter reviews the case of forecasting, which illustrates the value of one of the most important noise-reduction strategies: aggregating multiple independent judgments. The “wisdom of crowds” principle is based on the averaging of multiple independent judgments, which is guaranteed to reduce noise. Beyond straight averaging, there are other methods for aggregating judgments, also illustrated by the example of forecasting. Authors here refer to Tetlock’s “Good Judgment Project” and discuss its mixed results.
22. Guidelines in Medicine
This chapter offers the review of noise in medicine and efforts to reduce it. It points to the importance and general applicability of a noise-reduction strategy previously introduced with the example of criminal sentencing: judgment guidelines. Guidelines can be a powerful noise-reduction mechanism because they directly reduce between-judge variability in final judgments. Here authors pay special attention to psychiatry, the field with deficient levels of consistency between specialists’ judgments.
23. Defining the Scale in Performance Ratings
This chapter turns to a challenge in business life: performance evaluations. Efforts to reduce noise there demonstrate the critical importance of using a shared scale grounded in an outside view. This is an important decision hygiene strategy for a simple reason: judgment entails the translation of an impression onto a scale, and if different judges use different scales, there will be noise. Here authors suggest that the use of a relative scale is more appropriate than absolutes.
24. Structure in Hiring
This chapter explores the related but distinct topic of personnel selection, which has been extensively researched over the past hundred years. It illustrates the value of an essential decision hygiene strategy: structuring complex judgments. By structuring, authors mean decomposing a judgment into its component parts, managing the process of data collection to ensure the inputs are independent of one another, and delaying the holistic discussion and the final judgment until all these inputs have been collected.
25. The Mediating Assessments Protocol
This chapter proposes a general approach to option evaluation called the mediating assessments protocol, or MAP for short. MAP starts from the premise that “options are like candidates” and describes schematically how structured decision making, along with the other decision hygiene strategies mentioned above, can be introduced in a typical decision process for both recurring and singular decisions.
Part VI: Optimal Noise
Part VI explores the proper noise level, considering that it is not possible or even preferable to eradicate it.
26. The Costs of Noise Reduction
This chapter reviews the first two of seven major objections to efforts to reduce or eliminate noise:
- First, reducing noise can be expensive; it might not be worth the trouble. The steps that are necessary to reduce noise might be highly burdensome. In some cases, they might not even be feasible.
- Second, some strategies introduced to reduce noise might introduce errors of their own. Occasionally, they might produce systematic bias. If all forecasters in a government office adopted the same unrealistically optimistic assumptions, their forecasts would not be noisy, but they would be wrong. If all doctors at a hospital prescribed aspirin for every illness, they would not be noisy, but they would make plenty of mistakes.
This chapter reviews five more objections, which are also common and which are likely to be heard in many places in coming years, especially with increasing reliance on rules, algorithms, and machine learning:
- Third, if we want people to feel that they have been treated with respect and dignity, we might have to tolerate some noise. Noise can be a by-product of an imperfect process that people end up embracing because the process gives everyone (employees, customers, applicants, students, those accused of crime) an individualized hearing, an opportunity to influence the exercise of discretion, and a sense that they have had a chance to be seen and heard.
- Fourth, noise might be essential to accommodate new values and hence to allow moral and political evolution. If we eliminate noise, we might reduce our ability to respond when moral and political commitments move in new and unexpected directions. A noise-free system might freeze existing values.
- Fifth, some strategies designed to reduce noise might encourage opportunistic behavior, allowing people to game the system or evade prohibitions. A little noise, or perhaps a lot of it, might be necessary to prevent wrongdoing.
- Sixth, a noisy process might be a good deterrent. If people know that they could be subject to either a small penalty or a large one, they might steer clear of wrongdoing, at least if they are risk-averse. A system might tolerate noise as a way of producing extra deterrence.
- Finally, people do not want to be treated as if they are mere things, or cogs in some kind of machine. Some noise-reduction strategies might squelch people’s creativity and prove demoralizing.
