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20160227 The Person and The Situation

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The main idea is to review history and achievements of social psychology and confirm its applicability to decision making in various areas of live, especially political measures to improve society. The core of it is the notion that humans act not according to some genetically preset traits, but rather according to situation in conjunction with perception of objective facts translated via cultural influence and previous experience into such understanding of reality that causes a specific set of actions to be used to achieve individual’s objectives. The main inference is that humans are malleable and could be relatively easy directed in some “beneficial” direction.



The Lessons and Challenges of Social Psychology: The Weakness of Individual Differences; The Power of Situations; The Subtlety of Situations; The Predictability of Human Behavior; The Conflict Between the Lessons of Social Psychology and the Experience of Everyday Life;

Students who go through systematic studies of experimental social psychology experience drastic changes in their understanding of human behavior and learn to recognize deficiencies of pop psychology that all of us learn from childhood. These deficiencies demonstrate themselves in regular overestimate of individual differences as causes of actions and results, grave underestimate of role of situation that one is acting within, and, very important, greatly overestimate influence of earlier events and interferences on actual outcome of human lives. The most interesting discovery is fundamental unpredictability of human social behavior.

The Tripod on Which Social Psychology Rests: The Principle of Situationism; The Principle of Construal; The Concept of Tension Systems;

  • Principle of Situationism: Social context creates potent forces producing or constraining behavior
  • The Principle of Construal: The impact of “objective” situation depends on subjective meaning that actor assign to this situation, which in turn is product of complex construal process shaped by actor’s personality and previous experiences.
  • The Concept of Tension Systems: individuals and collectives must be understood as systems in the state of tension between multiple coexisting facts, that present dynamic equilibrium when state of every part depends on state of any other part. This causes overall system unpredictability when small variation in stimuli could lead to massive change in the state of the system if its internal tension put it on the brink.

Predictability and Indeterminacy: Prediction by Social Scientists; Prediction by Laypeople;

Based on the tripod model authors assert that scientific prediction of behavior is as impossible as precise prediction of location/momentum in physics. In short they basically state that principle of uncertainty applies to human behavior as well as to quantum mechanics. At the same time lay people’s prediction of behavior often confirmed by events just because of continuity and tendency to be consistent in action.

The Problem of Effect Size: Statistical Criteria of Size; Pragmatic Criteria of Size; Expectation Criteria of Size

Here author discuss criteria of size of effect with specific stress on relative character of all psychological effects.


Social Influence and Group Processes

Uniformity Pressures in the Laboratory: Sherif’s “Autokinetic” Studies and the Asch Paradigm; The Bennington Studies; Sherif’s Studies of Intergroup Competition and Conflict; Inhibition of Bystander Intervention; Why Is Social Influence So Powerful?

The power of situation expressed by significant variation of behavior in-group versus individual behavior. Sherif experimentally demonstrated impact of group norm on individual that he called Autokinetic: individual’s estimate of an event changes when in-group to adjust to prevailing opinion. Ash paradigm demonstrated limits of such accommodation, which was heavily dependent on absence of rebels. Individual is much more comfortable to be in small minority of opinion than completely alone. Bennington studies are about such small group that provide sort of isolation, allowing individual to maintain illusion of being as everybody else even if outside the small group vast majority of people has different believes. This was analyzed based on political attitudes that students acquire in colleges, where they undergoing strong liberal brain washing through group influence. Finally author discusses studies of intergroup conflict and competition and how easy and nearly automatically people create groups and develop strong attachment to them. This attachment forces individuals when encountering cognitive dissonance between their views and group norms make one of 3 choices: influence group, change one’s views, or leave group. All this creates social tensions most often leading to uncritical acceptance of prevailing views of the group.

Channel Factors: On Selling War Bonds; Time to Be a Good Samaritan; Effects of Minimal Compliance; Putting It All Together: Stanley Milgram and the Banality of Evil;

Here author discusses channel factors that is ability of situation define specific behavior. Examples discussed are: war bonds, “Good Samaritan” experiment, and Milgram prison experiment. Also reviewed is “foot in the door” manipulation technic.



