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20160520 UltraSociety

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The main idea of this book is that human history is the story of evolutionary process of cooperation and competition at two somewhat separate levels: between individuals and societies that led to continuous increase in scale and power of humanity often via critical events of distractive creation.


Chapter 1. The Puzzle of Ultrasociality:

From Gobekli Tepe to the International Space Station

Author defines Ultrasociality as ability of humans to cooperate in very large groups of strangers. As examples he provides International Space Station, CERN, and other huge UN or multistate projects. The research in cooperation includes development of Seshat Global History Databank that would contain all known facts and numbers relevant to human societies’ past. Here is a nice representation of increase in scale of cooperation over the time:

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Author also discusses increased matematization of history and attempts to make it more into hard science of human development with Cliodynamic models producing insights in the past and future of human societies. One such attempt that author works on is based on competition between societies, mainly military competition as driver of increase in the scale and complexity of societies. So far this model seems to be quite good in retroactively predicting raise and fall of societies as long as military competition involved, but fail to predict anything when it is switched off. At the end of chapter author posits that cooperation is extremely fragile and competition is what caused development of large military powerful societies.

Chapter 2. Destructive Creation

How cultural evolution creates large, peaceful, and wealthy ultrasocieties

Here author looks at examples of competition between different societies such as American Indians and European settlers and then moves on to define field of Cultural Evolution that is forming practically right now. However it is not only competition that defines evolution; it is also cooperation both between individuals and societies.

Chapter 3. The Cooperator’s Dilemma

Selfish genes, “greed is good,” and the Enron fiasco

This chapter starts with some interesting detour into contemporary American politics and its ideological underpinning in libertarian ideas of Ayn Rand and economic ideas of Misses and Hayek, which in author’s mind somehow tied to real corporate crooks like Enron’s Skilling and fictional like Gordon Gekko. One of the funniest things here is a direct link author sees between Selfish Gene of Dawkins and Skilling’s machinations. However much more interesting is core of the chapter: discussion about the cost of cooperation and how evolution at the final count defines optimal for survival mix of cooperation / competition. Author also looks here at kin selection and reciprocal altruism as alternative of group selection, but finds both ideas wanting. The final part is directed against ideas of morality as byproduct or even mistake of evolution when people genetically inclined to help others nearby because they normally were always kin in hunter-gatherers societies, even if they are not kin in the contemporary one.

Chapter 4. Cooperate to Compete

What team sports teach us about cooperation

This is somewhat technical use of team sports to analyze interplay between team benefit and individual benefit when good player often have to sacrifice for the team. Author even provides a nice formula for development of cooperative traits:

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Chapter 5. ‘God Made Men, but Sam Colt Made Them Equal’

How early humans suppressed alpha males.

There is always tension between individual and group benefits and this chapter looks at traditional ways to suppress individual who does not comply with what is considered best for the group. Author starts with idea that hunter-gatherers societies are egalitarian due to revers dominance: that is when attempts to dominate by one individual over others lead to cooperative resistance with use of projectiles giving humans clear advantage comparatively to gorillas because they allow simultaneous attack of majority of weak against minority of strong. The technological development of such attitudes eventually led to “the Great Equalizer” that allow even a very weak women to put bullet into very strong man, dramatically decreasing actual need to do it and providing strong reason for peaceful cooperation.

Chapter 6. The Human Ways of War

War as a force of Destructive Creation

This chapter is looking at the specifically human way of war, which no other animals use: extensive application of projectiles to kill at the distance. The evolution of projectiles from stones to intercontinental missiles had significant impact on social evolution of human societies.

Chapter 7- The Rise of God-Kings

The alpha male strikes back

This is about massive implementation of agriculture that led to increase in military competition between societies because of stationary nature of resource acquisition and ability to save resources over time: functionality that was lacking in hunter-gatherers societies. Consequently this military competition caused creation and evolution of the state as the system best suitable for concentration and mobilization of resources for military straggle under unified command of hierarchical elite or alpha males.

Chapter 8. The Iron Law of Oligarchy

Why power inevitably corrupts

This is review of ideas about state formation. It references Franz Oppenheimer and Ibn Khaldun. However author rejects Oppenheimer idea of conquest as main method of state formation relaying rather on internal formation of hierarchical structures. This is what is considered the iron law of oligarchy: powers obtained by military leaders during war with external opponents are retained after the end of war to suppress internal, providing formation of permanent oligarchy and eventually aristocracy.

Chapter 9. The Pivot of History

The spiritual awakening of the Axial Age

After discussing in precious chapter law of oligarchy and formation of the state with practical elimination of human egalitarism, that was the rule in hunter-gathering societies for millions of years, author posits the question: how come that the later development of military technology and society brought back egalitarism and new democratic forms of society organization. Author relates it to Axial Age 800-200 BCE when major new ideological constructs were built around the world: Confucius, Jewish monotheism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrism, with all of them promoting egalitarian ethics. Author sees this development as foundation for large-scale “Axial” empires that combine multiple ethnicities into one powerful entity. However the root cause was the military development in use of horses. It forced creation of big enough entities so to limit fighting against military effective nomads to borders, providing relative peace for internals. Eventually it also created condition for Enlightenment.

Chapter 10. Zigzags of Human Evolution

And the science of history

The last chapter summarizes the set of ideas presented in this book and provides their very nice graphical presentation:

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t seems that at this point competition between societies moved away from military domain into economic and societal, practically competing for superiority in quality of live.


I think that evolution is the best-known method to analyze not only biological development, but any process which combines two steps: change and filtering. The model of cultural evolution seems to provide a very good framework for understanding history and it would be interesting to see what would come out from development of massive databases of archeological and other historical data. I believe that it could eventually turn history into real science with ability to build hypotheses and test them against materially significant amount of data. However I also think that part about development of ideas and know-hows needs more attention because whatever are circumstances, the human thought comes before human action and this variance of thought and created memes actually moves individuals and later societies in one direction or another.

20160513 Humans are Underrated

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The main idea is that computers and software are becoming so powerful and effective in all areas of live that they are more and more capable to substitute human labor not only for the middle level clerical jobs, something they do for a half of century, but also in all kinds of intellectual and manual activities that they were not that capable to do so far. However it does not mean that humans are obsolete, but rather that humans will have to apply themselves to radically different activities such as interacting with each other, defining objectives and general ways to achieve them, and overall to doing purely human things.



As Technology Becomes More Awesomely Able, What Will Be the High-Value Human Skills of Tomorrow?

This is a brief review of dramatic improvement of computer functionality over last 50 years. Whether it is Chess or Jeopardy computers are now champions, not humans. So author raises a question: What can people do better than computers?


A Growing Army of Experts Wonder If Just Maybe the Luddites Aren’t Wrong Anymore.

This is review of all areas where computers become better than people. It used to be that computers could not do low level manual jobs because it requires dexterity and flexibility, as well as high level intellectual work because it requires complex reasoning. However lately the higher level of functionality opened door for computers in these areas. From driverless cars to computerized legal research and robotic surgery humans are pushed out by better performing computerized equipment.


Why Being a Great Performer Is Becoming Less About What We Know and More About What We’re Like.

Here author makes case that our human brains are optimized by evolution for survival in groups, therefore social relations, cooperation, and human-to-human interactions could not be possibly automated. So the way of future author sees in switching from being knowledge workers to being relationship workers. Correspondingly the meaning of great performance changing from being able to produce material or intellectual goods and services to being able to build successful relationships.


Technology Is Changing More Than Just Work. It’s Also Changing Us, Mostly in the Wrong Ways.

This chapter is review of current situation when our social skills are generally in decline, often relegated to social media that substituted personal relationship. Author believes that this process should be not just stopped, but reversed and we should concentrate on development of social skills. In the following chapters he looks in detail at specific skills that should be promoted to be successful in the new world.


Empathy Is the Key to Humans’ Most Crucial Abilities. It’s Even More Powerful Than We Realize.

This is about the most important skill that humans possess, but robots in author’s opinion cold not: empathy. An interesting part of it is idea that we emphasize to survive because humans survive in a group and could not make it without the group. Also important idea here is that empathy is a skill not a trait so in could be learned as any other skill.


How the U.S. Military Learned to Build Human Skills that Trump Technology, and What It Means for All of Us.

This chapter describes highly effective application of empathy in military that could be expressed as: the fight is about our pilot versus their pilot, not our plane versus their plane. This idea fully implemented into military training made American military highly effective even in situations where there is no clear technological or numerical advantage over adversary.


It Isn’t What Team Members (Or Leaders) Usually Think. Instead, It’s deeply Human Processes That Most Teams Ignore.

This chapter is about another exclusively human trait: team play. It looks at such things as team IQ that considered higher than IQ of any individual within the team. It is also about need for direct person-to-person communications because on-line communications are not capable to transmit full scale of communications between humans.


Why the Right Kind of Narrative, Told by a Person, Is Mightier Than Logic.

The next exclusively human skill is ability to create stories and communicated complex ideas via story telling. One of the most interesting things here is idea of “Neural Coupling” via some narrative.


Computers Can Create, but People Skillfully Interacting Solve the Most Important Human Problems.

This chapter somewhat rejects usual believe that computers could not create the new intellectual products. On the contrary computers now create new poems, music, and much more with pretty good quality so that even experts have hard time to find difference if compared with human creations. However author believes that the higher level of creativity comes not from individual efforts that computers are quite capable to emulate, but from interaction between people that computers could not do by definition. Moreover the decisions what problems to solve or what objective to achieve will always remain human prerogative and would always require extensive interaction between people.


In the Most Valuable Skills of the Coming Economy Women Hold Strong Advantages over Men.

This chapter is about gender differences. After analyzing gender specifics author comes to conclusion that female dominance in interaction and overall communication skills leads to significant advantages in contemporary world. He seems to believe that it is possible to provide male with extensive training in empathy and communications could at least somewhat level playing field


Some Will Love a World That Values Deep Human Interaction. Others Won’t. But Everyone Will Need to Get Better–And Can.

The final chapter is somewhat optimistic, claiming that despite increase in computer power and functionality there always be exclusively human activities and that it is possible to train people to be so good in communications and interactions as to create enough value for a good productive live.


I generally agree with the thesis of this book that there is no area of physical or intellectual activity that computers could not do as well or better than humans. However I do not think that it would be just a change in type of activity with preponderance of human interaction over anything else. I would rather expect the very nature of activity change from the vast majority working to achieve somebody else objectives in exchange for pay and/or resources to much more self-directed activities to achieve own individual objective. In this case every individual would be able for example to setup scientific research objectives at the scale now available only to the top-level individuals in big organizations when instead of thousands of individuals working towards this objective it would be a few powerful computers doing the same.


20160506 Phishing for Phools

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The main idea of this book is that traditional economics that extensively using notion of supply and demand equilibrium is not sufficient for describing real live market economy because it is missing such phenomenon as cheating, misrepresentations, and multiple forms of using psychology in order to transfer resources from consumers to businesses without fair exchange for goods and services. Unsurprisingly authors see the best remedy in government intervention and strict control over market by experts like themselves who are too smart to be deceived of capitalists’ phishing practices, always have noble intentions to protect consumers, never use self-interest in their regulatory decisions, and, most important, always know what consumers need better than consumers themselves.


INTRODUCTION Expect to Be Manipulated: Phishing Equilibrium

The introduction does introduces the notion of Phishing Equilibrium that in authors opinion overrides market equilibrium in contemporary environment. They provide two examples: Cinnabon stands and Health clubs. The first one sells tasty, but unhealthy food and the second sell long-term subscriptions knowing that people’s exercise regime decisions usually fail overtime so they pay for intention to use health clubs in the future rather than for actual use. Authors also introduce notion of the Monkey-on-the-Shoulder meaning staff that people want, but in authors’ opinion do not need. They believe that on sober evaluation most people would not follow the Monkey’s lead, but advertisement, overall culture, and, very important, general stupidity of people, makes them to become Phools, easily deceived by evil marketers.

PART ONE Unpaid Bills and Financial Crash

Part one designed to demonstrate that Phishing Equilibrium plays significant role in our lives.

CHAPTER ONE: Temptation Strews Our Path

This chapter uses Suze Orman and her televised advise to discuss need to adjust one’s consumerism to the level of income and avoid being seduces by marketers to overspent.

CHAPTER TWO: Reputation Mining and Financial Crisis

This one discusses reputation mining when seller builds reputation by doing well by customer, but then sells rotten product using this previously built reputation. Somehow author link it to banks and rating agencies that had incentive to give good rating to low quality securities such as subprime mortgages.

 PART TWO Phishing in Many Contexts

Here author go into more details of Phishing Equilibrium: advertisement and marketing, real estate and car sales, credit cards, lobbying and politics, food and drags, alcohol and tobacco, and two specific financial markets. They also discuss here Credit Default Swaps. This part represents the bulk of this book.

CHAPTER THREE Advertisers Discover How to Zoom In on Our Weak Spots

This is about advertisers using knowledge of human psychology and storytelling to sell their products. It provides nice, albeit brief and hostile, history of advertisement in America ending with discussion of advertisement’s penetration of political process.


For the following few chapters their headers say it all. They provide some specific examples of phishing in every area.

CHAPTER FOUR Rip-offs Regarding Cars, Houses, and Credit Cards; CHAPTER FIVE Phishing in Politics; CHAPTER SIX: Phood, Pharma, and Phishing; CHAPTER SEVEN: Innovation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; CHAPTER EIGHT: Tobacco and Alcohol;


CHAPTER NINE: Bankruptcy for Profit; CHAPTER TEN: Michael Milken Phishes with Junk Bonds as Bait

These two chapters represent a very impressive trick. Authors discuss banking and investment industry with special attention to its failure: S&L scandal, Junk bonds and Michael Milken, and do it without really mentioning government role in all this shenanigans. They seems to be oblivious to the fact that all phishing was possible only because of government intervention and that bureaucrats and politicians always setup rules as benefit people who do it, that is themselves.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Resistance and Its Heroes

This chapter is about people who authors consider heroes of fight against phishing; they are mainly politicians, bureaucrats, and their supporters. They also mention business groups who setup standards for honesty, but they seem to be oblivious that such group, especially when government supports them, usually serve interests of their members rather than customers and often used just to suppress competition.


PART III Conclusion and Afterword

Here authors discuss an application of their Phishing Equilibrium ideas to current political environment in America using example from 3 different areas of economic policy.

CONCLUSION: EXAMPLES AND GENERAL LESONS: New Story in America and Its Consequences

Here they iterate their believe that people are “phishible” because they tell themselves and listen to stories consequently making bad decisions they would never made outside the framework of the story. Consequently authors seem to believe that people too vulnerable to these stories to be trusted make decisions for themselves. On other hand authors themselves have a story they want to promote and this is story of progressive quasi-socialist movement that started in late XIX and obtained dominance in 1930. This story is about big benevolent government that protects people from all kind of phishing, but most of all from themselves. Authors lament historical failure of this movement to deliver on its promises and appearance and strengthening of the new story, which is about big bad government that sucks out resources and energy from people leaving them much worst off than before. They narrate 3 stories that they believe support the thesis that benevolent government story is true, but big bad government story is false: Social security, Securities regulation, and Citizens United.

AFTERWORD The Significance of Phishing Equilibrium

In afterword author restate an obvious fact that there is basically nothing new in their doctrine of phishing equilibrium. Somewhat surprisingly they admit that contemporary relatively free-market economy is huge blessing for every living person and everything bad they described in their detailed analysis of phishing is just marginal deterioration of our economic live, albeit still consequential for our wellbeing.


This is a somewhat curious, but not significant narrative of economists who are too good economists to call for socialism, but intellectually too deeply emerged into leftists way of thinking. It causes some funny contradiction when authors consistently blame market forces for failures of highly regulated parts of economy where market forces especially restricted by bureaucracy like finance and securities. There is however a legitimate concern about phishing, which has nothing to do with regulation. This concern is inadequate ability to evaluate reputation in wide and anonymous market when people conduct one time transaction with no real ability to know previous transaction’s outcomes. In my opinion there is an important role of organized violent hierarchical organization (government), but it is not regulation, but rather data collection and presentation about history of transaction participants as individuals. The need for coercion comes from the simple fact that people tend to hide inconvenient truthful information so without coercion it would be impossible to get. In short my opposition to authors could be expressed in simple terms: they believe and support controlling and regulating role for government in economics, while I believe in limited and strictly advisory role.

