Equal Rights Libertarian

20200119 – Against the Grain

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the latest discoveries in archeology and anthropology demonstrate link between type of agriculture and development of the state. Specifically, only grain based agriculture led to development of sedentary way of life with consequent development of hierarchies and state because the grain output is easy to control and tax. Correspondingly literacy and numeracy were developed to support information processing linked to taxes and population control. Other forms of agriculture, not grain related, used by barbarians, provided for higher quality lifestyle and, until very recently were more than competitive military.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author explains how he came to this book by preparing for a lecture. It made author to look at early states, conventionally divided into:

  • Ubaid (6,500–3,800 BCE)
  • Uruk (4,000–3,100)
  • Jemdet Nasr (3,100–2,900)
  • Early Dynastic (2,900–2,335)
  • Akkadian (2,334–2,193)
  • Ur III (2,112–2,004)
  • Old Babylonian (2,004–1,595 BCE) 

The core of author’s finding relates to links between not only agriculture but its specific part – grain production to formation of early states.

INTRODUCTION. A Narrative in Tatters: What I Didn’t Know

Author continues here with presentation of time line of human development that does not comply with traditional sequence, which directly links agriculture and state creation. He points out that there is huge gap between archeological and ecological evidence of agriculture and formation of states. Here is how this time line looks based on the latest research

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The key paradox author formulates is this:” Homo sapiens appeared as a subspecies about 200,000 years ago and is found outside of Africa and the Levant no more than 60,000 years ago. The first evidence of cultivated plants and of sedentary communities appears roughly 12,000 years ago. Until then—that is to say for ninety-five percent of the human experience on earth—we lived in small, mobile, dispersed, relatively egalitarian, hunting-and-gathering bands. Still more remarkable, for those interested in the state form, is the fact that the very first small, stratified, tax-collecting, walled states pop up in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley only around 3,100 BCE, more than four millennia after the first crop domestications and sedentism. This massive lag is a problem for those theorists who would naturalize the state form and assume that once crops and sedentism, the technological and demographic requirements, respectively, for state formation were established, states/empires would immediately arise as the logical and most efficient units of political order.

It is also directly connected to relatively recently discovered fact that:” Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the marginal refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famished, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore. Hunters and gathers have, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure.”

In short it seems that state based agriculture allowed dramatic increase of quantity of people, while similarly dramatically decreasing quality of individual lives.

One. The Domestication of Fire, Plants, Animals, and…US

The theme of the first chapter turns on the domestication of fire, plants, and animals and the concentration of food and population such domestication makes possible. Before we could be made the object of state making, it was necessary that we gather—or be gathered—in substantial numbers with a reasonable expectation.

Author discusses here environmental conditions required for switch to sedentism: wetlands and such – areas that provided sufficient food to stay around. Author also poses the question why people started plant grains. He rejects usual explanation that it is because the product could be saved for long period, providing insurance against bad year. He also rejects idea that it provided better returns from cooperation. Author’s explanation is that the reason is much higher productivity from flooding area that then made raising crops much easier.

Two. Landscaping the World: The Domus Complex

Here author explore meaning of domestication as it relates to plants, animals, and also humans. He discusses notion of Domus as a module of evolution that allowed coevolution of semi closed local ecosystem. The impact was not only on plants and animals, but also on humans. Author discusses how use of agriculture could be easily identified by human remnants that have indelible traces of agricultural work. Author also analyses changes in tempo of life, which for hunter-gatherer defined by external cycles of availability of various food types that required huge knowledge base about environment. For agriculturalists it was pretty standard year around cycle requiring a lot less knowledge and a lot more routine manual work.

Three. Zoonoses: A Perfect Epidemiological Storm

In this chapter author discusses specific features of agro-pastoralism, which come to dominate first Mesopotamia and then the world. The first part of discussion is drudgery that was direct consequence of the switch. It caused material deterioration of quality of life and there is plenty of archeological evidence confirming this. Then he moves to epidemiology discussing how increased concentration of people combined with closeness to animals produced periodic epidemics killing significant shares of population, but creating immunities for survivors. At the end author discusses fertility and population growth brought in by switch to sedentism.

Four. Agro-ecology of the Early State

Here author discusses material or more precisely agricultural foundation of early states, concluding that it necessarily had to be based on a grain for a number of reasons: “The key to the nexus between grains and states lies, I believe, in the fact that only the cereal grains can serve as a basis for taxation: visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and “rationable.” Other crops—legumes, tubers, and starch plants—have some of these desirable state-adapted qualities, but none has all of these advantages. To appreciate the unique advantages of the cereal grains, it helps to place yourself in the sandals of an ancient tax-collection official interested, above all, in the ease and efficiency of appropriation.

Author also discusses evidence that agriculture was often based on state violence and taxation. Another important point he makes is that one of consequences was development of literacy and numeracy – absolutely necessary tools for top down control and systematic robbery, which of no real use for hunter-gatherers.

Five. Population Control: Bondage and War

This chapter is about the role of coercion in formation and maintenance of the states. Its main form initially and all the way until now were slavery and bondage. Initially slavery was product of war, when captives were enslaved. Overtime it was expanded so parts of population were slaves from the beginning of life, with people breaded and controlled the same way as domesticated animals. Actually it would not be possible to maintain effective society at low levels of productivity with lots of manual works required without such institution as slavery or something close to it.

Six. Fragility of the Early State: Collapse as Disassembly

The historical and archeological data show that early states were extremely fragile popping up and going down within historically short periods of time, sometime materially less than length of a human life. In this chapter author discusses reasons for this fragility such as:

  • Hypersedentism and lack of movement
  • Ecocide: Deforestation and Salinization
  • Politicide: Wars and Exploitation of the Core

At the end author actually praises state “collapse” as a necessary part of evolutionary process.

Seven. The Golden Age of the Barbarians

In the last chapter author looks outside of the sate borders at people who habituated there – barbarians and how they interacted with “civilized” peoples of the states, in actuality living in dichotomy of these two method, often moving between them at will. Author provides somewhat unusual, but quite convincing explanation why barbarians underappreciated:

  • The history of the peasants is written by the townsmen
  • The history of the nomads is written by the settled
  • The history of the hunter-gatherers is written by the farmers
  • The history of the nonstate peoples is written by the court scribes
  • All may be found in the archives catalogued under “Barbarian Histories”

Author discusses relationships between “civilized” and barbarians in details and quite convincingly demonstrates that mainly it was balance of either equal power or even with military advantages going to barbarians. He also discusses trade, military alliances, mercenaries, and other interactions between these two parallel flows of human development and existence. The point is that it lasted forever and arrived to complete dominance by the states only very recently.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very interesting approach to understanding human development, which makes a lot of sense to me. From my point of view the idea of parallel development of highly organized grain based hierarchical society and non-grain based barbarian societies, either pastoralist or hunter-gatherers, explains quite a bit of known history. This history was narrated by literate society that is grain-based states, so barbarians were diminished and poorly understood. The puzzle was how come, that barbarians overrun such highly developed societies as Rome? The answer provided here is that barbarians were as highly developed, only in different way. They did not need literacy and numeracy because the cultural tradition could be well maintained via oral tradition, while without taxation need in numeracy was quite limited. As to military, much looser structure of barbarian military, often based on cavalry and therefore much more mobile, with more space for individual initiative was generally superior to massive, but slow moving and rigid infantry of grain-based states. The aristocracy, as more mobile and more military effective specialized part of society developed by these states, sometimes compensated for difference, but overall for some 10,000 years neither grain-based agriculture and slave-based hierarchical “civilized” states nor non-grain agriculture and loose organization of barbarian entities had decisive advantage. Only with advance of scientific method of thinking and consequent technological and industrial development, literacy and numeracy became convertible into military power, leading to triumph of “civilization”.