Subjectivist Considerations in Objective Behaviorism: Relativity in Judgment and Motivation Phenomena; Some Nonobvious Motivational Consequences of Reward

It starts with discussion of behaviorism and its attempt to understand people by using only observable activities. This attempt clearly failed, defeated by relativity of judgment in relation to previous experience, which pointed to human ability to adapt. This led to discussion of framing effects and issues of relative prosperity and/or depravity when the same objective input causes drastically different output.

The Construal Quest/on/n Social Psychology: Solomon Asch and the “Object of Judgment”; Partisanship and Perception; The Tools of Construal

Here it goes into discussion of construals or impressions and personal attributes, which in turns has significant impact on interpretation of newly received information. It is nicely demonstrated by popular and extensively researched instances of political partisanship and its influence on perception and behavior. Finally it looks at tools of construal such as labeling, categorization, construction of knowledge structures, and dynamic modeling of social environment.

The Attribution Process: Normative and Descriptive Principles of Causal Attribution Attributions Regarding the Self

Here authors describe the attribution process when people assign causal relationships in process of their attempts to understand social situations, and behavior. They reference work of Harold Kelley who proposed normative and descriptive principles that guide people in process of attribution. This approach also applied to self-perception and self-attribution, leading consequently to “attribution” theory of emotions and attitudes. Interestingly enough these processes remain hidden from self because we do not really have conscious access to our own cognitive processes.

Failure to Allow for the Uncertainties of Construal: The False Consensus Effect; Overconfident Social and Personal Predictions; Situational Construal and the Fundamental Attribution Error;

This one is about failure of attribution due to uncertainty of construal and typical overstatement commonality of own attitudes and perceptions. Obviously it routinely causes overconfidence in predictions and eventually fundamental attribution error when people assign causes to actions and behavior of other people that have nothing to do with real causes of their behavior and everything to do with observers perception of modeling of these people.


An Overview of Conventional Theories of Personality; The Scientific Findings and the Debate: The Challenge of 1968; Empirical Studies of Cross-Situational Consistency; Implications of the Empirical Challenge;

This chapter is about attempts to find consistency in human behavior that would go beyond combination of objective situation and subjective construals. It looks at various theories of personalities that claim to find consistency in behavior and empirical evidence that fail to find such consistency. In 1968 Walter Mischel and Donald Peterson found that correlation between objective behavioral measures to be very low and challenged supporters of stable personality to explain this. Authors review such attempts in relation to consistency of extraversion, honesty, and dependency. Somewhat interesting link found between bias and consistency of behavior because biases tend to shape perceptions, therefore by changing biases one change behavior despite the fact that person remains the same.

Professional Responses to the Challenge of 1968

Bem’s Revival of the Nomothetic-Idiographic Distinction; Methodological Objections and Alternative Empirical Approaches; Epstein’s Claims for the Power of Aggregation

This is a brief review of empirical research conducted in response to the challenge of 1968.

Making Sense of “Consistency” Correlations: Predictions Based on Single Observations; Predictions Based on Multiple Observations; The Relative Likelihood of Extreme Behaviors;

This is somewhat technical analysis of methodology of making behavioral predictions.


This chapter looks at conscious and more often unconscious use of phycology by regular people in their attempts to understand and predict behavior of others.

Qualitative Aspects of Lay Personality Theory; Quantitative Aspects of Lay Personality Theory

Here authors look at several empirical experiments demonstrating that lay people mainly use dispositional constructs of trait type. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches reviewed.

Lay Dispositionism and the Fundamental Attribution Error: Inferring

Dispositions from Situationally Produced Behavior; Slighting the Situation and Context in Favor of Dispositions; Overconfidence in Predictions Based on Dispositions; Dispositionism and the Interview Illusion; When Are Dispositional Data Useful?

This is a brief description of empirical support for all types Attribution error listed above.

The Sources of Lay Dispositionism: Perception and the Dispositionist Bias;

Differing Causal Attributions for Actors and Observers; Construal and the Dispositionist Bias; Statistics and the Dispositionist Bias; How Could We Be So Wrong?

Here authors look at all these errors of lay psychology, which nevertheless produces a good enough ability to predict behavior of strangers consequently generating at least some evolutionary benefits. Interestingly they draw a clear border separating psychology of prediction for intimates in persons live, which work according to different rules than for strangers.