28. Rules or Standards?
This chapter presents the authors’ general conclusion that even when the objections to various methods such as rigid guidelines are given their due, noise reduction remains a worthy and even an urgent goal. It defends this conclusion by exploring a dilemma that people face every day, even if they are not always aware of it.
Review and Conclusion: Taking Noise Seriously
Here the authors once again summarize the main points of this book. They strongly recommend paying attention to the noise and applying massive efforts to limit the noise to acceptable levels while stressing that it is not possible and even not reasonable to remove it altogether.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this is an excellent book on the problem of poor decision-making that causes myriad issues and cost lots of treasure and, in some cases, lots of blood. The division of the problem into noise and bias is very effective, and specific suggestions of improvements via checklists, second independent opinions, explicit recognition of various biases, and, overall, strict decision hygiene could be highly valuable. However, I would not hold my breath anticipating improvements. I believe that problem is more in the absence of solid feedback for decision-makers in government and top levels of big corporations, which makes these people irresponsible and therefore uninterested in improving decision-making processes.
20211002 – Imagined Communities
The main idea is to review the origin of nations and nationalism based on the author’s suppositions that it is a cultural phenomenon that originated as the result of the printing press. This new technology prompted the new religiosity of Protestantism when people started searching for who they were not only as individuals but also as members of a community defined by language, culture, and attitudes. It is also quite often, but not always linked to unchangeable characteristics such as race, and the author demonstrates the multiracial nationalism of Creole nations.
The author begins by defining his starting point:” My point of departure is that nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word’s multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind. To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy.”
After that, he presents what he considers three paradoxes:
(1) The objective modernity of nations to the historian’s eye vs. their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists.
(2) The formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept – in the modern world everyone can, should, will ‘have’ a nationality, as he or she ‘has’ a gender – vs. the irremediable particularity of its concrete manifestations, such that, by definition, ‘Greek’ nationality is sui generis.
(3) The ‘political’ power of nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and even incoherence.
Finally, the author defines the notion of the nation:” it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”
2 Cultural Roots
The author begins the discussion of cultural roots with the popular symbol: the Tomb of Unknown Soldier. From there, he proposes:” that nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the large cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – as well as against which – it came into being.” The first such system the author discusses is a religious community, specifically Christianity, and its transition from the global Latin-based Church to multiple communities using their local languages. The second system was royal dynasties that curved, shaped, and reshaped realms through wars, marriages, and other tools. After that author discusses historical changes in apprehensions of time from the perception of static and unchangeable to historically developing process within which a nation is growing much like one unified organism with individuals being just a tiny part of it. Finally, the author discusses prosperity or lack thereof as a condition of this organism. Here is the author’s summarization of ideas presented in this chapter:” I have been arguing that the very possibility of imagining the nation only arose historically when, and where, three fundamental cultural conceptions, all of great antiquity, lost their axiomatic grip on men’s minds. The first of these was the idea that a particular script-language offered privileged access to ontological truth, precisely because it was an inseparable part of that truth. It was this idea that called into being the great transcontinental sodalities of Christendom, the Islamic Ummah, and the rest. Second was the belief that society was naturally organized around and under high centers – monarchs who were persons apart from other human beings and who ruled by some form of cosmological (divine) dispensation. Human loyalties were necessarily hierarchical and centripetal because the ruler, like the sacred script, was a node of access to being and inherent in it. Third was a conception of temporality in which cosmology and history were indistinguishable, the origins of the world and of men essentially identical. Combined, these ideas rooted human lives firmly in the very nature of things, giving certain meaning to the everyday fatalities of existence (above all death, loss, and servitude) and offering, in various ways, redemption from them.”
3 The Origins of National Consciousness
Here, the author discusses mass book printing in the Middle Ages that prompted the Reformation and became the foundation of the formalization of languages and correspondingly national consciousness. The author describes in detail the development of what he calls “print-capitalism,” concluding at the end:” We can summarize the conclusions to be drawn from the argument thus far by saying that the convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal diversity of human language created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation. The potential stretch of these communities was inherently limited, and, at the same time, bore none but the most fortuitous relationship to existing political boundaries (which were, on the whole, the highwater marks of dynastic expansionisms).