20160430 Mass Flourishing

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The main idea of this book is to review economic and political logic of western society development from relatively unabridged capitalism through socialist and corporatist systems of XX century to contemporary modern welfare economics, which combines relative material wellbeing with stagnation and psychological deterioration of human lives. The author seems to believe that the way out is expansion and improvement of education, encouragement of innovation, and creation of new dynamic environment via decrease in regulations and taxation.


Introduction: Advent of the Modern Economies

It starts with review of history of development of economic knowledge. After brief reference to previous periods author starts with XIX century because it was period when people in developed countries started working for market rather than for direct consumption in order to meet their own needs. He looks first at mercantile approach to economics that was typical before 1820, but then was supplemented by different approach – free trade with explosive growth in productivity and output. Author is skeptical about usual explanation of this by economy of scale and/or increase in capital stock. He believes that much more important was development of economic knowledge: what market needs and how to meet these needs. Moreover this economic knowledge was acquired by millions of people of all intellectual levels in process of participating in market economy that rewarded useful innovation either technological, or in business process or whatever as long as this innovation provided good return on investment.

PART ONE: The Experience of the Modern Economy

This part looks at how modern economies come about and what caused dramatic change in the way people do things.

  1. How Modem Economies Got Their Dynamism

Author reviews the very concept of dynamism and then applies its method to understand formation of modern economies. Then he looks at “Inner working” of modern economies as system of innovations and at social system that allows it via competition, property rights, limitations on external control of business and technological decisions.

  1. Material Effects of the Modem Economies

This chapter is about tremendous growth of productivity and wages, but also about non-linear connection between these two characteristics. Overall, contrary to Marxist conceptions, this connection is strong and positive. For example ratio of wages to national output per capita grew from 191 in 1830 to 230 in 1910 in Britain and 199 in 1870s to 208 in France. However gains in overall resource availability were offset by increase in unreliability of income due to unemployment and impact on quality of live due to the nature of industrial labor. Overall material conditions of live changed dramatically with industrialization.

  1. The Experience of Modem Life

This is about changes in arts, philosophy, entertainment that occurred due to change in methods of resource production and acquisition in industrial society. It was not one directional change, but rather positive feedback loop when art impacted people’s attitudes and consequently caused changes in politics and business.

  1. How Modem Economies Formed

This is an analysis of what author calls “chronically innovative economies”, the ones typical for capitalistic development based on combination of Freedom, Property and Finance. Author also analyses political institutions necessary for maintaining all 3 components, making the case of Representative democracy being the only known system more or less effectively supporting all of them. At the end of chapter author summarizing his case for modern economics being a stunning success in both material and non-material dimensions. He also stresses huge difference between contemporary economy and mercantile economies of previous centuries.

PART TWO: Against the Modern Economy

This part about perceived evils of capitalism starts with a couple of charming quotes from Einstein and Lenin about need for socialism setup against quote from Craig Venter: “You don’t understand something until you built it”.

  1. The Lure of Socialism

Here author looks at discontents of capitalism and reasons for their unhappiness from cyclical character of economy to financial bubbles and initial absence of safety net. After that he looks at the Idea of socialism as a radical cure of capitalism’s ills. Unlike typical academic writers author provides a brief review of economic thought rejecting the very idea of socialism as unworkable due to human nature that required initiative for people to be effective and efficient (von Mises) and not less important just plain impossibility of valid economic calculation in socialist system where distributed knowledge is not applied in decision making (von Hayek). The failures of socialism were convincingly confirmed by its real live implementation in many countries and at the cost of hundreds of millions of human lives.

  1. The Third Way: Corporatism Right and Left

This chapter analyses the bastard child of socialism – corporatism as theoretical idea, its initial implementation in fascist Italy, and its consequential reincarnation as welfare state that more or less conquered western world, bringing with it suppression of innovation and slowing of economic growth. The key idea of corporatism is limitation of economic freedom by government bureaucracy that defines strategic directions, redistributes resources at will, and supposedly assure harmonization of interests in society overall without interfering in details of running business.

  1. Weighing the Rivals on Their Terms

In this chapter author compares different types of economic systems based on historical data. For socialism author uses its relatively benign form as public business in western countries, demonstrating nevertheless that even in this case in is greatly underperforms, failing to create superior levels of production. Similar look at corporatist economies clearly shows that while not as bad as socialist, these economies seriously underperform in area of innovation. Needless to say, that both these systems are producing extremely high levels of corruption.

  1. The Satisfaction of Nations

The last chapter of this part looks at the final result of economic system: people’s satisfaction with their lives. Author provides some interesting statistics including this one:

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He also analyses relation between satisfaction and cultural characteristics such as modernism and traditionalism:

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PART THREE: Decay and Refounding

  1. Markers of Post-1960s Decline

This chapter is about decline of growth and prosperity of the West after 1960s. Here is a nice graph demonstrating this point:

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  1. Understanding the Post-1960s Decline

This chapter goes into analysis of reasons for decline and comes up with the following:

  • Structural faults in large Firms, Mutual Funds, and Banks
  • The “Money Culture: Self-importance, Doing and Thinking”
  • A Broader Nexus Between the State and Economy

All above limit value of work and efforts, leading to decrease in participation in work force and wage to wealth ratio:

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  1. The Good Life: Aristotle and the Moderns

This chapter is somewhat deviation to philosophical issue of the meaning of good live. Author briefly reviews Humanitarian, Pragmatic, Aristotelian, and Vitalistian concepts of good live and stresses that all of them require good economy as necessary condition, stressing however that it is not enough because even good economy could fail to support good live if it has embedded inequalities and unfairness.

  1. The Good and the Just

The final chapter goes into more detailed discussion of justice in economy, especially in relation to huge diversity of human individuals and their multiple natures. It compares all discussed forms of economies: capitalist, socialist, and corporatists, inferring that the modern capitalist economy or in other words moderate welfare state is the system most conductive to human flourishing if correctly tuned for that. Author seems to be inclined to support economic freedom of capitalism, but find it insufficient because of limited access to resources for majority of people. He seems to be considers America as more shifted to the freedom at the expense of resources (welfare), while Europe as more shifted to resource redistribution at the expense of economic freedom. The former leads to overwork and unhappiness, while the latter to economic stagnation.

Epilogue: Regaining the Modem

At the end author looks at recent events including crisis of 2008 and discusses the way to the future that he believes should include an innovative combination of traditional capitalist values and modern welfare for everybody values.


I find the factual part of this book interesting, albeit quite familiar. However general recommendations for way out to the better future seems to me quite insufficient. I believe that in order to get out of this dead end we need not just a bit of tinkering with the system, but complete restructuring of the system, which I see as implementation of equal property right for natural resources for everybody with individuals most effective in use of natural resources renting rights for such use from individuals less effective, turning them from passive recipients of loot robbed by the state via taxes into active sellers of valuable commodity. I also believe that all regulations should be substituted by state provided information about all relevant issues to sellers and buyers, limiting therefore use of government violence to protection of property and acquisition of information that individual prefer not to disclose. I guess the most important idea in this book is that status quo is not sustainable on the long run and the great changes are required.


20160423 Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels

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The main idea of this book is that human culture and corresponding values are to the large extent defined by the method of energy acquisition and level of energy consumption that are typical for a given society. The 3 main methods are:

  1. Foraging, when energy just collected from nature by the way of hunting and gathering. This method is conductive to egalitarian cultures with high levels of cooperation including cooperation in bringing down anybody who is trying to use physical or some other kind of superiority to suppress other people.
  2. Farming, when energy obtained from cultivated crops and domesticated animals. This method, while generally detrimental to individual well-being nevertheless provides for a big hierarchically organized societies that command superior military power easily capable to push away foragers from any territory farmers want to acquire for themselves. Correspondingly such society built on strict hierarchy that is normally accepted by all members of society from king to the slave with somewhat contractual relationship between different layers of society with top of hierarchy either directly connected to gods or being considered gods themselves.
  3. Fossil fuel users obviously obtain energy from fossil fuels in amount by far superior to two other methods and use industrial methods to produce goods and services. Such societies strictly limit use of force either in form of wars between societies or internal unregulated violence since industrial methods of violence become too damaging to all sides of conflict. Consequently values of such society return to egalitarian roots despite continuing hierarchical structure of society that becomes much less rigid and formal. These societies also implement new notions of human rights and necessity of general welfare for all as necessary core values without which society would become unsustainable.



The book starts with an episode from author’s youth when he participated in archeological expedition in Greece and encountered such attitude to women by locals that was completely incomprehensible to him: man’s attitude to his wife as if she was less than human. He constantly returns to this episode to demonstrate how alien could be approach of different culture for individual. This book is an attempt to classify at high level all human cultures over period of 20000 years as belonging to one of 3 qualitatively different group: Cultures of Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil fuel users depending on method of energy acquisition and amount of energy used. Author makes point that generally each culture’s features are very similar to any other culture’s features in the same group and qualitatively different from any culture from another group in its system of values. Moreover these systems of values developed evolutionary and are the most effective in supporting survival based on each method of energy acquisition and use. Author also provides a few interesting graphs based on World Values Survey. Here is the most interesting one:

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Chapter 2. FORACERS

Author defines foragers as people living of the nature by collecting all necessities of live by using hunting and gathering. He provides a nice table of geography of archeological evidence of such societies:

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Obviously they are highly depended on climate and nature. While these societies practically disappeared, their values and culture are identified via archeological evidence and anthropological research over last hundred years when they were in process of being eliminated by contemporary civilization. These values are highly egalitarian, with nobody being superior to anybody else, high appreciation of sharing as consequence of superiority of cooperative efforts and impossibility of savings.

Chapter 3. FARMERS

For farmers, whose economy based on cultivation, author provides three-pointed star with core being peasants and points representing somewhat peripheral offshoots of farming society:

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Farming societies well familiar not only by archeological data, but because they left tremendous amount of written sources, literature, and art. Moreover they are still with us and as recently as 100 years ago they represented the vast majority of humanity. Correspondingly their culture and values defined by strict hierarchy with every individual assigned to some station with low probability of change and strict enforcement of cultural norm. Author makes an interesting point that this method despite depriving individuals of good live: massive evidence shows that farmers have less nutrition, work more, have low levels of health and high levels of mortality; nevertheless allowed humanity to expand and take over all ecological niches that more or less available, while periodically hitting Malthusian limitations. Here is an interesting evaluation of levels of energy consumption:

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Another nice graph represent typical structure of agrarian society:

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Finally his discussion of Fossil fuel users is supported by practically infinite amount of data because that is what contemporary societies are. The main feature of such societies is their industrial character and consequently tremendous technological and military superiority over other forms of society. It leads to extreme division of labor and expansion of exchange of labor, capital, good, and services either in voluntary form of market or in coercive form of various types of socialism. Author claims that generally values of this kind of society tend to be more egalitarian and he provides some data to support this idea from pint of view of energy capture:

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At the end of chapter author summarizes all three type in a couple of nice graphs:

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COMMENTS: The remaining 5 chapters of the book present views of author opponents and his response.




I like author’s idea to link energy consumption with society’s values via method of energy acquisitions and evolutionary selection of values most conductive for every method. I think that he provided quite good set of examples demonstrating how similar level of energy consumption and method of acquisition led to similar structure of societies and its values regardless of geography, race, and other considerations. The only thing I find missing is a good discussion of future development when energy becomes abundant. What kind of values this situation would cause to develop. Another interesting point missing is a discussion of current effort by elites of contemporary western societies to limit energy consumption by masses under guise of global cooling or warming or whatever. I think that it linked mainly to unconscious, but very strong and probably correct perception by current fossil fuel elites that elimination of energy limitations would cause such dramatic increase in freedom and change on values that they will be bound to loose their elite status and with it power over other people.