Scientific Disentangling versus Real-World Confounding: Scientific Disentangling of Person and Situation; Real-World Confounding of Person and Situation; Audience-Induced Consistency and Predictability.

This is a more detailed look at seemingly inconsistent real live experience of predicting behavior based on traits and scientific empirical studies that show high dependency on situation and low levels of consistency. Authors seems to see reasons for this in scientific methodology that carefully separates person and situation, while in real live it is just plain impossible. One interesting point is that because other people expect consistency, individuals behave according to usual patterns even if they would prefer to do otherwise.

When People Create Their Own Environments: Choosing and Altering Situations; Responsiveness to Others’ Needs for Predictability

This is about people driving situation into direction they expect it to move. Experimental results demonstrate that typically cooperative or non-cooperative behavior causes counterpart reply in kind, leading to confirmation of expectations. Another point is made that people often commit upfront to some kind of behavior and then follow through whether they want it or not in order to maintain relationships.

Continuity of Behavior over the Lifespan

Here authors are dealing with seemingly contradictory to person / situation supremacy fact that individual behavior usually quite consistent over lifespan of individual. The explanation they come up with is combination of need to maintain specific image of self for external consumption and general stability of situation, which makes individual to apply consistently the patterns of behavior that were successful in the past.

Situations, Construals, and Personality: The Utility of Lay Personology Reconsidered; The Search for More Powerful Conceptions of Personality

Here authors present their view on limited usefulness of lay psychology, insufficiency of traditional trait psychology, and need to move beyond in direction of more scientifically provable psychological approaches in 5 different areas such as:

  1. Goals and Preferences
  2. Competencies and capacities
  3. Subjective representation of situations
  4. Attributional styles and perceptions of personal efficacy
  5. Conceptions of self


Situational Determinants of Culture: Effects of Ecology, Economy, and Technology; The Situation of the “Middleman” Minority

This chapter is about external factors that to large extent define behavior not only individuals, but also development of culture that individuals born into and raised that in turn define rule of behavior, expectations, and reactions to behavior of other people. Authors look at three well described in details specific cultures: American Plain Indians culture, American general culture as described by Tocqueville, and generic culture of “middleman minority” such as Jews in Europe or Chinese in Malaysia.

Culture, Ideology, and Construal: The Protestant Vision and the Growth of Capitalism; Associationism and Economic Development; Collectivism versus Individualism; Social Context and Attribution in East and West; Social Class and Locus of Control; Regional Differences in the United States as Cultural Differences; Enforcement of Cultural Norms

Here authors look at role of culture on construal – the second leg of social psychology tripod. This is look at how different cultures foster individualistic versus collectivistic approach to the world. As usual it is based on West vs. East cultural differences, Protestant ethic as related to capitalism, and such. It also somewhat unusually discusses regional cultural differences in America and ways and methods used to enforce cultural norms.

Cultures as Tension Systems: Cultural Change in America; Blacks and Whites in the American South; Traditional Japanese Culture and Capitalism;

This is discussion of how tension within culture impact people and how need to resolve these tensions lead to change and transformation of culture. The cases selected for review are Irish and Blacks in America, and story of Japanese accommodating their culture to capitalism.

Traits, Ethnicities, and the Coordinates of Individual Differences: Can Ethnicities Substitute for Traits? Why Is Ethnicity an Increasingly Important Factor in Modern Life?

This is about persistence of cultural traits in minds and behavior of individual even long after external circumstances that caused formation of these traits in culture long gone. It in turn leads to appreciation of ethnicity as an important factor of contemporary live. Authors seem to be disturbed by recent history of simultaneous convergence of economic and political system around more or less democratic market based environment and increased divisions between ethnicities within countries and between countries.


Methodological Lessons for Research Practitioners and Consumers: The Value of “True Experiments”; The Hawthorne Saga

This is somewhat more technical review of methodology of psychological research, its successes and multiple shortcomings.

When “Big.” Interventions Fail: Situationism, Liberalism, and the Politics of Intervention; A Case History: The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study

Here is a few cautioning tales about attempts to use psychology as tool in political meddling in lives of people. It retells a couple of stories of failed large-scale interventions.

When “Small” Interventions, Succeed: Lewinian Discussion Groups and Democratic Procedures; “Modeling” Effects on Prosocial Behavior; Interventions that Encourage Minority-Student Success; Distal versus Proximal Interventions

Correspondingly here author provides review of “successful” interventions on the small scale.

Labeling and Attribution Effects in the Classroom: Social Labels and Self-Fulfilling Expectations; Labeling versus Exhortation to Achieve Behavior Change; Motivational Consequences of Superfluous Inducements; Attributions for Classroom Success and Failure;

This is a very interesting and important part on influence of self-perception and framing and overall psychological conditioning on human actions and, most important, results. The exciting part is derived from experiment with random assignment of “talented versus less than talented” frame to children with consequent results of higher levels of success for “talented”. The malleability of human achievement by level of expectation opens an interesting path for improvement.

Subjective Perceptions and Objective Health Consequences: Placebo Effects and Reverse Placebo Effects; The Beneficial Effect of Forewarning and Coping Information; The Health Consequences of Perceived Efficacy and Control

Here author discusses an impact of psychology of perception on results using placebo effects, demonstrating its significance, correspondingly expanding notion of practical value of this discipline.

Everyday Application of Social Psychology

The final part is somewhat philosophical, discussing constrained vs. unconstrained notions of human nature and moving quite decisively to the side of unconstrained view as much more consistent with knowledge obtained from empirical psychological research.


As much as I like psychological research and find it enchanting to look at results of experiments in these areas, I find it disturbing and even unacceptable that effective psychological manipulation developed based on this science is becoming tool in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. For me the freedom of individual to live any way this individual desires is the highest possible value in itself and should not be infringed by external interference. Certainly it is inevitable while human being is formed during childhood and maturation, but it is unacceptable when it is used to direct actions of mature adults. It is always good to remember that previous generations of engineers of human soul burned human bodies on the stake because they sincerely believed that they saving souls of these bodies. That’s why I do not accept normality of the attitude when somebody else, either bureaucrat or politician would use tools developed from psychological research to manipulate people to act the way they want.

20160220 The Evolution of Everything

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The main idea of this book is that evolution is not something limited to survival of biological entities after their change via random modifications in DNA, but rather all encompassing process covering existence, change, and development of all known entities including human cultures. This process occurs slightly differently and at different speed in various areas, but the logic of the process is always the same: maintenance of somewhat wide variety of features and processes in stable environment with survival of only part of them when environment changes significantly enough for the least consistent with new environment entities not to be able to reproduce themselves, resulting in the next generation’s range of features being shifted to fit the new environment.


Prologue: The General Theory of Evolution

Here author discusses application of evolutionary principles to society, culture, and history overall, concluding that it all is result of human actions, but not human planning, therefore being driven more by evolutionary processes than by intelligent design of geniuses and great individuals. This book is pretty much review of various areas of human knowledge and activities demonstrating consistent movement of ideas away from skyhook (intelligent design explanations) to cranes (evolutionary processes occurring without any plan and/or intelligent design).

1 The Evolution of the Universe

This is a brief review of development of human knowledge and understanding of physical world around them that starting with Lucretius and centuries later promoted by Newton removed one by one skyhooks of supreme intelligence in its explanation and modeling, resulting in human ability dramatically change world via application of technology.

2 The Evolution of Morality

This is about evolution of morality from set of rules allegedly established by superior being to its understanding as set of rules established by people with consequent ability to change morality dramatically for example from rejection of homosexuality to rejection of individuals who refuse accept homosexuality within one generation. There is also interesting discussion of common law which is defining lives of people in Anglo-Saxon cultures to much higher extent than formal laws establish by written codes. It is reviewed in contrast to French driven cultures of continental Europe where written code rules supreme.

3 The Evolution of Life

This is a brief look at development of ideas of evolutionary biology with main protagonists being Darwin, Gould, Dawkins, and Wallace. It has somewhat interesting point at the end of chapter that we are probably on the brink of switch to culture driven genetic evolution when human would be able to chose and design biological features of their children.

 4 The Evolution of Genes

This is discussion of genetic evolution including our limited understanding of genes working. Especially interesting point is that what was considered a junk DNA just a dozen years ago looks more and more as quite functional part of the biological processes. It also points to the new understanding of dynamics of gene expression that links nature and nurture in way unimaginable before, making this old dispute practically meaningless.