4 Creole Pioneers
This chapter is about intermixing of populations in America and elsewhere and how it created new nations from creole communities:” the growth of creole communities, mainly in the Americas, but also in parts of Asia and Africa, led inevitably to the appearance of Eurasians, Eurafricans, as well as Euramericans, not as occasional curiosities but as visible social groups.” The author also discusses the mixing of languages and overall communications, starting with Ben Franklin and newspapers. In the end, the author concludes:” By way of provisional conclusion, it may be appropriate to re-emphasize the limited and specific thrust of the argument so far. It is intended less to explain the socio-economic bases of anti-metropolitan resistance in the Western hemisphere between say, 1760 and 1830, than why the resistance was conceived in plural, ‘national’ forms – rather than in others. The economic interests at stake are well-known and obviously of fundamental importance. Liberalism and the Enlightenment clearly had a powerful impact, above all in providing an arsenal of ideological criticisms of imperial and anciens régimes. What I am proposing is that neither economic interest, Liberalism, nor Enlightenment could, or did, create in themselves the kind, or shape, of imagined community to be defended from these regimes’ depredations; to put it another way, none provided the framework of a new consciousness – the scarcely-seen periphery of its vision – as opposed to centre-field objects of its admiration or disgust. In accomplishing this specific task, pilgrim creole functionaries and provincial creole printmen played the decisive historic role”.
5 Old Languages, New Models
In this chapter, the author looks at methods and tools of nation formation in the XIX-XX centuries, especially languages:” Europe. If we consider the character of these newer nationalisms which, between 1820 and 1920, changed the face of the Old World, two striking features mark them off from their ancestors. First, in almost all of them ‘national print-languages’ were of central ideological and political importance, whereas Spanish and English were never issues in the revolutionary Americas. Second, all were able to work from visible models provided by their distant, and after the convulsions of the French Revolution, not so distant, predecessors. The ‘nation’ thus became something capable of being consciously aspired to from early on, rather than a slowly sharpening frame of vision. Indeed, as we shall see, the ‘nation’ proved an invention on which it was impossible to secure a patent. It became available for pirating by widely different, and sometimes unexpected, hands. In this chapter, therefore, the analytical focus will be on print-language and piracy.”
6 Official Nationalism and Imperialism
Here the author discusses the transformation of old dynasties from mainly royalty-based genealogies to nations based on the commonality of language and narratives. In such nations, while remaining at the top of the nation, the royals were incapable of transforming it. Instead, they had to accommodate themselves to losing the ability to control the population. It was also true for the periphery of different empires when the local elite was educated and deeply connected to imperial capitals and main population, conflicting with their loyalty to their local population. After looking at the variety of cases from India to Hungary, the author concludes:” In almost every case, official nationalism concealed a discrepancy between nation and dynastic realm. Hence a world-wide contradiction: Slovaks were to be Magyarized, Indians Anglicized, and Koreans Japanified, but they would not be permitted to join pilgrimages which would allow them to administer Magyars, Englishmen, or Japanese. The banquet to which they were invited always turned out to be a Barmecide feast. The reason for all this was not simply racism; it was also the fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging – Hungarian, English, and Japanese. And these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule. Imperialist ideology in the post-1850 era thus typically had the character of a conjuring-trick. How much it was a conjuring-trick is suggested by the equanimity with which metropolitan popular classes eventually shrugged off the ‘losses’ of the colonies, even in cases like Algeria where the colony had been legally incorporated into the metropole. In the end, it is always the ruling classes, bourgeois certainly, but above all aristocratic, that long mourn the empires, and their grief always has a stagey quality to it.”