20200112 – Sword and Scimitar

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is not that much to present military history of the most important battles between Islamic and Christian armies, as to demonstrate that despite illusion of peace caused by contemporary overwhelming power of the West, Islamic ideology of conquest and proselytizing by force did not go away. It is also warning that if West continues its historical amnesia and ideological appeasement, the bloody fight could start again and cost dearly.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author characterizes this book as work of military history reviewing 8 key battles between Islamic and Christian forces. These battles, while different by time, place and participants, represent key points in 14 centuries long struggle between followers of two religions one of which generally being on offensive from 636 to 1683, while another generally losing territory and adherents during the same time. Here is the map demonstrating this point:

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Introduction

The initial part of the book is discussion of the nature of Islam, its creation by Muhammad as a tool to overcome tribalism and create religion-based unity open for everybody to join. It was also an effective tool of using force to expand. Author discusses notion of jihad defined as religious duty of conquest with huge rewards either in this or the other world for participants. Author also discusses West, Christendom, and their nations, which were converging into more or less loose alliances coming to life under threat of annihilation and dissipating when this threat diminished. Author also discusses very limited tolerance in Islam of Jews and Christians as “people of the book”, stressing temporary character of this tolerance.

Chapter 1 Islam Takes Christendom by Storm: The Battle of Yarmuk, 636

Here author discusses the first major victory of Islam when relatively small force of Muslims destroyed numerically superior forces of Byzantine Empire. Author stresses religious fervor of Muslims and their ability to fight in the dark, which eventually brought their victory. After the battle author reviews consequent conquests that followed: successful siege of Jerusalem, conquest of Egypt and North Africa. Author especially stresses that unlike other conquests of the period this one had very strong religious component of proselytizing by the sword and atrocities. The end result was complete change of population’s religion and permanent conversion of these territories into Islamic lands. Here is how author characterizes consequences of this battle: “two-thirds (or 66 percent) of Christendom’s original territory†—including three of the five most important centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria‡—were permanently swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized. For unlike the Germanic barbarians who invaded and conquered Europe in the preceding centuries—only to assimilate into Christian culture, civilization, and language (Latin and Greek)—the Arabs imposed their creed and language onto the conquered peoples so that, whereas the “Arabs” once only thrived in the Arabian Peninsula, today the “Arab world” consists of some twenty-two nations spread over the Middle East and North Africa.”
Author then briefly discusses events after Yarmuk when Muslim powers consolidated their gains and continuing warfare against Byzantine.

Chapter 2 The Jihad Reaches an Eastern Wall of Stone: The Siege of Constantinople, 717

This chapter describes temporary slowdown of Muslim conquest when they failed in the first siege of Constantinople in 674-678. Then author reviews follow up struggles and stresses the role of slaves’ acquisition, especially women, as significant driving force of Muslim raids, strongly supported by religions duty of jihad.  Practically it meant psychologically win-win situation when strive to obtain earthly pleasures was combined with definite promise to supply high quality of such pleasures in afterlife for fallen jihadists. Author also describes growing understanding among Christians of ideological, religious character of the struggle and impossibility of permanent accommodation. At the end of chapter Author describes the second 717-718 siege of Constantinople, which also ended in Muslim defeat.

Chapter 3 The Jihad Reaches a Western Wall of Ice: The Battle of Tours, 732

This chapter moves just a dozen years later, but to different part of Europe. First author discusses Muslim conquest of Spain and initially Mediterranean coastline that was completed by 730. As usual author stresses multiple atrocities committed during this process and massive forcible conversions of previously mainly Christian population. Then he reviews history of Charles Charlemagne who defeated Islamic force in battle of Tour in 732, stopping cold their movement farther into Europe. At the end of chapter author however mentions that it did not prevent follow up attempts such as Muslim landing in Italy in 846 that ended with occupation of Sicily, many Mediterranean islands, and new long-term feature of life in these areas – Muslim piracy. Author somewhat asserts that Charlemagne victory at Tours was overstated because it did not really prevented Mediterranean from becoming “Muslim Lake”. Author even completes the chapter by stating that Muslims often not even were looking for complete conquest, but rather for raiding, looting, and acquiring slaves so actual Muslim chronicles not even mention Tours as something significant.

Chapter 4 Islam’s New Champions: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071

Here author moves to another part of Islam, the one related to Abbasid Caliphate, based on Shia branch situated in Persia with center in Baghdad. In 838 Caliph Mutasim destroyed important Byzantium city Amorium, which led to Christian counterattack when for the next two hundred years fight was continued until Turks formed Seljuk Empire and first devastated Armenia in 1019, then destroyed Byzantium forces at Manzikert and captured Roman emperor. Author characterizes this as Turkish Yarmuk, meaning that it was similarly to Arabs opened road for conquest for Turks.

Chapter 5 Christendom Strikes Back: The Battle of Hattin, 1187

The next point of this long struggle was the first Crusade when continuing deprivation against Christian by Muslims in what used to be Christian territories containing multiple religious sites. Author describes it as the holy war initiated in response and retaliation against Muslims’ jihad. Author starts this part of history in 1095 with Christian mobilization, initial victories resulted not in small part because of general indifference of Muslim population. Muslims were much more busy fighting each other in Shia vs. Sunni struggle to pay attention to such insignificant things as Jerusalem and area around. However they noticed that something is not exactly right and produced Saladin, who manage mobilize Muslims, win battle of Hattin and expel Crusaders.

Chapter 6 The Crusade Victorious: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212

This chapter starts with discussion of incomplete conquest of Spain in 8th century by Muslins when small Christian enclaves in mountainous Astoria managed to survive and repulse many consequent attacks for centuries. Author also discusses what he believes erroneous narrative for Muslim tolerance and scientific prosperity of Islamic Spain. Author discusses an interesting dynamics created by massive use of slavery, especially enslaved women of European background that, combined with acceptance of children produced by these women as legitimate issue of their Muslim fathers. Author describes details of this long continuing war, which eventually ended by complete expulsion of Muslims from Spain in 1492.

Chapter 7 Muhammad’s Dream: The Siege of Constantinople, 1453

Here author reviews the late part of Byzantine decline and raise of Ottomans with their peculiar institution of kidnapped in childhood slaves-soldiers that eventually become key component of Ottoman state. At the end author discusses final destruction of Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) and fall of Constantinople due to numeric and technological superiority of Ottomans.

Chapter 8 The Rise and Fall of Islam: The Siege of Vienna, 1683

This chapter is about pick Islam when Ottomans sieged Vienna, but where defeated by alliance of European Christian armies. Author looks at previous events in Eastern Europe when Mongols conquered Russia in 1240 and then become Islamized by 1300. It was not an easy process and author describes it in some detail. By 1380 Russians achieved some success in repulsing Tatars, but the fight was periodically continuing until in 1478 Russia stopped paying tribute. The Islamic raids with plunder and abduction continued for another century, but complete dominance over Russia ended. Author reviewing similar evens all over the Europe and Middle East when Islam was stopped and after a few centuries of relative equilibrium with raids and mutual retaliations until very religious Ottoman Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa decided renew Islamic conquest and moved against center of European Holy Roman Empire – Vienna. Despite usual betrayals of some Christian nations and leaders, enough forces arrived to protect Vienna with key role played by Jan Sobieski’s Polish army to achieve victory, forcing Ottomans to retreat. After another 15 major battles from 1683 to 1697 the treaty of Karlowitz was signed practically ending 1000 years Islamic military offensive against Christianity.

Author briefly describes the following centuries when Islamic forces were limited to raids with no ability to launch massive military attack any more. The response was various from Russian conquest of Crimea to American punitive naval expedition against barbarian pirates.  Author ends in 1924 when the last great Islamic power – Ottoman Empire was dissolved and West European countries divided Islamic lands between themselves as mandates or colonies.

Postscript Muslim Continuity vs. Western Confusion

Author’s postscript kind of laments current situation that he believes characterized by Western loss of memory about 1500 years war and came up with politically correct interpretation of Islam as religion of peace, that no truly religious Muslim really accept. Consequently the Islamic jihad renewed in form of terrorism. It is clearly supported by restoration of Islamic states such as Iran or ISIS. These Islamic states are way too weak to be serious threat for now, but are quite inspirational for Muslims in their ability to stand up against non-Islamic powers and dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Author makes the point that current overwhelming military power of West is combined with ideological weakness and loss of history and understanding of enemy, making situation quite dangerous with potential to be be costly in the future: “In short, if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to. For no matter how diminished, a still swinging Scimitar will always overcome a strong but sheathed Sword.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author is quite correct in his estimate of dangers of Islamic ideology. However I do not think that Islam is as strong as it was 1000 years ago mainly because humans are moving away from strong religious believes. It is fully applied to Muslims all over the world and a pretty good example of this had been provided during 1950s and 60s when people in these countries moved to quasi-scientific secular ideology of socialism. It ended in disaster and misery and partial return to militant Islam is reaction to this disaster. However the terrorism against West and application of Sharia laws is even more disastrous for Muslims. The problem is they see no alternative since West at this point does not inspire following despite overwhelming technological and economic superiority. The resolution of these problems will actually come from the West’s accommodating to tremendous technological and political changes it is undergoing right now. Such western renewal would once again provide example for emulation and people in Islamic world eventually leave this militant religious ideology of 7th century in dustbin of history where it belong.

 

20200105 – Polarization

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review recent sociological research on American political conditions and present massive prove that it is now in the state of deep polarization between traditional parties of Democrats and Republicans. Author provides statistics on polarization between various part of society: elite, including media, partisans of both parties, and general population. Author aims to convince that at least part of the cause for this is regional realignment between North, South, and West, but also wealthy ideological donors, a bit of gerrymandering, and a lot of Divergence and Sorting of population.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

Here author briefly characterizes what is current polarization of American politics and discusses what he intends to presents in each chapter of this book.

  1. What Is Political Polarization?

What is the difference between partisanship and polarization? What Is the difference between mass and elite polarization? What is partisan sorting and is it different from polarization? What is belief constraint and ideological consistency; Who is polarized—the public or the politicians? Why is polarization bad? What have we learned?

In this chapter author defines polarization “as the increasing support for extreme political views relative to the support for centrist or moderate views. He contrasts it with partisanship which “is reflected as a strong bias in favor of one’s party and strong dislike or prejudice against other parties” and argues that this distinction in “how we understand and evaluate the performance of our political system.”
Author provides very clear graphic representation of polarized vs. centrist situation:

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  1. Are Partisan Elites Polarized?

How do we measure elite polarization! Why do you assume legislative voting occurs only on the liberal-conservative Are there other sources of data for measuring congressional polarization? Do roll-call ideal points really reflect congressional ideology! What issues divide Congress the most? Are both parties responsible for polarizations; Are state legislatures polarized? Are the courts polarized? And the media? What have we learned?

Here author discusses polarization of elites and how it could be measured. Mainly the measurement is based on votes and how many of them went in synch or out of synch with one’s party. Here is the graph demonstrating that we moved into highest polarized period since the New Deal:

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  1. Is the Public Polarized?

How is it even plausible that the public is not polarized? Is the public moderate? What is the evidence in favor of increased voter sorting? Why does it matter whether voters are sorted but not polarized? Is sorting a good thing or a bad thing? What issues are the public is sorted on? Is it the economy, stupid? Does polarization reflect a “culture war? What is affective polarization? What have we learned?

In this chapter author moves from elite to regular people:” Here we will see that the evidence is more mixed. It is true that there is much more disagreement on policy issues between voters who identify with the Democratic Party and those who identify with the Republican Party. But how to interpret that fact is open to considerable disagreement. Many scholars argue that it is indeed evidence that voters have polarized in the sense of adopting more extreme views. But other scholars are equally insistent that it reflects the fact that voters are simply better sorted into parties so that most conservative voters are now Republican and most liberal voters are now Democratic—something that was far from true in earlier eras.”

Here author offers some conclusions:

  • The first is that the partisan polarization or sorting of voters occurred considerably later than the polarization of the political elites and activists. This suggests that the polarization we observe from the elites is probably not a simple reaction to changes among the electorate. Indeed it is more plausible that the positions and partisanship of the voters are a reaction to the polarization of elected officials and other elite actors.
  • Second, despite the widely held belief that voters are polarized along a set of hot button social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, political scientists have routinely found that positions on economic and social welfare issues better predict the partisanship of voters. There are sharp disagreements, however, to the extent to which preferences on social welfare issues are in turn derived from differences in racial attitudes.

At the end of chapter author discusses how political views become part of people’s identity and what he calls “affective polarization”

  • Finally, I discuss the related concept of affective polarization that focuses on the increased salience of partisanship as a social identity. As a consequence of heightened party identification, citizens now show considerably more animus to supporters of the other party. I discuss the roles of ideological and policy polarization as well as the partisan sorting on other social identities in the rise of affective polarization.
  1. What Are the Causes of Polarization?

Why was polarization so low from the 1930s to the 1960s? Senate? Can the polarization of the late nineteenth century be compared to what we see today? What is the Southern Realignment and why did it happen! Why did southern whites move to the GOP? Why is congressional voting on racial issues no longer distinctive? Does economic inequality cause polarization? Do party leaders engineer polarization? Is the rising competition for congressional majorities to blame? Why don’t more moderates run for Congress? Is the media responsible for polarization! What about the emergence of the Internet and social media? Is the United States unique? What have we learned?

Here author moves to causes of polarization. He point out regional realignment when Democrats lost their Southern base. Author also “consider large-scale economic and social change as explanations as well as important developments in the media environment, including cable television, the Internet, and social media.”  Author also links it to the growth of inequality:

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The final point he makes here is that leadership of both parties push for polarization to enhance their position inside the party, while media actively promotes it because without polarization there is no story to tell. 

  1. How Does Electoral Law Affect Legislative Polarization?

How much does polarization reflect geographic sorting? Does gerrymandering cause polarization? Isn’t it possible that the effects of gerrymandering on the House carried over to the Senate? But isn’t gerrymandering responsible for a decline in electoral competitiveness? Are there other ways in which redistricting can impact polarization? Do partisan primaries cause polarization? Hasn’t California’s “Top-Two” system reduced polarization there? What role does campaign finance play in polarization? Would stronger parties reduce polarization? Would a different electoral system reduce polarization? What have we learned?

Here author analyses and then rejects the idea of institutional prompting of polarization despite changes in some features such as partisan primaries and gerrymandering. He suggests that it is rather wealthy ideological donors who push polarization up. He rather blames polarization on sorting and divergence – the situation presented in the graph below:

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  1. What Are the Consequences of Polarization for Public Policy and Governance?

Why does polarization impact congressional policymaking capacity? How do legislative parties turn polarization into gridlock? What about the filibuster and the presidential veto? Does polarization make Congress less productive? How has polarization affected the executive branch and the bureaucracy? Has the American judiciary and legal system changed as a result of polarization? How has polarization affected the balance of power between the national and state governments? Has polarization affected policymaking in the states? Has polarization increased the political power of the wealthy relative to others? Does polarization have a conservative bias? What have we learned?

Here author discusses “the impact of polarization on policy outcomes and governance. The focus is on how polarization has affected the level and quality of policymaking in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. “ Author believes that the problem is in Congress’ failure to legislate due to polarization which prevents its members from creating effective majorities. Author expresses hope that courts and presidents could pick up the slack, but he is afraid that it could benefit conservatives.

  1. Is the Trump Presidency a New Normal or More of the Same?

As any other person of seemingly liberal persuasion, author cannot avoid the Donald. Author notes that while Trump ran as populist, probably closer to traditional democratic politics than to GOP, he rules as pretty orthodox conservative. Author discusses Trump’s achievements in populating Supreme Court with 2 constitutionalists in mold of Federalist Society, which author seems to be unhappy about. While giving Trump some credit for legislative and judicial achievements, author expresses fear that Trumps popularity could lead to authoritarian change of type implemented by Hugo Chavez and Erdogan. He also concerned that Trump strong support of working class would be somehow detrimental to non-white people. As it is usual for currently popular among western elites racist / leftist stereotype of dividing people by race and inability to see that Trump success in creating jobs and improving economy is beneficial to all working class with non-whites probably benefiting even more than whites. At the end author expresses hope that “ The press, the civil service, the states, and the judiciary continue to place formidable checks on the president’s power. While the president’s co-partisans in Congress should have challenged him more publicly and investigated his administration more thoroughly, they declined to move on some of his legislative priorities, opened independent investigations into his campaign, and refused to provide him cover should he have decided to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Yet cloth can tatter only so long before it rips. The preservation of liberal democracy in the United States will eventually require overcoming our deep divisions in order to rekindle our faith in the virtues of compromise.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is fine as a source of political statistics packed in a bunch of nice diagrams. However it does not look deeply into ideological causes of polarization, which in my opinion strongly linked to change not that much in ethnic mix of population as change in types and availability of jobs and correspondingly decent quality of life. This quality, while improving technologically and materially, greatly deteriorated psychologically due to elite moving manufacturing jobs out of country to China and other places where labor is cheap and environmental and other American regulations are non-existent. Combined with massive immigration of low skill illegal immigrants and, as well educated and much cheaper than Americans, legal immigrants from developing world, it squeezed middle and working class. The elite prospered, while many others suffered. It’s no wonder that these others start looking for a champion who would be fully on their side. After failing to find it either with Bushes or Clintons / Obamas, they practically dropped both parties and found the champion in Donald Trump, who with their help defeated elite of both parties, eventually remaking GOP to fit his vision. I think that idea that this Jeannie once out of bottle could be put back in is completely insensible and could lead to Jeannie being very upset and even violent against elite. It would be much better to negotiate way to restoration of psychological well-being of Americans of lower classes by all means necessary even if it includes limitation of immigration, regulatory enthusiasm, racist politics, and other things dear to American elite.

 

20191229 – The Evolution of The Sensitive Soul

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MAIN IDEA:

Authors define the main idea of this book as attempt to answer the question: “How did minimal animal consciousness originate during animal evolution?”
. This attempt is based on identification of a marker that indicate transfer from preconscious to conscious animal. Overall authors define three levels from self-maintaining activities to complete consciousness: “nutritive soul” – plants, “sensitive souls” – animals, and “rational soul” – humans. Authors define this marker the following way: ”the evolutionary-transition marker for consciousness is unlimited (open-ended) associative learning (UAL). This, we argue, was the phylogenetically earliest manifestation and driver of the evolution of sustainable minimal consciousness. UAL refers to an organism’s ability to attach motivational value to a compound, multifeatured stimulus and a new action pattern and to use it as the basis for future learning. We argue that UAL is a good transition marker because the features that neurobiologists and philosophers regard as essential for consciousness are also required for UAL. If UAL is accepted as a transition marker, one can identify this capacity in different taxa and provide an account of the distribution of consciousness in the animal world—a major issue with important biological and ethical implications.“

DETAILS:

Introduction to Part I: Rationale and Foundations

Here authors discuss main ideas of the book and present brief descriptions and objectives for each part and chapter of the book.

  1. Goal-Directed Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Life and Consciousness

Here authors describe their evolutionary approach and provide nice picture of Aristotelian approach to differentiation of all things living:

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After that authors discuss some epistemological issues of defining life and present table of history for this in XX century:

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2. The Organization and Evolution of the Mind: From Lamarck to the Neuroscience of Consciousness

In this chapter authors go through work and thinking of outstanding researches: Lamarck, Spencer, Darwin, William James, Pavlov, and Skinner reviewing developments up to the recent time.

3. The Emergentist Consensus: Neurobiological Perspectives

Here authors review contemporary status of the field and identify areas of consensus. Here is the graphic representation:

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Authors link UAL to consensus of seven properties characterizing consciousness:

  1. Global activity and accessibility of information
  2. Binding and unification
  3. Selection, plasticity, learning, and attention
  4. Intentionality
  5. Temporal thickness
  6. Emotions, goals
  7. Embodiment, agency, and a notion of “self”

At the end authors suggest:” that UAL is the transition marker for consciousness has obvious implications for the distribution question. Discovering whether or not UAL occurs in different groups could provide an answer to the question about which animals can positively be said to possess minimal consciousness.”

Introduction to Part II: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Mind

Authors start by presenting 8 levels of genetically supported information processing in living objects identified by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry:

(1) From replicating molecules to populations of molecules in compartments (protocells);

(2) From independent genes to chromosomes;

(3) From RNA as both an information carrier and catalyst to DNA as the carrier of information and proteins as enzymes;

(4) From prokaryotes to eukaryotes;

(5) From asexual clones to sexual populations;

(6) From single-cell eukaryotes to multicellular organisms with differentiated cells;

(7) From solitary individuals to colonies with nonreproductive castes

(8) From primate societies to human societies with language

Then they discuss their approach to research as development-oriented (evo-devo), in which they identify 5 research themes:

  • First, using the comparative method, it is developmental processes from the fertilized egg onward that are being compared, rather than the biological features of adult animals.
  • Second, there is a strong focus on the effects of genetic variations on embryonic development and recognition that some variants can have large, saltational outcomes.
  • Third, the role of developmental plasticity—the ability of the same genotype to generate different phenotypes in different environmental conditions—and the primacy of developmental responses in evolution are highlighted.
  • Fourth, the generation of developmental variations and their maintenance and inheritance within and between individuals—play a role in evolutionary explanations.
  • Fifth, physical, chemical, and cybernetic constraints on the direction, mode, and tempo of development, and their role in evolution, are emphasized.

Then they discuss role of phenotype in selection and model of exploration – stabilization perspective on selection.

Authors also provide here brief description of remaining chapters of the book.

6. The Neural Transition and the Building Blocks of Minimal Consciousness

Authors start this chapter “with the building blocks of learning, provide an overview of the transition to neural animals, and discuss the molecular and behavioral components found in cnidarians, from which simple forms of associative learning, and later UAL, probably evolved. Authors link the evolution of the nervous system with the evolution of mobility and muscles. They also stress the problem mobility opened up: once moving macroscopic animals had evolved, they had to distinguish between the sensory effects of their own movements and those that were independent of their own actions, a difficulty that led to the evolution of new modulatory interactions between sensory and motor neural centers.”

7. The Transition to Associative Learning: The First Stage

In this chapter authors ” describe the evolution of limited associative learning and the problem that this great adaptive innovation brought about—the problem of overlearning. This stumbling block was partially overcome by restricting learning to surprising, newsworthy discrepancies between expectations based on what has been learned and the actual, current effects of a new stimulus.”

Here is graphic comparison of authors’ model with previous:

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8. The Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning: How the Dice Became Loaded

“Building on the discussion in the preceding seven chapters, this chapter considers the transition to UAL and to minimal consciousness. Authors describe the functional neural architecture that constructed UAL, which, they argue, is the architecture underlying the simplest mental representations, and describe the different realizations of this architecture in vertebrates, arthropods, and mollusks. UAL led to a great increase in adaptability, but like limited associative learning, it also led to a severe problem of overlearning, which was evolutionarily solved by modulating the animals’ memory and their responses to stress.”