5 The Evolution of Culture

This is a look at human evolution in cultures going through specific points: evolutions of language, cities, marriage, and institutions overall.

6 The Evolution of the Economy

In discussion of evolution of economy author seems to be inclined to support “invisible hand” set of views proposed by Adam Smith. Authors even calls him Adam Darwin to stress the idea that market economy is evolutionary process that is moving with lightening speed driven by changes in consumer needs and wishes. Author’s example from history of friendly societies providing medical services versus national healthcare provided by Leviathan correctly points to deficiencies of Leviathan’s services, but does not look at reasons of why inferior solution won handedly in Europe and made huge gains in USA over the last century.

7 The Evolution of Technology.

The chapter on technology is somewhat surprising because it avoids enumeration of technology achievements, but rather looks at link between technology and science finding that it is technology and human needs driving science, including fundamental science, not other way around as we all taught at school. It is supported by research and just plain observation that government spending of public money did not produce that many benefits, but rather starved real science of resources.

8 The Evolution of the Mind

This chapter is about development of ideas about human mind or more specifically about mind vs. body. It goes thru ideas of Spinoza and idea of little homunculus in the head representing self then moving all the way to current understanding of neural networks. Strangely enough it also discusses issue of determination vs. free will despite what seems to be a logical inference from neural network model – it is as meaningless question as nature vs. nurture.

9 The Evolution of Personality

This chapter somewhat based on work of Judith Harris on twins and traces evolution of attitudes in human behavior in such key areas as violence and sexuality. The key here is practical decline of social, cultural, and paternal determinism in human behavior that is crowded out by individual freedom as dominant cultural feature.

10 The Evolution of Education

The chapter on education traces evolution of contemporary education thru Prussian militarized system design to condition individuals for role as soldiers and little cogs in industrial machine to its current mainly dysfunctional state as system serving mainly to transfer resources via government violence from productive people to educational bureaucrats. It ends with clear statement of hope that it will evolve in something more meaningful.

11 The Evolution of Population

Here author analyses evolution of attitudes to population growth starting with Malthusian fear of mass starvation, which, while rendered definitely wrong by advances agricultural productivity and changes in cultural attitudes, still serve as a great source of income go governmental “scientists”. Then it goes on discussing tragedies of implementation population growth restrictions in totalitarian China and quasi-democratic third world caused by uncritical attitude of elites in these countries to theories promoted by governmental “scientists” of the West. Luckily for the people of Western democratic countries their elite has not enough political power to cause similar damage to them.

12 The Evolution of Leadership

This chapter traces evolution of management and leadership from general believes in top down management and leadership by great individuals to amazing fact that economy prospers and any population does much better overall when there is little if any centralized control and individuals free to act doing whatever they need to improve their lives on their own. The great example reviewed is Hong Cong vs. Mainland China.

13 The Evolution of Government

This is a very brief of ideological history of evolution of attitudes to government that is still in the middle of struggle between various forms of fascism including liberal fascism that look at government as supreme being capable to solve all problems and more libertarian / American Conservative approach that looks at government as necessary evil that should be limited to areas where use of violence is necessary. There is an interesting reference to research on nature of government as violent machine of order based on gang development in American prisons.

14 The Evolution of Religion

This chapter looks at religious ideologies as a powerful explanatory tool that helps handle multiple unknowns in human live and cope with their consequences. There is nice touch about climate change god currently worshipped by elite in developed countries.

15 The Evolution of Money.

This chapter on money nature and evolution discusses successful system of Scottish system of independent free market money issue that provide high levels of monetary stability from 1716 to 1844 when Scotts were forced to move to British currency. It is obvious that in XIX and XX centuries monetary system went through development of central banking in practically all developed country with hugely detrimental consequences for economy. Author discusses inferiority of central banking and expresses hopes that new mobile electronic money would help to overcome the current monetary problems.

16 The Evolution of the Internet

This is discussion of Internet evolution with stress on development of block chains and history of Bitcoins.

Epilogue: The Evolution of the Future

Author seems to believe that future as well as past belongs to evolutionary processes in all areas and creationists of all shades from religious Supernaturalists to central planners have very little ability to influence it. Obviously they still have a lot of coercive power, but it is a far cry from levels of power they held in the past.


I also believe in evolutionary self-development of everything so this book is a nice confirmation to my approach, which is a good thing. However I think that struggle is far from over and we’ll have decades, but not centuries fighting creationists of all sorts. The reason for this is human nature we have as hunter-gatherers highly dependent on environment with little to none ability to influence it so we always needed help of gods or great leaders to cope with it. Luckily we now have so much more technology and knowledge that we becoming quite good in handling environment so, I believe after some time of getting used to it, the vast majority of people will come to conclusion that we do not need creationist method of thinking anymore.



20160213 Made to Stick

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The main idea of this book is that it is possible, while unusual, to communicate ideas and information in such way that they stick in the memory. Such marvelous feat of communication skills is actually not that impossible to achieve, providing one uses 6 key principles of communications that author provides:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

Authors provide mnemonic so one could always remember the key: SUCCES.



In introduction authors retell a couple of stories that stick in the memory such as story of the stolen kidney and discuss the very notion of stickiness, meaning that communicated ideas stick in people’s memory and can prompt them to act in the way intended by communicator: for example decrease consumption of popcorn in movie theaters.


In discussion of Simplicity authors provide example of simple communication transmitting huge information in practically one word such as: “Low-fare Airline for Southwest”, prompting its employees to pay most attention to costs of service. Consequently authors provide tips of how to achieve it:

  • Put lead upfront of message and spent most efforts on its polishing
  • Preferably compress essence of message into small space like “It’s economy, stupid”
  • Avoid decision paralysis: it is better to make wrong decision than nothing at all
  • Communicate one meme at the time. Too many memes will fight for the place in memory with high probability of none winning.

The chapter also includes what authors called Idea Clinic: example of how to convert ineffective message into effective. The final point is that a perfect example of simplicity use in communications is represented by the various proverbs that convey sometimes very complex ideas in very simple way.


This chapter is about use of unexpected in order to get attention of receivers. Without success in getting attention, there is now way to get message through regardless of how well it designed and how important it is. As typical, authors provide a number of examples and Clinic. A very impressive example from journalism 101 is “It will be no school on Thursday” story. The chapter also discusses methods of how to maintain attention after it was obtained and use of “Gap Theory” of Curiosity in order to achieve this.


Authors start chapter on “concrete” by retelling “sour grapes” fable to demonstrate masterful use of very concrete material – grapes for communicating a complex idea of self-deception in service of self-image. The authors go into discussion of concrete versus abstract using such examples as “concrete V8 engine” vs. “abstract high-performance engine”. In this framework they present “the Velcro theory of Memory” and discuss advantage of concrete notions and images for memory retention of ideas, improvement in coordination between people, and such. As illustration they provide “clinic” example and discuss success story.


The discussion of credibility is build on example of discovery of bacterial nature of ulcer after decades of everybody’s believing in its psychological character by two low level doctors and how this discovery was communicated to wider medical community using highly dramatic methods of increasing credibility. Then it goes into methods of increasing credibility: use power of vivid details, comply with Human-scale principle, and obtain testable credentials. Authors also pay special attention to statistics suggesting using it sparingly and more as tool of comparison rather then numerical presentation. A very nice example provided in “clinic”. Instead of statement probability of shark attack is so and so, it could be “death from accident with deer is hundred times more probable than from shark attack”.


Emotional content of message is highly important not that much for convincing people as for making them act on the content of message. This is achieved by linking message to preexisting ideas with high emotional content: children and childhood, parents and elders, and self-respect and self-interest. A very interesting example is answer to “Why to I need study algebra?” by planting emotional message: “Algebra is mental weight lifting so you’ll get a lot smarter in all areas by exercising your brain”.


The final part is about recommendation to arrange message as a story. The story is typically a form of entertainment and, if well designed, tend to dramatically improve retention of message because the human brain is developed to place all events and occurrences within a story logically consistent and preferably with content eliciting strong associations and emotional reaction. One important idea authors convey is to use real live stories rather then some concocted narrative. It is because real live stories are not only rich in details that are difficult to invent and then remember, but also because such stories quite often resonate with people’s own experience if not directly, then by easily fitting into it as possibility. So stress for inclusion of a story moves from invention to spotting them in real live. As example authors provide story of a guy who lost lots of weight by eating Submarine sandwiches.


At the end authors reference to their experience as lecturers and link steps by steps objective of communication to lecture audience to their SUCCESS framework in very nice and memorable way:

Objective                                            Method

  1. Pay Attention:                                    UNEXPECTED
  2. Understand and remember                        CONCRETE
  3. Agree / Believe                                  CREDIBLE
  4. Care                                                    EMOTIONAL
  5. Be able to act on it                            STORY


I find this book potentially useful for just about anybody who has something to say and wants people to hear and remember it. Moreover with its very good examples and “clinic” analysis it could have value as reference material / check list when preparing whatever message one wants to deliver. Certainly examples of how this works are pretty good, but it is hard to say how big is share of framework in this success versus just plain luck and circumstance of audience being ready to accept the message. In any case the idea to organize message in this framework looks promising to me.



20160206 The Hundred Years Marathon

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The main idea is simple: China is the growing political, economic, and military threat to Western Democratic world due to its totalitarian character deeply enrooted in its culture and history. This threat is not immediate, but real, growing, and all but inevitable in the future. It comes from the world view of Chinese leadership and majority of people in which world is perceived in hierarchical terms where somebody always is a hegemon at the top and the only legitimate hegemon is China. The last couple of centuries and up until now, with West having overwhelming power, are considered an aberration that is in remedial processes to be completed by 2049 – 100 years anniversary of Chinese communist revolution.


Introduction: Wishful Thinking

Here author describes his history as an eminent American expert on China and his slow evolution over decades that led him from very pro-China position when it was seen as moving in the same direction as West and destined to join Western democracies as fully pledged member of civilized democratic world, to the new and more realistic understanding that Chine is moving to its own drum that has nothing to do with democracy and which final objective is not to join, but rather subdue Western world to its will. Author articulate 5 basic assumption that were driving him and many other experts in wrong direction:

False Assumption 1: Engagement brings complete cooperation

False Assumption 2: China is on the road to democracy

False Assumption 3: China is the fragile flower

False Assumption 4: China wants to be and is just like us

False Assumption 5: China’s hawks are week

  1. The China Dream

This chapter starts with idea of Chinese Dream presented by current leadership as mainly benign collectivistic alternative to individualistic and materialistic American Dream. Author looks under the hood of this idea and sees a very different picture of the Chinese Dream as dream of being a hegemon in strictly hierarchical world. As a very recent historical example author looks at Chinese – Soviet relationship from early 1940s to 1970, when Chinese suck out all help they could: financial, economic, military, and technological and then turned over on their ally as soon as they felt to be strong enough to do it.

  1. Warring States

This is a brief review of cultural roots of contemporary Chinese attitudes, which author sees in history and stories of warring states. This rich history and literature developed around it generated rules that Chinese strongly adhere during what he calls Hundred-Year Marathon (19949-2049 they dead set to win:

  1. Induce complacency to avoid alerting your opponent.
  2. Manipulate your opponent advisers.
  3. Be patient – for decades, or longer to achieve victory.
  4. Steal your opponent’s ideas and technology
  5. Military might is not the critical factor for winning long-term competition
  6. Recognize that hegemon will take extreme actions to retain its dominant position
  7. Never lose sight of shi (deceiving other to act in your interest)
  8. Establish and employ metrics for measuring situation and progress to the objective
  9. Always be vigilant to avoid being deceived by others
  10. Only China Could Go to Nixon

This is somewhat contrarian to tradition look at US-China re-approach of 1970s when active part is not Nixon, but rather Chinese leaders who successfully used USA as protector against Soviet Union and opened way to attach themselves to a new host from which they could suck out financial and technological assistance without giving in anything really important to them, like their totalitarian power.

  1. Mr. White and Ms. Green

This chapter is not that much about China as about American elite’s attitude to China discussed using real story of two Chinese defectors one – Mr. White had truly rejected Chinese totalitarism and another one Ms. Green was a Chinese spy sent to promote disinformation. Despite events consistently confirming predictions and warnings of Mr. White and similarly consistently showing falsity of information from Ms. Green, American diplomatic and intelligence elite continued support and listened to Ms. Green, while rejecting Mr. White.

  1. America, the Great Satan

This is about Chinese version of typical for all totalitarians attitude to America as the main cause of their troubles. In this case it is Tiananmen Square events. Author finds interesting extent to which Chinese overestimate their importance in American political decisions and actions.

  1. China’s Message Police

This chapter is about what is commonly known in communist world as ideological struggle. It’s typical expression presented by tight message control inside and attempts to impose such control outside Chine via rewards and punishments to journalists and other opinion makers.

  1. The Assassin’s Mace

This chapter is about military aspects of future confrontation between USA and China. It lists Chinese fears of specific versions of American military intervention and potential response against them directed to various methods to neutralize American technological, Naval, and Air power superiority.

  1. The Capitalist Charade

Here author somewhat removes veil of deception from Chinese economic policy, which is typically presented as movement to expansion of economic freedom and private enterprise. In reality Chinese leadership sees such developments as tools of limited use necessary to obtain technology and investment. As soon as gap with America is closed, Chinese would move to massive expansion of government sector at the expense of private sector leading to quick achievement of overwhelming economic superiority.

  1. A China World Order in 2049

Here author looks at the world that could be if China successfully wins marathon. It would be the world where American values of individualism and freedom substituted by values of collectivism, hierarchy, and submission. That would be “harmonious world” with strict hierarchy and Chinese leadership at the top.

  1. Warning Shots

In this chapter author reviews recent events demonstrating that Chinese leadership seems to begin believing that they are ahead of schedule in this marathon, consequently demonstrating increasing aggressive activities in South China See, expanding influence in Africa, conducting barely masked cyber war, and exerting pressure against any media who dare criticize them elsewhere in the world.

  1. America as a Warring State

The final chapter is somewhat optimistic based on American history of confronting previous threats from totalitarian regimes with aspiration to world dominations such as Japanese Imperialists, German Nazis and Soviet communists. In typically American way author suggests 12 steps program to deal with Chinese hegemonic aspirations:

  1. Recognize the Problem
  2. Keep Track of your Gifts
  3. Measure Competitiveness
  4. Develop Competitiveness Strategy
  5. Find Common Ground at Home
  6. Build a Vertical Coalition of Nations
  7. Protect The Political Dissidents
  8. Stand up to Anti American Competitive Conduct
  9. Identify and Shame Polluters
  10. Expose Corruption and Censorship
  11. Support Prodemocracy reformers
  12. Monitor and Influence Debates between China’s Hawks and Reformers.

However the most important thing should come first: recognize that we are competing in Marathon and that if we lose in this competition then our way of live, our freedom, and prosperity will go away.


I completely share author’s concerns about Chinese totalitarian intent, actions, and success to date. However I am much more optimistic, probably because I have very intimate knowledge of internal live of similar mature totalitarian system and understand its intrinsic weakness often hidden for outsiders, even if they deeply involved in learning and analysis of such system. There are several main weaknesses of totalitarians like contemporary China. The first one is internal – it could never deliver on promises of better life for its people because of intrinsic corruption of the system that drives up cost of transactions and distorts decision-making, rending fulfillment of promises to population of better live just impossible. The second one is external – deep dependency on external world to provide resources and technology to enable totalitarians to compete successfully. As soon as Chinese action cause recognition of Chinese intentions, the flow of investment, technology, and trade would dry out in no time leaving China to its own devices that would not be sufficient to compete effectively. The third weakness is that any attempt of using whatever advantages China seemingly has in economic area to monopolize anything and dictate rules of game would inevitably encounter economic reaction quite detrimental to any such attempt. Gould example is recent story of rare earth metals.

Finally history demonstrated that in previous confrontations America was always recognizing growing danger extremely slow, mainly because the majority of people are too busy living their own lives and do not pay attention. Even when significant number of intellectuals in America starts pointing to it, the reaction mainly is “Let’s wait and it will go away”, which obviously never eve happened. It was always required to have a big shock either in form of loosing Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor or sudden recognition that Soviets took over all of Easter Europe and attached it to their Empire for Americans to recognize danger to their way of live and respond forcefully. However when such response came it always was successful in destroying enemy either via unrestricted war or slow moving economic and technological attrition. It is not possible to tell which way it will turn out with China, but I am sure that eventually America will win Marathon and China join civilized western, individualistic and free world.