7 The Last Wave
In this chapter, the author moves to WWI and WWII that led to the dissolution of empires and the birth of many nation-states based on linguistic, cultural, and historical commonality. The author discusses this process in several locations, from Russia in 1917 to Indonesia in the 1970s. The author stresses that this process was driven by educated part of populations of empires, that often were minorities:” As bilingual intelligentsias, however, and above all as early-twentieth-century intelligentsias, they had access, inside the classroom and outside, to models of nation, nation-ness, and nationalism distilled from the turbulent, chaotic experiences of more than a century of American and European history. These models, in turn, helped to give shape to a thousand inchoate dreams. In varying combinations, the lessons of creole, vernacular and official nationalism were copied, adapted, and improved upon. Finally, as with increasing speed capitalism transformed the means of physical and intellectual communication, the intelligentsias found ways to bypass print in propagating the imagined community, not merely to illiterate masses, but even to literate masses reading different languages.”
8 Patriotism and Racism
In this chapter, the author looks at the intertwining of patriotism and racism. The author stresses the nobility of patriotism and provides a few samples of relevant literature. The author makes the point that it is also mainly imagination:” It may appear paradoxical that the objects of all these attachments are ‘imagined’ – anonymous, faceless fellow-Tagalogs, exterminated tribes, Mother Russia, or the tanah air. But amor patriae does not differ in this respect from the other affections, in which there is always an element of fond imagining.”
9 The Angel of History
Here, the author returns to the theme of imagination giving birth to the new reality, in this case, patriotic vision giving birth to the nation that existed only in the imagination. He refers to some examples: Russia and its revolution, China, and Vietnam. The author then talks about leadership that creates new reality mainly acting in their own interests:” I emphasize leaderships, because it is leaderships, not people, who inherit old switchboards and palaces. No one imagines, I presume, that the broad masses of the Chinese people give a fig for what happens along the colonial border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Nor is it at all likely that Khmer and Vietnamese peasants wanted wars between their peoples, or were consulted in the matter. In a very real sense these were ‘chancellory wars’ in which popular nationalism was mobilized largely after the fact and always in a language of self-defence. (Hence the particularly low enthusiasm in China, where this language was least plausible, even under the neonlit blazon of ‘Soviet hegemonism.’)”
10 Census, Map, Museum
Here the author discusses how three key institutions foster nationalism and even create it in the first place: Census, The Map, and the Museum.
11 Memory and Forgetting
The author begins this chapter with a discussion about an interesting habit of people from Europe who moved to the new places to name these new places after the old ones, such as New York. Interestingly, it is not the case with Chinese or Arabs. This difference moves the author to contemplate reasons for nationalism’s origin in America in the wake of anti-colonial revolutions. He writes: “… none of the creole revolutionaries dreamed of keeping the empire intact but rearranging its internal distribution of power, reversing the previous relationship of subjection by transferring the metropole from a European to an American site.” Overall, by the end of the XIX century, this, plus biology, plus philosophy, prompted nationalistic awakening elsewhere, first of all in Europe. This awakening, in some cases, produced fratricide, and the author traces its reflection in literature. Finally, the author discusses the personification of Nations, noting that they are different because they have no clear beginning or end.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree that human cultures and imagination create nations. Still, the nations are not imaginary. They reflect the complex reality of shared characteristics such as language, culture, and mutual support. They also protect against external violence when needed and internal criminality. I think that history demonstrated many times over and over again that nations are not a given unchangeable object, but rather are forever work in process. They combine multiple groups of people into an ever-increasing whole that expands protection bubble and economic cooperation broader and broader, which would eventually cover everything and everybody, but only after decades, if not centuries of development. This process is analogous to earlier processes that made Germany, France, and other countries out of small states or provinces merging into one nation with dynamic accommodation of languages and cultures. In short, humanity develops by way of “E Pluribus Unum.”
20210925 – Cultural Evolution
Here is the author’s formulation:” This book presents a new version of modernization theory – Evolutionary Modernization theory – which generates a set of hypotheses that we test against a unique data base: from 1981 to 2014, the World Values Survey and European Values Study carried out hundreds of surveys in more than 100 countries containing over 90 percent of the world’s population.” The critical point of this theory is that human values are dependent on levels of security and economic development achieved by the people: secure and wealthy people switch to non-materialistic, secular values supportive to self-expression, individualism, and tolerant of others, who are assumed to be friendly and have similar values, while insecure and poor people retain traditional values of in-group solidarity, religion, and defense against others, who are assumed to be hostile and have entirely different values.