Authors also discuss UAL in Bayesian terms, somewhat linked to AI developments and provide nice graphic presentation of functional evolution:

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9. The Cambrian Explosion and Its Soulful Ramifications

Here authors position their “evolutionary proposal within an ecological context. They suggest that the evolutionary emergence of limited and unlimited associative learning had dramatic effects, acting as an adaptability driver of the Cambrian explosion. Once in place, the evolution of UAL led in some lineages (notably, birds and mammals, but also in the very different cephalopods) to the emergence of “Popperian” animals, creatures endowed with imagination.”

Here is general presentation of author views on Cambrian:

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10. The Golem’s Predicament

In this final chapter authors “discuss the continuity between life and consciousness, examine the possibility (and implications) of constructing artificial conscious beings, and outline a further stage in the evolution of consciousness: the transition to the human “rational soul,” to human symbolic-based cognition, and to human abstract values. This last chapter takes the form of a dialogue, with a critical reader who questions authors’ interpretations and who wants to understand the implications of our proposal for neural and cognitive consciousness studies, for the philosophy of mind, and for ethics.“

Here is the table authors compiled to present totality of development from non-living materials to rational (human) consciousness:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

This is very well researched, logically constructed, and very convincingly presented view on evolutionary development of rational beings. I pretty much agree with authors approach and I think that presented understanding of interaction between genotype and phenotype is very plausible and probably quite close to reality. The limitation of this book to sensitive soul and especially final discussion shows authors understanding, that I fully agree with, of necessity of expanding research into group functionality in order to fully understand evolutionary meaning of rational soul. I really hope that authors will move into this direction and produce as well researched and analyzed book on this next step, as this one.

 

20191222 – Upheaval

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that a crisis that occurs in lives of individuals and history of countries is an important and difficult process with unpredictable outcome. The response to such crisis requires mobilization of all individual and societal strength and abilities to overcome successfully. From detailed analysis of history of countries in crises author is trying to derive some rules how to handle crises successfully and then suggests ways to deal with what he considered current and/or potential crises in USA and the World.

DETAILS:

Prologue: Legacies of Cocoanut Grove

Two stories—What’s a crisis? – Individual and national crises—What this book is and isn’t— Plan of the book

Here author refer to tragic fire in dancing hall in 1942 Boston that killed some 492 people. This tragedy caused multiple people, either survivors or relatives of victims to undergo difficult psychological crisis, which not all of them were capable to overcome. Here is how author defines crisis: ”one can think of a crisis as a moment of truth: a turning point, when conditions before and after that “moment” are “much more” different from one another than before and after “most” other moments.”  After that author expands this notion of crisis from individuals to societies, providing as example history of Rome: ”a historian of ancient Rome might apply the word “crisis” to only three events after the foundation of the Roman Republic around 509 BC: the first two wars against Carthage (264–241 and 218–201 BC), the replacement of republican government by the empire (around 23 BC), and the barbarian invasions leading to the Western Roman Empire’s fall (around AD 476).”  At the end of prologue author presents plan of the book, which is mainly discussion of historical crisis in several countries and look at the future for USA and the World.

PART 1 INDIVIDUALS

Chapter 1. Personal Crises

A personal crisis—Trajectories—Dealing with crises—Factors related to outcomes—National crises

Author begins this chapter with personal crisis story that he successfully overcame with the help of his father. Then he provides kind of algorithm of how to deal with crisis and discusses each item in his list:

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PART 2.NATIONS: CRISES THAT UNFOLDED

In this part author reviews history of several countries where severe crises occurred and then connects these histories to factors that he provided in the table.

Chapter 2. Finland’s War with the Soviet Union

Visiting Finland—Language—Finland until 1939—The Winter War—The Winter War’s end – The Continuation War—After 1945—Walking a tightrope – Finlandization—Crisis framework Chapter

Here author retells the story of Russo-Finland winter war of 1940 and its continuation until 1945. Finland lost this war but not until it inflicted severe casualties on the USSR and caused serious ideological and psychological damage, eventually resulting in Stalin’s decision to tolerate its limited independence. Author makes point here that overcoming crisis took difficult steps of accepting Soviet humiliating demands and learning not to irritate this powerful neighbor.

  1. The Origins of Modern Japan

My Japanese connections—Japan before 1853—Perry—1853 to 1868—The Meiji Era—Meiji – Reforms—“Westernization”—Overseas expansion—Crisis framework—Questions

Here author reviews another crisis, this time from XIX century when Japan discovered that its traditional isolation stop working because Western military become so superior that it allowed force imposition of trade rules. Japan leadership successfully resolved this crisis by dramatically changing their behavior not only opening country, but also actively searching acquisition of knowledge and skills that consequently led to liquidation of military and industrial deficiencies, so within some 50 years Japan was able to win war against Russia in 1904.

Chapter 4. A Chile for All Chileans

Visiting Chile—Chile until 1970—Allende—The coup and Pinochet—Economics until “No! ‘— After Pinochet—Pinochet’s shadow—Crisis framework—Returning to Chile

This is review of another crisis, this time internal crises in Chile when socialist Allende, after being democratically elected, start moving to communist totalitarian regime. Chile’s society resisted, leading eventually to military coup. Author manages to maintain reasonably fair narrative retelling not only negatives, but also positive economic development that brought in relative prosperity to Chile after market reforms.

Chapter S. Indonesia, the Rise of a New Country

In a hotel—Indonesia’s background—The colonial era—Independence—Sukarno—Coup—Mass legacies—Crisis framework—Returning to Indonesia

This chapter is about another crisis, somewhat similar to Chile when leftist coup was stopped by military and consequential massacre of everybody even remotely on the left. This time the dictatorship was not able to move effectively to market economy and suppress corruption, so no happy ending occurred at the time. However author describes how he visited this country recently and found a lot less corruption and working economy.

Chapter 6. Rebuilding Germany

Germany in 1945—1945 to 1961—Germans holding judgment—1968—1 968’’s aftermath— Brandt and re-unification—Geographic constraints—Self-pity?-Leaders and realism—Crisis framework

This chapter about Germany concentrates on several crisis in this country and its post WWII history from division of the country to rise of Berlin wall to the fall of this wall. For some reason author pays lots of attention to students riot in 1968, but his main stress is on the change of this country from aggressive and highly militaristic to quite pacifistic.

Chapter 7. Australia: Who Are We?

Visiting Australia—First Fleet and Aborigines—Early immigrants

—Federation—Keeping them out—World War One—World War Two—Loosening the ties—The end of White Australia—Crisis framework

The final chapter of this part is about Australia, which did not have such tragic and bloody crises with wars or coups, just slow moving identity crises. This was pretty much recognition that Australia is not part of Britain any more and old mother country does not have neither resources nor will to provide protection and support. It was a slow process on both sides, but eventually Australia moved to practically complete independence, even if it still recognizes queen as formal head of the state.

PART 3 | NATIONS AND THE WORLD: CRISES UNDERWAY

In this part author moves to more consequential countries: Japan and USA and changes focus from looking back at historical crises to looking at ongoing crisis in these two countries, and what he believes could lie in the future not only for these two countries, but for the whole world.

Chapter 8. What Lies Ahead for Japan?

Japan today—Economy—Advantages—Government debt—Women—Babies—Old and declining—Immigration—China and Korea—Natural resource management—Crisis framework

This chapter is about what author believes is Japan crisis. The reasons are aging and decrease of population, debt, and not complete reconciliation with Korea and China after the war. He then moves through his list of crisis factors and checks pluses and minuses of Japan situation and crises handling.

Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths, and the Biggest Problem The U.S. today—Wealth—Geography—Advantages of democracy—Other advantages—Political polarization—Why? —Other polarization

Chapter 10. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Three “Other” Problems

Other problems—Elections—Inequality and immobility—So what? —Investing in the future—Crisis framework

Similarly to analysis of Japan, only more detailed, is author’s analysis of USA that author provides in these two chapters. At the end he provides typical American summary:” What is going to happen to the U.S.? That will depend upon the choices that we make. The enormous fundamental advantages that we enjoy mean that our future can remain as bright as has been our past, if we deal with the obstacles that we are putting in our own way. But we are presently squandering our advantages.

Chapter 11. What Lies Ahead for the World?

The world today—Nuclear weapons—Climate change—Fossil fuels—Alternative energy sources—Other natural resources—Inequality—Crisis framework

Here author dutifully and obviously sincerely checks all the fears that academic class uses to scare people into agreeing for more taxes and more grants. He even provides very funny diagram describing how global warming works and a few numbers about resource depletion and population growth.

Epilogue: Lessons, Questions, and Outlook

Predictive factors—Are crises necessary? —Roles of leaders in history—Roles of specific leaders —what next? – Lessons for the future

Here author combines his two tables into one list and goes in details through each part at global level:

  1. Acknowledgment that one is in crisis
  2. Accept responsibility, avoid victimization, self-pity and blaming others
  3. Build a fence / selective change
  4. Help from other nations
  5. Use other nations as models
  6. National Identity
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Historical experience of previous national crises
  9. Patience with national failure
  10. Situation-specific national flexibility
  11. National core values
  12. Freedom from geopolitical constrains.

At the end author discusses need for crisis for people to take situation seriously and do something to overcome it. He also stresses role of leaders, which importance could never be clearly identified.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice review of crisis situations, which nevertheless overestimates importance of crisis in many cases, underestimates human ability to handle them, and somewhat missing luck or lack thereof in crisis situations. I think that crisis situation itself is only indicator of how well entity, either person or nation, is adjusted to environment and how much resources, both tangible and intangible, this entity has for modification if needed. Author’s to do list is nice, but it would only work if both levels of adjustment and resource availability sufficient to overcome the crisis. Otherwise to do list is not going to help in the least. To take one of his many example at national level, the Japan Meiji success was possible only because it dealt with Western trading nations, which had no intention of conquest and subjugation while happily allowing Japan to acquire technology and know-how, the generosity for which these Western nations later paid a lot in lives and treasure during WWII. In case of Finland, its successful resistance in the winter of 1940 did not stop Stalin from winning this small war, but demonstrated that it would require resources for occupation and complete subjugation that Stalin, busy with Poland, Baltic States, and preparation for war, just was not willing to allocate. At the end of war Stalin decided that remotely controlled satellite placed within Western camp – kind of small trap door in Iron curtain, used as conduit for technology transfer and source of convertible currency would better serve his purposes than another soviet republic. In both cases success was not that much what was done by leaders of these countries, as what opportunities were open for them. Such opportunities were completely closed for others, like Poland or Baltic countries.

 

20191215 – The Coddling of American Mind

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how contemporary American Academia violate or even trying completely eliminate the great Western tradition of free thinking and research, propagating untruths and hurting the young generation of students. It is also to demonstrate how this generation is already severally handicapped by development of super safe parenting, fear of exposure to reality, and social media that leaves young people with no experience of real social interaction by substituting it with remote electronic forms. The main idea also includes recommendations for how to move to wiser kids, universities, and eventually society by acting according to the rules and ideas of Western traditions that served well to create prosperous society that leftists are trying to destroy.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: The Search for Wisdom

Here authors explore untruth that currently taught to the young generations:

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on wellbeing.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

Authors also discusses in introduction their experiences as leftist academics who observed changes in universities from 1970 till now and got scared by massive debilitating impact on the young generation of massive indoctrination, suppression of free speech and free thinking and isolation of student from exposure to Western culture and its values.

PART I: Three Bad Ideas

CHAPTER 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker

Here author discusses correctness of usual wisdom:” What does not kill you makes you stronger”, even if it is not absolute and critic its opposite that is in vogue in colleges right now. They refer to Antifragility, which is normal product of evolutionary process human development and retell how it is undermined by Safetyism, implementation of Safe spaces, and such. Their conclusions are:

  • Children, like many other complex adaptive systems, are Antifragile. Their brains require a wide range of inputs from their environments in order to configure themselves for those environments. Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions. Concepts sometimes creep.
  • Concepts like trauma and safety have expanded so far since the 1980s that they are often employed in ways that are no longer grounded in legitimate psychological research. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify the overprotection of children of all ages—even college students, who are sometimes said to need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.
  • Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences that their Antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.

CHAPTER 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings

This is about handling emotions and most important not to become slave of one’s emotions. One of expressions of emotional debility of contemporary students, especially leftist is disinvitation of speakers on campus. They provide nice graph for frequency of such idiocy:

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Here is summarization of this chapter:

  • Among the most universal psychological insights in the world’s wisdom traditions is that what really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them, as Epictetus put it.
  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • The term “microaggressions” refers to a way of thinking about brief and commonplace indignities and slights communicated to people of color (and others). Small acts of aggression are real, so the term could be useful, but because the definition includes accidental and unintentional offenses, the word “aggression” is misleading. Using the lens of microaggressions may amplify the pain experienced and the conflict that ensues. (On the other hand, there is nothing “micro” about intentional acts of aggression and bigotry.)
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Karith Foster offers an example of using empathy to reappraise actions that could be interpreted as microaggressions. When she interpreted those actions as innocent (albeit insensitive) misunderstandings, it led to a better outcome for everyone.
  • The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of Antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

CHAPTER 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People

This is about identity politics, which authors contrast with MLK’s common-humanity approach. Authors also discuss intersectionality and provide nice graph explaining this concept:

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Here is the summary of the chapter:

  • The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent (and often violent) conflict; our modern-day minds readily divide the world into “us” and “them,” even on trivial or arbitrary criteria, as Henri Tajfel’s psychological experiments demonstrated.
  • Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pauli Murray, can be called common-humanity identity politics, because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” It is used on the far right as well as the far left.
  • Intersectionality is a popular intellectual framework on campuses today; certain versions of it teach students to see multiple axes of privilege and oppression that intersect. While there are merits to the theory, the way it is interpreted and practiced on campus can sometimes amplify tribal thinking and encourage students to endorse the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells,” and it teaches students habits of self-censorship. Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health. Call-out cultures and us-versus-them thinking are incompatible with the educational and research missions of universities, which require free inquiry, dissent, evidence-based argument, and intellectual honesty.“

Part II: Bad ideas in Action

In this part authors “show the Great Untruths in action. We examine the “shout-downs,” intimidation, and occasional violence that are making it more difficult for universities to fulfill their core missions of education and research. We explore the newly popular idea that speech is violence, and we show why thinking this way is bad for students’ mental health. We explore the sociology of witch-hunts and moral panics, including the conditions that can cause a college to descend into chaos.”

CHAPTER 4 Intimidation and Violence

Here authors move to contemporary left’s Orwellian ideas like “Words are Violence; Violence is Safety”. Here is authors’ summary:

  • The “Milo Riot” at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, marked a major shift in campus protests. Violence was used successfully to stop a speaker; people were injured, and there were (as far as we can tell) no costs to those who were violent. Some students later justified the violence, as a legitimate form of “self-defense” to prevent speech that they said was violent.
  • Hardly any students say that they themselves would use violence to shut down a speech, but two surveys conducted in late 2017 found that substantial minorities of students (20% in one survey and 30% in the other) said it was sometimes “acceptable” for other students to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.
  • The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a peaceful counterprotester and injured others, further raised tensions on campus, especially as provocations from far-right groups increased in the months afterward.
  • In the fall of 2017, the number of efforts to shut down speakers reached a record level.
  • In 2017, the idea that speech can be violence (even when it does not involve threats, harassment, or calls for violence) seemed to spread, assisted by the tendency in some circles to focus only on perceived impact, not on intent. Words that give rise to stress or fear for members of some groups are now often regarded as a form of violence.
  • Speech is not violence. Treating it as such is an interpretive choice, and it is a choice that increases pain and suffering while preventing other, more effective responses, including the Stoic response (cultivating nonreactivity) and the antifragile response suggested by Van Jones: “Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity.”

CHAPTER 5 Witch Hunts

Here authors discuss history of witch-hunt and note that it happens when some ideologies came to dominate and then trying to retain this dominance forever. They provide graph demonstrating left dominance in universities:

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They also discuss some recent events and provide summary of the chapter:

  • Humans are tribal creatures who readily form groups to compete with other groups (as we saw in chapter 3). Sociologist Emile Durkheim’s work illuminates the way those groups engage in rituals—including the collective punishment of deviance—to enhance their cohesion and solidarity.
  • Cohesive and morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts, particularly when they experience a threat, whether from outside or from within.
  • Witch hunts generally have four properties: they seem to come out of nowhere; they involve charges of crimes against the collective; the offenses that lead to those charges are often trivial or fabricated; and people who know that the accused is innocent keep quiet, or in extreme cases, they join the mob.
  • Some of the most puzzling campus events and trends since 2015 match the profile of a witch hunt. The campus protests at Yale, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen all began as reactions to politely worded emails, and all led to demands that the authors of the emails be fired. (We repeat that the concerns that provide the context for a witch-hunt may be valid, but in a witch-hunt, the attendant fears are channeled in unjust and destructive ways.)
  • The new trend in 2017 for professors to join open letters denouncing their colleagues and demanding the retraction or condemnation of their work (as happened to Rebecca Tuvel, Amy Wax, and others) also fits this pattern. In all of these cases, colleagues of the accused were afraid to publicly stand up and defend them.
  • Viewpoint diversity reduces a community’s susceptibility to witch-hunts. One of the most important kinds of viewpoint diversity, diversity of political thought, has declined substantially among both professors and students at American universities since the 1990s. These declines, combined with the rapidly escalating political polarization of the United States (which is our focus in the next chapter), may be part of the reason why the new culture of safetyism has spread so rapidly since its emergence around 2013.

PART Ill: How Did We Get Here’?

In Part III authors “try to solve the mystery. Why did things change so rapidly on many campuses between 2013 and 2017? We identify six explanatory threads: the rising political polarization and cross-party animosity of U.S. politics, which has led to rising hate crimes and harassment on campus; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression, which have made many students more desirous of protection and more receptive to the Great Untruths; changes in parenting practices, which have amplified children’s fears even as childhood becomes increasingly safe; the loss of free play and unsupervised risk-taking, both of which kids need to become self-governing adults; the growth of campus bureaucracy and expansion of its protective mission; and an increasing passion for justice, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires. These six trends did not influence everyone equally, but they have all begun to intersect and interact on college campuses in the United States in the last few years.”

CHAPTER 6 The Polarization Cycle

Here authors discuss polarization between political parties:

  • The United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization, which means that people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it. This is our first of six explanatory threads that will help us understand what has been changing on campus.
  • Affective polarization in the United States is roughly symmetrical, but as university students and faculty have shifted leftward during a time of rising cross-party hatred, universities have begun to receive less trust and more hostility from some conservatives and right-leaning organizations.
  • Beginning in 2016, the number of high-profile cases of professors being hounded or harassed from the right for something they said in an interview or on social media began to increase.
  • Rising political polarization, accompanied by increases in racial and political provocation from the right, usually directed from off-campus to on-campus targets, is an essential part of the story of why behavior is changing on campus, particularly since 2016.

CHAPTER 7 Anxiety and Depression

Being teachers, authors constantly interact with the young generation and they notice dramatic increase in metal problems:

  • The national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression that began around 2011 is our second explanatory thread.
  • The generation born between 1995 and 2012, called iGen (or sometimes Gen Z), is very different from the Millennials, the generation that preceded it. According to Jean Twenge, an expert in the study of generational differences, one difference is that iGen is growing up more slowly. On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations.
  • A second difference is that iGen has far higher rates of anxiety and depression. The increases for girls and young women are generally much larger than for boys and young men. The increases do not just reflect changing definitions or standards; they show up in rising hospital admission rates of self-harm and in rising suicide rates. The suicide rate of adolescent boys is still higher than that of girls, but the suicide rate of adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.
  • According to Twenge, the primary cause of the increase in mental illness is frequent use of smartphones and other electronic devices. Less than two hours a day seems to have no deleterious effects, but adolescents who spend several hours a day interacting with screens, particularly if they start in their early teen years or younger, have worse mental health outcomes than do adolescents who use these devices less and who spend more time in face-to-face social interaction.
  • Girls may be suffering more than boys because they are more adversely affected by social comparisons (especially based on digitally enhanced beauty), by signals that they are being left out, and by relational aggression, all of which became easier to enact and harder to escape when adolescents acquired smartphones and social media.
  • iGen’s arrival at college coincides exactly with the arrival and intensification of the culture of safetyism from 2013 to 2017. Members of iGen may be especially attracted to the overprotection offered by the culture of safetyism on many campuses because of students’ higher levels of anxiety and depression. Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is.

CHAPTER 8 Paranoid Parenting

This chapter is about paranoid parenting that become typical in America:

  • Paranoid parenting is our third explanatory thread.
  • When we overprotect children, we harm them. Children are naturally antifragile, so overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient later on.
  • Children today have far more restricted childhoods, on average, than those enjoyed by their parents, who grew up in far more dangerous times and yet had many more opportunities to develop their intrinsic antifragility. Compared with previous generations, younger Millennials and especially members of iGen (born in and after 1995) have been deprived of unsupervised time for play and exploration. They have missed out on many of the challenges, negative experiences, and minor risks that help children develop into strong, competent, and independent adults (as we’ll show in the next chapter).
  • Children in the United States and other prosperous countries are safer today than at any other point in history. Yet for a variety of historical reasons, fear of abduction is still very high among American parents, many of whom have come to believe that children should never be without adult supervision. When children are repeatedly led to believe that the world is dangerous and that they cannot face it alone, we should not be surprised if many of them believe it.
  • Helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it hard to give kids unsupervised time may be having a negative impact on the mental health and resilience of young people today.
  • There are large social class differences in parenting styles. Families in the middle class (and above) tend to use a style that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation,” in contrast to the “natural growth parenting” used by families in the working class (and below). Some college students from wealthier families may have been rendered more fragile from overparenting and oversupervision. College students from poorer backgrounds are exposed to a very different set of risks, including potential exposure to chronic, severe adversity, which is especially detrimental to resilience when children lack caring relationships with adults who can buffer stress and help them turn adversity into growth.
  • Paranoid parenting prepares today’s children to embrace the three Great Untruths, which means that when they go to college, they are psychologically primed to join a culture of safetyism.

CHAPTER 9 The Decline of Play

This chapter is about necessity of play for development not only humans, but also animals and how American children now deprived of this necessity:

  • The decline of unsupervised free play is our fourth explanatory thread. Children, like other mammals, need free play in order to finish the intricate wiring process of neural development. Children deprived of free play are likely to be less competent—physically and socially—as adults. They are likely to be less tolerant of risk, and more prone to anxiety disorders.
  • Free play, according to Peter Gray, is “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” This is the kind of play that play experts say is most valuable for children, yet it is also the kind of play that has declined most sharply in the lives of American children.
  • The decline in free play was likely driven by several factors, including an unrealistic fear of strangers and kidnapping (since the 1980s); the rising competitiveness for admission to top universities (over many decades); a rising emphasis on testing, test preparation, and homework; and a corresponding deemphasis on physical and social skills (since the early 2000s).
  • The rising availability of smartphones and social media interacted with these other trends, and the combination has greatly changed the way American children spend their time and the kinds of physical and social experiences that guide the intricate wiring process of neural development.
  • Free play helps children develop the skills of cooperation and dispute resolution that are closely related to the “art of association” upon which democracies depend. When citizens are not skilled in this art, they are less able to work out the ordinary conflicts of daily life. They will more frequently call for authorities to apply coercive force to their opponents. They will be more likely to welcome the bureaucracy of safetyism.

CHAPTER 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyism

This is basically about people who benefit from all this – bureaucrats:

  • The growth of campus bureaucracy and the expansion of its protective mission is our fifth explanatory thread.
  • Administrators generally have good intentions; they are trying to protect the university and its students. But good intentions can sometimes lead to policies that are bad for students. At Northern Michigan University, a policy that we assume was designed to protect the university from liability led to inhumane treatment of students seeking therapy.
  • In response to a variety of factors, including federal mandates and the risk of lawsuits, the number of campus administrators has grown more rapidly than the number of professors, and professors have gradually come to play a smaller role in the administration of universities. The result has been a trend toward “corporatization.”
  • At the same time, market pressures, along with an increasingly consumerist mentality about higher education, have encouraged universities to compete on the basis of the amenities they offer, leading them to think of students as customers whom they must please.
  • Campus administrators must juggle many responsibilities and protect the university from many kinds of liabilities, so they tend to adopt a “better safe than sorry” (or “CYA”) approach to issuing new regulations. The proliferation of regulations over time conveys a sense of imminent danger even when there is little or no real threat. In this way, administrators model multiple cognitive distortions, promote the Untruth of Fragility, and contribute to the culture of safetyism.
  • Some of the regulations promulgated by administrators restrict freedom of speech, often with highly subjective definitions of key concepts. These rules contribute to an attitude on campus that chills speech, in part by suggesting that freedom of speech can or should be restricted because of some students’ emotional discomfort. This teaches catastrophizing and mind reading (among other cognitive distortions) and promotes the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning.
  • One recent administrative innovation is the creation of “Bias Response Lines” and “Bias Response Teams,” which make it easy for members of a campus community to report one another anonymously for “bias.” This “feel something, say something” approach is likely to erode trust within a community. It may also make professors less willing to try innovative or provocative teaching methods; they, too, may develop a CYA approach.
  • More generally, efforts to protect students by creating bureaucratic means of resolving problems and conflicts can have the unintended consequence of fostering moral dependence, which may reduce students’ ability to resolve conflicts independently both during and after college.

CHAPTER 11 The Quest for Justice

Here authors expand on leftist understanding of justice and provide timetable of events that impacted their perception of current situation. Here is their summary:

  • Political events in the years from 2012 to 2018 have been as emotionally powerful as any since the late 1960s. Today’s college students and student protesters are responding to these events with a powerful commitment to social justice activism. This is our sixth and final explanatory thread.
  • People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types: distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).
  • The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.
  • Procedural justice is about how decisions are being made, and is also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.
  • Social justice is a central concept in campus life today, and it takes a variety of forms. When social justice efforts are fully consistent with both distributive and procedural justice, we call it proportional-procedural social justice. Such efforts generally aim to remove barriers to equality of opportunity and also to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity. But when social justice efforts aim to achieve equality of outcomes by group, and when social justice activists are willing to violate distributive or procedural fairness for some individuals along the way, these efforts violate many people’s sense of intuitive justice. We call these equal-outcomes social justice.
  • Correlation does not imply causation. Yet in many discussions in universities these days, the correlation of a demographic trait or identity group membership with an outcome gap is taken as evidence that discrimination (structural or individual) caused the outcome gap. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but if people can’t raise alternative possible causal explanations without eliciting negative consequences, then the community is unlikely to arrive at an accurate understanding of the problem. And without understanding the true nature of a problem, there is little chance of solving it.

Part IV: Wising Up

In the final part authors “offer advice. We suggest specific actions that will help parents and teachers to raise wiser, stronger, more independent children, and we suggest ways in which professors, administrators, and college students can improve their universities and adapt them for life in our age of technology-enhanced outrage.“

CHAPTER 12 Wiser Kids

Here authors discuss how to raise kids to be ready for real world. It is mainly to provide knowledge of this real world, train to rely on sober analysis, rather than emptions and feelings, develop resilience to opinions and even hostility of others, avoid confrontation because good and evil are inside people not between groups of people. They also propose a practical measure: do service or work before college.

CHAPTER 13 Wiser Universities

For universities authors’ recommendations are: defend freedom of inquiry; pick more mature students; look for viewpoint diversity, and educate for “productive disagreement”.

CONCLUSION Wiser Societies

In conclusion authors summarize the whole book in one small table:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I find in somewhat charming and encouraging that authors, despite being leftists, nevertheless are capable to think, analyze, and understand the harm the current takeover of higher education by the left is causing not only to students and universities, but also to internal peace of the country. The eye opening for them came from situation when more extreme leftists attack less extreme the same way as they attack conservatives. It looks like something called self-preservation kicks in, making them more reasonable. This self-preservation expands also to their children and way of live because being smart people they seems to understand that combination of debilitating education based on primacy of emotion, denial of intellectual freedoms, and aggressive attempts to suppress others could lead to such powerful pushback from these others that would force them to lose their comfortable way of life. Certainly, being leftists, they comply with compulsory requirement to say some lies about Trump and express their hate, but to me it seems like they do not have real passion behind this. Anyway, I think in general it is great development and whatever these people can do, and they are really trying, to return American education back to traditions of Western civilization would be a valuable help in this struggle.

20191208 – How to lie with Statistics

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this small book is to demonstrate how by using various presentation methods and statistical tools, which are technically correct, one can nevertheless create false believes in the mind of user.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author provides a brief narrative of his encounters with people being misled by either misuse of statistical tools or by intentional use of such tools for this purpose and then moves to specific examples.

  1. The Sample with the Built-in Bias

Here author looks at income statistics for “Average Yale man, class 24” and demonstrates how misleading is this statement because it contains a bunch of imbedded biases. He makes an important point: “To be worth much, a report based on sampling must use a representative sample, which is one from which every source of bias has been removed.”

After that author discusses another issue with selection of representative sample: “The test of the random sample is this: Does every name or thing in the whole group have an equal chance to be in the sample? The purely random sample is the only kind that can be examined with entire confidence by means of statistical theory, but there is one thing wrong with it. It is so difficult and expensive to obtain for many uses that sheer cost eliminates it. A more economical substitute, which is almost universally used in such fields as opinion polling and market research, is called stratified random sampling.
 Finally author demonstrates how difficult it is to meet these requirements.

  1. The Well-Chosen Average

The next point author makes is use of averages without clarifying what they mean. He provides a very nice graphic presentation for this issue:

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  1. How to Talk Back to a Statistic

The final chapter is about overcoming manipulation with statistics and presentations by asking a few very reasonable questions:

  • Who says so?
  • How does he know?
  • Did somebody change the subject?
  • Does it make sense?

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great collection of manipulation tools from some 50 years ago. It is funny that despite huge progress in information processing these methods did not change that much. Practically all these technics could be found now in books, news, and on Internet. Sometimes it requires some effort to recognize such manipulation, but usually it is very primitive and obvious to any even slightly educated person. Unfortunately after 12 years of high school and often even after additional 4 years of college the general level of mass education could be estimated as much less than slightly, which created the basis for mass manipulation of people. Consequently lots of politicians and bureaucrats make a great living out of this manipulation. I think that American society is pretty close to saturation with this lies because the net result is deterioration of quality of live, which at some point could create some serious push for a change, including massive improvement in education that would prevent manipulation or at least make it much more difficult.