The main idea of this book is that a state is just a bunch of bandits who established dominance over population of some territory by conquest. It was written in 1908 so the factual and historical base of data supporting it somewhat limited, but author nevertheless makes convincing case in support of this idea.
I. THEORIES OP THE STATE the Sociological Idea of the State
This chapter reviews different theories of the state and points out their inadequacies. Author comes up with his own definition: The State is a social institution imposed by a victorious group of men on a defeated group.
II.THE GENESIS OF THE STATE: (a) Political and Economic Means; (b) Peoples Without a State: Huntsmen and Grubbers; (g) Peoples preceding the State: Herdsmen and Viking; [d) The Genesis of the State
Here author provides a key statement that there are only two conceivable ways to obtain means that humans need to satisfy their desires: work and robbery. The robbery is defined as political means and work as economic means. After that primitive pre-state societies reviewed with conclusion that main reason for absence of states at this point is that low productivity and inability to save resources, which makes robbery ineffective in resource acquisition for hunter-gatherers and primitive agriculturists. However it makes sense for herdsman due to mobility of cattle and for maritime robbers such as Vikings. From here author defines genesis of a state as consequence of conquest of agriculturalists by herders and hunters going through several stages of increasing sophistication eventually resulting in fully formed political structure.
III. THE PRIMITIVE FEUDAL STATE: [a) The Form of Dominion; [b). The Integration; [c). The Differentiation: Group Theories and Group Psychology; [d). The Primitive Feudal State of Higher Grade
This chapter is review of primitive feudal state. Author defines it as form of domination: warlike minority, closely interrelated, dominates over population of some territory collecting rent. Author looks at it as an organic process of small, but energetic and active entity taking over control of big, but passive entity similar to biological interaction of sperm and egg. Author also reviews psychological underpinnings of political arrangement such as psychology of aristocrat versus peasant. The final part of this chapter reviews wars as process of formation of higher grade of feudal state through conquest and merger of smaller states.
IV. THE MARITIME STATE: (a) Traffic in Prehistoric Times; (b) Trade and the Primitive State; (c) The Genesis of the Maritime State; [d) Essence and Issue of the Maritime States;
Commercial capital and trade determine type of state based on access to the ocean or sea. Real estate capital determines another type of the state: land based state. Both types of state based on robbery and provide protection against other robbers and pirates. The difference is that maritime states based on robbery of commercial traffic that spawns cities and consequently land based property, while territorial states mainly based on rent robbery of settled population with robbery of traders being secondary. This chapter reviews details of history and sociological structure of such maritime state.
V. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FEUDAL STATE: (a) The Genesis of Landed Property; (b) The Central Power in the Primitive Feudal State; (c) The Political and Social Disintegration of the Primitive Feudal State; [d) The Ethnic Amalgamation; (e) The Developed Feudal State
Author defines feudal state as mainly territorial, based on landed property. He reviews genesis of feudal state as basically process of merger and acquisition via war and power. In process multiple groups and ethnicities get included into developing feudal state leading eventually to its maturity with creation of specific strata of population permanently assigned to some specific activities either agriculture for peasants or military and political pursuits for aristocracy.
VI. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL STATE: (a) The Emancipation of the Peasantry; (b) The Genesis of Industrial State; (c) The Influences of Money Economy; (d) The Modern Constitutional State
This chapter reviews genesis of contemporary constitutional state, which occurs via struggle of internal forces rather than external forces of conquest or expansion. The end of conquest results in destruction of social contract between aristocracy and peasantry when defense become function of huge conscription armies and protective function of aristocracy outdated. This in turn creates unwillingness on part of peasant to pay rent and causes growth in need of internal army of overseers and necessitates increase of rent to feed them. Another serious factor in undermining feudal state is growth and empowerment of cities, which is based on cities role in commercial exchange on countrywide market and industrial production that becomes necessary for survival of the state. All this lead to renegotiation of existing order, elimination of static strata of society with its substitution by free labor and capital, and eventual transformation to constitutional state.
VII. THE TENDENCY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE STATE
Author sees eventual development of state into constitutional state with freeman citizenship in which political means (state violence) would lose it’s meaning and will be degraded to minimalistic administrative functions. Eventually the state as violent force standing outside and above society will practically disappear merging with civil society.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is one of these books that make detailed and convincing case for something that seems to be just a plain common sense. I am fully agreed that the state is just a form of violent dominance of one group of people over another. However I think that process of state formation presented in this book is somewhat simplistic and leaves a lot outside of the scope. Most important is process of development within society methods of indoctrination and ongoing ideological control of population. It is interesting that in a case of regular gang of robbers nobody neither robbers nor people being robbed are confused about character of what is happening. The huge difference of the state compared with any other gang is that not only gang (state) members often see themselves not as robbers, but as benevolent force, but also people who are being robbed believe the same.
This book is about nature of Progress and the main idea is that it is unstoppable and unbounded because it is based on human intrinsic need to find explanations and to build such model of environment that it would be good enough to facilitate survival.
- The Reach of Explanations:
The first chapter lays out foundation for the book. It reviews process of building explanation as sequence of Sensory experience – Derivations (Extrapolation, Generalization or Induction). The point is made that empiricism, which makes sensory experience the main source of knowledge is not correct because building of real model of reality require much more sophisticated critical analysis to overcome false impressions such as flat earth. In short: appearances are deceptive and so is blind following to authority. The main achievement of Enlightenment – development of philosophy of science is not just experimental testing, but understanding of need for criticism of authority not based on another authority, but on different explanation of existing facts and discovery of new facts based on the prediction provided by new explanation.
- Closer to Reality
Scientific instruments are bringing us close to reality because they provide new and expanded option for theory-laded collection of facts.
- The Spark
This chapter starts with review of the fact that most non-scientific explanations are anthropocentric. These explanations so often were wrong that they cause creation of “Principle of Mediocrity”, which states: “there is nothing significant about humans in the cosmic scheme of things”. Another influential idea is “Spaceship Earth”, which states: “Earth is like spaceship designed to support human live and civilization”. Author believes that both these ideas are mistaken. Humans are not a trivial occurrence in the universe and there is no special accommodation created for humans. It is rather human existence based on ability to acquire knowledge and accommodate to reality even if it is hostile and inhospitable because people are universal constructors and the most significant part of their construction activity is construction of explanations. The most important take out from this chapter are two statements:
Problems are inevitable
Problems are soluble
These chapter reviews different explanations of creation from creationism to evolution. The most interesting part is look at the knowledge acquisition as Lamarckian process with memes being developed with view of adaptation and optimization versus genes being developed by process of random change and selection.
- The Reality of Abstraction
This chapter reviews two misconceptions: Reductionism – the idea that science always must reduce phenomenon to components in order to explain it; and Holism the idea that all significant explanations are of components in term of wholes.
Author position is that there is no necessity for hierarchical structure of explanations; they could be at the any level and of any complexity as needed. The important point is that abstractions are real.
- The Jump to Universality
All knowledge growth is incremental, but at some point it usually lead to qualitative change when reach of knowledge become universal. One of examples provided is switch from Roman numerical to Arabic. Roman numerals being dependent on new symbols with number increase are inherently limited, while Arabic being algorithmically built with just 10 symbols provides notation for infinite numbers.
- Artificial Creativity.
This is review of attempts of creation of AI starting with Turing; all consistently failing. Author infers that the issue is unresolved philosophical problem of not understanding how creativity works.
- A Window on Infinity
This is review of mathematical and philosophical view of infinity and multiple infinities imbedded in each other. It is illustrated by Hilbert’s experiment with Infinity Hotel. The inference is that development of new knowledge is infinite and its content is unpredictable.
This is about unpredictability of the future, but at the same time possibility to predict direction of the future. This comes from the Principle of Optimism: All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge. So logically since amount of accumulated knowledge grows, the evils should decline.
- A Dream of Socrates
This is a phantasy flight related to the problem of complexity of communications. It is also called “Socratic problem” because Socrates did not leave anything in writing, everything from his dialogs came second hand from Plato. Overall communication problem does not really relate that much to form and/or technology, but rather to process of ideas movement from the mind of one person to mind of another. This process is very complicated because both transmission and reception of ideas based on huge amounts of preset ideas so “A” in one mind even if communicated as “a” could easily be processed into “B” in another mind. An interesting example is provided for information transfer during learning process of high physics. Teaching and learning is never ever conducted using original works of discoverers. It is conducted using specially developed training materials that considerably decrease difference between mental database of original author and contemporary student.
- The Multiverse
This is a small deviation into area of quantum physics designed to demonstrate that physical world is a multiverse, and its structure is determined by information flows in it.
- A Physicist’s History of bad Philosophy
This charter explores philosophical meaning of Quantum theory and why this meaning was actively ignored and even resisted by physicists. The reason provided: the bad philosophy that is philosophy, which actively prevents growth of knowledge. Most damage causes by bad philosophy came from idea of separating a scientific theory into explanationless predictions and arbitrary interpretations.
This chapter starts with review of apportionment problem: how provide fair proportional representation in democracy. It turns out that it is mathematically impossible to do within a quota. Therefore idea of “will of society” is pretty much meaningless, leading to Popper’s criterion: Good political institutions are those that make it as easy as possible to detect whether a ruler or policy is a mistake, and to remove rulers or policies without violence when they are. A wider philosophical interpretation: it is mistake to conceive of choice and decision-making as a process of selecting from existing options according to fixed formula, it is missing the most important part: creating new options.
- Why are flowers Beautiful?
This chapter is about aesthetics and its meaning. Contrary to usual approach that it is subjective, author is trying to prove that there is objective truth in it that comes from its evolutionary function of attractions, but also from its function of helping communication between people.
- The Evolution of Culture
This chapter about change in culture that occurs via evolution of memes as ideas that causes behavior. They could benefit people, or they could hurt people, but what relevant is how good they are in causing people pass them on and making people to act on them. Author differentiates rational and anti-rational memes. The rational survive by helping their holders while anti-rational by suppressing critical abilities of holders. Western civilization is now unstable because it is switching from static society consisting of anti-rational memes to stable dynamic society consisting of rational.
- The Evolution of Creativity
This chapter is about human ability to replicate memes and creativity as outflow from this process. In other words human existence depends on belonging to the group, communication between members of the group and even incorporation of individual into the group requires individual to possess effective mechanism of memes’ acquisition, which is acquisition of knowledge. The same mechanism is used to create new knowledge and therefore is source of creativity. The other important point is that memes are not copied, but rather developed by each individual in his own mind under influence of environment and communications with other individuals therefore assuring uniqueness of mind of every individual.
This chapter is about static society discussed using example of Easter Island and documentaries made about it. It shows that society could become static and stop solving problems leading to complete destruction. It follows by critic of ideologues who cannot conceive complexity of future changes in knowledge and therefore try to build strategies of violent actions to conserve whatever current level of technology and wealth exists and prevent future disasters that are more often then not are just work of imagination. The real progress is in ability of society to constantly change by developing new knowledge and expanding its wealth making it possible to meet future challenges that are not possible to predict anyway.
- The Beginning
This is final discussion about many cases of people declaring that all discoveries either already made or about to be made and that the knowledge is finite. Author’s inference is that all these statements either simplistic or overcomplicated are plainly false and we are at the beginning of infinite process of knowledge acquisition and that there is only one way of making real progress, it is to seek good explanations with creativity and criticism.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is another book that promotes ideas I am pretty much agreed with. I think that our historical experience shows that humanity makes a great progress when creativity of individuals is not restricted by narrow-mindedness of other individuals, usually those in power. The creativity and criticism always come together and help resolve new and newer problems that inevitably occur all the time. There is really no option to freeze present whether it is current natural environment, or human relations, or structure of society, or whatever. The only choice we really have is freedom when unlimited creativity and criticism would produce resolution of problems, if we want to achieve progress, meaning improvement in human lives. The alternative – lack of freedom, restriction on creativity and criticism would not maintain current status of society and environment, but rather lead to regresses meaning decrease in quality of human lives and even complete destruction.
The main idea of this book is to approach human society as physicists approach natural phenomenon by collecting huge amount of data and applying statistical analytical tools to find out explanatory rules for this phenomenon. The most interesting thing about this is the new method to collect data about human behavior using GPS and communication tool to pick up tons of information about who communicate with who, when, where, and for how long.
1.FROM IDEAS TO ACTIONS: Using Big Data to Understand How Human Societies Evolve: What Is Social Physics? A Practical Science; Big Data; A Rich Social Science; Plan for the Book; Data-Driven Societies: Promethean Fire; SPECIAL TOPIC: LANGUAGE
This is a description of idea of this book: use of quantitative methods of big data to discover mathematical connections between ideas flow and human action. The point is made that typical method of social science: laboratory experiment and polls are not adequate for purpose of developing understanding of dynamics of human society. The new method would be based on analysis of trillions of transactions between individuals that are captured by multiple automatic data collection devices from credit card readers to cameras everywhere.
PART I: Social Physics
2. EXPLORATION: How can We Find Good Ideas and Make Good Decisions? Social Learning; Idea Flow; Idea Flow and Decision Making; Tuning Networks; Exploration
This is about exploration as the best way to find good ideas and make good decisions. Example is used of transactions analysis of trading system eToro where trader can either make his own decisions or jus copy other traders. The resulting graph provided showing that the best strategy is in the middle, while isolated traders and echo chamber traders has lower returns then traders in the range of moderate idea flow. After that Bell Stars study reviewed that demonstrated star performers consistently engage links to experts in order to collect various ideas and view points. The key findings: Social Learning is critical; Diversity is important; Contrarians are important.
3.IDEA FLOW: The Building Blocks of Collective Intelligence; Habits, Preferences, and Curiosity; Habits versus Beliefs; Collectively Rational, Not Individually Rational; Common Sense
Two studies are conducted to explore process of ideas flow: Social Evolution and Friends and Family collecting 2 million hours of interactions between people. It identified key components: habits, preferences, and curiosity. The analogy provided: We all sail in the stream of ideas provided by people around and it forms our habits and preferences. This linked to ideas of fast and slow thinking with adoption of habits and preferences going via slow thinking process and then becoming foundation for fast thinking and common sense. Consequently, as rule, individual thinking is based on collective rationality, but is not rational per se. From here author brings common sense as in old English use of “kith” as group of people with common believes and thinking.
4.ENGAGEMENT: How Can We All Work Together? Social Pressure; Digital Engagement; Subjugation and Conflict; Rules of Engagement; Next Steps; SPECIAL TOPIC: THE MATHEMATICS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE
This chapter is about working in the group and achieving cohesion. Unsurprisingly it is all about social pressure and top performers making other individuals work harder. It also states that that synchronization of idea flows in-group is critical. After discussing for a while subjugation and conflict mainly between groups, author comes up with rules of engagement that allow achieving behavior changes: Interaction, cooperation, and trust building.
PART II: Idea Machines
5.COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: How Patterns of Interaction Translate into Collective Intelligence; Measuring What You Manage; Productivity. Creativity. Improving Idea Flow
While author uses trivial notion of collective intelligence, he nevertheless comes up with interesting finding that such intelligence works best when interactions within group occur on more or less equal basis. The critical factor is diversity of ideas generated and freedom in critic of ideas. Application of these ideas in modifying business processes also provided.
6.SHAPING ORGANIZATIONS: Social Intelligence Through Visualization of Interaction Patterns; Engagement; Exploration; Diversity. Social Intelligence
This short chapter is about tools that allow visualization of interaction using sociometric badges and simple software to generate graphs from communication logs.
7.ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE: Social Network Incentives Can Be Used to Create Instant Organizations and Guide Them Through Disruptive Change; Instant Organizations; Organizations in Stress; Trust; Next Steps; SPECIAL TOPIC: SOCIAL SIGNALS
This is about instant organization created to achieve a specific goal. The example provided for balloon search when organization was instantly created by profit sharing between individuals who spontaneously self-organized into network necessary to complete the task. The key was rewarding not only people who actually completed task, but also people who expanded network because in this specific case success was dependent on size of network. Another little side story is measuring trust between based on frequencies of communications. It seems worked pretty well.
PART III: Data-Driven Cities
8.SENSING CITIES: How Mobile Sensing Is Creating a Nervous System for Cities, Enabling Them to Become More Healthy, Safe, and Efficient; Behavior Demographics; Transportation; Health and Disease; Social Network Interventions; From a Digital Nervous System to a Data-Driven Society
This is about exploring new opportunities provided by technology to analyze patterns of behavior in contemporary cities. An example provided of GPS data analysis of cell phones movement to identify concentration of people in different localities during work days and weekends. It showed that population contains different “tribes” with different patterns of behavior. All this can help to predict consumer behavior, transportation needs, disease expansion, and similar things. The key idea is that we should move into transforming cities into data driven dynamic organisms.
9.CITY SCIENCE: How Social Physics and Big Data Are Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Cities and Development; The Social Physics of Cities; Social Ties in Cities; Exploring the City. Idea Flow in Cities; Designing Better Cities; Data-Driven Cities; Next Steps; SPECIAL TOPIC: DIGITAL NETWORKS VERSUS FACE-TO-FACE
This is discussion of idea that concentration of people within face-to face distances in cities facilitates interactions and increases ideas flow. Author even claims ability to predict GDP and creativity of places based on such data. As prove author provides graph that represents growth of GDP vs. Rate of Idea flow growth.
PART IV: Data-Driven Society
10.DATA-DRIVEN SOCIETIES: What Will a Data-Driven Future Look Like? The New Deal on Data; Enforcement; The Wild, Wild Web; Data-Driven Systems: Challenges; Social Physics versus Free Will and Human Dignity
This is an attempt to assess future data-driven society. Author believes it should be based on data ownership laws such as:
You have the right to possess data about you
You have the right to full control over the use of your data
You have the right to dispose of or distribute your data
Author understands that enforcement would be a problem, but he believes that it could be solved using trust networks. Finally author discusses social physics versus Free will and Human Dignity. His approach is that since social physics based on statistical regularities and does not force anything on anybody, there is no conflict between those notions.
11.DESIGN FOR HARMONY: How Social Physics Can Help Us Design a Human-Centric Society; Natural Law: Exchanges, Not Markets; Design for a Networked Society; Data for Development: D4D; Summary: Promethean Fire
The final chapter dedicated to attempt to convince reader that social physics is the way to improve society and make it more human centric. Author believes that future is exchange networks that are different from market because it based on trust and personalized services.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I found this book quite interesting especially it experimental data. The ideas of harmonizing society based on data have a lot less value due to the simple fact that humans are not particles, but rather complex, self-directing, and, most importantly, constantly changing creatures so all and any rules developed based on big data bound to be outdated just about time when they are clearly formulated. I also find it a bit funny how deep hate and rejection of market is inculcated into psyche of contemporary intellectuals limiting their ability to understand world around them. The best example is the last chapter when exchange treated as something different from the market. Historically and linguistically market means just a place where exchange occur. In contemporary world it is practically everywhere because humans have a lot more freedom than they used to have. That’s why people are routinely talking about non-monetary markets such as marriage market.
The main idea is that human behavior is defined by habits to much higher degree than it is usually thought. Moreover not only habits define our behavior they do it in such way that we are often completely missing reason for doing something because we are driven by habits not by reason. On the bright side it is possible to recognize habits and either enforce them or consciously change them depending on habit’s usefulness for our wellbeing. There are quite a few methods provided to do just that leading to final statement that we are responsible for our habits and should consciously analyze and control them.
PART ONE: The Habits of Individuals
- The HABIT LOOP: How Habits Work
The initial point is made that habits are quite powerful and not directly depend on memory. To illustrate this point 2 cases of amnesiacs are presented one of which is famous H.M. It follows by description of experiments with mouse and labyrinth. The analysis of mouse’s brain activity demonstrated that with development of habit moving within specific path the brain activity decreased. The habit process has 3 steps: cue – routine – reward. The key points are the cues the slightest variation of which could prevent routine from execution, leading to change in habits. All this research demonstrated that habits are very powerful and saturate our activities without us consciously tracing them. At the same time they are delicate and could be manipulated and intentionally designed.
- THE CRAVING BRAIN: How to Create New Habits
The first story in this chapter is about marketing success of promoting Pepsodent back in early 1900. The way it was done included creating a craving in this case craving for removal of film from teeth in the morning with reward of good smile and healthy teeth. However cue and reward were not enough so the next part presents another successful marketing story of smell removing spray Febreze. Ad campaign based on product ability to remove bad smell failed as well as attempt to create new habit. Success occurred when they managed to include the product as finishing step in existing routine of home cleaning to add good smell. The Pepsodent story also included an additional trick. It was not necessary abstract wish to remove film that caused people to use paste, but rather tinkling taste of freshness added to it. The point is confirmation signal that person receives during activity that it is working and prompting continuation of routine.
3. THE GOLDEN RULE OF HABIT CHANGE: Why Transformation Occurs
This is about changing habits. The chapter starts with the case of behavior change of players in football team and then jumps to the story of AA. This analysis brings idea that change is possible when sequence of habit is modified by different routine. The person starts using different routine when usual cue occurs and uses the same reward when routine completed. In example with AA the cue: need to remove restriction used to start new routing of AA meeting instead of old of getting drank to achieve reward in form of relaxation.
PART TWO The Habits of Successful Organizations
- KEYSTONE HABITS, OR THE BALLAD OF PAUL O’NEILL: Which Habits Matter Most
This chapter is about identifying specific habits on which one should concentrate in order to achieve positive change. This discussion is based on the case of Paul O’Neill- Alcoa CEO who used concentration on safety to turn company around. It is also discusses process of habit’s routine substitution using incremental method of small wins.
5. STARBUCKS AND THE HABIT OF SUCCESS: When Willpower Becomes Automatic
This is discussion of willpower as success factor. Obviously it could not possibly go without marshmallow test. More interesting is that it provides some methods of increasing it, specifically need for planning as stimulant. The experiment described people who underwent orthopedic surgery and needed regular exercise to recover. People who wrote down their detailed goals for a week recovered materially better then people who did not. As confirmation business case for Starbucks is provided to demonstrate how organization can achieve results by using extensive training program to instill good habits.
- THE POWER OF A CRISIS: How Leaders Create Habits Through Accident and Design
This chapter uses examples of hospital and London underground fire to demonstrate power of habit in relationship between groups within organization with conflicting interest. Hospital case is about switching from suppressing input from nurses into making them valid participants of medical process. London case is about ignoring emergency signal with tragic consequences because it came from unexpected source. Both cases show how people developed habits necessary to maintain truce between groups within organization at the expense of individual freedom of action for its members and how these habits led to catastrophic consequences that could have been prevented. The outcome was change of habits to provide more freedom at the expense of subordination.
- HOW TARGET KNOWS WHAT YOU WANT BEFORE YOU DO When Companies Predict (and Manipulate) Habits
This is discussion of habit manipulation successfully used by private companies and government organizations. One of cases involves big data analysis of purchases to identify individuals with specific condition for example pregnant women. Another one is successful operation of American government to convince people use organ meat during WWII.
PART THREE The Habits of Societies
- SADDLEBACK CHURCH AND THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT: How Movements Happen
This is about link between power of habit and movements. Two examples are provided Rosa Parks and movement for bus boycott and Saddleback church. The point here is that movements can change social habits and it starts at the local level when individuals not satisfied with whatever status quo is begin resonate with each other exchanging their views until it becomes intolerable for them to refrain from actions. At this point some accidental or planned event can jump start movement of people who resonate with each other. The wider is cycle of friend and acquaintances for individual in the center of this incident, the faster and more powerful waves are moving out from the center causing change sometimes rapid in existing social habits. An interesting analysis provided for Summer of Freedom when students from North went down South to demonstrate for civil rights. The question asked was why some students went on this dangerous journey and some did not. The answer was unexpected. It was not personal qualities or even circumstances that made difference, but rather level of involvement in networks with other people who expected one to South.
- THE NEUROLOGY OF FREE WILL: Are We Responsible for Our Habits?
The final chapter discusses level of control that individual has over his/her own habits. The case reviewed of a woman who developed gambling habit. Then analysis proceeds to include cases of sleepwalking. Author contrasts these two cases as one of a gambler as a case of being under conscious control, while another one – sleepwalker killer as a case of lack of control. The main point here is that as long as conscious control present the habit could be changed per individual’s decision to make this change.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I found it quite interesting and useful especially parts of the book related to control of habits and their modification to fit person’s objectives. I believe that I used quite a few of technics discussed in this book to establish habits that I wanted and it served me quite well so far. Nevertheless it is always nice to have some more or less scientific research supporting things that one is doing in his life in addition to multiple examples of how this staff works.
The main idea of this book is to trace how unique American culture and mentality developed over the time and what are main characteristics of this culture. After reviewing history and specific traits of Americans the main feature of this culture presented as self-control of individuals with continuously growing freedom, security, choices, and quality of life. It is also specific to Americans that they tend to belong to voluntary associations and persistently work on self-understanding and self-improvement in pursuit of happiness.
1 THE STORIES WE TELL
This is about stories that make people American and what that means. In short it is combination of culture and character of independence and sociability. It is also about contrast between Americans of past who were fighting for mere survival and Americans of today who live in the land of plenty. This is also about myths of American social story with example of Christmas holiday, which was never a holiday of deep religious meaning. So here are some of myths and their debunking:
- Americans used to move around less than now: Actually Americans used to move around a lot more in previous centuries
- Americans moved away from religion: Actually proportionally more Americans belong to churches now
- Americans become more violent: Actually crime is down consistently despite temporary spikes in the second half of XX century
- Americans become alienated from their jobs: Actually most move to more interesting and creative jobs away from agricultural and industrial drudgery
- Americans become indifferent to the needy: Actually needy now are a lot better off than they used to be even if it is via government programs
The point of this book is to show how much American culture changed or did not change in the last hundred years in most important areas of live: security, goods, groups, public spaces, and mentality. The main thesis is that all these areas greatly improves and instead of changing American national character expanded it and provided opportunity for many people become more “American”. There is also a word about “American exceptionalism”. Author rejects its denial as well as meanings of “Exceptionally good” or “Exceptionally evil”. He defines it just as “significantly unusual” and it is hard to deny that America is very unusual country and the most unusual is its middle class mainstream, whish despite everything is still alive, well, and continue to expand including more and more people.
2 The SECURITY
This chapter reviews history and provides facts of tremendous improvement of American’s security. It goes step by step through all major security issues:
- Security from death and disease: dramatic improvement in life expectancy and quality of life
- Security from One Another: despite violent inheritance of American population this kind of security also has been dramatically improved. Despite periodic spikes of violence and crime overall trend is significant decrease in crime.
- Security from Privation: This is more complicated case to make because early Americans by the time of revolution were the wealthiest people in the world due to easy availability of land. This wealth was partially lost due to industrialization when many Americans become employees of somebody else. However American salaries always remained materially higher than anywhere in the world. The difficult problem in this new environment of dependence on job market with insecurity of unemployment was partially resolved via safety net of social security, unemployment and disability benefits, and welfare.
This chapter about American love / hate affair with consumerism and materialism. There is a very interesting dynamics here: American who have little want more material goods and work hard to get them, but then their children who grew up in relative luxury reject it and strive to live non-material simple live. Well, it seems to be only while they are young and careless. The bottom line is that by now average American family moves about 3 tons of staff while relocating, which is a lot more than it would ever be before. Actually more goods means more possibilities in pursuit of happiness and that is all what America is about.
This chapter is about American tradition of forming groups and cooperating in all things conceivable. Contrary to typical in other cultures attitude to individual as a member of a group based on birth, Americans see individual as independent entity who voluntarily joins community of other individuals in order to achieve all kinds of objectives not achievable on his/her own. The chapter goes into details of history of cooperation specifically analyzing the puritan community as being tightly connected religious group with strict religious norms really unusual for America of “born free” people. Overall the foundation of American culture was in remote small households’ voluntary cooperation and dependency on similar nearby households for support in all things conceivable including defense. With growth of population density, cities, and overall interactions between individuals this tradition grew into multiple societies either religious or secular for mutual help and support with one thing being common: voluntary character of participation. Author points out to multiple research of decline of American associations in late XX century, but he seems to be not sure that it will not follow by resurrection of this tradition and possibly in a new form.
5 PUBLIC SPACES
This chapter is about role of public spaces in American culture. It starts with opening ceremony for new department store in 1895 as symbol of expansion of public spaces in American life. The in goes to review how it came about Initial period of American development was characterized by mainly secluded way of life of farmers interrupted only by attendance of churches, taverns, and markets all of which were not that close to living spaces. Only later in XIX century when Americans moved to the cities and new technology like street car become widely available cutting down effort needed to access public spaces, the role of such spaces started to grow. Many activities that used to be home based such as entertainment, political gatherings, and even dining moved to public spaces of movie theaters, restaurants, bawling alleys, and such. It lasted up until new technologies of late XX century such as TVs and computers attracted people back to their homes and, while keeping them there opened infinite opportunities to communicate with everybody everywhere over Internet. This chapter also reviews political development between all politics being local and low significance of political issues to politics being of national and even international significance and formation of virtual congregation of individuals based on their political believes and inclinations, while not related to locality at all.
6 The MENTALITY
This is probably the most interesting part of the book that relates to American mentality and its changes over time. Two things identify American attitudes to all things mental: tight link to pursuit of happiness and approaches that were changing all the time going through tremendous number of fads, scientific, semi-scientific, and just plain weird theories many of which were expressed in actions in typically American way. These attitudes were expressed as many other things American in life and writings of Ben Franklin with his inherited from puritan forefathers need and love for introspection and following actions on self-perfection. There were and there are lots of ways to express this typical American need: diaries, behavior manuals, lectures, discussion clubs, and everything else conceivable including services of shrinks to improve mental wellbeing and achieve self-improvement. Obviously to improve oneself, a person should find this self and this is another ongoing concern of many Americans. The chapter reviews many areas of mentality, but the main feature of Americans’ thinking is their nearly universal believe in individual being the driver of his/her live and external circumstances being just limitations or opportunities. It is contrasting with many other cultures when circumstances are driving individual live from beginning to the end. Also there is very interesting discussion about rationality of Americans based on everyday documentation such as farmers’ ledgers, debt letters and similar things. Another unusual trait of Americans is their religiosity that somehow very comfortably coexists with rationality. One more typically American mental trait is ability and habit to deal with multiple choices. The variety of choices in all conceivable areas of human existence is and had always been hugely outstanding characteristic of American life so ability to deal with it effectively is a huge part of American mentality very poorly understood if at all by people from other cultures. At the end of chapter author promote an interesting idea that a lot in American mentality could be explained via metaphor of bookkeeping, that is bookkeeping of happiness in live.
The final chapter is restating of main ides of this book that there is exceptionality in American culture and there is continuity to it despite all changes in population, technology, believes, and everything else. As to the question if life got better the answer is always ambivalent because people tend to beautify the past and discount the present. However the answer could be found in response to two questions: 1. Was the past better? The vast majority believe that yes, the past was better. 2. Would you agree to move to the past if you have access to time machine? The same vast majority would not agree to go back and live in the past.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I am in agreement with main ideas of this book and found it quite fascinating to go through history of different aspects of American life and culture to get better understanding of how we got to situation we are today. The only thing that is missing is about public spaces. I think that new technologically created public spaces such as Internet with variety of virtual communities that are forming now will not only substitute local organizations of old, but greatly increase coherence and political power of regular middle class Americans, by allowing mass movements from home and by doing so getting lots more people involved in political activities.