Introduction: An Overview of This Book
Here the author presents this book as a look at the new situation in human history. It was the situation when economic development achieved such levels that physical survival is not the primary concern of the vast majority of people anymore. At least, it is not the case in the developed world. It led to the “shift from Materialist to Postmaterialist values – which was part of an even broader shift from Survival values to Self-expression values.” In this new and secure world, people have the luxury to pursue happiness rather than survival, be tolerant to others, and have a relaxed attitude to just about everything. However, this near paradise condition was brief and is threatening now by increased automatization of everything based on AI. This development brings back insecurity and, in turn, leads to:” High levels of existential security are conducive to a more tolerant, open outlook – but conversely, declining existential security triggers an Authoritarian Reflex that brings support for strong leaders, strong in-group solidarity, rigid conformity to group norms and rejection of outsiders.”
1 Evolutionary Modernization and Cultural Change
The author begins by defining:” Evolutionary Modernization theory – which argues that economic and physical insecurity are conducive to xenophobia, strong in-group solidarity, authoritarian politics and rigid adherence to their group’s traditional cultural norms – and conversely that secure conditions lead to greater tolerance of outgroups, openness to new ideas and more egalitarian social norms.”
The author then refers to the methodology of data collection via surveys.
Classic Modernization Theory and Evolutionary Modernization Theory
Here, the author discusses Modernization theory and repeats his central thesis that evolution optimized people for survival. When survival is practically guaranteed, people move on to develop some new previously non-existing values and direct their effort to achieve these values.
Converging Evidence of the Importance of Existential Security
Here author reviews the situation when:” Working independently, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, sociologists, evolutionary biologists and historians have recently developed strikingly similar theories of cultural and institutional change: they all emphasize the extent to which security from survival threats, such as starvation, war and disease, shape a society’s cultural norms and sociopolitical institutions.”
The Rise of Postmaterialism in the West
Here the author presents the theory of intergenerational value change, which is based on two key hypotheses:
1. A scarcity hypothesis. Virtually everyone values freedom and autonomy, but people give top priority to their most pressing needs. Material sustenance and physical security are closely linked with survival, and when they are insecure, people give top priority to these Materialistic goals; but under secure conditions, people place greater emphasis on Postmaterialist goals such as belonging, esteem and free choice.
2. A socialization hypothesis. The relationship between material conditions and value priorities involves a long time-lag: one’s basic values largely reflect the conditions that prevailed during one’s preadult years, and these values change mainly through intergenerational population replacement.
The author then discusses these hypothesizes and inferences that they lead to in various areas: Cultural Change and Societal Change; Cognition and Emotions as Sources of Value Change; An Alternative Explanation: Rational Choice; Slow and Fast Cultural Change;
At the end of the chapter author presents the following list of significant predictions:
1. When a society attains sufficiently high levels of existential security that a large share of the population grows up taking survival for granted, it brings coherent and roughly predictable social and cultural changes, producing an intergenerational shift from values shaped by scarcity, toward increasing emphasis on Postmaterialist values and Self-expression values.
2. As younger birth cohorts replace older cohorts in the adult population, it transforms the societies’ prevailing values – but with long time-lags. The youngest cohorts have little political impact until they reach adulthood, and even then they are still a small minority of the adult population; it takes additional decades before they become the dominant influence in their society.
3. Intergenerational value change is shaped by short-term period effects such as economic booms or recessions, in addition to population replacement, but in the long run the period effects often cancel each other out, while the population replacement effects tend to be cumulative.
4. Intergenerational value change can eventually reach a threshold at which new norms became socially dominant. At this point, conformist pressures reverse polarity, supporting changes they had formerly opposed and bringing much more rapid cultural change than that produced by population replacement alone.
5. Cultural change is path-dependent: a society’s values are shaped by its entire historical heritage, and not just its level of existential security.
2 The Rise of Postmaterialist Values in the West and the World
The author points out that western societies are switching to postmaterialist values and presents several graphs supporting this idea. Here is one for Western countries:
The author also provides similar data for other world areas where the same process occurs, albeit slower. The author also expresses the belief that younger generations drive this process. It possesses a positive feedback loop that all but guarantees the change happening with the shift in generations.
3 Global Cultural Patterns
This chapter discusses data obtained from Global Values Surveys that monitored 90% of the world population. The analysis included two main dimensions: Traditional vs. Secular-Rational and Survival vs. Self-Expression. The author provides a sample of questionary that used to separate individuals with “Survival values” from individuals with “Self-Expression values”:
Modernization-Linked Attitudes Tend to Be Enduring and Cross-nationally Comparable
The conclusion is:” Our theory holds that Self-expression values should be strongly correlated with indicators of economic modernization. Although measured at different levels and by different methods, we find remarkably strong linkages between individual-level values and societies’ economic characteristics. Across all available societies, the average correlation between Self-expression values and ten widely used economic modernization indicators, ranging from per capita GDP and mean life expectancy to educational levels”
The Self-expression/lndividualism/Autonomy Super-dimension
The author then presents metanalysis demonstrating that the critical factor defining cross nations clustering of values is the Self vs. Group dimension:
The conclusion is that society’s values are predictable based on the economic and overall security position, with individualism characteristic of a wealthy and secure community. That movement nearly always occurs with successful development, and that change is path-dependent.
4 The End of Secularization?
In the first part of this chapter author traces emergence of need in moral god depending on the primary method of production:
However, the author also notes counter-secularization trends: low fertility of secular population vs. high fertility of religious people, the substitution of hierarchically organized religion of agricultural and industrial ages with mixed bag of religious ideas and DIY spirituality of information age.
5 Cultural Change, Slow and Fast: The Distinctive Trajectory of Norms Governing Gender Equality and Sexual Orientation
In this chapter author discusses characteristics of the process of change and attempts to demonstrate these points:
1) These value changes involve very long time-lags between the onset of the conditions leading to them, and the societal changes they produce. There was a time-lag of 40–50 years between when Western societies first attained high levels of economic and physical security after World War II, and the occurrence of such relevant societal changes as legalization of same-sex marriage.
2) One distinctive set of norms concerning gender equality, divorce, abortion and homosexuality supports a pro-fertility strategy that was essential to the survival of pre-industrial societies but eventually became superfluous. This set of norms is now moving on a trajectory that is distinct from that of other cultural changes.
3) Although basic values normally change at the pace of intergenerational population replacement, the shift from Pro-fertility norms to Individual-choice norms has reached a tipping-point where conformist pressures have reversed polarity and are now accelerating value changes they once resisted, bringing major societal changes such as legalization of same-sex marriage.
The author presents a formal statement for Hypotheses of his Evolutionary Modernization Theory and then empirical data and analysis supporting these hypotheses. For example, here is one of his data sets for Income/Tolerance correlation:
In conclusion, the author notes that slow change in attitudes to sexuality and fertility seems to reach the tipping point when the conformist majority finds it detrimental to maintain old norms of sexuality, which leads to acceleration of changes. For some reason, the author also refers here to xenophobia, noting that high-income countries somehow become not less xenophobic and explain it by very high levels of immigration and terrorism. The author also cannot help but complain about Trump’s victory in 2016.
6 The Feminization of Society and Declining Willingness to Fight for One’s Country: The Individual-Level Component of the Long Peace
Here the author offers four Hypotheses:
(1) Cross-sectionally, the publics of more developed societies will place more emphasis on Individual-choice values and be less willing to risk their lives in war.
(2) Longitudinally, in societies in which Individual-choice values are most widespread, people’s willingness to risk lives in war will fall most sharply.
(3) In multi-level perspective, individuals who live in societies with widespread Individual-choice values will be less willing to risk their lives in war.
Since historical learning is also an influence on cultural evolution, this adds a fourth hypothesis:
(4) Historically, the former Axis powers’ devastating defeat in World War II sharply diminished their people’s willingness to fight for their country; while the exceptionally strong prevalence of Self-expression values in the Nordic countries led to the emergence of a military primarily geared to peace-keeping missions and developmental aid; this, in turn, led to the emergence of a distinctive and positive view of the role of the military among the Nordic publics, making them more willing to fight for their country.
The author provides some graphs demonstrating changes in willingness to fight generally supportive of presented Hypotheses. However, he is justifiably cautious because of the dynamic character of the issue. He even provides a very relevant point:” These trends are reversible. Russia’s seizure of Crimea and intervention in the Eastern Ukraine evoked widespread concern, bringing economic sanctions, capital flight from Russia and impelling Nordic political leaders to reassess the role of their countries’ military forces. But so far, no influential Western leaders – not even the Hawks – have advocated military action against Russia. The norms of the Long Peace continue to prevail for now.”
7 Development and Democracy
The author begins this chapter with the discussion of “democratic recession,” noting that it is not unusual for long-term development. – one should recall 1930-40 and the tidal wave of fascism and communism. Then he discusses the link between democracy and development and concentrates on the connection between self-expression and effective democracy:
The author also provides a detailed explanation of the graph:” The incongruence between the institutional supply of democracy and the cultural demand for democracy is calculated by subtracting the demand from the supply. In order to measure the incongruence that was present before the Third Wave transition, we use the pre-transition levels of democracy, as measured during 1981–1986, to indicate the supply. To calculate the cultural demand for democracy, we use Self-expression values measured around 1990 as an indication of how strong these values were before the transition.
The more Self-expression values surpass a society’s level of democracy, the greater the unmet demand. In the analysis shown on Figure 7.2, a score of –1 indicates the strongest possible lack of demand for more democracy, while a score of +1 indicates the maximum demand for more democracy. Our sample includes a number of stable Western democracies in which the levels of democracy have been constant since measurement began. These 16 democracies are in an equilibrium where supply and demand for democracy are in balance; accordingly, they are at the zero-point on the incongruence scale. They also are at the zero-point on the vertical dimension, which measures how much change a country experienced in its level of effective democracy from the early 1980s to the late 1990s: since the supply and demand for democracy were in balance, they experienced no change.”
After discussing supply and demand for democracy based on the level of development of society, the author makes an important point that general movement is in the direction of congruence between these two:
The author ends this chapter with a brief discussion of China as an outlier: economic development, in the author’s opinion, created unmet demand for democracy, that in the long run would somehow lead to the democratization of Chinese society, although he admits that there is no sign that it is happening and that he does not believe it could happen while communist party controls security forces.
8 The Changing Roots of Happiness
Here the author discusses happiness and points out that it is not a set value, maybe even genetic, as usually thought but rather an improvable parameter. His justification:” Extensive empirical evidence indicates that the extent to which a society allows free choice has a major impact on happiness. From 1981 to 2007, economic development, democratization and rising social tolerance increased the extent to which the people of most countries had free choice in economic, political and social life – leading to higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.” The author presents a graphic expression of empirical results:
The author also discusses the correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction, which is generally between 0 and 0.15, with a significant outlier in China, where the correlation is negative.
In the end, the author provides a summary of the results of path analysis for causal sequences for perceived well-being:
9 The Silent Revolution in Reverse: The Rise of Trump and the Authoritarian Populist Parties
This chapter discusses the rise of populism in the USA and Europe and what the author calls xenophobic and authoritarian movements. The author provides some interesting data demonstrating that Trump’s support is growing with age but limited by class with low- and high-income groups aligning against Trump, while middle-income group supporting:
The author also discusses the shift from economic to non-economic issues in political discourse in western democracies:
At the end of the chapter, the author allocates quite a bit of space to discuss growing inequality and political influence of the upper class, concluding that:” Rising inequality and economic insecurity are already generating powerful political dissatisfaction.”
10 The Coming of Artificial Intelligence Society
In this last chapter, the author looks at the future impact of mass implementation of AI and sees quite a bleak picture of increased inequality and practical destruction of the middle class. Here is the graph of trends that point in this direction: