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20171231 Why the Germans, Why the Jews
The main idea of this book is that Holocaust was not just WWII event, but rather logical conclusion of German cultural development of XIX and early XX century. It was caused by a few main sources:
- German attitude to Jews as “others” who do not belong to German people despite living in Germany for centuries. This attitude created environment of at least indifference and at worst active hate towards Jews from vast majority of German population.
- Jewish emancipation that opened way to direct competition for cognitively more effective Jews who disproportionally obtained wealth and prosperity on the relatively free market, even if they still remained barred from governmental jobs, military leaderships, and other preferable positions in society.
- Political advantages provided by anti-Semitic positions. This came from the growing envy and resentment of left-behind part of German population. These people were not able to adjust to the world that was rapidly changing from medieval agriculture to industrial production so they blamed Jews who were disproportionally successful due to this change.
- Opportunity of ruling classes to shift blame for whatever calamities befall Germany due to their mismanagement such as loss in WWI, to the Jews by creating such ridiculous legends as “stab in the back”.
Introduction: The Question of Questions
Here author describes his interest in the question of Holocaust. Why Germans, the most technologically advanced and seemingly civilized people killed millions of Jews? One of the reasons for looking at it that author provides, is his German heritage. In introduction, in addition to key points, author describes methods of information collection for this book: published artifacts of ongoing cultural live of XIX and XX century and multiple family archives, including author’s family that demonstrated development of German attitudes towards Jews, which eventually culminated in Holocaust.
- Jewish Emancipation
This is the story of Jewish emancipation in Germany, which started under French influence during Napoleonic wars, but achieved relatively equal legal status for Jews only in the second half of XIX century. The first step for many Jews was to obtain self-emancipation was via education. It was greatly supported by Jewish tradition of learning and discussion that put Jew into advantageous position comparatively to general population. As usual, author refers to statistics of educational achievement, but also stresses cultural specifics of Jews that were instrumental in producing this achievement. Author also points out an interesting phenomenon when advance of democracy was actually detrimental to Jewish emancipation due to widely accepted antisemitism of the population. It was clearly demonstrated during revolution of 1848.
- The Anxiety of German Nationalism
This chapter provides kind of counterpart to Jewish advancement in education and business in typical German attitude of inferiority produced by long history of military defeats, indignities experienced during multiple religious wars, and later during wars of earlier XIX century when French occupied many German territories. Overall author believes that it had created a culture of low self-esteem and powerlessness. Moreover, division of Germany into multitude of states created confusion of who is or is not German. Eventually it led to movement to unite Germany into one powerful state driven by very strong nationalist ideology. Since this nationalism had mainly ethnic characteristics, the Jews being “others” had hard time to be accepted as equal members of German nation.
- Anti-semitism as a Political Force
Here author looks at political development in Germany caused by dramatic changes in economy and culture and finds that traditional antisemitism of masses found huge support in upper layers of society, which considered Jews competitors and attempted to slow down or even stop their progress. In addition to reference to historical events and literature author provides a very interesting story of his own family and the role antisemitism played in their worldview and behavior.
- The Mainstream’s Dangerous Indifference
This chapter starts with review of social-democratic movement and active Jewish participation in it. One thing here author stresses, is quite strong push against Zionism from many well settled assimilated Jews who strived to be part of German collective and hated any hint on existence of separate Jewish collective. At the same time this and other collectivistic, anticapitalistic movements possessed strong anti-Semitic current typically associating Jews and their culture with capitalism, especially financial side of it. It was demonstrated in many forms including Marx’s “On Jewish Question”. The logical outcome of it was development of national-socialist ideas first introduced by Frank Naumann. While it had strong ethnic character, its antisemitism was kind of moderate, trying to restrict Jews via economic rules setup by government, while leaving open door for them to join Germans if they accept “German way of thinking”. Eventually this movement seamlessly merged with Nazis.
- The War, Defeat, and Jew Hatred
This starts with 1916 Jewish census that used statistical data to demonstrate that Jews are not patriotic enough and participate less than others in war efforts. It was achieved by somewhat manipulating data and discarding Jewish specific statistical variation such as generally older Jewish population producing fewer conscripts that was presented as avoidance of service. Author also looks at details of “stab in the back” believes and how it was linked to Jews with no foundation for this whatsoever.
- Weak Masses, Strong Race
This is about intellectual superiority of Jews and the fact that it would not disappear when they converted to Christianity, causing antisemitism to move from religious foundation to ethnic that was growing especially strong in educated circles when Jewish competition was more and more visible. Author describes this reaction that practically led to multiple attempts to limit access of Jews to education and promotion since they were disproportionally good in various intellectual fields. Author also reviews in this chapter a number of literary work of early XX century that represented utopias / dystopias about “Cities without Jews”, totalitarian collectivism, and various ways to rid society of Jews that where pretty close to the future reality of Holocaust. At the end of chapter author reviews history of his own family demonstrating how antisemitism played out in their striving to move ahead in live.
- The National Socialist People’s Party
This is about culmination of German antisemitism that was NDASP and Holocaust. It reviews multiple variations of Germans attitudes to Nazis and stresses that generally it was massive support of their program, even if aggressive antisemitism was considered as somewhat not nice, but not really that relevant. However, the material benefits obtained from looting and killing Jews clearly added to Nazi support by population, especially when killing happened out of sight while benefits were quite real. Author’s review of his strong Nazi relative’s letters shows just two anti-Semitic remarks out of 500 pages demonstrating that it was not significant for him, however maintaining purity of the race and such was really important. The review of literature and attitudes shows that Holocaust was just acceptable way to take out Jewish wealth and cleanse race from intruders and as such had support of majority of Germans who, nevertheless, did not really wanted to go into details of the process of its implementation.
Epilogue: A Story with No End
Here author reviews his points: German antisemitism came from feeling of inferiority and losing competition to Jews in rapidly changing environment. The cultural envy of Germans in process of formation of their nation to Jews who possessed outsized cultural influence on practically all world of Christianity. Probably one of the most important part of this process was moving away from individualistic values of enlightenment to collectivistic values of early XX century that defined Nazi society development practically until its end. Author also points out irony of history when Germans moved to mass murder driven by envy and hate even if by this time their achievement in education and advance in profession catches up with Jewish achievement. He ends this book with reference to Bible and its story of Cain who killed his brother because of envy and need to feel equal and states that these feeling will never go away and things like Holocaust could happen again and again.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a pretty good history of German antisemitism, but I do not think that the main explanation of it by using envy is sufficient. I think it is deeper than that. The hate of Jews was around for such a long time and became internalized so deeply that it became unalienable, albeit somewhat hidden, part of many cultures of the world. Actually, the role of envy is somewhat overstated because Jews are hated even if they deprived of opportunities and stay permanently poor as it was in Russia or Middle East for centuries. I would look at another reason for hate: Jews are permanent troublemakers. Whether it is new religion based on monotheism, or new theory of relativity in physics, or new secular religion of communism and socialism, or rejection of this religion in the name of economic and political liberalism, or whatever, Jews always prominent in creating and promoting the new ideological and cultural staff, which in turn always has negative impact on whatever part of society, quite often majority, benefits from status quo. Consequently, it is typical that Jews are hated even in places where there are no Jews for centuries or at least for decades as in Europe after Holocaust. One needs only look at attitude of United Nations to Israel to see a multitude of charming examples. Probably the only culture in the world that naturally embraces Jews with all their troublemaking is America, which is itself is mainly nation with culture of troublemaking: always changing, always inventing new and discarding old, always moving somewhere, typically without really knowing where, but confident that it will be a better place than here and now. I guess, as long as America maintains this culture Jews will be fine.
20171222 – More than Nature Needs
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that seemingly exceeding capacity and power of human brain comparatively to what is required for survival does make sense from evolutionary point of view. The book designed to demonstrate specific, consecutive, and evolutionary meaningful steps that necessarily led to development of human intelligence as necessary tool for developing language and cultural technology of its acquisition. All this is based on analysis of languages and their development and use.
- Wallace’s Problem
The Wallace’s problem is an explanatory problem of human brain, which is significantly more powerful than it should be from strait forward evolutionary point of view. For example, our close relatives – apes have quite a bit less brainpower, but nevertheless survive just fine. So why would humans have such a powerful mind is a puzzle, obviously if we disregard religious explanation. Darwin’s explanation was incomplete and it mainly refer to mind and self-consciousness as side effect of other facilities such as use of language. Author breaks down the problem into three parts: escape from animal communications, acquisition of basic structures of language, and development contemporary abstract languages capable to support self-consciousness. The book is an attempt to look for answer for these questions in details and, in process, resolve the Wallace’s problems.
- Generative Theory.
This is about generative theory of linguistics. It starts with Chomsky and his idea of innate language structure, which by now is mainly discarded. It then proceeds to review some half dozen theories from standard to minimalist.
- The “Specialness” of Humans
This chapter looks at specificity of humans comparatively with all other animals in their development and use of language. Author discusses relative weight of genetics vs. learning in language acquisition and overall treatment of humans in scientific studies. In process, he comes up with notion of Evo-Devo that is evolutionary development biology, which studies genetics of organism and how it was produced by evolutionary development. After reviewing the idea of component feature author moves to what he calls “the ladder to humans”, which means researching primates on the way to understanding humans. All this done based on detailed review of scientific literature.
- From Animal Communication to Protolanguage
It starts with characterization of language as the 8th major transition in evolutions after such heavies as origin of life, multicell organisms, and so on. After that author goes into discussion of appearance of cognition and how it linked to appearance of language. He provides evidence pro and contra of high level of cognition in animals and pre-human relics. He follows it with discussion of evolutionary pressures, especially intergroup conflict that he designates as “Confrontational Scavenging and Displacement”. In short, with intergroup conflict clearly providing advantages to the group. This advantage is capable supporting higher level of coordinated planning and actions. Consequently, the importance of means of communications became very important. Obviously, this created a very strong evolutionary pressure for development of a language.
- Universal Grammar
Here author discusses an idea of universal grammar, which was pretty much discarded by the latest scientific developments. However even if it is so, the direct link between brain’s development and language structure is strong and author discusses in detail how it is build and specific algorithms used for these processes.
- Variations and Change
This chapter moves away from biological evolution to cultural one and starts with discussion on variation and need for it from the language side. It establishes connection by defining change as temporal extension of variation. After that author looks at linguistic specifics such as word order, tense modality, grammatization of relations between words, and other objects. At the end author looks at causes of change and objections to his model.
- Language “Acquisition”
Here author looks at language acquisition starting with commonly accepted Language Acquisition Device (LED). After that he provides an alternative model and uses child language acquisition process to demonstrate how it happens, starting with One-Word stage, then Two-Words, then Telegraphic Speech and all the way to comparing English and French as examples of different ways of negation. Also, interesting here is discussion of an Error as the source of Insight.
This is about mixing process when people with different languages interact, in process creating some linguistic mix useful for communication. Author discusses continuum of creoles existing in Caribbean and other places and how language changes from one group to another demonstrating failure of innate language model explain this process. He also reviews children language vs. adult and various pidgin variations.
- Homo Sapiens Loquens
In this last chapter author summarizes his position providing an analog of human development as 3 rooms and elevator, where the first room is confrontational scavenging niche. After spending long enough time in this room humanity moved to the second room: symbolism, leaving behind other group surviving species such as ants and bees. When symbolism had developed enough, the move to the third room becomes inevitable. This room is self-organizing brain or in other words cultural learning ability that humans developed. This last room contains an elevator that is language, which allowed humanity quickly moving up to become dominating species. At the end author summarizes his position in such way:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I believe this is a good model of human development and I would add that the idea of Wallace’s problem could be entertained only if one forgets that the main competitor of a human being in his/her struggle for survival is another human being and in this struggle to have more powerful brain and be able to outsmart another human is the necessity of survival. Moreover it is not limited to an individual, but also extended to a group. As anybody who ever thought about huge military experience of humanity understands, the functionality provided by the brain: planning, communication, ability for direct synchronized action of the group of individuals, and ability to correct these action per results of feedback analysis, are necessary tools of warfare. Obviously the people who are better at it get to obtain more natural resources and consequently to pass more of their genes to the next generation making brain a necessary survival tool without which humans could not survive pressure from other humans.
20171217 – Patient will see you now
The main idea of this book is that contemporary medicine is not capable to keep up with technological developments and is bound to be substituted by the new medicine that will be not only patient centric, but also patient controlled and directed with the technology providing all necessary support via access to information, data collection devices that patient can use, and doctors relegated from CEO of treatment to highly qualified supporting specialist who would take over only if patient is mentally incapacitated.
Section 1: Readiness for a Revolution
- MEDICINE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
It starts with the discussion of old phenomenon of the “difficult patient”, the one who does not trust doctor without questions and trying to get access to medical information and even participate in decision-making relevant for them. Author makes point that with Internet and access to all kind of medical devices from blood pressure measuring machines to portable EKG patients can and do produce their own medical information and analysis based on Internet medical websites. After that author discusses his own experience with portable devices and concludes that they do bring qualitative change in access to collection of information together with increased levels of education led to rise of smart patients.
- EMINENCE-BASED MEDICINE
This is a look back at traditional medicine when doctor was practically the only entity with access to data and final decision maker, whose decision was not to be challenged, except by other doctors. In addition to looking at this historical situation author brings a personal story about his grandparents who were not well served by the medicine of 1960s. Moreover, he applies it not only to some individual doctors, but to overall condition of medical knowledge, which as any other knowledge, when start moving to scientific method is continuously developing and changing, in process removing or at least dramatically decreasing medical authority. Author provides a nice table of medical tests that proved to be inadequate, meaningless, or even harmful in the view of newly acquired data:
- A PRECEDENT FOR MOMENTOUS CHANGE
Here author discusses impact of the new technology such as smart phone combined with Internet and compares it with the previous revolutionary change in information technology: Printing press. Here a couple of graph he provides to demonstrate consequences of such information revolution:
- ANGELINA JOLIE: MY CHOICE
Here author moves to our time providing quite a dramatic result of individual making very challenging decisions about her health based on her understanding of scientific information specific for her not only current, but also probable future medical condition. Since this individual is very famous, rich, and is subject of admiration by millions of people, her very public decision-making had a significant impact on the huge number of people, medical industry, and market for genetic analysis.
Section Two: The New Data and Information
- My GIS
This chapter starts with comparison of human body with Geographic Information System (GIS), which provides multiple layers of data about environment. Author believes that similarly to GIS it is possible to combine multiple layers of data about a person that would allow prevent and/or quickly react to any deviation from optimal health conditions. Here is a nice picture of all these layers, which follows by brief explanation of each layer:
Social Graph and the Phenome: It is about individual within his/her social environment.
Sensors and Physiome: Biosensors collecting all kinds of health-related information from heart activity to blood pressure, mood and everything in between.
Imaging and Anatome: This layer includes more complex and expensive scanning: MRI, CT, X-Rays, and other methods to evaluate person’s anatomy at any given moment in time.
Sequencing and Genome: Personal DNA analysis
The Transcriptome: This is about transfer of information from DNA to RNA and correspondingly expression of genes, which turned out to be a complex and important process in its own right.
The Proteome and Metabolome: This analysis of body proteins, autoantibodies, and metaboles – compounds resulting from body’s metabolism
The Microbiome: This is an analysis of all other organisms that are included into our body, but have different DNA than our own: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and what not. Interestingly enough, it represents at least equal amounts of human and non-human content.
The Epigenome: The side chains and packaging of our DNA. This staff can actually change genes expression causing all kinds of problems. It is cell specific and can be decoded similarly to DNA.
The Exposome: This is about our environment with all nice things like radiation and pollution exposure to which could be tracked and analyzed as a factor in condition of body.
All together these areas of analysis could provide information for pre-womb to coffin health maintenance that author envisions in such way:
Author discusses in some detail how it could work for a couple of examples, specifically how it would apply to cancer:
- MY LAB TESTS AND SCANS
This starts as somewhat panegyric to Theranos, which is currently not in such a great shape, but main point is still valid: patients should have unlimited access to all testing results relevant for them. Moreover, the emerging technology promises lab on the smart phone when various attachments allow measuring all kinds of electrical, mechanical, and chemical signals produced by a body. Another emerging technology: Lab in the Body: that is imbedding sensors into human body to analyze all kinds of processes occurred in there without sending any external signals in any form. Author also discusses side effects of multiple scans and necessity to use these scans wisely. The final part of the chapter is about miniaturization of scanning and possibility of pocket MRI linked to one’s smartphone.
- MY RECORDS AND MEDS
This chapter is about medical records, needs for their transparency to patient and to doctor. It actually becoming critical because of the huge amount of powerful medicines that interact in extremely complex way very much outside of human ability to trace and understand it.
- My Costs
Here author discusses costs, as usual pointing out to contrast between costs in USA and elsewhere. Here is a nice breakdown for this issue:
Obviously there is a lot that could be improved by making prices transparant and removing diconnect between payor and user of medical services. Obviously it is mainly separate and huge issue.
- MY (Smartphone) Doctor
This is about access to medical knowledge that is changing dramatically with advance of medical websites that help to establish diagnosis, develop treatment plan and do all kinds of things that before required doctor’s full involvement. An interesting result is the decrease in number of physician visits by 17% despite aging of population. It coincides with improvement in outcomes. Another point is that increasingly challenging environment for doctors leads to decrease in their numbers and availability. Here is a nice picture of multiple factors impacting them:
Section Three: The Impact
- THE EDIFICE COMPLEX
This is about hospital stay and need to move treatment as much as possible to outpatient care or even to patient’s home. Author recalls his experience as young cardiologist when even simple procedures required long hospital stays, contrasting it with much shorter stays now. Author discusses hospital of the future, which goes far away from simple bed to complex technologically heavy site that provides constant monitoring of patients, protection against infection and external interferences. But most promising development is advance of technology that could make hospital if not completely eliminated, then reduced to emergency use only.
- Open Sesame
What author here wants to open is access to medical data so he starts with reference to open source software and the proceeds to discuss Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that allow learning without attending expensive classes, and finally renames them into MOOM, where the last letter stands for “Medicine”. He looks in details at cancer specific MOOM and then discusses information flows and role of government in opening access.
- SECURE vs. CURE
This is discussion on privacy and its increasing disappearance in all areas including personal medical data including genetical information. At the end author expresses his believe that all medical data about person should be owned by this persona and hope that it would help with privacy issues.
- PREDICTING AND PREEMPTING DISEASE
This is about changing the whole approach to medicine from mainly reactive process to proactive when service delivered not in response to complain, but rather continuously on regular bases with stress on preemption of disease rather than treating it when symptoms become obvious. Here is a nice diagram demonstrating author expectation for future changes in life expectancy resulting from this:
- FLATTENING THE EARTH
This is about globalization of medicine both in term of collecting data and providing services across borders. It goes through usual trope of need to help poor countries, development of cheap substitutes for technology and medicines, but most interesting are a couple of graphs that demonstrate that overall deaths due to infections and other diseases of the poor actually fall way below deaths from the same diseases that rich people die from:
- THE EMANCIPATED CONSUMER
The final chapter is kind of summery with the stress on the main point of this book: switch to patient directed medical services based on technology with doctors involved mainly in consulting roles and high complexity specialty service. Here are two pictures presenting this vision:
This is pretty much list of references to various forms of what author calls iMedicine Galaxy starting with smartphone:
This also includes various imagining technology that allow scanning of one’s own internal organs condition and other digital appliances. Author completes it with graph for overall medical data transfer and processing:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this is a wonderful book with lots of good ideas and, very important, lots of information about technology available now for anybody who wants to be in control of his/her own health. I am pretty sure that direction of development that author describes in this book is not only valid, but practically inevitable. I would only add that, in my opinion, author a bit underestimate value of personal relationship that could potentially develop between individual providing health service and patient. With all these new devices, information processing, and soon coming fully developed AI the role of healer will change. It would stop being mainly technical processing, when doctor really does not know patient as human being and mainly treats this patient as body, not that different from mechanic treating car in repair shop. It would become more friendship like continuing relationship with specific goal to provide psychological, technological, and informational support from a person dedicated to such support for just a few or maybe a few dozens people. It would be probably mainly something like regular monthly meeting with discussion of individual about mental and physical health based on recommendation of AI developed with use of readings from multitude of scanning devices constantly monitoring individual’s condition. I guess it would require completely different skillset much less related to butchery than it used to be in the past and is still prevalent in present.
20171208 – Big Lie
The main idea of this book is that contemporary leftists’ claim that they are anti-fascists is not just false, but rather completely opposite – they are fascists. Their claim that Fascism and Nazism were right wing movement is the Big Lie and in reality both initial Fascism as it appeared in Italy and Nazism in its German form were leftist movements ideologically closely connected with contemporary leftism and its American political expression –Democratic Party. It is not a new idea, but author brings some interesting historical material to support it. Author also suggests starting active denazification of American political scene to rid country of this murderous ideological bacillus.
One: Return of the Nazis
The book starts with review of contemporary events when leftists started violent campaign against freedom of speech, racial equality, and recently elected president who seemingly dead set to fight back against leftist collectivistic ideas as they were implemented in America over the last few decades.
Two: Falsifying History
This chapter is interesting by its multiple examples of close ideological relations between socialism and fascism, claiming quite convincingly that back then in 1920s both movement recognized and even celebrated their similarity of ideas and methods. Author refers to a number of ideologues of early fascist movements especially to Giovanni Gentile who developed ideological foundation of this movement.
Three: Mussolini’s Journey
Here author refer to development of founder of fascism Benito Mussolini who started as regular socialist, achieving significant position within this movement. However after the WWI clearly demonstrated superior ideological power of nationalism over power of international socialism, Mussolini moved to merge these two ideas into powerful mix of National Socialism.
Four: A Democratic Party. Secret
Author starts this chapter with Hitler’s ideological development and his embrace of anti-Semitism. From there he moves to concentration camps, genocide, and winds up with Andrew Jackson – founder of Democratic Party. Author accuses Jackson of genocide against Indians, but does not explain why this genocide was expressed in continuation of traditional American pushing of Indians further and further west, rather than just plain annihilation as it was the case with classical Nazi genocide and actual meaning of this word. At the end of chapter author discusses slave labor, Nazi labor camps, and Nazi death camps, trying to demonstrate that these widely different institutions were created for different purposes, for different objectives and, most important were managed differently to achieve these objectives. Therefore, author asserts, contemporary Democrats’ attempts to equate slavery with genocide are deeply ahistorical and plainly dishonest.
Five: The Original Racists
This chapter is about long and colorful history of racism in progressive movement, its previous incarnations as communism and fascism, and its current incarnation as ideology of Democratic Party. It starts with interesting and historically very valid point that fascism, as it started in Italy was not a racist movement. Italian fascists perceived “national” part if their ideology not as ethnic, but rather as nation-state based term so Jewish Italians could be and were as integral part of the movement, as any other group of Italians. Only later in Germany fascism incorporated traditional German anti-Semitism in conjunction with American racial inequality ideas becoming genocidal Nazi movement. Author also demonstrates an interesting mix of anti-capitalist ideas with anti-Semitic ideas when “Jew” is permanently linked to ‘Capitalist – Exploiter”. This is especially funny because it kind of demonstrates ridiculousness of these Jews: from Karl Marx to Leo Trotsky to contemporary activists of Democratic Party who in their anti-capitalist zeal become deliciously anti-Semitic.
Six: Disposable People
Here author discusses typical progressive thrust to mark some people as a burden to society and either limit their functional ability, especially in reproductive area, or even completely dispose of them via mass murder.
Seven: American Fuhrers
Here author moves to the overall estimate of XX century Fascism expansion coming to conclusion, quite different from common historical narrative that it happened in Europe, but could not happen in USA. Actually author provides quite a convincing thesis that it did happened here by comparing actions of FDR administration and actions of Mussolini, and Hitler before these Europeans embarked on aggressive wars and eventually Holocaust. Here there is an interesting story of communications between all 3, which could be qualified as mutual admiration society. Also interesting is author’s analysis of leftists tricks that turned Fascism, which is inherently super big government idea, into something opposite by Roosevelt rhetoric such as: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself”.
Eight Politics of Intimidation
This chapter is kind of mosaic linking together violent methods of various leftist movements before they came to power from Fascists in Italy in 1920s, Nazis in Germany, and all the way until contemporary Antifa movement in America. Author looks at its leaders from practitioners such as Hitler and Mussolini, philosophers such as Heidegger and Marcuse, and financiers such as Soros.
The final chapter refers to the process of denazification that American occupation forces conducted in Germany after WWII cleansing out from all political and governmental positions former active members of Nazi party and suggests that similar process is necessary to implement to stop fascistic increase in government power under Obama administration and use of this power against American conservative movement, which is real anti-fascist force today. However author calls to use democratic methods: election and political education of population, rather than respond in kind, even if author himself experienced prison term in America as result of his political activities, albeit the formal reason was inflated violation of law limiting donation to political candidates.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that author characterization of Fascism as left wing political movement correct and well supported by historical material he provided. I also agree that contemporary American society, especially its young generation, are contaminated by these twin bacilli of big government sickness: Fascism and Communism. However I do not think that it could be easily resolved via election and democratic process mainly because left, as of now, is in control of educational system and generally capable to impose their political correctness on all institutions of society. To overcome this control one need to attract wide masses of population, including those who are currently depend on government, to some new ideas that would be more attractive than current ideas of satisfactory lives live with support of the big government.
The young generation should be convinced that the big government is bad for them because even if they are lucky enough to obtain place in bureaucratic hierarchy their live within government will still be miserable. Even if they would have better access to goods and services they will be subject of abuse by whoever is higher in bureaucratic hierarchy than they are.
However if they are not that lucky and wind up outside government hierarchy on handouts, their live will be miserable because these handout will be necessary small and of low quality due to the lack of incentive for productive people to produce.
Convincing the young generation that they will be much better off in free market open society than in big government hierarchical closed society is the challenge of our time and continuation of American experiment fully dependent on our ability to respond to this challenge.
20171201 – Scienceblind
Author formulated the main idea of this book as an attempt to convince people that two ideas are correct:
- We often get things wrong because “our intuitive theories in several domains of knowledge carved up the world into entities and processes that do not actually exist”.
- To get world right we need not just change believes, but to change the very concepts that articulate these believes.
- Why We Get the World Wrong
This starts with the story of milk consumption causing infection deceases before advent of pasteurization in XIX century. Traditionally milk was consumed fresh on site in villages, causing no problems, but the development of cities led to delay between milk production and consumption consequently giving time for bacteria to develop. Author uses it to demonstrate how difficult it is to get people to understand and believe scientific data. As usual it supplied by reference to the poll that demonstrate big numbers of Americans believing in all kinds of weird unscientific staff. After that author goes a bit into epistemology discussion about representation of the world via what he calls “intuitive theories” build on “causal knowledge” from observation and experiences versus representation of the world via theories produced via scientific method. The difference is conceptual and author demonstrates it by comparing explanatory theories for the same phenomenon by these two different approaches.
PART 1: Intuitive Theories of the Physical World
- Matter: What Is the World Made Of? How Do Those Components Interact?
This starts with discussion of human misperception of the world. As example author brings tall vs. wide glasses and conservation problem, then he moves to atoms and difficulty to understand general emptiness of the world. It is supported by multiple experiments with children and adults demonstrating all kind of variances between intuitive perception and scientific modeling of reality regarding material density, volume, weight, and such.
- Energy: What Makes Something Hot? What Makes Something Loud?
This is an application of the same approach to energy, heating, and cooling. Author traces development of ideas about heat and cool from ancient world to its current understanding as a function of molecular movement. There is also an interesting discussion here of extramissionist vs. intramissionist believe about flow of information in vision. Similarly, author discusses misconceptions about electricity that is often believed to be a flow, rather than transfer of energy.
- Gravity: What Makes Something Heavy? What Makes Something Fall?
This is another set of examples about misperception, this time about gravity. As the previous one it is heavily reliant on experiments with children to demonstrate how human intuitive perception of gravity works. It also includes funny mental experiment about a ball oscillating around the center of the earth.
- Motion: What Makes Objects Move? What Paths Do Moving Objects Take?
This is another discussion on disconnect between people’s intuitive understanding of motion as the process driven by some internal force, which is known to be incorrect since Newton. Also, future trajectory of movement often predicted incorrectly due to failure of considering all forces. At the end of chapter there is a bit of discussion on educational method to overcome this problem.
- Cosmos: What Is the Shape of Our World? What Is Its Place in the Cosmos?
This is about human perception of the Earth and Universe and how it developed from the flat Earth believe into contemporary Cosmology. It has some interesting staff about children and how they individually going through the same process.
- Earth: Why Do Continents Drift? Why Do Climates Change?
This is an application of the same idea to the geology and climate. It is again intuitive theory of everything not always consistent with knowledge obtained by painstaking analysis and experimentation. Obviously people who are not familiar with this knowledge tend to repeat usual staff that they come to intuitively or acquired as children from not well-educated adults. Author provide an interesting breakdown of attitudes to global warming:
Typically for his surroundings, author seems to suport alarmist position based mainly on famously non-real 97% of experts. In process he somehow manageded to miss that all empirical data of the last 20 years contradict alarmist models and show no significant warming despite increases in CO2.
At the end he provides summary of intuitive approach:
PART 2: Intuitive Theories of the Biological World
- Life: What Makes Us Alive? What Causes Us to Die?
Here author moves from non-animated world to the world of living and dying. He goes through somewhat long discussion of children’s perception of these issues as typical example of intuitive theories, summarizing it in such way:
- Growth: Why Do We Grow Bigger? Why Do We Grow Older?
This is kind of about lifecycles and human destiny to grow old and eventually die. Here is a nice illustration:
Once again author looks at intuitive theories through the prism of children’s perception, discussing vitalism, essentialism, and other theories of the past. An important point for author is that practically all intuitive theories treat live not only as qualitatively different phenomenon than unanimated material world, but also as the one that could not disassembly into material elements. Obviously contemporary science rejects this idea and maintains that live is just a specific form of material worlds and could eventually be created from material components.
- Inheritance: Why Do We Resemble Our Parents? Where Did We Get Our Traits?
Here author goes into discussion of scientific conceptions and misconceptions in genetics. Here is the nice sample when only the first two statements are scientifically correct, but all 6 are believed by majority to be true:
Overall the misconception usually come from poor understanding of the level of complexity related to genes expression and interaction with environment, leading sometime to believe that too much predefined by genes and concequent unjustified passivity in controlling one’s live.
- Illness: What Makes Us Ill? How Does Illness Spread?
The discussion of illness starts with phenomenon of disgust as a preventive mechanism for poisoning and other similar threats. Important difference here is that intuitive theories usually treat it as given, while science shows that a lot of it learned. Author provides quite a few examples of this in children and even in adults who change their attitude and behavior in relation to environment when new for them information about diseases become available.
- Adaptation: Why Are There So Many Life Forms? How Do They Change 0ve! Time?
This is mainly about Darwinism and evolution vs. creationism. It is also about popular misconceptions about genetics neatly illustrated by this picture were left side represent scientific view and right side popular view:
Author also stresses an interesting phenomenon that misconceptions often persists even in people who had specific education in the field with probably the most funny being an inability of many people to understand that morality has no place in the struggle for survival in animal kingdom and could be applied only to humans and a few other group dependent species. Another persistent “misconception” – Lamarckian adaptation, which lately become less of misconception when it was found by biologists that some ability to retain newly acquired adaptive feature and transfer it to the next generation does exist, albeit in somewhat week form.
- Ancestry: Where Did Species Come From? How Are They Related?
This is continuation of discussion on evolution, this time directed to the past. The misunderstanding here is popularity of teleological approach of development from lower forms of live to higher. Here is traditional representation of this view:
In reality there is no define direction of development and it is just random transformation of live when changing conditions demand it, continutation when there is no such demand and extinction when demands for survival are so overwhelming that available diversity within species under pressure could not provide necessary features to overcome it. Here is more realistic presentation of evolution:
- How to Get the World Right
The final chapter is about how to avoid intuitive theories and obtain more scientific understanding of the world. Author stresses that intuitive theories usually based on perceptions and experience, while scientific theories are complex, come from formal process, which is difficult to implement and which requires a serious cognitive effort to digest. Nevertheless, he makes a serious effort of convincing that it is necessary because misconceptions about reality lead to errors in judgement and actions, eventually hurting people. He supports this idea by providing such examples as vaccination when intuitive theory led its supporters to pretty bad consequences.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting look at the problem of forming worldview consistent with the real world. In my opinion author is relaying too much on children to demonstrate intuitive theories of the world, making it way too simplified. I believe the problem, and it is a big problem, is that contemporary education does not provide people with tools to understand scientific method, its applications and limitations. Besides, author seems to be too much of an academic to understand that in real world people more often had to act based on intuitive theories that are good enough to predict consequences of actions in real world even if these theories are not really formulated, but rather just a product of experience. A good example could be takes form author’s first chapter about misconception of mechanics of the world: when two bullets one shot from the gun in perfect parallel to the floor, and another one just dropped. According to author they both hit the floor simultaneously because the only force that causes bullet drop is gravitation, which is equal for both bullets. However, in reality everybody who ever shot a gun knows that it would take much longer for flying bullet to hit the floor than for the dropped bullet. The shooter knows that from experience and, if he is not educated in physics and pressed to explain, he could come up with some idea of inherent driving power instead of correctly point out that real world is complex and bullet spin, air resistance, curvature of the earth, wind direction and so on. So, we have an interesting situation here when simplified, primitive education gives result inconsistent with reality, while intuitive non-scientific theory provides for better results. Here I think author is missing a very important problem that causes well educated people to buy into such hoaxes as global warming: difficulty to understand that real world is extremely complex, while science is generally simple and limited, so any prediction claiming to be scientific should be founded on multiple full-scale experience with phenomenon that one is trying to predict. Therefore, it is not possible to predict future climate and even weather over long term, because there are way too many unpredictable variables, some of them like son’s radiation levels, being much more influential than content of greenhouse gases in atmosphere. In other words non-theoretical common sense based on experience is just another way to comprehend reality and it is not less scientific than formal science in terms of predicting power, while lack of explanatory power does not make it less useful.
20171124 – Civil Wars- A History
The main idea of this book is to review the very notion of civil war from various prospectives starting from historical, then moving to philosophical and legal approaches, and finely completing it with contemporary political analysis. Probably the most important inference here is that civil wars are way too complicated and mainly depend on participants’ ideas about themselves, their group, and their opponents therefore it should be treated as the great opportunity for historical approach, rather than legal or philosophical.
Introduction: Confronting Civil War
It starts with somewhat interesting complain that a lot of history research dedicated to wars, but very little of it to civil wars, while in reality civil wars, especially over the last 70 years after the end of WWII, are much more common than wars between states. Author discusses cruelty of civil wars that often goes way beyond cruelty of wars between states, especially in relation to non-combatants. However the main stress is not on this, but rather on the “generative” role of civil wars that author puts under investigation, claiming that this is a book “in ideas”. It makes sense because ideas are usual drivers of Civil Wars, unlike territorial and political conquest that drives regular wars. Author defines development of ideas about civil wars based on three points:
- Difference between civil war and revolution
- Legal meaning of civil war
- Proxy wars of Cold War period, including decolonization wars when external power played significant roles in internal conflicts.
Part I: Roads from Rome
1: Inventing Civil War: The Roman Tradition
The first place the author goes to – Rome, which he considers inventor of civil war. It came from Roman tradition to call wars by the name of opponents so then opponent belongs to the same civic community the war becomes civil. After that author goes into details of Roman and Greek notions of internal conflict: for Greeks political war was inconceivable, but for Romans it became nearly routine. Author allocates a lot of space to Roman internal conflicts because they often had clear character of class war for political power.
2: Remembering Civil War: Roman Visions
Here author refers to idea that “forgetting is the best defense against civil war”, then proceeds to discuss civil war between Caesar and Pompey. This was practical consequence of lack of civilian control over military leaders who managed to build personal loyalty of troops to themselves that was exceeding loyalty to the Rome. Author points out the story of Cicero’s promotion of military leaders and attempts to define differences between various types of internal conflict. This follows by more or less retelling of history of Roman conflicts.
Part II: Early Modern Crossroads
3: Uncivil Civil Wars: The Seventeenth Century
This chapter starts with discussion about influence of Roman writings related to civil wars on development of European culture. They popularized notions of civil strives and variety of forms of control over society somewhat different from what was usual at the time. In process it probably created intellectual environment susceptible to raising weapons against other members of the same society. By seventieth century it all moved from domain of history and literature into domain of law and actual implementation. As examples, author discusses Hobbes ideas and actual civil war of British Parliament against the king.
4: Civil War in an Age of Revolutions: The Eighteenth Century
This is about comparing civil wars and revolutions. Author believes that the difference is that civil wars are contained within a nation, while revolutions tend to expand all over the world like communist revolutions. He also notes that overall revolutions have some positive connotation, while civil wars are ugly beasts. Author reviews a works of a few historians and then looks in details at XVIII century writer Emer Vattel, the influential thinker on laws of wars and revolutions. After that author moves to American Revolution and controversy about extent of it being civil war between patriots and loyalists as much as revolution. Finally, discussion moves to Burke and his analysis of American and then French revolutions / civil wars.
Part III: Paths to the Present
5: Civilizing Civil War: The Nineteenth Century:
This starts with American Civil war and Gettysburg Address and, more interesting, with General Order 100 drafted by Francis Lieber that defined legal code for the conduct of war 6 months before Gettysburg. Author discusses the legal and philosophical meaning of civil war in XIX century when ideas of Enlightenment become dominant in the Western world. Author points out that Confederacy never accepted that it was Civil war. For them it was war of Northern aggression not different from any other wars between different polities. Eventually the range of attitudes in emerged in Western civilization goes from the notion that all wars are civil wars because of humanity being a whole, to infinite variety of non-civil wars between citizens of different entities: national, religious, territorial, and any others that do not accept each other as members of the same group.
6: Worlds of Civil War: The Twentieth Century:
Both trends fully matured in XX century when on one hand some perceived WWI and WWII as civil wars within mainly western society, while on the other hand any diverse entity came under pressure from inside when groups small and big demanded independence and initiated wars of divorce. Author reviews this development, especially its diplomatic and legal details using example of Yugoslavia and Serbia civil wars that outgrew into international conflict. The second part of the chapter is about philosophical approach to war with lots of attention paid to Rawls and his classification of wars:
Conclusion: Civil Wars of Words
In conclusion author discusses contemporary implications of wars designation as Civil or International conflicts that could and do create not only different psychological attitude, but also often lead to international involvement, including military, on one or another side of conflict.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the differentiation between civil and. international wars is important because it often defines level of savagery the war is conducted with. Except for some very specific cases when war was waged with purpose of annihilation of other, the civil wars are usually more savage that international. The wars are always between groups and humans are always belong to the multitude of groups from small group of their close family to the big group of their nation, to the huge group of their religion and/or philosophy. Therefore, any war’s character depends on what people are fighting for and what is breakdown of groups that are fighting each other. I would define the civil war as the war where significant groups of individuals belonging to one political entity, but irreconcilably diverse in their attitudes and believes fight each other with objective to suppress, eliminate, or expel their opponents. The good example would be revolutionary wars including decolonization when significant number of people are quite satisfied with existing situation and resist change while others could not tolerate status quo any more, like it was during American revolution when 1/3 of population were Patriots, 1/3 Tories, and 1/3 Neutral who eventually sided with Patriots due to deprivation brought on by British army. In this case the internal conflict between colonials with different approaches to relations with British polity, they all belonged at the time, outgrew into international conflict between two nations, when colonials formed the new American polity. Quite different development occurred during American Civil war when American polity containing diverse states developed into two groups of states with irreconcilable differences in all significant areas: economically, legally, philosophically, and politically, leading to armed conflict between them. There were no 1/3 of abolitionists on South and even if majority of Northerners were indifferent to slavery, tariffs, or any other disputes with South, they had strong enough support for Union to fight for it. Interestingly enough, end of formal conflict did not really end the war, but rather continued for another 10+ years in the form of irregular guerilla warfare waged by Southern Whites against Southern Blacks supported by transplanted Northern Abolitionists until more or less acceptable for all accommodation was achieved in the form of segregation. In this case the war that started as war between states within Union outgrew into the civil war of two racially and ideologically different groups living on the same territory under umbrella of the same state.
20171117 You brain is your time machine
The main idea of this book is to review the notion of time in all its complexity from all possible angles: historical, psychological, physiological, mathematical, theoretical physics, and even mental time travel in literature.
PART I: BRAIN TIME
1:00 Flavors of Time
It starts with presentation of variety of attitudes to the notion of time:
After this author moves to describe history of time, or more precisely of its discovery, since the time not always was something that was consciously perceived by humans. Here author traces it from initial vague notions to mathematical perception of time as the fourth dimension of the space/time continuum. Author also looks at neuroscience of time understanding, eventually completing this chapter with philosophical understanding of time divided into the two contradictory camps: Presentism when only the present exists and Eternalism when all time dependent events exist exactly like other 3 dimensions of the space that is if we are only at one specific point at any given time, nevertheless any other point on time dimension also exists. Finally, author discusses plurality of time as used in language and human perception, positing that at the core is time as measured by clocks.
2:00 The Best Time Machine You’ll Ever Own
This is about imaginary time travel and human brain as the best time machine that is. It properly starts with H.G. Wells and touches on multitude of other images including mathematically sound 4D space. The characteristics of the brains as time machine are:
- It remembers past in order to predict future
- It tells time
- It creates sense of time
- It allows mentally travel in time back and forth.
Author also looks at the time as a teacher that teach us that cause and effect must be continuous in time and space; that cause must be before effect; and that time follow clearly defined direction that could not be reversed.
The next part of the chapter looks at human the brain and synaptic causes and effect that happen there.
3:00 Day and Night
This is about human perception of time periods of a day and circadian rhythms that control them. Author discusses multiple experiments with isolation when person has no way to identify time of the day. In such cases time seems to be shortening in the mind so 170 days feels like 150 or so. Authors discuses in details how it all works and how various cycles in body starting at molecular level influence perception of time with significant variance from astronomical time.
4:00 The Sixth Sense
This is also about subjective time perception, but it is more about such cases as dangerous situations when time seems to be standing still. One interesting part of it is variance between prospective and retrospective time perception. Author discusses the link of both types to the memory. When time is filled up with events it runs fast and posts a lot of information into the memory. Correspondingly if there are no events, just waiting for something, it moves slowly and leaves very little to recall. The contemporary perception of a long and short times usually changes when it becomes memory. Long, one-day delay at airport becomes barely recallable, but one day walking around of tourist attractions contains multitude of memories good enough for a few days. Author also discusses cause of slow-motion effects:
- Overclocking – mobilization of organism causes all processes to accelerate, creating illusion that person thinks and moves faster than in reality
- Hypermemory – this is an idea that slow motion is post factum illusion created by assigning the event very high value and import.
- Metaillusion – since reality is always just a construction of brain, the slow motion is constructed on the top of normal perceptions with magnifying effects.
These illusions relate not only to time, but also to space and all other perceptions.
5:00 Patterns in Time
This starts with discussion of relationship between time and language when different timing defines meaning of speech including such low level as difference between P and B defined by time allowed for air release while speaking. Timing also plays a big part in defining emotional content of the speech example is “not” jokes. After that author goes to time relevant aspects of motherese, fully timing based Morse code, time length perception of sounds, songbirds, and music. The chapter ends with discussion of neuro mechanics of length of time perception for sounds and similar events.
6:00 Time, Neural Dynamics, and Chaos
Here author moves to time measurement methods starting with regular clock and then moving to Supra and Infra period timing, the idea based on brain time processing, which is not necessary some kind of oscillator like in time measuring devices. This leads to a discussion of timing of the sequence of events such as rain drops and ripples generated by them and similar case of synaptic plasticity. It is connected to the idea of state dependent networks, which are basically core of processes in the brain discussed in the bulk of this chapter.
PART II: THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL NATURE OF TIME
7:00 Keeping Time
Author starts here with introduction of idea of temporal telescopes that allow us to look into the past or future. At first it leads to the discussion of atomic structure of the brain, formation of neurons, and such, then author moves to various time related devices from calendars to clocks, pendulums, and other oscillators that are at the core of time measurement.
8:00 Time: What the Hell Is It?
Here author goes back to the meaning of time and links it to the meaning of existence referring to previously discussed notions of Presentism and Eternalism, whether it is arrow or double-headed arrow or some other notion developed from fancy ideas produced by physicists.
9:00 The Spatialization of Time in Physics
This is about theoretical physics approach to the time as just one of dimensions of continuum, relativity of time and its dependence on speed. Somewhat unusual trick here is an attempt to remove inconsistency between eternalistic presentation of time/space and human perception of time moving from past to future via current by claiming that it is just neurological illusion of existence of now. Author poses a funny question if the block universe is compatible with neuroscience, but could not provide a clear answer.
10:00 The Spatialization of Time in Neuroscience
This is a look at the time beyond physics from purely human perspective. Author finds that even here time is considered as a dimension of space, albeit somewhat strange because one can move along it only in one direction or, alternatively it is moving through. Here is a nice illustration of these approaches:
At the end author kind of connects time perception to general human susceptibility to illusions.
11:00 Mental Time Travel
This is about relation between time and brain. The brain actually could be considered a tool for mental time travel that allow analyze past and predict future from primitive prediction of future spatial position of running animal to plan on achieving some specific objective many years in the future. Author cannot help but mention human tendency to allocate much more value to the close future than to the distant one.
12:00 Consciousness: Binding the Past and the Future
The final chapter is about human mind ability to connect past and future, calibrating one’s behavior based on known actions and result in the past, and ability to predict future results, making live somewhat predictable, but a lot less than everybody would want.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The time is an interesting notion that I somewhat straggled back some 40 years ago when I did my classes in theoretical physics. Somehow I could not connect the clear and simple mathematical concepts of theory of relativity with common sense and experience of everyday live. Author discusses this kind of problem in his presentation of philosophical dispute between Eternalists and Presentists and he seems to be inclined to support the Eternalists approach. I on other hand learned over all these years that when there is any inconsistency between theory and common sense the latter should be treated preferentially just because it’s analog character guaranties inclusion of much more relevant information, albeit at the expense of being imprecise. I guess, in other worlds, I am convinced Presentist, even if this view is not supported by theoretical models of speculative science. As to the neurological and psychological side of the time, I think that compression of the past is natural feature of human memory, while ongoing present leading to unpredictable future that one will have to live second by second is inevitably seems to be slow moving unless one is in process of psychological flow. In short the Externalist’s spatial model of time as dimension is good for mathematical modeling and useless for living one’s live. The latter activity would be done much better if time were treated as a limited resource spent carefully.
20171110 – America’s Great Depression
The main idea of this book is that business cycle could be explained by analysis of government interventions that expand credit to unreasonable levels. It results in situation when business owners bound to make mistakes of investing out of sync with the future demand. When this overinvestment leads to decrease in profits they try to liquidate these investments causing panic, decrease in production and employment. However, if left alone, businesses quickly liquidate failed investments resulting in prices, especially of labor prices, going down and creating the new starting platform for efficient expansion. Correspondingly, the cause of the great depression were actions of Hoover administration that from Hoover down to nearly every lowly bureaucrat believed that they can and should engineer economy to avoid downfall. They did it by forcing businesses maintain high level of salaries and unproductive employment, expanding or at least maintaining the same high level of government expenses, creating public works program, inflating money supply, and cutting foreign trade. FDR actually just continued doing the same only on the ever-bigger scale.
PART I: BUSINESS CYCLE THEORY
- THE POSITIVE THEORY OF THE CYCLE
The study of business cycles should be based on consistent economic theory. Only Misses’ theory meets this requirement.
Business cycles and business fluctuations
Here author discusses difference between cycles and fluctuations with fluctuations being a normal process of changes that constantly happen, while cycle is connected with general changes in money supply and therefore goes through clear phases of crises and depression.
The problem: the cluster of error
Unlike normal fluctuations, the cycle’s depression phase represents massive cluster of business errors happening in sync, so this synchronization requires explanation.
The explanation: boom and depression
Author’s explanation defines boom as cause of cycle because it normally follows by bust and depression. The reasons for boom is government actions when it uses banks to pump money into economy, creating skewed environment where business bound to make mistakes in evaluating demand and consequently misallocates resources. Incorrectly allocated resources would not provide normal return on investment and therefore had to be liquidated, which happens during the bust phase.
Secondary features of depression: deflationary credit contraction
Here author analyses credit contraction as the secondary feature of depression because liquidation of failed investment causes increase in liquidity demand consequently pushing prices down. If not interfered, the liquidation happens quickly and, after losses flushed out, economy start growing again.
Government depression policy: laissez-faire
This process of adjustment after the failed boom is often interrupted by government intervention that prolongs life of failed businesses and artificially supports high prices, preventing the start of recovery. Correspondingly author’s recommendation for government is not to interfere.
However, preventing depression in the first place could be done via government interference, mainly by preventing banks from inflating money supply. The ideal method would be to forbid fractional-reserve banking.
Problems in the Austrian theory of the trade c cycle
Here author reviews some critical ideas proposed against Mises theory of depression such as:
- Assumption of full employment,
- No clear difference between Overinvestment and Malinvestment,
- Lack of clear difference between Active and Passive banks
- Recurrence of Cycles
- Gold changes within Cycle
Assumption of full employment
- KEYNESIAN CRITICISMS OF THE THEORY
Here author points out 2 criticisms from Keynesians:
- Rejection of separation between savings and investments
- The nature of consumption
The liquidity “trap”
This is discussion of Keynes idea of depressions being caused by withdraw of liquidity from market, which Misses reject because of its dependency on elasticity of demand. The reason for rejection is that this elasticity is not infinite.
Wage rates and unemployment
This is a critic of Keynes idea of downward rigidity of wages based on the notion that in free market it is not possibly because labor sellers need earnings to survive and therefore would accept wage decrease.
- SOME ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS OF DEPRESSION: A CRITIQUE
This is a critic of idea that other non-Austrian explanations for depressions are also valid
This is critic of overproduction – the idea, which author believes is irrelevant because it just means that business must sell below cost and incur losses. Such loses would quickly stop any additional production and shift resources to a profitable use.
Similarly, underconsumption would immediately lead to fall in prices to the level when consumption would move to equilibrium
The acceleration principle
The point here is that the increase in consumer demand leads to disproportional increase in producer demand for secondary goods with consequent overcapacity and inevitable drop in the following years.
Dearth of “investment opportunities”
This is about decrease in population growth leading to stable consumption and production with no need for the new investment. As other ideas, this one fails to take into consideration the pricing system, which would lead to decrease of cost of capital resulting in increase in consumption.
Schumpeter’s business cycle theory
This is critic of the idea that one can postulate 0 interest rate in analyzing depressions. This allows unabridged increase in credit to industries with the cluster of innovation at the time with consequent bust when innovation ends.
Qualitative credit doctrines
These is a cluster of theories that agree with Austrians about boom and bust being parts of the same process leading to depression, with boom being responsible for bust. However, these theories are different on causal analysis and author reviews how exactly it happens for a couple of them:
- Banking school that claims that problem is credit allocation to long-term loans
- Some other schools that emphasize credit allocation to wrong asset types
- Still some other schools blaming financial trading on margins and derivatives
Overoptimism and overpessimism
The final peace in this chapter is about animal spirits such as unjustified optimism or pessimist that causes people to behave irrationally.
PART II: THE INFLATIONARY BOOM: 1921-1929
- THE INFLATIONARY FACTORS
It starts with the claim that use of historical data to test economic theory is a mistake because every situation is unique and way too interconnected with multitude of causal effects interacting. As example author refer to 1920s boom, which often mistakenly called inflationary, even though prices were stable. However, this stability was result of two forces acting in different direction: price decrease due to dramatic increase in productivity with price increase due to monetary inflation. Therefore, historic data could only be only partially relevant. The point author makes is that unhampered market would not have booms and busts because of diversity of industries and complexity of economy where mini boom in one place would be compensated by mini bust in another. The depression can really be caused only by government, which by interfering with money supply would synchronize these processes.
The definition of the money supply
Here author discusses money supply and what is included or not included into it.
Inflation of the money supply 1921-1929
This is a look at actual money supply in US economy in 1920s:
Generating the inflation, I: reserve requirements; Generating the inflation, II: total reserves; Treasury currency; Bills discounted; Bills bought-acceptances; U.S. government securities;
These sub-chapters represent detailed review of positions in American money supply.
- THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE INFLATION: Foreign lending; Helping Britain;
The main point of this chapter is that development of inflation occurred due to some very specific factors: FEDs purchases of silver, discounted treasury bills with low acceptance rates, open market purchases of government securities, lending to foreign entities, with government actively interfering. Finally, significant role was played by help to the British, which did occur despite the enduring myth of isolationism.
The crisis approaches
In the spring of 1928 FED initially tried to halt boom by reducing reserves, but banks managed to compensate for this by shifting from demand to time deposits. However, it failed due to the policy of unlimited buying of acceptances and eventually cheap money prepared economy for the bust.
- THEORIES AND INFLATION: ECONOMISTS AND THE LURE OF A STABLE PRICE LEVEL
This is about believes of economists in stable prices and ability of monetary policy to maintain such prices that led to their inability to see growing monetary expansion and unhealthy boom it caused. One interesting point author makes here is that despite appearing stability of prices, the wages in capital goods industry were growing disproportionally, while in consumer goods industry they remained the same, indicating overinvestment that counterweighted price decreases that should follow huge gains in productivity. Author supports the idea that this great experiment in price stabilization was one of the main causes of depression.
PART III: THE GREAT DEPRSSION: 1929-1933
- PRELUDE TO DEPRESSION: MR. HOOVER AND LAISSEZ-FAIRE
This is detailed and quite convincing retell of “the great engineer” Hoover’s attitude to economics that, while not “socialistic” was still pretty much in line with general thought that economy could be run as machine from the top. Probably the main difference between him and FDR was Hoovers’ compliance with constitution, laws of the country, and his oath of office, while FDR demonstrated complete contempt for all these “unnecessary niceties”. As result, while both were trying to do the same, being driven by poor understanding of economy and humanity, Hoover put pressure on business making them “voluntary” act against their interests, when FDR just issued unconstitutional directives.
The development of Hoover’s interventionism: unemployment; The development of Hoover’s interventionism: labor relations
These two subchapters describe how Hoover started “reconstruction program”, the first massive interference into economy, created management/labor conference, promoted collective bargaining, and pressed businesses into minimizing unemployment and maintaining salaries above the market, resulting in economy’s inability to rich bottom quickly, flash out inefficiency, and start growing.
- THE DEPRESSION BEGINS: PRESIDENT HOOVER TAKES COMMAND
This is a very interesting chapter because it looks at Hoovers’ role as the first president who considered it the government responsibility to manage economy. Until that economic condition of the country was pretty much perceived as independent from government intervention similarly to the weather. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good, but there was nothing one could do about it. Hoover believed that with his engineering background he could do a lot more. So here is a brief list of his actions:
The White House conferences
These were conducted with business leaders on the wide scale and served to force these leaders to provide more investments and maintain high level of wages to keep demand up.
The monetary policy of FED was initially inflationary leading to quick expansion of credit and initially saving banks.
Public works; The New Deal Farm Program
Similarly, to the credit expansion, Hoover interfered into economy by pushing increase of public works. Corresponding effort in agriculture led to creation of farm subsidies program, which often mistakenly considered as FDR’s New Deal program. Author goes into some details of formation and political activities of farm block, which is even now, 80 years later still goes strong, consuming public resources at good pace.
At the beginning of 1930 majority of public believed that Hoover and government got crisis under control. To assure the continuing “success” Congress authorize $915 million for additional public works in construction.
More inflation; The Smoot-Hawley Tariff; Hoover in the second half of 1930; The public works agitation; The fiscal burdens of government;
This list pretty much represents further continuation of seemingly successful policy of massive government intervention expanded into strong protectionist measures, continuing expansion of public works, and extensive use of government power in support of organized labor with Wagner act. All together it led to big expansion of government expenses and author points out that it grew quite dramatically as % of total economic activity. Author rightfully designates government economic activity as depredation since it occurred via use of force to confiscate resources from productive parts of economy.
- 1931- “THE TRAGIC YEAR”
This was supposed to be a year of recovery instead it was a year when crisis development accelerated. Author describes its development in Europe and makes point that FED’s attempts to support untenable credit positions of European countries was a serious mistake.
The American monetary picture; The fiscal burden of government; Public works and wage rates; Maintaining wages rates; Immigration restrictions; Voluntary relief;
Every small subchapter here demonstrates an increased intervention of government into economy and author stresses that this intervention was mainly counterproductive, preventing economy from self-adjustment and restoration of normal activity. Even the voluntary efforts for relief, became supplemented by Emergency committee to control it, turning it into bureaucratic enterprise
Hoover in the last quarter of 1931;
This is description of Hoover’s frantic attempt to start recovery by increasing push for “volunteer” compliance of businesses with his ideas, which pretty much come down to staunch rejection of laisses faire approach, creation of multitude of government programs that later become the “New Deal”, and attempts to pump more government money into economy.
The spread of collectivist ideas in the business world;
The final part of this chapter is especially interesting by analyzing mental state of leading individuals in business world, in economics and in public discussion. It clearly demonstrates the massive acceptance of collectivistic ideas with bend towards government planning and top down control of economy. These were not just ides, but also actions such as cartelization of oil industry, activization of union movement often with support of big business, and similar events.
- THE HOOVER NEW DEAL OF 1932
This is another list of Hoover administration activities in their attempt to stop developing depression by using government power both direct and disguised as persuasion. Author presents Hoover program and then goes into details of its implementation.
The tax increase: It was massive and included just about everything from estate taxes for rich to increase in postal rates for poor
Expenditures versus economy: Government expenditures decreased, but a lot less than decrease in GNP resulting in proportional increase of spending to economy.
Public works agitation: This is a brief description of discussion about continuing expansion of public works with one side stressing need to fight unemployment while another pointing out that it froze both capital in labor in unproductive uses, therefore preventing recovery.
The RFC: RFC was providing massive influx of government capital into economy providing loans without real evaluation of their future performance and as one could expect become a serious case of massive corruption.
Governmental relief; The inflation program; The inflation agitation; Mr. Hoover’s war on the stock market; The home loan bank system; The bankruptcy law; The fight against immigration: Each of above is an area of Government involvement that caused more harm than good. Author very briefly touches each of these areas, providing factual account of what had been done. Regardless of actual result one can easily conclude that it was far from doing nothing and not interfering into economy.
- THE CLOSE OF THE HOOVER TERM: The attack on property rights: the final currency failure; Wages, hours, and employment during the depression
An interesting thing here is that Hoover sincerely believed that he did a pretty good job, was proud of his multiple interferences, and confident that doing nothing would be a disaster. However, Hoover remained more or less within bounds of his constitutional authority and rejected plans of very popular “economic fascism” similar to what come to pass with FDR administration.
Conclusion: the lessons of Mr. Hoover’s record
The main conclusion that author states is that all this government interference, especially inflationary activities were cause of the depression. Author believes that business cycles are caused by government’s expanding credit to unreasonable level that creates misallocation of resources during the boom, making it necessary to liquidate such misallocation during the bust. Such believe leads to conclusion that Hoover’s actions, caused by his rejection of laisses faire, made the depression all but unavoidable and the next great expansionist of government FDR only added to Hoover’s action more of the same delaying recovery to the WWII. At the end author provides some statistical information demonstrating level of the disaster that was the Great Depression and here is one example:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I do not think that core idea of this book: a business cycle caused mainly if not exclusively by government intervention, is completely correct. The history demonstrated that there were business cycles as long as there were businesses. I would rather put generic cause of cycles to the human propensity to join crowd and run in the same direction as everybody, so contagious optimism could easily cause a bit of boom, while contagious pessimism would lead to a bust. Nevertheless, I fully agree with author that deepness and tragedy of the Great Depression was the product of engineering arrogance of Hoover and overall elite of western societies that had their heads spinning from technological achievements of XIX century. These achievements caused people to develop false believe that they could engineer complex systems based on human individuals as well as they can engineer some mechanical system based on nuts and bolts. Actually, it is not limited to the Great Depression. All evils of XX century: socialism, communism, fascism, genocide, and such came from this source. Unfortunately the idea of engineering and controlling society from above is still alive in minds of many an elite and it will probably take some more fighting to put it to rest.
20171103 – The Enigma of Reason
The main idea of this book is that human reason is misunderstood as a feature of individual survival, when in reality it is the feature of group survival. As such feature the reason had recently came under attack as sloppy and ineffective due to various biases, failures of statistical and logical thinking. The attack came from psychological research that convincingly demonstrated all these deficiencies. Authors reject the idea of dual thinking: fast and sloppy vs. slow and accurate, as insufficient and propose argumentative theory of reason where biases and other failures serve as tools to include into consideration as wide range of opinions as possible and flash out evolutionary viable solution via argumentation between people with strongly held views.
Introduction: A Double Enigma
Given that humans are animals and as any other animals were shaped by evolution, why do they have such an expensive mechanism as reason and why only humans have such mechanism and no other animals? It is also interesting from another angle: recently psychologists found a lot of flows with human reason such as failures of logic, inability to think statistically, partiality of thinking and many others. So the double enigma is why we have this tool and why it is so flowed. Authors claim that the reason for this is that it is only one tool of many in arsenal of human thinking and provide graphic representation of its place as imbedded within other ways of thinking:
I. SHAKING DOGMA
The traditional Western dogma of reason as source of human superior abilities was shuttered by the last 50 years of psychological research and newly applied constructions such as “Fast and Slow” thinking or “Dual processing” could not meet explanatory requirements created by the data.
- Reason on Trial
In this chapter authors review multiple failures of human brain to correctly represent input from senses and/or solve simple logical problems from misevaluating levels of gray in 2 squares in the picture of checkers to producing inconsistent logical sequences such as A>B>C>A.
- Psychologists’ Travails
This chapter demonstrates that usual believe in inseparable combination of reason and logic is not really as strong as we want to believe. After using a couple tests that clearly demonstrate the case, authors move to describing idea of duality of thinking:
Without going deep into the details authors discuss it as division of thinking into: “Mental Models” and “Mental Logic” with psychologists divided between supporters of one idea against another.
II. UNDERSTANDING INFERENCE
This part is about understanding Inference, its base mechanism and procedures.
- From Unconscious Inferences to Intuitions
This starts with two questions: Why and how we reason? First authors look at reasoning in animals, specific example they use is about ants capable to find way by memorizing and calculating the previous path. Then they look at human perception, demonstrating how brain reprocesses and modifies raw information from senses to constructing a meaningful representation of reality. As prove they use a couple of optical illusions like small monster pursuing a big one on the picture while in reality they are of the same size. Authors discuss not only sensorial illusions, but also nature of human memory and research demonstrating that it has not that much reproductive as reconstructive character. This follows by a piece on Intuitions that authors define as interpretation of inferences. In case of monsters the inference of their size and positions lead to intuition that one is running after another. The third process used is reasoning, which is slow, conscious, and sequential process based not only on perception and intuition, but also on the knowledge base available. Here is graphic representation of these processes in the framework of two systems:
The final point here is Metacognition that is “cognition about cognition” that humans use to evaluate their own mental states.
Authors start this discussion with look at interaction between instinct and expertise. To clarify it they bring notion of instinct as “natural expertise” and “expertise as “acquired instincts”. After that they are going into mechanics of face, words, and norms recognition as examples of such acquired instincts. The final part of the chapter is about modularity of the mind, which authors define as biological modules with cognitive functionality. They reject notion of rigid innate modularity and support idea of cognitive functionality based on biological tissue, using reading as example.
- Cognitive Opportunism
Here authors discuss cognitive abilities through prism of evolution, rejecting in process the idea of mind as unitary and principled. They look at presentation and low-level procedures of mind’s working such as logical AND gate also know as conditional reflexes. However their overall assessment of logical and probalistical processing of the mind moves away from simplistic Aristotelian ideas to much more complex and chaotic processes that sometimes contradict formal logic, but seems to be beneficial for survival.
This is about human attempts to understand how mind works via comparison with other animals and folk ontology that tend to assign reasoning and acting ability to just about anything including unanimated objects. Authors also discuss here mental representation versus public representations and high order presentations about presentation, which they define as metapresentations. They provide two similar sets of statements about representation of:
III. RETHINKING REASON
In this part authors are presenting their ideas about reason being a tool used by individuals to justify their actions, convince others in validity of these actions, and obtain their support, rather than develop a course of action.
- How We Use Reasons
Here authors are trying to provide support for their idea of reason as tool for explanation and justification of thoughts and actions after the fact. They start with the story of a man who killed stranded woman-motorist who was banging on the door of his house looking for help because he believed that he is under attack. They used this and a couple of similar stories to separate actual cause of actions not necessarily consciously understood and psychological reason that people create to justify their actions. Authors discuss experimental research supporting this idea and references to theoretical work supporting it. They also link it to previously discussed modularity of mind, presenting an idea that reason for subconscious control of action is that modules just do their own processing without necessary regard and coordination so eventually conscious mind left with need to find reasons to whatever subconscious made the body to do. The final part of the chapter discusses why there is need for reasons in the first place and concludes that it is for external social consumption.
- Could Reason Be a Module?
Here authors move to deeper discussion of the issue of reasons in both modes: retrospective and prospective. They provide a logical tree for this:
After that they discuss reasons as product of inference from the perceived factual data and regularities of environment. Authors also present some research supporting ideas that people have intuitions about reasons and eventually propose an idea that reasons are product of separate module mainly used for justification and explanation, but practically not involved in decision making.
- Reasoning: Intuition and Reflection
Here author discuss nature of arguments and conclusions as components of reasoning as representation of processes conducted in the reason module and provide a small table to illustrate it:
After that author discuss reliance of reason on language and use of logic as heuristic tool for reasoning.
- Reason: What Is It For?
This is an attempt to link authors’ understanding of reason’s use for justification to evolutionary need for cohesiveness of a group. They look at history of understanding of reason and discuss its various uses that improve fitness of individuals and their group from coordination to communication to argumentation
IV. WHAT REASON CAN AND CANNOT DO
This part is an attempt to test hypothesis that reason serves not that much for decision making as for justification of already occurred actions.
- Why Is Reasoning Biased?
This is about reason being biased, which does not make sense if its function were to analyze facts and make decision that would lead to achieving objectives. However it makes a lot of sense if it is used mainly for justification. In this case any distortion of reality could be useful as long as it helps to achieve such justification. Authors look at advantages provided by a bias such as prevention of expensive investigation to identify truth and use cheap “good enough” solutions, also important is a part on complexity of science where real pursuit of truth lead to need in complex philosophical approaches such as falsification. Then they discuss a couple of typical forms of reality distortions such as confirmation bias and myside bias both of which make sense for justification, but not for correct way of actions.
- Quality Control: How We Evaluate Arguments
This is about a quite special use of reason in argumentation when it is clear that generally decision-making is not involved and objective of convincing is pursued via interaction with various argument some of which are quite illogical such as request for prove of absence. Here authors look at support for their position in the fact of duality of reason use when different criteria used for one’s own reasoning and for other people reasoning:
- The Dark Side of Reason
This is about human capability to find reasons to confirm opinion whether these reasons viable or not. The examples provided are for literature, but also from the story of Dreyfus when famous detective who was hard believer in Dreyfus’ quilt could not be moved from his position by any valid proves that Dreyfus was innocent. After that authors discuss an interesting question: if the main use of reason is for self and others deception, how come evolution created humans with lots of such features. Their answer is quite interesting: the reason’s distortion of reality does spell disaster for individual, but it is beneficial for a group when diversity of strongly held opinions could lead to the better overall decision making via argumentation when only strong argument would survive.
- A Reason for Everything
This is about human ability to find reasons for everything, even when it is clear that there is none like in experiment with selection between several perfectly similar items when strong reasons for selection after the fact point to non-existing variances between items. However authors also discuss quite a few experiments when requirement for reasoning imposed before making decision changes the way decision is made. At the end of chapter authors review a sunk cost fallacy that makes people to take into account quite strongly some events of the past that really have no weight on the future such as decision to go into storm to use prepaid ticket, but not to go if ticket was provided for free.
- The Bright Side of Reason
The final part of this chapter is pretty much praise of argumentation and support to the idea that the best way to make decisions is via rigorous argumentation between several people with diversity of strongly held views.
V. REASON IN THE WILD
The last part of this book designed to go out of psychological laboratories and experiments with clearly defined limits into real worlds and look at the use of reason in the wild.
- Is Human Reason Universal?
Here authors discuss validity of results of psychological experiments with the WEIRD people. As the example of cultural dependency they use a simple task of getting 3 coins out of the box with many. It is a very easy task for nearly all people except for Piraha Amazonian Indians whose language includes only count to 2 with anything more than 2 practically non existent. Only 2/3 of Piraha were able to succeed, while they were pretty good in multiple other tasks that did not require counting more than 2. Authors also look at specifics of argumentation in East Asia, small-scale societies, and such. At the end of chapter they are trying to reconcile evolutionary, cognitive, and anthropological perspectives for reasoning.
- Reasoning about Moral and Political Topics
Here authors look at especially difficult for people topic of use of reason for rationalization in areas of politics and morals. They refer to research demonstrating how some mundane factors influence human behavior in areas that everybody consider hugely important. A nice example was provided by judges whose sentencing decisions turned out to be highly correlated with condition of their body with people sentenced after lunch getting lighter sentences than those who were sentenced by hungry judge just before lunch. This follows by discussion on reasoning and morality and digression into history of slavery and abolitionism.
- Solitary Geniuses?
The final chapter is about science as a method of somewhat organized reasoning and argumentation, which allows to achieve results in the form of understanding of the world significantly better than occurs in other areas, despite scientists being as biased, prejudiced, and limited by the dominant paradigm as everybody else. Authors seem to suggest that it occurs because of good combination of solitary thinking and peer group arguing that allow producing new ideas without pressure, but rigorously test them afterworld.
Conclusion: In Praise of Reason after All
In conclusion authors state that the Reason is only one module of inference among others and is highly specialized for its domain of competence as any of them. Authors define this domain as domain of social interaction and present it as “argumentative theory of reason”. They reject idea of dual, fast and slow thinking and argue that human biases, illogical conclusions, and such are not a bug, but rather a feature of effective problem resolution where problem solver is not an individual, but rather a group and solution is found via argumentation between strong, intellectually and experimentally diverse individuals, rather than via logically consistent, non-contradictory, and algorithmically defined thinking.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a great book and I inclined to agree with authors approach to reason as tool for argumentation, convincing, and justification, rather than tool for analyzing facts and planning future actions. However I would still maintain that reason as planning tool is also evolutionary useful, but require unusually hard effort to apply it effectively, that majority of people usually do only in the case of few instances when decision they are working on is complex and consequential. While agreeing with authors that regular use of reason applied mainly for argumentation and justification, I think that the current and even more future development would expand use of reason for planning and execution of human activities because it is and even much more will be supplemented by logically and statistically perfect reasoning using computers, which have none of human deficiencies in logical thinking. The human task in achieving effective solution will be shifted from intellectual processing for data selection to feed into computer for processing. As perfect as computers are in sequential formalized intellectual processing, they have no common sense of what, out of infinite amount of data, is relevant and what is not, resulting in well-known phenomenon of “ junk in – junk out”. Actually this does not diminish argumentative value of reason, it just moves it to more sophisticated level when computer models support both planning and argumentation.
20171027 – A Sovereign People
The main idea of this book is to review history of 4 challenges to the newly created American nation that had to be overcome in order to create truly sovereign state:
- Internal threat of Whiskey rebellion that was generated from the bottom of society
- French attempt to subvert American sovereignty and force it to act under French control
- Disruption that America brought in to existing diplomatic order by rejecting core value of European politics – bribery and corruption
- Another Internal threat, this time generated from the top of society that represented an attempt by political parties to become dominant by using legal system to suppress opposition.
The objective here is to demonstrate that all these challenges were extremely dangerous, were successfully met, and how exactly it was done.
Here author describes purpose of this book as an attempt to present history of formation of American sovereignty via prism of 4 well-known, but poorly understood crises of founding era that occurred in years after acceptance of constitution and before the first in history mainly peaceful and democratic transfer of power from Federalists to Democrat Republicans.
PART I The Whiskey Rebellion
This is the story of an interesting and deeply American rebellion of population against government. It was not something quick and dirty with big military encounters that end in victory of one side and executions leaders and others of losing side. Rather it is slow, several years long process with government victory, no executions, but rather somewhat grudging acceptance of this victory.
The first part describes formation of the first American government and distribution of power between future competing forces led on one side by Hamilton with support of Washington and Adams, and on other side by Jefferson.
Obviously the first order of any government is to obtain funding and it was especially challenging for the new country that just went through victorious revolution in no small extent driven by resentment of government taxation. In March 1791 Hamilton succeeded in moving through congress tax on Distilled Spirits.
This part describes nature of Whiskey use as regular and important farm product of multiple uses including its use as a form of money. Probably the most important reasons for rejection Whiskey tax were not that much related to the taxation per se, as to details such as requirements to pay tax before product was leaving distillery, creation of bureaucratic apparatus to control production and trade of Whiskey and reality that this apparatus was quickly populated by well-connected individuals with lots of nepotism added to the mix. The response was also quick: combination of protests, intimidation and sometimes violence against officials, and, most important, plain and simple flaunting of the law by ignoring it.
This chapter is about discussion of the law and its consequences in Congress that took place in 1792 with Hamilton strongly supporting the law against westerners and southerners. An important point here was necessity to prove that Federal government actually is capable to enforce its law, so the bill was passed to allow president to raise militia to suppress insurrection.
This describes raising tensions and specific cases of violence when local population and its representatives frustrated any attempts on enforcing the law, which in Washington’s view threatened sovereignty of Federal state and on September 15 1792 he issued proclamation against rebellion calling on local authorities to provide enforcement.
This is description of political maneuvering around excise law compliance when Washington did everything possible to encourage compliance and avoid any hint on use of regular army. Interesting here is interplay between federal and local power such as Pennsylvania Governor Mifflin who tried to assure one side that law is enforced and other side it would be somewhat ignored.
This is description of event of 1793 and 1794 when resistance to excise law was sporadically raised in various places, noncompliance and plain ignoring of the law was widely spread, and even talk about secession started in Kentucky and Georgia.
This chapter about events in Pennsylvania where violence made it clear, that peaceful resolution become impossible. The locals started formation of militia against federal government
This chapter moves to the summer of 1794 when Washington and Hamilton started to form militia to suppress rebellion, while still working with Mifflin trying to resolve situation, even if everybody by this time understood futility of this effort and need for raw power.
Throughout August of 1794 both negotiations and preparation for military action continued in parallel. Eventually by September it became clear for leaders of rebellion that their chances are slim and that the best course of action was to submit to the law.
This is description of further events of the fall of 1794 when incompliance continued leading to the new proclamation by Washington, who tried position rebels as a small minority dictating norms of behavior to majority.
This chapter describes final preparation by Washington for military action to the delight of Hamilton. Washington was informed that government officials intimidated and many believe that there is no popular support to the tax. At this point Washington start moving troops.
Federal troops start moving in November 1794 and many leaders of rebellion were arrested. There was no serious resistance and by the end of November 1794 militias returned home and majority of participants in rebellion were pardoned with other accused rebels freed by the summer of 1795.
This chapter is about post-rebellion finger pointing on who is to blame and such.
The epilogue discusses historical lessons stating that Hamilton had military approach trying to act quickly to suppress rebellion, while Washington acted as experienced politician using delay tactics to form opposition to rebellion, generate feeling of futility among rebels, and use military power more for intimidation than for actual fighting. Author makes important point here that this story demonstrated critical value of George Washington personality and popularity that allowed to resolve the crisis in such way, that led to establishment of the new loyalty not to personality of Washington, but rather to the Constitution and Federal government.
PART II The Genet Affair
Edmond Genet was revolutionary French government minister to USA who tried to force Washington to move US to French side in its conflict with Britain. In process he blatantly violated usual diplomatic norms trying to build support, including military support, for the French side by going directly to government opponents and even to the people, signing up volunteers, privateers, and sheltering bounty.
This is brief description of immediate result of the French revolution in America when initial enthusiasm for it disappeared as soon as its excesses become known. As usual in American politics one side – Jefferson republicans continued their support, while other – federalists withdrew it.
This is about Genet personality and objective that French had sending him to America: expedite payment of American debt and get America involved in supporting French side.
This chapter describes Genet’s arrival and initial enthusiasm for him as the minister representing fellow republic. It also describes rejection of American government to take French side in conflict and Washington’s proclamation of neutrality that was developed out of contest between Hamilton and Jefferson pro and contra direct support.
This is about Genet initial reaction and attempts to raise American enthusiasm for the French republic. It also discusses his attempt to start naval privateering based on US soil, specifically in Charleston with support of Jefferson and despite strong opposition by Hamilton.
These chapters describe details of Genet intrigues, their eventual failure, and at the end his rejection of France after Jacobins taking power. The most interesting here is the description of attempt to reject American sovereignty, that was shown by Genet’s manners and actions, and believe that the new country could be controlled and manipulated to somebody’s else benefit. The part ends with Genet becoming an American and with discussion of lessons for the weak state that faces pressure from more powerful states to become their agent, rather than independent principal.
PART III The XYZ Affair
Chapter 1 – 10
Here author describes diplomatic event that demonstrated a very serious impact of the new American State on the way international business is done and, most important, the formation of American attitudes to international business. The case started with American delegation of three people sent to France negotiate relationships with this country, which demonstrated tendency to interfere in American internal affairs by supporting men and parties more responsive to French than to American needs. After consistent deterioration of relations during late 1790s American attempt to start dialog by sending minister Pinckney in 1796 was rejected by French with insult. Even more important was French decision to start naval attacks on Americans ships carrying trade with Britain. All this brought America to the brink of war with France and in attempt to resolve crisis Adams sent 3 men delegation: Charles Pinckney, Eldridge Gerry, and John Marshall. Author provides very brief history of Talleyrand and how he came to be the top French diplomat and then describes in details story of his attempt to extract bribe as a necessary condition for starting diplomatic discussion. This typical European approach to state business turned out to be unacceptable for America and led to scandal with some interesting details of quarrels between American delegates and behind the scene maneuvering. All this was to no avail and delegation come back with nothing in 1798. The most interesting part came after that, when American press both Federalist and Republican started very hot polemic on the issue resulting in US abrogating the treaties of 1778 with France and started preparation in line with unofficial slogan: “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute”, which greatly increased popularity of Adams administration. However its failure to follow through despite increase in taxes and expansion of federal army under control of Hamilton caused suspicion that federalists are just trying consolidate their power. As result Adams popularity plummeted. Eventually the new delegation was sent to France, accepted by Napoleon, and signed treaty of 1800. Author characterizes this episode as important step in formation of American national identity.
PART IV The Alien and Sedition Acts
Chapter 1 – 7
The final case that author reviews is Federalists’ attempt to suppress opposition by using their control of legal and state power via set of laws known as Alien and Sedition acts. It led to imprisonment of some editors, journalists, and even bystanders who managed to say something wrong in a bar. The interesting thing however happened in America that never ever happened before in any other place: the population did not accept violation of free speech and despite or maybe because of very light level of enforcement: only 21 arrest were made, the opposition to suppression by far outweighed any other issues eventually leading to federalists’ loosing election and bringing Jefferson into the White House. Author notes that ironic part of it was inability of Federalists to suppress opposition probably was result of their adherence to traditions of due process, but it is impossible to know because both sides acted mainly within constitutional framework, paradoxically affirming viability of the main Federalist achievement – Constitution of the United States.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a great historical book demonstrating how these 4 crises formed American system by turning principles implemented in the paper document into ideas imbedded into minds of people and driving action of these people. Either accommodation found between the needs of government for money and unwillingness of people to give this money shown in whiskey rebellion, or establishment of loyalty to the American state above loyalty to some general international ideas of brotherhood, revolution, and such demonstrated in case of citizen Genet, or application of business rules of honesty in diplomacy and rejection of bribes demonstrated by XYZ affair, or massive rejection of attempt to suppress opposition to party in power, all these were the new features practically unknown to other countries. These other countries’ systems mainly were based either on high transnational ideas of religion combined with monarchial powers of kings, while the new country – America was based on ideas of individual freedom and voluntary cooperation, practically non-existent in explicit form anywhere else at the time. The one thing that I think author is somewhat missing in relation to the most important of these cases – sedition Acts, I think, is the role of potential violence in preventing Federalist from massively enforcing these acts and fixing or even canceling elections. In short they just did not have power. The Hamilton’s army was in infancy, while states militias, especially Virginia militia under control of Jefferson were much more potent force, making the idea of opposition suppression for the greater good by force highly problematic. The Federalists’ adherence to due process came not from their innate goodness and respect for the law, but rather from the weakness of their military capabilities.
20171020 – Destined for War
The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about potential clash of the USA with China by demonstrating applicability of history of interactions between dominant and raising powers that more often than not ended in military confrontation. This historical analysis spans from ancient Greece to the latest confrontations of XX century. The second point is to review all conceivable ways that growing confrontation between USA and China could develop in conflict and, finally, to provide recommendations and alternatives for future actions.
THE RISE OF CHINA
“The Biggest Player in the History of the World”
The first part of this book is about raise of China over the last 30 years and its movement to becoming number one economic power in the world. Here is a small graph illustrating this process:
A lot of the narrative here based on PPP data that obviously provides numeric advantage to China’s estimates just because its population is about 4 times bigger than USA, but author quite reasonably suggests that growth in economic power would prompt growth in all other aspects of the country power including technological and military, so eventually it will lead to change in world balance of power.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
Athens vs. Sparta
Here author moves to review history of international power rebalancing starting with ancient Greece and raise of Athens that threatened to dominant power of the time – Sparta. Eventually the competition between Sparta as the dominant land power and Athens as dominant naval power led to Peloponnesian war that Sparta won, but at very high price of weakened all Greek city-states.
Five Hundred Years
Here author moves from the first well-documented specific case of the dominant versus the raising power clash to general overview of such clashes over the last 500 years mainly within Western civilization and their outcomes:
Author specifically reviews the most recent cases:
- Japan vs. United States in mid XX century
- Japan vs. Russia and China in early XX century
- Germany vs. France in mid XIX century
- England vs. Dutch Republic in XVII century
- Hapsburgs vs. France in XVI century
Britain vs. Germany
Here author looks at what seems to be the most applicable case when dominant power of Britain, while being much bigger Empire due to colonies, started to rapidly lose competition to Germany in areas of technology and industrial power. Here is graph representing this change:
The British response to this was increase in resources allocated to maintain advantage in military power especially navy, but it was clearly inadequate despite success in maintain advantage:
Eventually the competition turned into war and it was fought mainly on land.
A GATHERING STORM
Imagine China Were Just Like Us
This is a typical litany of Americans being imperialistic: pushing Spain out of its American and Pacific colonies, creating and enforcing Monroe doctrine, creating new country Panama because Columbia would not allow build canal on American conditions, buying Alaska from Russia and quite forcefully defining borders with Canada. In short as raising power of early XX century America did not show a good example of behavior towards declining power or weak states. In order to provide some feeling of what it would look like now, author compares Teddy Roosevelt and current Chinese president Xi pointing out that it would be quite a nightmarish scenario.
What Xi’s China Wants
This chapter is an attempt to look at things from China’s point of view. This point of view is a mix of pride, humiliation, and strives for restoration. It relates not only to the country as whole, but also to the personality of its leader who went from high living of child of important party official through humiliation of Cultural revolution, and back to the top of power. The key point here is that Chinese believe that their rightful place in the world is at the top and would do everything to get there by all means necessary. Author also discusses potential difficulties such as loss of party control over society, slowdown of the economy, demographic consequences of one child policy and so on, but so far Chinese leadership feels strong enough to start challenging USA in South China Sea – possibly the first tremor of coming earthquake.
Clash of Civilizations
This chapter starts with the story of Lord Macartney mission to China in 1793 when both side where so far away culturally that no effective communication was possible. Author analyses potential clash of the West as represented by USA and China, which he believes is highly probable due to superiority complex that both sides have. Here is a nice table to compare cultural approaches:
These innate cultural differences lead to demonstratively different approaches to just about everything: economy, diplomacy, education, and what not.
From Here to War
This chapter is pretty much a list of hypotheticals about all conceivable situations that could lead to US-China war. It starts with historical factoids of Korean War and China-Soviet mini war and goes through various scenarios from accidental collision at sea outgrowing into the war, so economic conflict pushed all the way to military confrontation.
WHY WAR IS NOT INEVITABLE
Twelve Clues for Peace
Here author returns back to the history trying to identify specific factors that prevented war between dominant and raising power in previous conflicts. Author presents 12 different clues that served to avoid open military conflict:
- Existence of higher authority that both sides would listen to
- Competing states are embedded in larger political, economic, and security institutions
- Politicians on both sides could find way to accommodate each other with formerly dominant power recedes gracefully
- Dominant power missing opportunity to stop raising power on its track as Britain could possibly do if they supported Confederacy, breaking America in two weak states in process
- Cultural commonalities could prevent conflict as it happened between formerly dominant Britain and raising USA.
- Nuclear weapons, which make any large scale military conflict literally deleterious for both sides
- The same as 6, but formalized as MAD strategy
- MAD could not be justified
- But for MAD be effective leader should be ready to use it all and convince others that they do.
- Thick economic Interdependence
- Alliances should be under strict control
- The final and most decisive factor: domestic performance
Where Do We Go from Here?
These are author recommendations:
- Begin with structural realities: if China continues on current path of growth and USA on current path of relative decline, China will become economically dominant and military dominance will follow
- Apply History: it has a lot of examples to learn from and lessons that are applicable to current situation
- Recognize that American strategy is a contradiction: the strategy “engage and hedge” allows everything, but prohibits nothing. This strategy founded on believe that democracy and freedom are universal aspirations and therefore applicable to China, but they are not. Idea of equal “citizenship” in “community of nations” is alien to Chinese hierarchical culture and besides would not be acceptable to it anyway because traditionally some “citizens”, namely USA are more equal than others.
- Review all strategic options even ugly one: the bottom line here is: accommodation should stop.
- Accommodate: this obviously contradict the precious one and basically means just accept China dominance in the future
- Undermine: revive the believe in universality of democratic values and try to push them on China
- Negotiating Long peace: delay any possible confrontation as much as possible by finding agreements
- Redefine relationships: achieve common understanding that win-loose is not possible due to nuclear weapons so it is better to find win-win than stumble into loose –loose.
The conclusion once again stresses need for clarity of vital interests, understanding of Chinas aspirations, striving to act more at strategic level, and always keep in mind paramount value of controlling domestic challenges first.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book provides pretty interesting historical and political analysis and quite convincing lead to necessity of confronting China before it is too late. I personally believe that China threat is about 90% product of American misunderstanding of the world and misplaced believes that everybody mainly just want a good live. It seems to me that for Americans the very notions of national and ethnic greatness, conquest just for power sake, and achievement of superiority over others, are deeply alien and basically inconceivable. Americans can understand giving all to achieve or protect freedom, but could not understand giving all to deprive others of freedom so for them China or for that matter former Soviet Union are just incomprehensible. Generally I agree that something had to be done and this something already start happening: limitation on uncompensated transfer of intellectual know how to China is just around the corner, pressure on trade is coming, creation of strong cyber defenses are not that far away, so all these measures could quite possibly stop China’s march to economic and political dominance. So far China’s raise was to the huge extent parasitic one: use of foreign capital, including massive transfer of technology and building production facilities aimed to use cheap Chinese labor to produce goods for Western population. This period of rapid parasitic growth is coming to the end and quite quickly. For once automation makes Chinese cheap labor irrelevant, consequently making technological knowledge transfer paid by profits from cheap production unpalatable for Western businesses. The general absence of respect to property, especially intellectual property quite possibly will put China on “no business” list and it could happen soon. The probability of China developing its own technological prowess is very problematic if one takes into account absence of intellectual and political freedom. Humans are quite complicated creatures so if one limits freethinking in one area, let’s say political and philosophical, it is virtually guaranties the decaying of freethinking and consequently success in technological area. The final point is that Chinese population advantage is on somewhat shaky ground taking into account that West includes not only 300+ millions of Americans, but also 500 millions EU, plus additional billions of people in countries like India, which in any conceivable confrontation will reside with the West rather than bow to Chinese dominance. All this would probably prevent any war because the equation of force both economic and military will always be against China, while odds of China’s joining democratic world as full pledged equal member will grow in proportion to decrease in opportunities for parasitic growth.
20171013 – Superforecasting
The main idea of this book is to relate the new developments in author’s work when he found a way to obtain funding from IARPA and start Good Judgment Project, which includes systematic analysis of forecasting processes using thousands of volunteers. This project allowed author to identify a group of successful forecasters, analyze how exactly they work, and produce a pretty good description of successful patterns of behavior and processes.
- An Optimistic Skeptic
Author starts with the point that we all are forecasters trying to predict future events with different results. He refers to his earlier work on quality of forecasting conducted back in the 1980s that demonstrated very poor quality of forecasts by experts and pundits that become source of pessimism about this popular activity. The new research that he discusses in this book provides some reasons for more optimistic view on possibilities of improvement in forecasting quality. This research called Good Judgment Project (CJP) is sponsored by IARPA and based on formal forecasting and result analysis processes done by mainly self-selected volunteers. These processes allowed identify a group of super forecasters who were able to beat control group by 60-70%. The final part of the chapter refers to recently developed AI capabilities that promise in conjunction with humans achieve significant improvement in the quality of forecasts.
- Illusions of Knowledge
This starts with some examples of mistaken medical diagnosis and correspondingly forecast, then expand it to discuss human blindness to facts and multitude of historical cases supporting the notion of its severity and hugely negative consequences such as common medical practice of bloodletting that led to doctors’ killing multitude of patients, probably including George Washington. The contemporary result of growing understanding of deficiencies in human thinking processes led to development of the new procedures in medicine and resource allocation to analysis of the process of thinking. The final part discusses popular notion of “blink” vs. necessity of systematic thinking and Kahneman’s work on the fast and slow thinking.
- Keeping Score
This chapter is about difficulties of keeping score of forecasts. It uses example of Steve Ballmer who famously made statement seemingly underestimating iPhone potential. The actual statement nevertheless had enough wiggle room to spin it as pretty good forecast. After that author discusses an interesting example of important forecast failure – Soviet Union dissolution. After that he goes to some technical aspects of forecasting: over / under confidence, its decisiveness and calibration:
Author also establishes here the main criteria for quality of forecast: Brier score with correlations: 0 perfect, 0.5 random, and 2 perfectly false forecasts.
Author also returns here to results of his 1980s study and it’s findings about impact of personality type on quality of forecast with foxes being much better than hedgehogs. The final part is about “wisdom of crowds” aggregation that sometime drastically improves forecast if diversity of views good, meaning wide enough to achieve healthy cancellation of extremes.
Here author reviews finding from his recent project with IARPA that allowed identify individual with significantly better forecasting results than average. The bulk of discussion here is related to differentiation between luck and skill, which author mainly does by tracing regression to the mean, the absence of which indicated prevalence of skill over luck.
This is about notion of smartness or intelligence and how it is defined via IQ testing or Fermi questioning (number of piano tuners in Chicago). After that author applies these notions to the real live forecasting question whether it will be found or not that Israelis poisoned Arafat. Here is an interesting concept of Active Open Mindedness (AOM) developed by Jonathan Baron based on agreement/ disagreement with questions:
This is about application of math and statistics to forecasting and need for preciseness (use of % in forecast rather than verbiage: likely/unlikely). Here is a typical use of verbiage that allows granular, but not precise analysis:
At the end of chapter author looks at difference between probabilistic and deterministic approaches.
This chapter is about successful forecasters from the project, their methods and cases of over or under forecasting of actual events. It is also a bit of discussion about Bayesian equation and how it approves forecast when the new information is being taken into account.
- Perpetual Beta
This chapter is very valuable because author not only discusses need of practical experience rather than theoretical knowledge in forecasting, necessity of failure, and imperative of thorough analysis and adjustment, but also provides features of model superforecaster derived from his experience:
- Super teams
Here author discusses value of teamwork in forecasting initially questioning validity of team approach in such deeply intellectual activity as analysis and forecasting. The conclusion is that generally team is more cumbersome, but results in accuracy about 23% better than the same people individually.
- The Leader’s Dilemma
This chapter starts with very interesting deviation into military history discussing little known quality of German military that made it so formidable power during two World Wars: culture of independent thinking and consistent encouragement of decision making at the lowest level of hierarchy if it is consistent with the highest level of competence relevant for this decision. Author contrasts it with rigid and hierarchical decision making in American military and how difficult it is to overcome. One important lesson in this is that even if German military was clearly force for evil, it should not prevent good analyst from learning whatever strengths it had and apply this knowledge.
- Are They Really So Super?
Here author discusses tendency of people to ignore information that contradicts their preset opinions and stress the one that supports it. He uses recent political development on Middle East to demonstrate how bureaucracy often fails anticipate changes in situation and how black swan events tend to pop-up elsewhere. Another point author makes is that failure to collect real data often leads to mistakes that could be easily avoided if analysts apply real data rather than preconceived ideas. He provides a nice example with income distribution when formal application of normal distribution leads to incorrect estimate of possibility for somebody to be a billionaire as one in trillions, when in reality Fat Tail actual income distribution makes it much more probable:
- What’s Next?
This is an interesting take on future of forecasting where author correctly identifies objective of a forecast as to promote well being of forecaster with accuracy being a useful, but not ultimate parameter in achieving this objective. As example author discusses political events of Romney election and difficulties of implementing Evidence based medical policies. In both cases objective data pushed aside when they undermine well being of political analysts in the former case and medical profession in the latter. Interestingly, author also discusses vulnerability of all objective facts and numbers to manipulation, but that it is still best methodology that we have. The author also makes a point about post factum situation when experts often manage to spin results to such extent that makes failed forecast justifiable and, somewhat laughably, successful.
The final world is that superforecasters such as one of participants of Good Judgment Project Bill Flack, who is often right about future events, and “strategic thinkers” like Tom Friedman, who was consistently wrong, in reality are complimentary because people like Friedman are good at raising question, even if they typically could not provide meaningful answer, leaving this job open for superforecasters like Bill.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a great book that significantly expands on initial work of author that demonstrated low levels of ability of typical experts and pundits to correctly forecast future events. The success in trying identify and somewhat formalize the method of effective forecasting is very important and may in the future lead to creation of some independent sources for analysis and forecasting of political, economic, and legislative decisions. Nevertheless, I personally believe that world is way too complicated for anybody or any combination of humans and computers to be able correctly forecast future events so the best way to prosperity and good outcome is to minimize need in complex high level decision making, by decreasing role of governments, big corporation, and legislature in everyday live pushing decision at as low level as possible and practical, consequently dramatically decreasing cost of errors and unintended consequences.
20171006 Abrams, Floyd – The Soul of the First Amendment
The main idea of this book is to review realities of history and contemporary application of the First Amendment that guaranties freedom of speech. It also includes extensive comparison of free speech in America with other democracies and demonstrates the exceptional character of American approach.
It starts with the anecdote about author’s son not being admitted to the movie in Europe because of age and then claiming his First Amendment right to see it. The anecdote is provided to demonstrate how deeply this amendment ingrained in American minds. After that author compares it with typical European attitude to the freedom of speech and demonstrates the deep difference between these two approaches. The introduction also describes the structure of the book.
This is historical part tracing debates about the First Amendment at the time of Constitutional convention and its ratification process. The main dispute was between those who believed that it is not necessary enumerate rights since constitution already put restriction on government power and those we demanded clear articulation of key rights such as free speech. After this author discusses somewhat surprising fact that the First amendment was dormant for a long time and really become very active only in the second half of XX century and remains in the focus of public discussion and Supreme Court decisions ever since.
This chapter compares levels of free speech protection in USA and other countries. Author refers to hate speech laws in Canada, label laws in UK, and privacy protection laws in Finland that limit free expression to the extent inconceivable for Americans. Overall it is a good piece of information for anybody who has doubt about exceptional character of USA.
This chapter reviews legal case of 1941 Bridges vs. California that established exceptionally American understanding of the freedom of speech. It initially discusses obscenity laws that were used widely, but then concentrate on Patterson and Supreme Court decision affirming the First Amendment right to criticize judiciary.
This chapter discusses American deviation from Europe in understanding of relationship between privacy and free speech. Specifically it discusses European “right to be forgotten”, which is drastically limit speech on Internet.
This chapter discusses American deviation from Europe in understanding of relationship between money and free speech. In short in Europe a government limits spending and consequently ability of people and organizations to distribute their views. In America right to use resource for support of one’s speech was consistently supported by the Court.
Here author goes beyond legal approach to the First Amendment and looks at controversies related to its use in responsible way, especially when it relates to classified materials and other forms of information that if made public could cause serious negative consequences. In short, in America the freedom of speech takes precedence over national security at least as it was decided in cases of Pentagon papers and many others.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the First Amendment and freedom of speech that it supports is one of the most important factors that led to American prosperity. It keep in check, at least to some extent, people in power and allows powerful tools for organizing and creating political pressure for people out of power. However I think that some serious problems presented in this book are not dealt with properly and I would suggest this for each if key problem:
Libel and Privacy: I would not limit it by any means, but rather expand access to refutation of label and other untruthful information to such extant that court could upon deciding that information provided was maliciously distorted force allocating of the same amount of space and place in whatever printing or electronic form it was produced. For example if New York Time or Breitbart News published some clearly libelous piece against Trump or Obama correspondingly, they would have to publish rebuttal on the same page with the same amount of space and, in case of electronic format, keep it for the same amount of time as original piece. It would allow consumer of information to obtain rebuttal information and in some murky case make decision for self.
Hate Speech: Again I would not limit it by any means, but would punish producer in case somebody actually acted on this speech. For example, if some preacher calls to kill infidels he should be punished as accomplice when and only when somebody acts on this call, even if there is no direct connection between talker and actor. I think it would go long way to preventing incitement of violence.
National Security: I believe that it requires legislative action that would clearly define what type of information could be classified, whether it is technological specification, or political discussion, or diplomatic mail. With contemporary technology it is possible to assign clearance on person/document basis and keep track of who accesses what, when, and why. The security will never be provided if some generic classification of Top Secret allows some clerk with clearance such as Manning or technician as Snowden to access millions of classified documents that they not only have no business to access, but would not be even able to look through even if they spend every second of their lifetime doing it.
20170929 – Deep Thinking
The main idea of this book is to review author’s experience as the first chess champion loosing to AI and using this experience to discuss past, present, and future development of AI and consequences of this development. The main objective here for author is to find reasons to be optimistic and demonstrate that advance of computers does not mean decline or even obsolesce of humanity.
ONE The Brain Game
Here author discusses the nature of chess as the brain game and commonly recognized link between ability to play chess and intelligence. Correspondingly this game was often used in all discussion of AI as a benchmark of its abilities. After that author moves to his experiences as chess prodigy in the Soviet Union where this game was treated as an important factor in competition with Western world for superiority in the area of intellectual development. Author briefly reviews history of chess related Cold war episodes and his role in them when he became world champion in 1985 just before Soviet Empire started its rapid move to demise.
TWO Rise of the Chess Machines
This chapter briefly reviews the story of development of chess related software and hardware from the earlier attempts when computers just started in late 1940s to Deep Thought specialized computer that was able successfully play at the Grandmaster level.
THREE Human versus Machine
Here author describes how computers were introduced into chess world and what kinds of strategic algorithms were used from initial stress on material weight to brute force positions crunching. He also discusses his own participation in the development of chess computers. The pinnacle of initial achievement was the program called Chess that was capable to win in a week human tournament.
FOUR What Matters to a Machine?
This is more about strategy and tactics used in development of AI algorithms and use of Chess for their development where the clear rules of game and complete information defined by rules provided a type of experimental tool similar to use of drosophila in biology. It is also about deficiencies of such approach because the main assumption about working of mind similarity to a computer proved to be incorrect.
FIVE What Makes a Mind?
Here author moves to discussion of properties of human mind and psychological aspects of chess. In process he discusses popular, but not necessarily well-founded idea about 10000 hours required for mastering any skill. Author claims, based on this own experience both as progeny and later as teacher, that initial genetic makeup of individual could not be discarded and 10K hours would produce different results in different people. In the second part of the chapter author discusses various anti-computer strategies that he developed to overcome computer’s advantage in tactical calculations and lacking of psychological component that could be debilitating for human player.
SIX Into the Arena
Here author briefly returns to his experience playing for championship against Karpov – KGB preferred winner, then moves to discussing DARPA initial development of AI. This follows by author’s discussion of complexity of rules in culture and lives, which is dramatically different and higher than simplicity of rules in chess. As example he looks at machine translation of human languages. The last part of the chapter is the story of author’s match against Deep Thought computer in October of 1989, which author won, but it was already a serious game.
SEVEN The Deep End
This chapter is the first part of the culmination of the story because it is about the match with Deep Blue. Author still won this match, but it was not that easy any more and Deep Blue demonstrated that it is getting close. Author also briefly describes chess revolution that occurred with dramatic improvement of PC that obtained enough computer power to provide vast majority of players with a partner at the level they want to have, even if it is pretty high level.
EIGHT Deeper Blue
This starts with discussion of improvement in computer power that practically eliminated need for super complex algorithms by bringing to the table tremendous computer power. It follows by the story of the second match with Deep Blue, but not before author reviews meaning and advantages and disadvantages of rematches. At the end author discusses prelude to the second game and his overestimation of time needed to Deep Blue team to fix problems and achieve significant improvement in its game. He also points out that IBM hired quite a few Grandmasters to work with Deep Blue.
NINE The Board Is in Flames! TEN The Holy Grail
These two chapters represent very detailed game-by-game and nearly move-by-move description of the second match when human chess champion (author) actually lost to the computer. It also includes discussion of several related controversies and author’s psychological ups and downs that had significant impact on the quality of the game.
ELEVEN Human Plus Machine
The final chapter is about combining AI and human intelligence in teams, which allows for better performance than either of them separately. Author discusses quite a few areas like GPS where AI added tremendously to the quality of life and our ability to achieve results. This obviously includes chess where computer programs dramatically improved training opportunities for players. One very interesting point here is that young players now learn quite differently from the old school that author went through. They are playing a lot more and consequently obtain a lot more practical skills, while learning a lot less theory. Then author discusses AI impact on innovation. Specifically in chess Grandmasters now have opportunities to run any innovation with AI before using it in high stakes game, allowing them to test much more approaches than was possible before. At the end of chapter author discusses more details of human vs. AI strengths and weaknesses and how to combine them to achieve maximum effect.
Conclusion: Onward and Upward
The final conclusion is pretty much that future is bright. The author believes that while humans good at developing machines to do their work the work itself will not disappear, but rather expand providing more and more interesting things to achieve and tasks to complete because humans have purpose and AI does not.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is very interesting recount of the human vs. AI struggle in probably one of the simplest computer friendly applications that become proving ground for initial AI development. I am mainly in agreement with author that it is not a threat to humanity as long as humans would not decide to make it a threat either from military or some other considerations. Actually I am believer that humans are to the high extent are product of their experiences, so even if we create AI and feed into it huge amount of information and allow it to get skills via experience like self-teaching AI program, it would not be substitution for humanity, but rather just another tool, granted a very sophisticated one. The key feature that makes humans what they are, in my opinion, is their self-directed character that provide for ability to obtain idiosyncratic experience and form unique personality. I would not exclude possibility of AI computer that is designed to do just that: to learn from “parents”, obtain unpredictable experiences, direct its own development in some direction not necessarily controlled from outside, and eventually develop its own self and personality. I am pretty sure that it will occur in some kind of experimental form. However I do not think that it would go anywhere beyond experiment because eventually if it is successful all that we going to get is another human being with silicon rather than biological basis, but human being nevertheless. And since we have much easier and cheaper ways to produce those and all advantages that such AI person would have from more memory or higher speed of calculations could be easily matched by non-personified AI acting under human direction, it will probably never go beyond experimental stage.
20170922 – On Human Nature
The main idea here is to express author’s complete set of views on the humans and humanity, their nature, attitudes and meaning or lack thereof. In order to do that author looks at the I-YOU relations between humans, notions of self, sex, and intentionality. The second part of the book is about society’s settings such as morality, its different expressions, laws, including common law, and the range of characteristics assigned to just about everything that varies from profane to sacred. It also looks at interactions between individual and group and limits imposed on the individual by various rights, duties, and obligations and also a bit about where all these are coming from.
Chapter 1. Human Kind
This is a discussion on what humans are. Obviously they are animals, but not regular animals. Unlike others they are capable to convert their biology into cultural artifacts, so sex becomes love, generating poems and other art. Likewise human’s territorial character turns into national sovereignty, patriotism and so on. Ever since Darwin we understand how evolution made us and what we are biologically. However we are much more than that. From here author goes into the review of some specifics:
Genes and Games: This is about Darwinian population or group selection or sexual selection or any other form of selection when selected features seemingly decrease survival chances of individual.
Genes and Memes: Here author discusses memes selection as model of cultural evolution, but he generally rejects this approach due to its seeming neutrality of memes to good, evil, and overall morality. The main point author makes is that if memes relate to ideas as genes to organisms then they are pretty much irrelevant because unit of selection is a cultural artifact.
Science and Subversion: Here author discusses memes as subversive concepts like Marx’s ideology or Freud’s unconscious. He contrasts it with functional explanations, which are central in biology. However author rejects idea of a human as collection of genes and talks about a person, which is requires another dimension of discussion: religion and morality.
Laughter: Here author discusses uniqueness of human laughter, the feature no other animal possesses. His approach is that it is a dual applications tool: method of coping with realities of live that humans understand, while other animals do not, and method of communication that allows to smooth interactions within community.
The Genealogy of Blame: This is about another uniquely human feature – responsibility. It is discussed with reference to Nietzsche, Kant, Aquinas, and Locke, stressing difference between a human being and a person, conscious and self-conscious.
The Embodied Person: This is another approach to the problem of human animal and person. This comes from separation of self from non-self and its use as an object of reference, so self-attribution and self-reference becomes a primary avenue of what we think and how we act.
Intentionality: Here author discusses Dennett’s notion of intentionality, when animal acts with an intention to change environment. This allows for a more or less plausible way to predict actions of others based on one’s believe about their intentions.
Emergence and Materialism: This is author’s critic of reductionists who believe that emerging properties do not extend beyond physical properties. He provides example of art when multitude of colored spots on the canvas at some point become a recognizable picture that has meaning beyond totality of these colored spots. Similarly the key point here is that a person emerges from multitude of physical / biological features.
Person and Subject: This is about interrelation between two humans when both understand the personhood and intentionality of other. Author also provides an interesting brief on various approaches to defining what is so distinct in human condition: Language (Chomsky), second-order desires (Frankfurt), second-order intentions (Grice), convention (Lewis), freedom (Kant, Sartre), self-consciousness (Kant, Fichte, Hegel), laughing or crying (Plessner), or the capacity for cultural learning (Tomasello).
Verstehen and Faith: Finally author defines human nature in such way: we are kind of thing that relates to members of its kind through interpersonal attitudes and through self- predication of its own mental states. The study of our kind is the business of not science, but humanities (Verstehen). After that author kind of links to the need for understanding humans not only in terms of reason, but also in terms of faith.
Chapter 2. Human Relations
This is about human relations and I-YOU dynamics that generate emotions and moral norms, which to the large extent define humans:
The first person case: The main point here is that self is social product and could not exist or even emerge in complete isolation. Another point is that self does not need to conduct normal process of discovery for expression of his views and positions.
Self and Other: This is about Kant’s ideas of self-identification and notions of subject vs. object and relation to others on which all most important in the human condition is built: morality, responsibility, law, institutions, and art.
The Intentionality of Pleasure: This is about intentionality of the state of mind and human relations, distinguishing free from unfree actions, reasonable and unreasonable, and such. Here author brings pleasure as evolutionary tool that makes us to act in such way that would be beneficial for our survival and procreation. However we humans are just too smart to enjoy sensual pleasure without complications and author brings in a couple of mental experiments to demonstrate this.
Sex, Art, and Subject: This is about sex from evolutionary point of view: a bit about pleasure, something about incest, and quite a bit about sexual selection.
Overreaching Intentionality: This is about interpersonal attitudes, about giving each other reasons, holding each other to account, negotiating and maintaining dialog.
Recentering and Decentering Passions: This is about self and centering other into I, something like “I got you under my skin”. Correspondingly decentering is mainly objectification of other like in porn looking only at body while disregarding the other in this body.
Personal Identity: This is about meaning of persona. It came from Romans as a legal object with rights and duties and then was developed by Christian theologians with relation to god, god’s features and eventually into human identity with human organism and persona being philosophically different entities.
Chapter 3. The Moral Life
This chapter goes into complexity of tension that exists between our nature as individuals and demands created by our nature defined by group belonging or, in other words, members of moral community:
Deep Individuality: This is a funny peace of philosophy where author discusses his nature as human individual with knowledge and image of past, present, and future that establish his deep individuality unlike his horse Desmond’s animal individuality.
Praise, Blame, and Forgiveness: This is about various consequences of human actions that could represent specific feedback from other people or from imaginative entities like god.
Pollution and Taboo: Unlike previous point where consequences caused by action or absence of action when individual does not deserve neither praise, nor blame. This is about situation when even without any intentional action just by polluting or breaking taboo and individual could cause reaction of the society.
The Sovereign Individual and the Common Law: This is about relationship between individual and the group in regard to the law when solution to dispute comes without violence, but rather according to a set of rules:
1.Considerations that justify or impugn one person will, in identical circumstances, justify or impugn another.
2.Rights are to be respected.
3.Obligations are to be fulfilled.
4,Aggreernents are to be honored.
5.Disputes are to be settled by negotiation, not by force.
6.Those who do not respect the rights of others forfeit rights of their own.
Moral Arithmetic: The calculations here are involve balance of good and bad actions and could be highly complicated as experiments with “trolley” and such demonstrates. Author discusses here ideas of Parfit that calculation should be such that one treats his own children the same way as other. Author quite reasonably points out that own children have much more claim on a parent than others.
Comparative Judgments: This is another look at attempts to treat moral calculation as economic and reject it.
Consequentialism and Moral Sense: Here author moves on to discussing consequential reasoning, which he defines as optimistic principle that leads to choice of future good over current evil, that become considered necessary and therefore irrelevant to morality, something which was abundantly demonstrated in XX century by Nazis, Commies, and various other ideological nuts.
Virtue and Vice: Here author goes back to ancient philosophers like Aristotle in search for source of behavior and trying to find it in duty to self to be virtuous and reject vice.
Honor and Autonomy: Here author uses situation of a soldier who have to overcome whatever fear and other negatives he encounter to maintain his honor in a battle. Author discusses attitudes of Aristotle vs. Kant in evaluation of soldier’s behavior and motivation.
Mrs. Jellyby and Good Samaritan: Mrs. Jellyby here is example of somebody who cares a lot about distant people, but not about others close by, while Samaritan correspondingly cares about another individual who is close. The inference from this is that moral live is rooted in personal obligations to close by.
Rights, Deserts, and Duty: This is again about moral calculation and importance of rights and deserts in this calculation. Author also seeks here a theory of the person to link notion of the human rights to the nature. His main point here is that concept of the person is at the center of political disputes, but it is treated as a mere abstraction. Author believes that it should be treated as the complex reality with its social and historical context.
The Person and the Self: Here author counter two different concept of human person, which defining feature is either autonomous choice or life in community and find both lacking. Author seems to believe that these two contradictory approaches could be resolved if I-YOU encounter becomes center of attention, discussion, and most important, behavior.
Chapter 4. Sacred Obligations
This is about political order and how it is discussed in contemporary academic world: as supplement of morality and necessary tool to safeguard individual autonomy and assure “social justice”:
Two Criticisms: The first criticism is that our nature as organisms is not taken seriously. The second is that our obligations could not be reduced to assuring mutual freedom. Here author is trying to respond to these criticisms.
Sexual Morality and Desire and Pollution: This is about obligations related to sexual behavior including ideas of defilement related to sex and various deviations: incest, rape, and such. It is all linked to ideas of pollution and taboo and author refers to his book “Sexual desire” where he goes deep into these issues.
Piety: This refers to the second criticism and looks at the character of the moral agent who is bound by unchosen moral requirements. Author brings Rawls and Hegel to discuss pious obligations and linking it all to the family and eventually to the political order connected to it.
Sacred and Profane; Evolution and the Sacred; Remarks about Evil: This is discussion about various levels of attitude to various concepts from Evil on one side to the Sacred on another with the special attention paid to the nature of evil.
Morals and Faith: The final part is about source of morality, stating that it is different from the faith. It raises an interesting question for philosophers: quilt of existence. The final world here is actually reference to Dostoyevsky’ Brothers Karamazov and Wagner’s Parsifal whose aesthetic achievements are by far more significant than perspective of philosophy.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As it is appropriate for very simpleminded man, I do not see a lot of philosophical complexity in humans, their groups, and everything related. From my point of view humans are nothing more than analog, partially self-directing computers who poses dynamically changed semi-hardware in form of genes and who are programmed by other humans to behave in such way as to constantly search for optimal mix of selfish and self-less behavior that maximizes probability of their survival and procreation in a randomly occurring and constantly changing environment. Things like morality, law, and such are just more or less codified rules of behavior developed by a group in competition with other groups when ineffective rule lead to the group dissolution or even annihilation.
20170916 The Islamic Enlightenment
The main idea of this book is that when Islamic world discovered its inferiority versus Western world at the end of XVIII century when Napoleon invaded Egypt, it applied considerable effort to catch up starting in XIX century ongoing till now, while not very successful so far. As the way to understand what happened author looks at the history of 3 centers of Islamic world in XIX century and then analyses how cultural change proceeded from massive attempts to implement societal mores similar to western mores starting in XIX centuries to strong rejection of this mores by significant part of Islamic societies in XX and XXI centuries.
The introduction starts with comparison of Jane Eyre – an early XIX century Christian writer in England with situation of women in Islamic world at the same time where existence of such writer would not be possible. However by the end of XIX century similar female writer Fatma Aliye was a reality in Ottoman Empire. Similarly to her western sisters she was a product of development of her society with its postal services, travel, and limited, but growing independence of women. Author uses this story to claim that there is nothing inheritably wrong with Islam that prevents Muslims from moving into contemporary world and all these ideas about need for Islamic reformation are not a valid approach to the problem of contemporary Islamic poverty, failed states, and global terrorism. His main point is that Islamic world went through a massive effort of modernization in XIX and XX century that he calls Islamic Enlightenment. This process was quite different from Western Enlightenment and started much later mainly under influence of technological and especially military failures, especially Napoleon invasion of Egypt that made it obvious for everybody. The structure of the book is first to look at history of 3 main branches of Islamic civilization: Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, then look at separate issues of development: societal change, development of nation/state, and massive counter-enlightenment movement that started after WWI.
The story of Egypt enlightenment started in 1798 with Napoleon invasion and complete destruction of Mamelukes – main military power of Egypt. The French conquest led to influx of Western scholars and their direct interaction with Muslim clergy. Author goes through the most important personalities that were involved in this interaction such as Jabarti – one of the leading clerics. He was amazed by French knowledge and technology, but main inference was that Muslims did something wrong religiously against god and it led to punishment so the remedy should be increase in religious compliance. The reason was not a tool that could help in this conservative view. Counter this conservative approach was Hasan Al-Attar who intermingled with French, but went nowhere after French army evacuated. However this first encounter brought in a typical figure for Islamic and other civilizations attempting to overcome their deficiency against the West: authoritarian reformer, in this case Muhammad Ali Pasha who after coming to power in 1805 spent the next 40 years modernized Egypt using methods similar to Peter I of Russia, including sending delegation to Europe to learn and cutting beards together with heads. Author reviews this history in quite a detail; specifically live of one of the most important members of such delegation Rifaa Al-Tahtawi who was a pupil of Al-Attar. Rifaa was supported under reformer Ali-Pasha, expelled under his successor Abbas I, and returned back after successor died and enjoyed support for his ideas until his death in 1873. Author points out that the first 70 years of XIX century dramatically transferred Egypt and moved it much close to the West. Author completes this chapter with the story of Suez Canal, which eventually led to British occupation in 1882.
Similarly to Egypt the prompt for modernization came to Ottomans from military defeat to Russia when they lost monopoly over Black see and Crimea in 1768. Ottoman Empire also experienced unrest among its Arabs from Wahhabi revolt in 1798. The internal tensions also came from Orthodox Christians who become subject of Russian interest and support. All this made modernization necessary for survival. As usual in Islamic word the opinion on what to do was divided between conservative Muslims who believed that weakness came from not sufficient devotion to god and modernizers who believed that it came from economic and technological deficiencies. The first serious drive for modernization started under Selim III (1762 – 1808). On ideological side the important figure of modernization become Sayyid Mustafa. After coup and counter coup that removed Selim, another modernizer Mahmud II came to power and remained in power until 1839. The modernization started with building new military force and annihilation of Janissaries who were representing military power of conservatives. One interesting innovation that Mahmud implemented in the diverse Empire was granting separate legal authorities to various religious groups, while demanding loyalty to Empire. Despite reforms Ottomans continue to lose territories and retreat, leading to Mahmud falling into depression and dying. His sons continued modernization with 30 years of reforms known as Tanzimat. Author reviews in details the cultural and political history of this process that eventual led to creation of Ottoman constitution in 1876. It confirmed sovereignty of the sultan, but provided bill of rights and limited electoral system. However it contained an article that allowed sultan override anything and everything so its impact was very limited.
Iran entered modernization after significant turmoil. In 1722 it was invaded by Afghanistan leading to destruction of old order without creating a new one. This situation continued until 1796 when Agha Muhammad Khan managed to setup some order and declared himself the shah, but he lasted only two years before being killed by servants. The next shah, Fath-Ali managed to stay in power until 1834, but he had to deal with Russia that won consistently over this period and took away Caucasus. Fath-Ali mainly transferred military power to his son Abbas Mirza who failed to push Russia out, so he brought in British advisors and started military modernization. This was not an easy thing to do due to tribal character of the country and overall traditional attitudes. Despite all these efforts Iran continued losing to Russia. As other modernizers Iran sent learning missions to Europe and one of the members of such mission Mirza Saleh became somewhat effective promoter of modernization and Western ways, so author describes his story in detail. There is here also quite interesting history of Russian policies in Iran and later British interference that made Iran into battlefield between two colonial powers. Eventually great-grandson of Fath-Ali Nasser Al-Din became shah in 1848 and remained in power for the next 40 years vacillating between modernization and retreat. He initially supported his older tutor Amir Kabir considered to be a great reformer who managed establish internal stability and implemented typical set of modernizing reforms. It not lasted for a long time since shah had Amir Kabir killed after which modernization somewhat stalled. Instead the central place in history of this period went to religious struggles that author describes in detail: traditional Islam against the new and popular religion of Babiism that was later transferred into Bahaism. All this led to Iran falling behind comparatively with other modernizing Islamic countries Egypt and Ottoman Empire.
This chapter is about the turbulence that all Islamic societies arrived to by the end of XIX and beginning of XX century trying simultaneously catch up with military and technological modernity of the West and retain their cultural and religious traditions. This period combined into one chapter because author believes that the differences between countries became mainly irrelevant at this point. Economy, railroad, communications, mass press, all this made the world intertwined and forced it to move somewhat in synch, with Islamic world becoming provider of raw material and cheap labor parts for world economy driven by the West. Combined with pretty cruel colonial attitudes, this necessarily generated high level of hate and resentment. Correspondingly elite was divided into two main groups one – conservatives rejecting modernity and moving back to religious roots and modernizers embracing change and trying to move to the future where Islamic world would become rich and powerful. Both groups resented the West and its colonial attitude of superiority. Author reviews cultural change of this period, literature, attitudes to women, sex, and religion,
This chapter starts with referring to the fact that initial interaction between Islam and West in XIX century was mainly beneficial, but by the late part of century it become more and more violent: British vs. Afghanistan and Sudan insurgencies, Russian Caucasian wars, and such. However the Pan-Islamic movement was considered not that different from Pan-Germanism or Pan-Slavism. Author reviews in live and ideas of one of the most important founding fathers of Islamism Jamal Al-Din Afghani (1838-1897). The main ideological point that he promoted was necessity to return to one worldwide community of Muslims (umma) directed against the West. It follows by review of multiple revolutions and insurgencies that continued until the brink of WWI when Ottoman Empire was very much weakened, Egypt under British occupation, and Iran under Russian semi-occupation. However liberal modernization was quite powerful in all three centers of Islam and even some democratic ideas took roots elsewhere.
This chapter is reviewing the story of Islamic world in XX century after WWII. The initial consequences for this war were movements to secular nationalisms as continuation of enlightenment of XIX century. Elsewhere it brought to power secular autocrats who were at best indifferent to Islam and whose objective was to bring their countries to modernity at par with the West. However since they tried to do it without any serious support from majority of population and often without any interest in developing such support, they had to rely on police and military to remain in power. These cruel methods caused disaffected intellectuals, brought up in Islamic tradition who could not see decent place for themselves in this new world, to start Islamic supremacist movements like Muslim Brotherhood. Eventually by the end of XX and early XXI century these movements took power either via revolution as in Iran or via elections during temporary democratization of the country as in Turkey and Egypt. They were pushed back in Egypt by military and still did not achieve complete theocratic power in Turkey and Pakistan, but at this point they still are on the rise overall.
In the conclusion of this book author states that he believes that he demonstrated that Western ideas of individualism, representative government, and law took root in Islamic societies so its enlightenment did not disappear. However author does not demonstrates a lot of optimism stating at the end that Islam will remains contradictory and will continue perplex us.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it is a very good and detailed review of Islamic history that provides a lot of insight in current condition and functioning of these societies. Unfortunately it confirms that current upsurge of totalitarian Islamism in various forms from terrorism to ISIS caliphate to Iranian attempts to obtain nuclear weapons is consistent with typical Islamic tradition when response to falling behind is highly aggressive and based on believe that the very reason for decline is dissatisfaction of Allah with insufficient aggressiveness in promoting Islam. Correspondingly the proper response that will be rewarded by prosperity is an attack by all conceivable methods either peaceful via use of mass immigration to promote Islam and suppress resistance of native population of infidels by ideological action in alliance with leftovers of socialist and communist movements; or via direct military action and terrorism. It is possible that West will develop mass rejection of Islamic supremacy in time to defuse this bomb peacefully, but I would give it 50-50 chance that it would not happen and the growth of Islamic supremacist movement will continue until its leaders feel powerful enough to demand mass conversion under thread of mass annihilation probably with Iranian nuclear weapons used in terrorist attacks. I do not think such massive conversion will occur, so humanity will have to deal with it in usual way via war and massive loss of live, but it proved to be resilient enough before, so it will get it done and then move on after cleaning some radioactive debris and resolving issue with Islam either via annihilation of this system of believes as it happened with National Socialism or relegation it to much less influent and benign condition as it happened with formerly aggressive and militant variations of Christianity.
20170909 – Ignorance
The main idea here is that the ignorance or, more precisely, understanding of one’s own ignorance is a necessary and probably one of the most important parts of scientific development because it allows posing meaningful question that would then direct research. Lacking such understanding of ignorance leads to mistake of believing in something that just isn’t so and consequently failure to ask right questions.
Here author rejects idea of science as systematic discovery of the truth and exposes it for what it really is: an attempt to understand reality by building models and then experimentally testing whether they work or not. The process is messy, chaotic, and only occasionally leads to really valuable scientific results. This process is not driven by facts because there are way too many of them, but rather by human interest of scientist who understand his ignorance and is trying to find answers to questions that reflects in formal and systematic way this ignorance, consequently substitution it with knowledge. Consequently, this in turn typically leads to the understanding of the new level of ignorance. As professor author recognized this as the important, but missing part of his students’ education and therefore developed a course on ignorance.
ONE: A Short View of Ignorance
The key point here is that Ignorance is a bigger subject than knowledge. Author reviews general thrust of our culture at acquisition of knowledge and stresses that it creates an illusion that knowledge is some established whole and there are only a small patches of ignorance that need to be fixed. Author believes that we have too many answers and often not enough questions leaving us with poor understanding of our level of ignorance.
TWO: Finding out
Author starts this chapter with the discussion on meaning and value of data for processes of scientific discovery. A very important point here is that data are not produced spontaneously. There is complex process of decision making for what kind of data collect, how measure them, and eventually how to interpret them so they would become a fact. One of consequence of that is that only false science could claim that facts are permanent and not changeable. Any scientific fact could change with the new technology or new generation of scientists who would interpret data according the new paradigm. After that author discusses the dark knowledge, which he defines as apparent knowledge that stands in the way of ignorance and provides a few example of this. The logical inference from this is that “science always wrong and it creates 10 new problems after resolving the old one. In short science development is infinite because of this process of discovery generating new ignorance.
THREE: Limits, Uncertainty, Impossibility, and Other Minor Problems
This is discussion of human cognition, which starts with review of human sensors and their limitations illustrated by mental experiment of Flatland world inhabitants of which could not possibly see 3-d dimension, but they still can see projection of objects moving in 3 dimensions and therefore their science could develop some understanding of it despite absence of direct sensory input. After that author moves to specify limits: Quantum mechanics Uncertainty Principle, Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, Logical paradoxes, and such. After this author discusses Leibnitz’s positivism and believe in mechanical certainty of the world and demonstrates that it even theoretically not applies to real world, consequently leaving space for inevitable and unresolvable ignorance.
This chapter discusses one specific type of unavoidable ignorance: impossibility to predict future state of complex system with any reliability. It does not mean however those complex systems are unpredictable. We predict their behavior every day in live and in science, it just these predictions’ reliability is always limited. Consequently one could claim that the meaning of science is to define method of producing prediction and establish level of their reliability or in other words framework of our ignorance. Author puts it in an interesting way: “Ignorance is an engine of science”.
FIVE: The Quality of Ignorance
This is discussion of the quality of ignorance and author refers to Enrico Fermi who said that that experiment that proves hypothesis is measurement, but one that fails is discovery. Author adds that it is a discovery of new ignorance. This follows by discussion based on author experience as scientist of how to define low vs. high quality ignorance, which is done mainly by providing multiple examples from research and some commonly used metaphors like looking for keys lost in the dark place in different place because there is more light there. In the second part of the chapter author discusses breaking down ignorance into smaller parts such as brain research conducted on simple organisms, unpredictability of research direction, and silliness of grants and political discussions about their use.
SIX: You and Ignorance
This chapter is about practical approach for lay people to use ignorance as tool for understanding science. Author believes that key here is to answer questions that are really interesting, not the one that we believe there are answers and being not embarrassed by showing ignorance. Author even provides a nice list of questions to ask scientists that really make sense:
SEVEN: Case Histories
The final chapter presents history of 4 cases of intertwining of ignorance and science:
- Research on cognition and consciousness
- Search for unified theory in physics
- Attempts to understand working of the brain
- Author’s own unusual history of moving from the world of theater and entertaining into the world of science.
The final chapter starts with the quest for public money for science and consequently need to educate public about it. Author laments that science became too complex for laypeople to understand it to the levels similar to the Middle Ages when all intellectual work was conducted in Latin. Author calls for expansion of scientific education and development of something he calls “citizen science”. He even defines that the requirements for abilities of scientific teachers are:
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very interesting approach to science and understanding of the world. It is not necessary the new idea of a small, but growing circle of the light of knowledge in the middle of infinite space of ignorance. I believe it is going back to Socrates, but author’s conversion of ignorance from a negative fact of reality into useful tool of scientific research could be potentially very productive in terms of showing to lay people the value of science. Whether it will help to generate more public money for science is questionable, mainly because governmental science or more precisely scientific bureaucracy already receives huge amounts of public money with very little to show for that. Actually I believe that government generally mainly capable produce only quasi science at best and pseudoscience at worst as it is well illustrated by the history from academic Lysenko’s Socialist anti-genetics “science” to contemporary global cooling/warming/change boondoggle. Much better for science and for people would be if government, that is violent hierarchy of bureaucrats to get out of science financing. This way the freed money would be left in hands of people who produced them. Maybe as result these people in become rich enough to be curious beyond their immediate concerns and educated enough about their ignorance to voluntary provide funds for science to expand this ignorance by expanding cycle of knowledge. In this case the probability of money being used for real science rather than providing expensive welfare for scientific bureaucrats would increase dramatically and so will increase amount of interesting scientific results.
20170902 Basic Income
The main idea of this book is to provide intellectual foundation and support for idea of assuring some basic minimal income as entitlement for everybody regardless of means, effort, overall abilities, and/or behavior of individual. In authors’ opinion such basic income is a central pillar of free society and its implementation would allow moving away from old socialist and neoliberalism ideas that were pretty much discredited in the past.
This is a brief description of the structure of the book and intention statement for each chapter.
- The Instrument of Freedom
Here authors present the central case for unconditional basic income. This case is based on dramatic change of the economic world, which became highly polarized between high skills / high earnings people and low skill/ low earnings people unable successfully compete neither with cheap foreign labor nor with robots. Authors believe that traditional methods of welfare state would not be enough to solve the problems of providing for low skill people because these methods designed as temporary help and include humiliation and stigma of not working. The most important features that authors stress in their schema are: universal character of basic payments for everybody regardless of anything, cash payments only, individual income, rather than family, and obligation-free nature of the income. Authors believe that it makes such income instrument of freedom.
- Basic Income and Its Cousins
This is a review of alternatives to basic income and reasons why authors believe these alternatives are inferior. The first alternative authors review is Basic Endowment, meaning allocation of some wealth level at birth or some specified age. The main objection to this is that some individuals would waste endowment and require help anyway. The second alternative is Negative Tax Income, which authors consider less efficient due to administrative requirements, but more politically feasible. The third alternative: Earned Income Tax Credit seems to be unacceptable to authors because it requires work. Even more critical authors are to Wage Subsidies and Guarantied Employment alternatives. The final alternative to basic income that authors review is French inspired Working Hours Reduction. They clearly consider it inferior because the variety of work demands when some labor is over and other undersupplied. Besides it would require lots of bureaucrats watching self-employed not to overwork.
- Prehistory: Public Assistance and Social Insurance
This chapter is a review of historical development of two currently dominant forms of social protection: public assistance and social insurance. The range of review here is from Thomas More with his Utopia to contemporary welfare state.
- History: From Utopian Dream to Worldwide Movement
This is a review of history of basic income idea from the end of eighteen century on. Since authors do not aspire for originality, they provide a very detailed history of Basic Income Idea starting with Thomas Paine vs. Tomas Spence polemic. Then they look at Marx’s Communist Manifesto and ideas of John Charlier who was the first to offer national level Basic Income. It follows by review of actual political debates about it in UK and America and partial implementation of the Idea in form of Alaska’s citizen dividend. The chapter ends with review of contemporary debates in Europe and attempts to implement Basic Income via referendums and/or other forms of political process that so far were unsuccessful.
- Ethically Justifiable? Free Riding Versus Fair Shares
This chapter is rejection of moral case against basic income and an attempt to provide ethical and philosophical justification for it. Obviously the first issue here would be free riding. Authors provide a number of reasons for rejecting this ethical accusation:
- Fairness: Rich are not required to work for their income
- Sexual analogy: people who do not produce children are not considered immoral so people who do not produce wealth should not be either.
- Income without work would just redirect activities into areas that individuals enjoy and removed curse to produce what other people need.
- Finally there is lots of activities that people do like domestic work that is not paid for
Consequently authors are trying to make ethical case that unearned income justified because it would provide freedom for all. This supported by discussion of various philosophical discussions from Rawls to such funny ideas as “Capitalist road to Communism”. At the end of the chapter authors provide graphic representation of dynamics of level of taxation under Basic Income system:
6. Economically Sustainable? Funding, Experiments, and Transitions
This chapter is an attempt to develop economic case that basic income for all is feasible and authors propose some ideas of how to fund it. The first thing authors look at is the labor income, more specifically they look at disincentive that Basic Income would provide to individuals capable to work. Initially they are going into somewhat funny statistical exercise trying to prove that it is not necessarily the case by playing with Gross income vs. Net Income:
After that they are looking at results of experiments with Basic Income and Negative tax in various countries, which were not very useful due to limitation in time, value of provided income, and temporary character. The other methods of obtaining financial support include nationalization of natural resources, gambling by others (Indian casinos), money printing, and such. They also discuss seemingly all conceivable variation of the notion of basic income from temporary to partial and various form taxation / confiscation that could be conceivably used.
7. Politically Achievable? Civil Society, Parties, and the Back Door
This is a review of political forces that could be used to support the idea or had to be overcome in order to implement it. So far public opinion in USA is strongly against just providing free income. It is higher in Europe, but it is still a minority who supports this. Authors look at Unions, Employers, and all other conceivable groupings from sex to political views and estimate level of potential support for such incentive and conclude that it real support is not feasible for Basic income provided in the form they discuss in this book. They put the hope on potential crisis and expect that even in this case they will have to start with partial basic income, masked with some conditions for receiving it, and keeping existing redistribution system mainly in place.
8. Viable in the Global Era? Multi-Level Basic Income
The final chapter is an attempt to apply the idea of basic income at the global level. Author looks at globalization as a process of pushing income down to the bottom in developed countries, consequently creating demand for a change. They add to the mix mass immigration and discuss EU as a transfer tool. They provide a nice little table demonstrating huge unfairness between developed and undeveloped world using carbon emission as a proxy for resource consumption:
After that authors conclude that the only way is to create global multilevel basic income in order to adjust to existing variety in wealth.
Here authors briefly restate parameters of their case, admit that Unconditional Basic income is utopian idea, but claim that this idea in necessary and it has potential to free people from “dictatorship of the market”. They also put it in opposition to Hayek who wanted liberal (old meaning) utopia to oppose socialist utopia of his time. Interestingly enough the final word about achieving their utopia comes with reference to Machiavelli and need to push it via backdoor because they see no way to use honest dialog to bring humanity to their utopia via front door.
MY TAKE ON IT:
The Basic Income is becoming more and more popular idea and not only on the left. It is supported by Charles Murray and some other thinkers on the right who are concerned that with globalization, automation, and overall growth of demand to labor quality contemporary development leaves mass of unqualified and uneducated people outside in the cold, potentially creating foundation for instability of society. I agree that concern is real and important, but I think that the idea of unconditional Basic Income misses a very important point: we are dealing with human beings not just passive consumers of goods and services. Human beings if not seriously engaged in meaningful activities both physically and intellectually tend to deteriorate and could explode in riot even if they are well fed and provided. I think that much more reasonable solution would be equal rights for natural resources when individuals consuming more than average would buy this right from people who are consuming less than average via free market. In this case instead of passive reception of transfer people would be engaged in trading activities with various results, opportunity to improve skills, grow, and develop ambitions that would make them effective members of society. As to “dictatorship of market”, in my opinion only very miseducated people could seriously use this oxymoronic expression. The market by definition is voluntary exchange of goods and services and therefore could not possibly be “dictatorship”. The voluntary market exchange could be and often is unfair when the state deprive individual of any property so they had to agree to unfairness or starve, but even in this case it is the state, which is a culprit, not the market.
20170826 – Behave
The main idea here is to combine in one book all contemporary knowledge about everything that moves human beings and defines their behavior from DNA and other molecular factors thru biology of brain, endocrine system, and all the way to the societal hierarchies and culture. This encyclopedia of human behavior and its causes is necessarily brief, but it provides a lot of support to the idea that humans are animals developed via evolutionary process that includes not only biological, but also cultural and behavioral systems that proved themselves fit enough to exist now.
Author presents here his credentials as neurobiologist and primatologist and expresses intention to explore in the book important types of human behaviors such as violence, aggression, and competition by individuals and groups. The design of this book is a bit unusual because author is moving his analysis backward in time from the moment a behavior occurred through everything that preceded it from muscular action all the way to initial formation of embryo and then beyond individual existence to the formation of groups and evolution of humanity. After completing this review of an action and its causes in the first 9 chapters, author dedicates another 8 to human society and behavior of individuals that eventually defines various facets of these societies from their structures as hierarchies or less structured groups to key factors defining individual behavior within a group such as morality, criminality, cooperation, competition, and what not.
One THE BEHAVIOR
This brief chapter defines meaning of behavior that author intend to explore such as: aggression, violence, compassion, empathy, sympathy, competition, cooperation, altruism, envy, schadenfreude, spite, forgiveness, reconciliation, revenge, reciprocity, and love. After that he discusses the complexity of behavior and its justification using as example aggression. One very charming example of justification he provides is a Buddhist monk who stopped meditation because of compassion to his own knees. Finally author looks at the meaning of good and evil behavior from point of view its appropriateness for a given condition, stressing that brain images demonstrate activation of the same circuits when the behavior is proper regardless of its nature either it is shooting aliens or helping wounded allies.
Two ONE SECOND BEFORE
This is a pretty technical / biological chapter reviewing different parts of organism that activated to produce a given behavior. He divides it into 3 interconnected layers: basic automatic Limbic system – Amygdala, the Autonomic Nervous system, and Frontal Cortex – the newest part of the brain highly developed in humans. After reviewing the structure author moves to discussion of its work first stating that usual dichotomy between emotions and cognition is actually false and that both systems work pretty much in concert due to complex interactions between Frontal Cortex and Limbic system. He also discusses works of dopamine system that supports various feedback loops in the body. Especially interesting is the timing of rewarding process, which definitely gives preference to anticipation of reward before action to actual reward after it. Here is a nice graph to demonstrate this:
Obviously in more complicated cases it is not that simple and author provides information about research detailing complex relationship between production of dopamine and various external conditions such as probability of reward, which could materially change the this picture. There is also discussion here about serotonin, which contrary to commonly accepted ideas relevant not that much to aggression as to impulsiveness. Overall the point here is that controlling systems of a human are highly complex and could not be easily identified and cataloged. The chapter ends with somewhat unexpected and very important statement that brain is not where behavior begins.
Three SECONDS TO MINUTES BEFORE
This is about subconscious collection and processing of information from internally and externally oriented sensors that precipitate action of any animal and, as research shown in humans, it sometimes precedes consciously made decision to act.
Four HOURS TO DAYS BEFORE
This discussion is concentrated on chemical condition of the organism and its hormones, which to significant extend define what actions this organism could produce. It includes detailed review of Testosterone, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Estrogen, and Progesterone. Author looks in details at how these Neuropeptides play out in human behavior either aggression, or cooperation, or anything else. The second part of the chapter is about the stress and its impact on behavior. Generally impact looks like this:
The bottom line: sustained stress is hugely detrimental and aggression reduces stress, which creates direct connection between pressure and explosion. On the other hand acute stress is a normal condition animal selected for by evolution and therefore capable to handle it quite well. The problem is that humans are too smart for their own health because they precipitate future action and stress, consequently producing condition of sustained stress. Neither Zebra nor Lion are familiar with this condition since they do not think too much about the future.
Five DAYS TO MONTHS BEFORE
By extending time frame for actions to days and months author moves to the discussion of plasticity of human brain, formation of memories, and nonlinear learning processes that create AHA moments. Author allocates significant attention to technical side of memory formation and whether it is linked to formation of new neurons or strengthening their connections, or both. The key point here is that brain continuing develop even in purely biological context during adulthood and actually as long as it is alive.
Six ADOLESCENCE; OR, DUDE, WHERE’S MY FRONTAL CORTEX?
This chapter moves from neuroplasticity that works over relatively short periods of time to formation of individuals during childhood and adolescence when both biology and personality are in process of continuing massive change. The big point of discussion here is that Frontal Cortex formation is not completed until mid 20s of age, so adolescents are literally not completely formed human beings and their reactions to environment is not fully calibrated. Here is a nice graph showing this:
Author also discusses here societal consequences of adolescent disconnect between maturity of a brain and other systems of the body.
Seven BACK TO THE CRIB, BACK TO THE WOMB
This chapter moves review of human individual formation further backward to childhood and typical stages of mental development. It necessarily includes role of environment that requires warmth and love for normal development not only for humans, but also for chimps and other complex animals. It touches usual themes of needs for family, especially mothers, moral and cultural development, and even differences between sexes. The final conclusion is that genes and environment so intertwined and influence human development so much that it is not possible to separate their roles into separate buckets.
Eight BACK TO WHEN YOU WERE JUST A FERTILIZED EGG
This chapter has two parts. The first one is obviously about the staff that we get from our predecessors at the moment of inception: genome. It mainly designed to demonstrate that unlike mechanical systems biological systems, including humans, do not have blueprints, they rather have biological set of suggestions in form of DNA that organism uses or not during its formation depending on input from environment. Author discusses here epigenetics, which actually somewhat confirms previously rejected ideas of Lamarck. The second part is about behavioral genetics or how much genetics define behavior. There is an extensive body of research on twins and adaption with very hot debates about their validity and meaning of results. Author provide his take on this research, stressing key points:
The final conclusion is that genes have a lot to do with behavior, but they are not defining factor. They rather support context dependent tendencies, propensities, potentials, and vulnerabilities.
Nine CENTURIES TO MILLENNIA BEFORE
This chapter is about cultural evolution and it starts with look at sex differences in STEM achievement when author refer to different cultural environment. From this author moves to various definitions of culture and the most important lines of polarization between cultures: Individualist vs. Collectivist, Pastoralists and Southerners, Stratified vs. Egalitarian. There is even very interesting graph of correlation between genetic makeup and collectivist/individualist cultural variance:
Obviously correlation does not mean causation, but still interesting. However right here author provides a good example that practically excludes genetic explanation: variance in culture and attitude between Orthodox and Secular Ashkenazi Jews with former heavily community oriented with corresponding holistic views and perception, while latter highly individualistic with strong orientation to capturing key features and often neglecting the whole. Needless to say that Ashkenazi Jews are extremely highly genetically homogeneous group that went through multiple bottlenecks of annihilation from Middle Ages to XX century. Another key point of attention in this chapter is violence, war and how various cultures promote and/or suppress violence. Obviously it includes internally directed violence intended to suppress individual’s attempts to deviate from dominant cultural norms. The final discussion in chapter is about nature of our hunter-gatherer ancestors whether their world was close to believes of Rousseau or Hobbes with lots of evidence supporting the latter despite strong resistance of academics who really want it to be close to the ideas of former.
Ten THE EVOLUSION OF BEHAVIOR
The chapter on evolution of behavior starts with the basics of evolution as algorithm for analysis and then proceeds to discussion of group vs. individual selection. Author generally rejects ideas of group selection with somewhat strange logic that it requires self-sacrifices from members of a group for others and discounting obvious groups or insects selected as whole by defining them as one organism. Somehow author believes that this logic is completely deleterious for ideas of sociobiology. After that he moves to reviewing various mechanism of individual and kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and optimal strategies of cooperation based on games theory. At the end of the chapter author returns to the ideas of multilevel selection, discussing the interplay between genotype and phenotype. Moreover he actually brings back group selection as an integral part of multilevel selection especially well developed in humans with their huge variety of simultaneous participation in many groups from family to huge religious groups with billions of members. This follows by discussion about nature of evolutionary change whether it is continuous and gradual or instant and drastic where author referring to famous Siberian experiment with silver foxes. The final part is about Gould and Lewontin’s ideas about adaptive quality of changes, which add notion of spandrel – random change with neutral adaptive value for organism that neither improves nor diminishes survival chances. This chapter completes the first part of the book, which author summarized in such way:
The main point here is that humans always belong to a group and the key is to define correctly what group to belong and avoid mindlessly dehumanize others.
Twelve HIERARCHY, OBEDIENCE, AND RESISTANCE
This is about another important feature generally typical for complex animal, but especially highly developed in humans. The hierarchy, obedience, and resistance are absolutely necessary for the group effective functioning. Author starts with quick look at this in animal groups and then moves to humans, pointing to well-established feature of optimal group size 100-150 and ranking methods within group. Here author brings a very interesting analysis of brain chemistry dependency on the rank in hierarchy with higher rang correlating with more dopamine. Here are some findings:
It follows by an interesting discussion on biology and psychology of political orientation. At the end this chapter has somewhat more extended and detailed summary that well worth to be paid attention to.
Thirteen MORALITY AND DOING THE RIGHT THING, ONCE YOU’VE FIGURED OUT WHAT THAT IS
This chapter starts with look at the primacy of reasoning in moral decision making, but then switch to analysis of the finding that humans often do not really know why they behave in some specific moral/immoral way. The search for reasons of this goes into childhood and changing with age behavior of babies. The result is the need to look at socialization and institutions that person is socialized into, which define levels of cooperation, competition, and punishment for deviation. Here is example of such differences:
An important point here from morality meaning that author looks at in details is “Me Versus Us” and “Us Versus Them”. The final part of chapter is about Veracity and Mendacity and link of the lying to the processes in the brain.
Fourteen FEELING SOMEONE’S PAIN, UNDERSTANDING SOMEONE’S PAIN, ALLEVIATING SOMEONE’S PAIN
This is obviously about compassion and its role for emotionally contagious animals. It also contains discussion about mirror neurons, the idea, which author pretty much rejects. After this author explores the difficulty and results of actually doing something, which brings us to negative actions caused by compassion and other complexities of the world.
Fifteen METAPHORS WE KILL BY
This is about symbols and their value, which could be so powerful that people would kill or die for them like nation’s flag or gang insignia, or any other symbol of the group. Author also discusses notion of purity and disgust that have root in evolutionary developed biological mechanism to prevent poisoning, but eventually was extended culturally to patterns of behavior that could be harmful for survival of the group. Then author moves to metaphorical sensations and their relation to the reality of live. Author extends his discussion of use of metaphors to process of dehumanization of other when metaphorical assignment of non-human features to the other was an important part of genocides of XX century. At the end of chapter author discusses value of sacred symbols and necessity of mutual recognition of such symbols by participants in conflict as condition of recognizing opponents’ humanity and finding peaceful solution. He looks at Arab-Israeli and Irish-British conflicts. The latter was practically resolved, but the former is as far from resolution as ever.
Sixteen BIOLOGY, THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, AND (OH, WHY NOT?) FREE WILL
This is discussion of relation of biology and free will. Author emphasizes unsustainability of polar argument either for absolute free will or determination and moves to the discussion of where we can find reality based point between them. This brings us to the discussion of intellectual maturity of individual and cultural maturity of groups. This maturity defines level of responsibility for behavior and author links it to the age for individuals and cultural environment of society. As example he presents variance of impact on children’s behavior of two different way of praise: “you are so smart” results in fear of failure because “smart” is unchangeable feature, while “you worked so hard” results in search for challenge because level of effort is under control of individual. This follows by quick review of research and publications about human behavior that “explain a lot, but predict little”. At the end author reaffirms his believe in free will and moreover necessity of such believe for normal functioning of individual and society.
Seventeen WAR AND PEACE
This chapter starts with reference to Pinker, his book about decrease of violence and reasons for that. Actually author somewhat rejects the idea of decrease in violence by adjusting levels to population and duration of violent periods. However he accepts that contemporary western societies are much more peaceful than others, even if being a liberal he pains at this. One idea is that people are getting smarter (Flynn effect) and another is that they are less religious. The remaining ¾ of the chapter is about continuing tension between human propensity to fight, aversion to fighting and killing, and hope for the future that comes from recognition of common humanity between members of different groups.
Here author nicely provides list of key points of this book:
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a wonderful and quite detailed review of contemporary knowledge of human behavior and its genetic and environmental mechanisms. It is slightly muddled by author’s political views, but it should be expected from deeply religious orthodox Jew converted to ideological leftism. I am pretty much accepting framing, but not defining nature of genotype and strong dependency of individual development on environment. The chapter on chemical processes in a body and their behavioral implications are interesting by their nice description of complexity of these connections. The long discussion of evolution, especially multilevel approach is fully consistent with my opinion about these: individual genotype and phenotype are selected for survival by environment based on combination of two somewhat conflicting sets of features one supporting individual procreation and another one supporting group continuation or at least propensity for successful transfer from a failing group to another more successful one. I probably somewhat more optimistic about overall future of humanity, which is, I believe, in process of unification into one worldwide group with paramount value of individual freedom based on easy availability of resources for all and stable levels of population, so Malthusian pressure would become obsolete as well as, driven by its implications, fight for resources. It is true that resources are always limited, but with human ability to create more resources consistently outperforming needs for the last 2 centuries and clearly visible stabilization of these needs at the level when not only survival, but comfortable live is available for everybody, I think that war, violence, and such would become obsolete. It does not mean that struggle for resources will disappear, but it would be very much separated from struggle for survival and therefore will make human behavior much more benign.
20170819 The Mind Club
The main idea of this book is to identify objects, including humans, animals, and everything else conceivable as possessing or not a mind and extent of this possession. For this purpose mind defined as something that belongs to the 2-dimensial space between Agency and Experience with objects that have minds by definition are in the upper right with maximum of both, while everything else being below it either on one or both dimensions. While the bulk of book allocated to discussing place of different objects in this space the final part is more philosophical / psychological / scientific is dedicated to trying to understand individual human mind as complex and dynamic biological and cultural entity.
Chapter 1: WELCOME TO THE CLUB
This starts with the idea that it is not only impossible to know what is on the minds of other people, but it is even impossible to know for sure that such minds exist. From here it goes into the story of serial cannibalistic killer in order to demonstrate that in this killer’s perception minds of other people did not exist and they are actually just things, not minds. From this author moves to Turing and his algorithm for identifying mind vs. computer over the phone and eventually to providing his own graphical mind identifying 2-dimensional space of Agency/Experience:
At the end of the chapter author identifies scope of discussion about mind and different entities that he is reviewing for the indicators of mind or its absence with a chapter dedicated to each entity under investigation.
Chapter 2: THE ANIMAL
Animals are obviously the first on the list of candidates for mind club. Author first looks at human perceptions of animals, which is dependent on their speed of movement as presented on the graph:
This follows by discussion about experimentally established animal capabilities in various areas of intellectual processing. The final conclusion is that while animal do have to various degrees both Agency and Experience, the human perception dependes much more on the level of interaction with animals than anything else so dogs are considered smarter than pigs when reality is opposite,
Chapter 3: THE MACHINE
This starts with machines specifically designed to satisfy a very human needs in sex and companionship – RealDolls. The interesting part here is that interaction with machines lead to assigning them qualities that they really do not process such as agency, which often happens when they fail to work properly. A typical example would be a frozen computer that stopped responding to our commands and we immediately assign to it malevolent agency before rebooting. The author’s conclusion is that machines to not belong to mind club because even if they have some agency, they are very low on experience, which could eventually change with further development of AI. Here is a nice graphic representation for this:
Chapter 4: THE PATIENT
This case is an interesting by the very fact of questioning a patient’s belonging to a mind club. After all patients are human so they belong to the club by definition. However the low level of agency that they have, due to being literally vulnerable feelers, pushes them to the left of Agency/Experience space. Author describes a number of experiments demonstrating the difficulty of understanding not only others, but also ourselves. One interesting inference is that obtaining more of the agency either via exerting control over treatment, helping others, or similar activity clearly improves results. This follows by discussion of typecasting in life and in Hollywood and difficulty of overcoming it. Interestingly enough the author builds a moral space around agency as presented on the graph:
Chapter 5: THE ENEMY
This is about dehumanization and/or objectification of enemy and it starts with inversion scenario to test how Americans would feel if American soldier would be treated in such awful way as terrorists are treated in Guantanamo. It follows usual examples of human ability to form competitive group for any small reason or no reason whatsoever, in process assigning negative characteristic to the group of others and positive characteristics to own group. However the most typical reason for enmity is competition for resources. Author looks at it by using examples from animals, experimental research, and historical examples of objectification of others. The typical outcome in terms of this book is mental conversion of other either into unthinking feelers or unfeeling doers. The first group, being savages close to nature, needs benevolent oversight and control such as master / slave relationship. The of the second one are dehumanized as cunning evil doers not susceptible to regular human emotions and concerned only with winning at any cost. At the end author makes an interesting point that common intellectual and emotional experience can decrease enmity and supports it by example of soap operas that tend to decrease hostility to other in people who watch them..
Chapter 6: THE SILENT
This starts with the story of Terri Schiavo who was in coma, in vegetable state and an object of legal battle whether she should be considered dead since her brain had no activities. From here author discusses connection between consciousness and correspondingly Agency and Experience. Here is diagram of consciousness continuity from none to full based on EEG:
Author also discusses here a variety of human conditions from the inception to incapacity from point of view of who should or should not be included into mind club.
Chapter 7: THE GROUP
The chapter on a group’s mind starts with description of Indian festival when multitude of people comes to one place for religious reasons, acting as one. From there author goes into formal notion of grouping and Gestalt psychology, linking it to external form of the group when individual members could be practically invisible or undifferentiated from each other. To demonstrate continuity of the group belonging over time author uses Jews as highly connected group membership, which comes with birth and is not easy to denounce, if it is at all possible, due to external perception of its members as unalienable pieces of one entity. After that author discusses psychology of individual in the group and all kinds of intellectual affiliations via ideas such as conspiracy theories leading to deindividualization when one practically adjust own mind to whatever dominates the group. One of typical examples is synchronization from marching bands to monkeying actions of others and joining some collective on Internet. Author also discusses political groups such as countries that have hierarchies and structured processes to make group’s mind on something and enforce compliance of group members with whatever course of action decided. At the end of chapter author states as paradox that individuals in the group generally become less intelligent, but allow achieving huge results from cooperation unachievable by similar number of individuals not joined in a group.
Chapter 8: THE DEAD
Here author discusses mind of dead or more precisely various ideas about it developed by humanity from believes in hosts and Descartes’ duality to contemporary frozen bodies, Duplication problems in Star Track transporter, or existence within the Matrix. Nevertheless author seems to consider dead to be crypto-minds low on both Agency and Experience.
Chapter 9 GOD
The next mind is actually a super mind of God. This chapter includes requisite discussion of Pascal ledger and human proclivity to see agency everywhere whether it exists or not with usual reference to prehistoric times when lion may or may not be in the bushes, but one is by far better off by believing it is there. One interesting proposition here is link between sufferings and believes. Author provide a graph to demonstrate this link:
Eventually author places God on this mind map at the very bottom of Experience and at the top of Agency and since we have no really reliable communication lines with God, his mind is mainly the product of nothing more than human perception.
Chapter 10: THE SELF
The chapter on human individual’s mind starts with an example of a person who in his sleep was not able to control his actions and committed a murder. This case used to demonstrate that we are not really in control of our mind and do not really understand its working. It follows by description of a number of experiments demonstrating somewhat independent work of subconscious and raises question of free will existence based on famous experiments demonstrating activation of body for moving before actual decision to move had been made. After that author moves to discussion about using new knowledge about mind’s workings to improve human conditions. It goes at the two levels – psychological method to prevent people from desperation when they understand complexity of mind’s working and the second level practical methods to apply in their everyday lives to achieve success such as Commitment Clubs, Implementation intentions technics, and such. At the end of chapter author discusses philosophical aspects of what the self actually is, what part of it is memory, how thoughts are generated and, probably most important, fluidity of self and its susceptibility to change including false and placed memory, self-perception and such. The final point is refer to Dennett and his definition of self as the center of gravity around which orbit all our desires, memories, hopes, believes, and everything else.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Generally I find an idea of mind as topological point of Agency /Experience plane very interesting and I think it deserves consideration and probably expansion into multidimensional space by breaking Experience down into such dimensions as culturally programmable experience vs. random occurring environmental experience and Agency into Consciously directed Agency vs. Subconsciously directed Agency. I would also have problem with idea of a Group, Dead, and God being included into discussion of mind. In mine opinion the mind is a function of acting entity, while all above are not such entities: God does not communicate his existence in any clearly recognizable way, the dead do not act or communicate, neither does group since any of its actions or communication are always vector combination of actions and communications of its members. I guess eventually this approach could be used in modeling AI and potentially providing better understanding of the mind.
20170812 -The Ideas Industry
The main idea here is to identify and review the Ideas Industry: the area of activities that author himself belongs to. Author identifies two main types of participants: Public Intellectuals and Thought Leaders, discusses their different variations from loners to superstars, and reviews organizational forms they use such as academia, think tanks, and private entities on social media. However the most important objective of this book is to evaluate impact of their activities on real world,
PART I. Introduction: The Transmogrification
It starts with the statement that marketplace of ideas changed and rather dramatically with advance of technology and change in societal mores. Then it goes to comparison of the two most recent presidents Obama and Trump. Obama is presented as supremely qualified near genius frustrated with poor understanding of his sophisticated actions by foreign affairs community, which undermined his ability to achieve his objectives. Trump in author’s opinion lacks understanding of foreign affairs, acts erratically, and produces highly heterogeneous policy. After demonstrating his deep misunderstanding of both presidents, author moves to generalization of public intellectuals as follows:
His designation for two reviewed presidents: Obama= Public Intellectual and Trump = Thought Leader. Aftrer identifing players, author moves to identifying most prominent trends of the game, which ignite powerful clushes on the market place of ides. These trends are:
- Erosion of trust in institutions
- Polarization of American Society
- The growth of economic inequality.
Author also discusses the role of ideas and their impact on population, which historically was often underappreciated by intellectuals. However the focus of his attention is development of Ideas Industry created by increase of information and duscissions availability due to Internet, social media, TED, and multitude of other channals that opened access to these forums to masses of lay people.
1.Do Ideas Even Matter?
This chapter is an attempt to make case why ideas matter in the first place. It starts with a charming example of how Jeffrey Sachs’ trivial ideas of ending poverty in the third world by pumping money into the hands of leaders of its leaders led to massive waste of money with no results to show for this. Then author moves to review counter arguments that basically state that ideas and discussions does not matter. He identifies four types of such ideas value discounting arguments:
- The Materialist: everything is moved by materialist forces so ideas are irrelevant
- The Defeatist: too much media and too many ideas, therefore good ideas just drown out by the noise
- The Populist: complex abstract ideas would not work because people are too stupid to understand and support them
- The Nostalgic Argument: intellectuals now are not what they used to be, so they just cannot produce such big ideas that would effectively influence outcomes.
Author reviews each argument in details without fully supporting or rejecting any of them, but rather while partially accepting some of their logic, nevertheless concluding that ideas do matter a lot after all.
2.How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Changing the Marketplace of Ideas
This chapter looks at trends above that author consider to be systematic forces, which are shaping Ideas Industry. It starts with discussion about foreign policy experts’ outburst against simplification and popularization of ideas via books like “Black Swan” and the whole phenomenon of online discussions and presentations like TED. After that author moves to trace in details 3 trends that drive this Ideas Industry and its mass production branch: popularization. Here author provides some polling data to support reality of these trends:
Loss of trust in Institutions:
This part looks at the people who are main suppliers of ideas and industries that provide resources to these people such as academia, think tanks, and various publications / websites.
3.The Standard Indictment Against the Academy.
The oldest and most traditional sources of ideas are Universities and Academics discussed in this chapter. Author points to the notion promoted by journalists that academics do not participate enough in public market of ideas because they are too busy writing for peers due to the academic life’s imperative: “Publish or perish”. Interestingly enough a generation ago academics were the only one group who actively participated in this market, while population at large would receive second hand transfer of ideas via political process. Author specifically looks at foreign policy discussions and points out that academics activity decreased with the end of Cold, which caused dramatic decrease of money flowing to academia to analyze and produce ideas relevant to it. Terrorist attacks somewhat revived it, but incentives participate are still by far below historical levels. Another issue is closeness of academic literature due to publisher’s fear to loose lucrative source of income by diluting information into much cheaper popular distributors. Nevertheless author points to a number of such ideas distributors that become popular. However it is not only and even not the most important issue that troubles author. More important is the fact that politicians are not paying as much attention to academics’ work as they believe it deserves. After relatively long discussion on career and other reasons of decreased participation of academics, author hits on one very important reason: huge and dramatically increasing deviation of academia ideology from ideology of majority of country population and correspondingly politicians that this population elects. Here is a nice graph to demonstrate this deviation:
When Academic’s ideas deviate from ideas and believes of electorate, politicians start having hard time trabsfering public resources to academics, even if politicians themselves are very much in aggreement with academics. At the end author points out that some individual academics did well on marketplace for ideas, but it is become risky for them to go out there.
4.The Disciplines: Why Economics Thrives While Political Science Survives
This is a comparison of two fields most important in public discussion: politics and economics and how much different are attitudes to them with economics being by far more respected and rewarded field. The main point here is that economics gets more money, more prestige, and more support than political science. Author provides a couple of polling graphs to demonstrate that elite’s attitude to economics is significantly more positive:
Interestingly enough it is not the result of economics being any more scienifically sound than political science as it is demonstrated by its consistent failure predict results of policies and economic developments. It is rather due to high levels of mathematization economics looks more scientific and elites routinely buy this. Right now political science is trying to follow suit, but it is not clear if it will work out or not.
5.This Is Not Your Father’s Think Tank
Here author looks at think tanks that specialize on conversion of high-level ideas into detailed policy proposals. Author looks in quite a detail at Heritage foundation and changes under DeMint leadership that led its position deterioration. After that author briefly reviews 3 generations of think tanks and their role as source of jobs for middle to low-level politicians out of power and developers of detailed ideologically defined policy plans for their constituency. Author also discusses infliction points in funding, power, and influence of think tanks. The first such point was 9/11 and the second 2008 crash. There is also relatively detailed review of multiple funding sources and dynamics of changes between them. Interesting thing here is that philanthropic support is qualitatively changing with donors getting more and more involved with ideology and direction of think tanks activities, instead of just providing money to professional ideologues.
6.The Booming Private Market for Public Ideas
Here author moves from the area of mainly government financed formal institution nearly completely subjugated by leftists to the area of privately financed think tanks where diversity of ideas is still alive and kicking. The point here is that diverse individuals and corporations in possession of resources obtained from the market place of goods and services are moving into the market place of ideas and use their resources not to support academics, but rather develop and promote their own ideas. Author uses the story of BRICS and debates around them as example of such process. He also points out at interesting result of this movement: development of for-profit think tanks that sell consulting services. Here is graphic representation of relative elite trust to traditional vs. for-profit think tanks:
This part is the review of functioning of market place of ideas.
7.The Promise and Perils of Intellectual Brands
The first chapter of this part is concerned with role of superstar intellectuals who are driving the Ideas Industry. Specifically author looks at history of Walter Lippmann and at contemporary superstars Fareed Zakaria and Neil Ferguson. He also provides a list of 20 most influential intellectuals in foreign policy:
8.Is the Ideas Industry Working?
This is discussion of how effective is Ideas industry and how much it is vulnerable to bubbles similar to bubbles of financial, real estate, and other markets. By working author means improvement in American foreign policy debates. To answer this question author first goes into discussion of idea of disruption from Schumpeter all the way to our days. He looks in quite a detail at work of Clayton Christensen and in main rejects validity of this work. Consequently author uses the story of raise and fall of disruption discourse as sample of Ideas Industry working: an idea gaining popularity, becoming a fad, then falling out of fashion, and eventually remaining as one more source of background noise in continuing discussion with a small cadre of dedicated supporters.
9.Tweeting Ideas: Or, the Requisite Chapter on Social Media
The final chapter looks at interaction between Ideas Industry and online world and how it processes ideas generated by the Industry. Author seems to appreciate influence of new social media, but is clearly unhappy with its idiosyncratic character and complete lack of decorum or even simple decency.
Conclusion: The Dark Knight Theory of the Ideas Industry
In conclusion author states that Ideas Industry grew to be bigger than ever, but he wishes it would be quite a bit better. Author also brings in his our experience as a fledgling intellectual star in foreign policy discussing perks and feeling of self-importance it brings. The final point is that he aspires to achieve sustainability as public intellectual rather then become a burning star.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I did not find a lot of new information in this book, but I do like author’s approach to this area as an industry with everything typically involved in this notion. There is profit seeking motive and not necessarily in monetary form only, albeit this form is very important, but also in form of respect and appreciation from peers and general public. The last is becoming more and more problematic by the minute, mainly because the Idea Industry more often than not fails to produce ideas that find validation in reality and often betrays self-serving character of many public intellectuals. Lately after somewhat dramatic failure in understanding and correspondingly predicting results of American election of 2016 the public trust into Ideas produced by the Industry cratered. I guess, the new Ideas will have to be generated in order to get out of current ideological dead-end that both American main parties encountered. I believe that source of these ideas will be outside of the Ideas Industry, which is way too mature and settled for the real innovation. However, when it will come, the source of these new ideas will probably be able to capture a significant chunk of existing Industry and use it to move to the next step in development of the Great American Experiment.
20170805 – War and the Art of Governance
The main idea of this book is to review the history of American occupation of different countries and their successes and failures. The most attention here allocated to the analysis of bureaucratic planning and relationship between organizations responsible for reconstruction of society, especially between military commanders and civilian administrators. The very important objective here was to look at cases these entities were separate, creating difficulties for military commanders to overcame purely military fighting attitude and switch to attitude of builders and interlocutors with local population.
- American Denial Syndrome: Failing to Learn from the Past
This is about contemporary situation when America gets involved in some optional wars like Iran and Afghanistan without clear understanding of end game and being in denial that such end game has political character and requires by far more time and resources than actually winning the war military. Traditionally, in previous wars the settlement was in hands of military commander with little if any interference for political class. However Americans were always uneasy with such arrangement because of their deep antipathy to the notion of standing army. Normally it was tolerated mainly due to the limits on federal government resources and importance of internal politics. However starting with Vietnam professional politicians started intensely interfere limiting military options and trying to impose political and economic solutions. Consequently internal political dynamic started to exceed the need for success of settlement after military engagement. The result was military success followed by slow moving disaster of inability to establish peaceful settlement and low intensity military actions lasting for decades. Correspondingly the focal point of this book is settlement or lack thereof after American war and military victory.
- The Early Years: Improvisation
This is a review of early wars when after war settlement was mainly improvisational and conducted by military commanders on site. It starts with brief review of American military development after revolutionary war when army was small and politicians and population generally had negative attitude to the very notion of standing army, allowing its existence only under pressure of circumstances. This attitude mainly lasted up until the early XX century when even small colonial expansions caused significant stress to small military and invoked robust opposition. During all this time any after war settlement activities were conducted by tactical commanders to the best of their ability, which was not that high in civilian affairs, but usually sufficient to achieve decent results good enough to transfer power to civilians.
The Mexican-American War
The outcome of this war was acquisition of significant territories from Mexico and establishment of typical American pattern of occupation: creation of local civil government and minimization of any involvement in their activities. This mainly describes how it happened and struggle between various American commanders who promoted different tempo and methods of conversion of these territories and their population into regular part of America. This process of creating territories that later were converted into the states was relatively smooth and successful. Slightly different it was in parts of Mexico that were only temporarily occupied, but it included the same pattern: establishment of local government with support of American military, but minimal interference in local politics or economics.
The Civil War and Reconstruction
Completely different situation developed in occupation of South were North’s objective was complete change of Southern way of live by eliminating slavery as economic foundation of Southern society. This part describes low intensity insurrection war that continued long after massive military engagement had ended. The Northern attempt to restructure society via Reconstruction with new local governments based on support from black population and relative significant transfer of people from the North mainly failed after Northern population got tired and continuation of massive suppression effort become politically untenable. Eventually the new form of society with segregation at its base was established, emancipation of black population mainly rolled back, and long economic and political stagnation settled in on South.
The Spanish-American War
This war demonstrated growing schizoid character of American international politics in colonial era when American politics become much more federal rather than local pushing imperial expansion, but strong anti-colonial forces inside USA preventing annexation of Cuba or Philippines. While pro-colonial forces succeeded in creating US territories in Caribbean, it failed to push America into full pledged pursuit of colonial empire. Author reviews this process in Cuba and Philippines, especially low intensity colonial war that lasted for years in Philippines.
World War I
The American occupation of some parts of Germany after WWII was brief and relatively easy since German government mainly remained unchanged, there were no attempt to radically change society, and consequently army just provided support to local government, assuring compliance with Versailles treaty. Some civilian structures were created within military to interact with locals and control military support for security and logistics in the occupied areas.
In reviewing these cases author identified two different forms of general engagements: political oversight and political reconstruction. The lesson derived is complexity and inevitability of civilian – military tension due to different training, attitude, and experience between military officers and civilian officials tasked with supporting occupation. Another lesson is necessity and difficulty of maintaining the unity of command due to the fact that military forces structured and optimized for independent military operations and consequently have difficulty to adjust to political, police, logistical, and other governmental roles in close interaction with local population.
- World War II: Building an Organization
This part provides history of bureaucratic processes in relation to military governance. It reviews various documents developed based on experience of WWI and preparations during WWII. These preparations were quite extensive including special training program for civil affairs in the War Department. It also reviews tensions caused by the very idea of use of military for civilian governance from legal and civilian side. Army also was not very interested in obtaining these new responsibilities because it was destruction from its main professional duties to fight and win wars.
The American military involvement in Italy governance was quite complex due to multiple factors such as Italy’s switch from being German ally to fighting Germany and occupation. Politically the main purpose was to remove remaining fascists from the position of power, at the same time preventing communists from taking over. The significant economic aid and logistical support allowed Italy to avoid catastrophic consequences in provision of food and other supplies. The transfer to republican political organization directed political activities into peaceful direction by allowing communists to maintain hope of achieving victory via democratic election. At the same time presence of American troops made any attempt to take power by force way too risky.
This is review of history of Germany occupation, which extensively prepared for over the years leading to victory. Initial plan was to allocate specific military detachments to administrative units and localities of Germany, but it was not possible due to the lack of resources, so regular tactical units of army were used for this purpose. After hostilities ended the governance was converted to territorial model with main objective to transfer it to civilian governance as soon as possible. An extensive program of denazification was implemented and formation of multiple political parties was highly encouraged. There were no significant resistance to the return to democratic order and within 4 years American military control over country governance was practically removed.
Japan surrender left all government structure from Emperor down basically intact. Military units of occupation army were organized to match Japanese prefectures Politically country was restructured to democratic norms, changing political, but living intact administrative organization of society. Overall there were no significant resistance, country readily accepted modification of constitution and by the end of 1945 there were 60 political parties.
A bit more complicated was situation in Korea mainly because it was for a long time occupied by Japan and departure of Japanese bureaucrats left void in governance. Eventually administrative positions were successfully filled by occupying military and returning Korean emigrants, leading to restoration of necessary function of the state. Probably the most difficult was political struggle to keep Korea united and prevent communist from taking power by force. This obviously failed and Korea was divided into two countries.
- The Cold War: Illusive Lessons: The Korean War; The Dominican Republic;
These were mainly successful operations not that different to ones that followed WWII. There were no significant insurgencies and limited political objectives of stabilization and transfer of power to locals were relatively easily achieved. Author provides rather detailed description of bureaucratic structures and processes that allowed such results.
- Afghanistan and Iraq
Author identifies lack of planning for settlement after military victory as the ignored lesson from the history of previous occupation.
Author sees the problem in lack of integrated efforts between multiple occupying NATO forces and lack of central authority to define and enforce common strategic approach. She recounts history of attempts to reconstruct the state that generally failed due to poor understanding of tribal and sectarian nature of Afghan society.
Similar problems occurred in Iraq, which is also society deeply divided by sectarian lines and history of internal violence. One of the most important mistakes was destruction of existing Iraqi institutions such as Army without ability to substitute these Sunni dominated structures with the new non-sectarian ones.
Finally the most important difference is strong and continuing insurgence in both Iraq and Afghanistan that author explains by ineptitude of American leadership at the time, poor planning and failure to implement timely transfer from military fight to reconstruction and suppression of insurgency.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I take from this book that generally American occupation was successful when military were given more freedom to act and objective was less to build new society, than pacify existing one and let locals decide what they want to rebuild as long as main objective – removing future threats to America is achieved. I do not think that the latest failures or semi-failures in Afghanistan and Iraq has anything to do with planning, sufficient or not, centralization, or other activities or lack thereof on the part of Americans or NATO countries. The main problem is clash of religious and cultural character inside of these countries that could not be easily overcome. Historically military conquest of Islamic countries was successful in one of two ways. One way was when it did not involve any significant interference into regular lives of locals, leaving their mores untouched, while assuring quick, immediate, but carefully calibrated military reaction to any threat, as it was in case of British in India / Pakistan. The other way was when it involved dramatic change of culture and mores with any resistance suppressed with extreme cruelty against not only activists, but also regular population, as it was the case in 1930s Central Asia when communists took over. I do not think that either one of these method is applicable now, so the best way would be to leave them alone, while assuring their inability to develop any military or terrorist threat by immediate massive, but brief intervention eliminating any entities that start developing ideological and/or technical capability for such thread. It means in/out operation with elimination of threat, but no occupation. Independently there should be a continuing effort to conduct massive ideological campaign against militant understanding of Islam and material support to whatever forces inside of these societies would want to move to contemporary world.
20170730 From bacteria to Bach and back
The main idea of this book is to provide summary of philosophical position based on Darwinian approach, but at the same time seriously discussing Cartesian ideas, which put consciousness outside of material world. Probably the most important here is an attempt to trace development of ideas from Theistic Intelligent Design through Darwinist development both biological and cultural and all the way to humanistic Intelligent Design. One of the most important ideas here is the idea of us humans being only an intermediate step in development of more and more comprehensive intelligence and that future contains some complex and unknown development that would lead to such superior intelligence either in form of human – AI symbiotic coexistence or some other form that we cannot even comprehend, but still based on codependency and coevolution of humans and technological environment they create. To put it in other and very brief form: coevolution of genes and memes.
TURNING OUR WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
1.Introduction: Welcome to the jungle; Bird’s-eye view of the journey; The Cartesian wound; Cartesian gravity;
This is an introduction to the book and brief description of how author wants to cover the development of live and human mind. Here are milestones:
1.Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning
2.Reasons without reasoners
3.Competence without comprehension
4.Turing’s strange inversion of reasoning
5.Information as design worth stealing
6.Darwinism about Darwinism
8.Words striving to reproduce
9.The evolution of the evolution of culture
- Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning
11.Consciousness as a user-illusion
- The age of post-intelligent design
This follows by discussion of application of Cartesian philosophy and demonstration of dependency of perception on the internal state of perceiver.
2.Before Bacteria and Bach: Why Bach? How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chess
It starts with reasoning why Bach is a good example of the summit of human intelligence development then somehow meander between feminism, political correctness and usefulness of memes. This follows by discussion of prebiotic world, its non-evolutionary character and a bit of teleology with stress on “Panglossian paradigm”. The most important point is that we still have no clear picture of origin of live that actually started evolution.
3.On the Origin of Reasons: The death or rebirth of teleology? Different senses of “why”; The evolution of “why”: from how come to what for; Go forth and multiply;
This starts with the reasoning of why live exists and develops, going back to Aristotle with his idea of purpose for everything, eventually overthought by Darwin’s rejection of purposes and meaningful ends. It follows by discussion of deep meaning of asking “why”. Eventually author points to two districting meanings” “how come” and “what for”, the first one pretty much reasoning for specific results of interactions between time and objects, while the second one assumes some purposeful intentionality. Actually author stresses not just difference between these meanings, but evolutionary character of their relation: “what for” is product of evolution of “how come”. From here author goes into discussion of evolution as algorithm with details of meaning of algorithms and how they work using non-live processes like development of stone circles.
4.Two Strange Inversions of Reasoning: How Darwin and Turing broke a spell; Ontology and the manifest image; Automating the elevator; The intelligent designers of Oak Ridge and GOFAI;
The inversion here is kind of change of paradigm of understanding of the world. Darwin moved it away from believe that every complex system, including humans, had to be consciously put together by some creator to the notion that complex systems are developed via evolutionary mechanism. Correspondingly Turing come up with idea that computer could solve computational problem without having any consciousness whatsoever by just following some algorithm. From here author moves into the brief discussion of ontology and then to automation of elevator as example of substitution of complex set of rules for smart humans by relatively simple algorithms for ignorant machines. The final part is discussion of actually existing intelligent design, which is done by humans designing everything by using GOFAI (Good Old Fashioned AI)
5.The Evolution of Understanding: Animals designed to deal with affordances; Higher animals as intentional systems: the emergence of comprehension; Comprehension comes in degrees
This is discussion of how different creatures deal with environment and survival. The first author looks in parallel at animals and computer’s development. It is complicated with animals because of the long process of evolutionary development when lots of intermediate steps occurred to fit to environment that we really not familiar with, which makes reverse engineering of animal all but impossible. As example of much more simple development of computer code demonstrates that even in this case when everything is recent and transparent, it still practically impossible to untangle some piece of “spaghetti code”. After that author moves to the problem of comprehension and how it comes into existence.
FROM EVOLUTION TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN
6.What is Information? Welcome to the Information Age; How can we characterize semantic information? Trade secrets, patents, copyright, and Bird’s influence on bebop
This is discussion about nature of information starting with Shannon definition that was agnostic of content and then following into semantic information that is content only, eventually ending with a bunch of examples such as patents, secrets, and such.
7.Darwinian Spaces: An Interlude: A new tool for thinking about evolution; Cultural evolution: inverting a Darwinian Space
Here author first looks at spatial representation of Darwinian evolution:
He then reviews a couple of applications such as Darwinian space for bottleneck development and Darwinian space for origin of live. How core idea is to present inverted Darwinian space that linked two generally contradictory approaches to understanding the world: Darwinian and Intelligent Design:
This link per author is used not just to demonstrate connection, but rather represents progress of human existence going from random evolutionary (Darwinian) development to Human controlled and conducted Intelligent design of human existence.
8.Brains Made of Brains: Top-down computers and bottom-up brains; Competition and coalition in the brain; Neurons, mules, and termites; How do brains pick up affordances? Feral neurons?
This is discussion of nature of human brain vs. computers with probably the most important statement that author understand analog nature of human brain and its profound difference from digital nature of computers.
9.The Role of Words in Cultural Evolution: The evolution of words
Looking more closely at words; How do words reproduce?
Here author moves to nature and use of words as key part of cultural evolution. He provides a nice tree of language evolution demonstrating that the development and evolution of languages is not that different from the similar process for species:
10.The Meme’s-Eye Point of View: Words and other memes; What’s good about memes?
This is quite detailed discussion of memes and ideas of memetic evolution occurring similarly to genetic evolution. Here author goes back to one of the core ideas of this book that competence and comprehension are two separated notions and it is not just conceivable, but actually typical development for development to be independent in both areas.
11.What’s Wrong with Memes? Objections and Replies: Memes don’t exist! Memes are described as “discrete” and “faithfully transmitted,” but much in cultural change is neither Memes, unlike genes, don’t have competing alleles at a locus; Memes add nothing to what we already know about culture; The would-be science of memetics is not predictive; Memes can’t explain cultural features, while traditional social sciences can; Cultural evolution is Lamarckian
This is look at critics of memetic ideas starting with non-existence of memes, then following with their easy changeability that makes them radically different from genes, and finally ending with doubt in memes usability as explanatory tool for cultural evolution and lack of explanatory power.
- The Origins of Language: The chicken-egg problem; Winding paths to human language
This is about complexity of figuring out origin of language. The first author discusses usability of language: Communicative utility, Productivity, Digitablity or in other words – ability to correct to the norm, Displaced Reference, and Ease of acquisition. Finally author discusses here path from pre-linguistic utterances to fully blown and comprehensive human language.
13.The Evolution of Cultural Evolution: Darwinian beginnings; The free-floating rationales of human communication; Using our tools to think; The age of intelligent design; Pinker, Wilde, Edison, and Frankenstein; Bach as a landmark of intelligent design; The evolution of the selective environment for human culture
The final chapter of this part is going into the nature of Cultural evolution, how it started with Darwinian approach postulating improvement in evolutionary fitness via development of more and more sophisticated communications, eventually moving humanity from left bottom point of Inverted Darwinian space where everything happens randomly to upper right side of our space where everything happens intelligently and were Bach resides.
TURNING OUR MINDS INSIDE OUT
14.Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion: Keeping an open mind about minds; How do human brains achieve “global” comprehension using “local” competences? How did our manifest image become manifest to us? Why do we experience things the way we do? Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning; A red stripe as an intentional object; What is Cartesian gravity and why does it persist?
This chapter is about consciousness, work of human mind, and its similarity and/or uniqueness comparatively to minds of other animals. The main point here is that we are conscious about ourselves because we talk about it all the time, which no other animal does. The second point is that conscious seems to develop necessarily from communication needs. It is not possible communicate and cooperate effectively without conscious separation of self from others and from environment. Actually other organisms also have some rudimentary notion of self, but none other develops and uses it so extensively. Finally author discusses phenomenon of free will and our limited access to reasons for our own thinking and acting.
15.The Age of Post-Intelligent Design: What are the limits of our comprehension? “Look Ma, no hands!” The structure of an intelligent agent; What will happen to us? Home at last
This is a look at language and human ability to pose questions, find answers, and consequently comprehend reality. It is a bit of polemic with Chomsky’s argument from Cognitive Closure and conclusion that so far no limits were found or even postulated believably. This follows by discussion on technological enhancement of our abilities to comprehend existing material world and/or theoretical speculative construction of the world of ideas. Obviously it is a good place to discuss AI and all these potential consequences of its development. At the end author is trying to look in the future that author thankfully understand is not really possible concluding with very wise statement: “Evolution is smarter than you”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Being a very simple man I do not see a lot of complexity in all these ideas. It is obvious for me that Darwinian algorithm of Intergenerational transmission of information either in form of Genes or Memes with modification and consequent filtering by environment is probably the most general natural process of diminishing entropy and proving inapplicability of the second law of thermodynamics to complex systems. As far as current implementations of AI and dramatic changes in humanity both biologically and culturally, I do not think that humans would ever move to creation of superior Intelligence that would substitute them. I believe that humans will try to play with it, but will be deeply disappointed because they will find out that to get consciousness one need to provide experience and, while it is possible, all that one would get will be another human even if it will be based not on proteins, but rather on silicon. More important is that not everything that can be done, will be done and while it is quite possible that AI pretty soon would sing Annie Oakley song to humans: “Everything you can do I can do better” one thing that humans do will never be transferred to machines: deciding what to do, what goals to set, and what objectives to achieve in pursuit of human happiness – one and only one objective that makes at least some sense.
20170723 – The Confidence Game
The main idea of this book is to review the confidence games (cons in commonly used abbreviation), their methods, and psychological foundation discovered in recent years via extensive scientific research using contemporary experimental technics and machinery. It is illustrated by a multitude of real live examples.
The introduction starts with description of adventures of some aristocrats of crime such as Joseph Cyr who successfully pretended to be a surgeon and actually did surgeries without any education and experience whatsoever. This is a good example of confidence man with no trace of self-doubt whatsoever. This follows by other examples of elegant, self-assured, and convincing con men that succeeded in the art of swindling people. This book is a psychological analysis of how it is done.
Chapter 1 THE GRIFTER AND THE MARK
The grafter and the mark are probably two the most important parts of any con. The main characteristics are: the personality of the con man and his ability to correctly identify the mark (the person who could be conned effectively). The analysis starts with look at the very effective con man Frank Demara who serves as one of the most prominent examples in this book. The key features discussed are pretty much features of psychopath: low sympathy to people and high levels of empathy in terms of understanding other people. Two features stand out as necessary for success: Narcissism and Machiavellianism, which author discusses in detail. Obviously not all people endowed with these features become con men, but combination of predisposition and opportunity could lead to a grafter to be born. Author also discusses deception and lies everywhere including animals and then how it could be recognized via catching micro expression, specific language, and its use not only in direct, but also in written communications. As to the victim of con the most typical victims are honest people who used to and expect honesty from others, but much more important – people in urgent need of something that con artist promise to provide be it material or psychological. One example provided is a rich mother paying millions to psychic who promised transfer soul of her dead son into another boy’s body. However there is no one size fits all approach in this game. Different people are prone to different cons. Another group quite often becoming victims are conmen themselves, when they are trying to con somebody, consequently opening gates for successful counter con.
Chapter 2 THE PUT-UP
The put-up is about choice of victim. It is often based on intuitive judgment of people that everybody does instantly, but con artists are especially proficient in doing. Author discusses works of psychologist Nicolas Epley who extensively explored process of intuitive judgment. Then author moves from personal evaluation to discussion of psychology of phishing attacks and their victims. An important point here is that repetition generate familiarity, which nearly automatically converts into trust. Another point here is that successful put up includes emotional, time, or situational pressure. Finally author discusses self-selection of victims and even their persistence in believing, even if actual deceiver issues disclaimers.
Chapter 3 THE PLAY
The chapter on the play starts with the story of Australian girl who successfully pretended to be a victim of human trafficking, in process obtaining help and publicity. This brings us to review of work of Robert Zajonc who studied human emotions for decades. One of the most important findings: emotions come first, thinking – second. So the main task of con artist is to generate positive emotions in the mark even before any thinking process would occur. As usual an important part is the story. Author refers to work of Jerome Bruner who identifies two ways to frame experience: propositional and narrative. The former is based on thinking and is dry and difficult demanding logical processing that does not comes naturally, while the second produces the story, which could be easily incorporated into mark’s mind and would generate emotions helpful for con artist. Author provides a number of supporting stories and specifically discusses technic of “wishful identification” when mark tricked into believe that somebody is very successful so he identifies to the point of trusting with money and other resources. This works especially well with investors. Overall the play on emotions by using the stories, especially such emotions that are considered rewarding, but bad like lust, greed, and such helps con artist subdue any skepticism of the mark and succeed.
Chapter 4 THE ROPE
This starts with the story of political campaign when candidate was convinced by swindlers to run and invest only to see his bank account disappear. Author uses this example to define the rope: alpha and omega of confidence game where alpha is increasing appeal of something and omega is decreased resistance surrounding something. This leads to discussion of process of persuasion work of Robert Cialdini. One of the most interesting points is that somebody who agreed provides a small favor will be more likely to provide a bigger one – kind of increasing the stakes. This opens opportunity for roping technic: one person – roper asks for a small favor, and then the second player comes in with the real request. It is also called “foot in the door” approach. Author discusses various technics of roping such as “confuse and reframe” like with pennies turned into dollars, scarcity of access as in Madoff case, promising more and more starting with a small one, and others.
Chapter 5 THE TALE
This is about another tool in con artist toolbox – create a compelling tale of events that lead mark to believe that his actions would lead to achieving self-affirmation and self-actualization. As example author reviews a story of physics professor who was used for drug trafficking by a woman who successfully played his arrogance and sense of exclusivity and superiority. It is called Lake Wobegon effect when everybody considers himself or herself better then average. Author also touches here on another phenomenon when people fail to recognize their prejudices believing that they are above it.
Chapter 6 THE CONVINCER
This is about somewhat opposite technic when con artist instead of using inflated self-confidence of mark, inflates his own value overstating abilities, history, and what not, eventually becoming an idol for his marks. This works especially well with investors, art collectors, and other rich people who are looking for somebody with superior skills to entrust their wealth for enlargement. Author provides such examples with con investor overstating return and arts connoisseur who provided her patron with false art.
Chapter 7 THE BREAKDOWN
This chapter is about the con coming to the end when victim begins developing doubt that everything is fine, mainly due to accumulated evidence that it is not. Here author discusses cognitive dissonance between expectation and reality that victim begins to experience and how con artist uses it to delay discovery of the con. For illustration author uses a story with failed investment when con artists managed to continue con even when victim already understood its nature, but still was unwilling to believe. As usual author refer to psychological research and some well known historical events such as Mesmer and commission on mesmerism.
Chapter 8 THE SEND AND THE TOUCH
This starts with the story of mass sale of fake paintings and then continues to another story about engineering negligence that led to Teton Dam failure. Both cases illustrate one of the most important tools in the arsenal of con artists: human difficulty with accepting loss, also known as the problem of sunk costs. In other words the more value invested already into something, the less critical people tend to be to this something makes them to invest more and more, even when it become clear that this is a loser.
Chapter 9 THE BLOW-OFF AND THE FIX
This starts with another worldwide schema: Francis Drake inheritance, which is used to illustrate a very important for many con enterprises feature: social connectivity and conformism to the groupthink. Author discusses results of research in this area and various strategies of interaction with optimum being tit for tat. From here author moves to multistep games modeling long-term interaction and importance of reputation. For con artist the reputation could be the best tool possible because it opens people to change their game strategy from cautious and reliable to trusting and vulnerable. If the con artist painstakingly built stellar reputation for honesty, the value of possible scam grows in geometrical proportion to reputation. Another important side effect is that in many cases victim’s reputation is so important that the victim decides to keep the fact of being swindled in the secret, ironically providing support to the con artist. Author also discusses value of personification either it is for the purposes of extracting more charitable donations that would go to cute poor child, but not to invisible statistical child or supporting con artist’s claims by his trustfully appearing confederate who provides assurance of schema’s previous success.
Chapter 10 THE (REAL) OLDEST PROFESSION
The final chapter is about religious cons one of the most effective, popular, and ancient methods of separating people with their resources. At the end author states that after all con artists are actually a necessity of live because they often give ideological meaning to it, especially in situations of some cult and its followers when “one man’s con artist is another man’s spiritual leader”. Author even stated her believe that it is not only oldest profession, but it is the superior profession to all other that it still will be around when all others known professions had faded away.
MY TAKE ON IT:
From my point of view it is a nice review of technics used in con games, which provides for better understanding of human behavior in many other areas besides swindling. Especially interesting would be a review of application of these technics in politics either written large like presidential election or small bureaucratic politics of cheating other people into supporting one’s bureaucratic career. I think that it would also be interesting to apply analysis of con artist’s methodology to giant con jobs of contemporary world such as socialism, global cooling/warming, environmentalist, racialist, and feminist movements. The huge scale of these con jobs moved hundreds of million people, transferred resources from their producers to ideologues many of which where nothing more than con artists, and actually caused tremendous amounts of pain, suffering, loss of live, and waste of resources. I think that extensive education in methods of con artist should be one of the most important part of school curriculum, teaching young generation to recognized when they are a subject to con artist’s attack, either it is with objective to sell Ponzi schema investment or obtain their support for some socialist political measure.
20170716 Complacent Class
The main idea of this book is that America is currently in process of losing its economic dynamism, risk taking, mobility, and other features that made it an exceptional and the most prosperous country in the world. Author supports this idea with statistics about mobility, risk taking, decrease in innovation, and increase in segregation of Americans into smaller grouts of matching individuals who do not care and even are somewhat hostile to other groups. All these developments are taken together created environment of complacency and decay that bound to decrease quality of live, slow down or even stop improvement in all areas of live, and eventually could potentially lead to complete destruction of society or at least to dramatic internal conflict.
- The Complacent Class and Its Dangers
This chapter is about current structure of American society that seems to be stabilized and is supported by overall complacency of majority. The breakdown looks like this:
- Privileged class in America: well educated, influential, and high earning people fully satisfied with existing arrangements
- Those who dig in Middle class and are more or less satisfied, but not really that confident their wellbeing is assured.
- Those who stuck in the low quality of life and see no way out.
However the most attention author directs at people who are mostly complacent with current situation discussing roots and results of this compliance, which are presented by attitudes of NIMBY and similar acronyms starting with Not In My… Author sees sources of this in the new culture of matching when people find match for everything and do not care about externalities, preferring to have safety and calm.
- Why Have Americans Stop Moving, or Is Your Hometown Really So Special?
Starting with this chapter author looks it signs of compliance as it shows itself in statistics. Here it is about Americans significantly decreasing their residential mobility. This had important economic consequences because highly mobile workforce supports optimization of geographical resource allocation consequently increasing overall economic output. Some very important reasons for those developments are practically closed areas where cost of living artificially made so high that they become inaccessible for individuals with regular income.
- The Reemergence of Segregation
Similar processes led to reemergence of segregation this time not that much by race enforced by laws as by education and culture enforced by cost of living with race still important, but mainly a secondary factor.
- Why Americans Stopped Creating
This is about decrease in innovation, which author believes underperformed since early 1970s. Author discusses the reason in some details, but overall feeling is that it is result of monopolization of economy and dramatic increase in regulations that put everything new at disadvantage. Another source of negative impact of increased statism of American society on innovation is concentration of resources on some grandiose projects such as democratization of Iraq or Obamacare. Even dramatic improvement of information technology related to Internet does not compensate enough for lost dynamics of American Innovation.
- The Respite of the Well-0rdered Match: Love, Music, and Even Your Dog
This is about impact of contemporary information technology that allows everybody to get whatever his heart desires, whether it is specific type of music, art, books, games, dating or anything else. The point is that such massive matching makes live both more satisfactory because it is possible to find perfect match to one’s needs and wants, but also more difficult because of constantly growing multitude of offers. This matching extends also into productive areas of live like jobs, business interactions, and so on. The second part of the chapter is about winners and losers of the multitude of matching processes. Winners are matchers – individuals who are looking to find a good match and succeed, while losers are strivers – people who are looking to win rather than to match and wind up suffering from underachieving because the playing field is not a limited locality where one can be winner among limited number of players, but the whole world where number of players is in billions.
- Why Americans Stopped Rioting and Legalized Marijuana
This chapter goes back to 1960-70s when baby boomers were rioting. Author poses question why this rioting spirit disappear and was substituted by relative calm. The reason he provides is bureaucratization of society, obsession with safety, and much more sophisticated and scientific policing that suppresses rioting in the bud.
- How a Dynamic Society Looks and Feels
Here author bring in example of China as contemporary dynamic society and lists a number of Chinese entrepreneurs who achieved huge wealth starting at such levels of poverty that Americans would have a hard time to imagine. Americans on other hand have it too good so they often forfeit struggle and just live their nice comfortable lives, which they do not want to put at risk even for potential of big gains. One final reason of American compliance is casualization of everything so it is not that much psychologically beneficial to acquire expensive staff and show off when richest people in the world have casual closes eat in casual places and despise show off the wealth.
- Political Stagnation, the Dwindling of True Democracy and Alexis de Tocqueville as Prophet of Our Time
The chapter on political stagnation points to small range between American left and right. It seems that both sides generally support big bureaucratic welfare state with limited market economy and nobody really trying to blow society apart and rebuild it on completely new principles like communists of yesterday. Author goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville and his ideas that static society and democracy not really compatible because different states would achieve stasis in different conditions and would become incompatible so the country would fall apart. It kind of happened with Civil War when instead of peaceful separation, one part of the country suppressed another one.
- The Return of Chaos, and Why the Complacent Class Cannot Hold
The main point of this chapter is that current situation cannot continue for much longer. Author lists a number of signs of growing unwillingness of American to remain complacent: Renewed racial riots in some cities, failure of establishment of both parties to stop Trump, instability on campus, and growing crime rates. Even more important is dysfunction of government and its failures in both international and domestic affairs. Author stresses idea of the Black Swan and its implication for regular Americans: the change could be sudden, tremendous, and with unpredictable results. Theoretically author moves to express preference for cyclical idea of history over progress idea, meaning that instead of continuing growth and improvement of quality of live we may be on the brink of disaster comparable to previous massive societal disasters from the fall of Roman Empire to the fall of Soviet Union.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this is a very good analysis of the current conditions of American society and ongoing bitter political strife of left’s resistance against American democracy. This struggle provides lots of factual support to ideas presented in this analysis. I also think we are on the brink of serious upheaval, but I do not think it is the consequence of complacency, decrease in mobility, or separation of Americans into subgroups of matching individuals. I think it is a natural process of obsolesce of current method of production caused in main by increase of productivity to the level when human labor become increasingly redundant, leaving more and more people without meaning in live and limiting their ability to achieve objectives planted in their minds by currently prevalent model of socialization. I am sure that this model will be changed over the next 30 to 50 years, but I afraid this change would be quite painful.
20170709 – How Emotions are Made
The main idea of this book is to dismantle traditional view of emotions as something hardwired by evolution in our brain and substitute it with the new paradigm of continuing concept acquisition, prediction of the future, and dynamic construction of emotions resulting in actions that increase probability of successful survival and procreation. For humans and other group dependent animals these concepts of constructed emotions and appropriate actions are supplemented by the notion of somewhat artificial socially created environment where emotions and actions occur.
Introduction: The Two-Thousand- Year-Old Assumption
The assumption is about emotions that they are instinctive, natural, and just barely controllable by higher parts of the brain. Author claims that scientific research demonstrates that it is just not true and she proposes the new theory of constructed emotions that claims emotions being just a typical part of human repertoire of behavior that is developing culturally as a part of individual’s maturation and socialization. It is not only emotions, but overall human personality is a construct based partially on genetic endowment and partially on accumulated experiences of interaction with environment and other people.
- The Search for Emotion’s “Fingerprints”
This chapter discusses idea of emotions being genetically predefined method of human reactions to environment common for all. The research however does not support this idea, which circumstance directed author to the finding that emotions are different depending on cultural environment and in actuality are formed during development and socialization. Moreover usual idea allocating emotions to specific part of human brain-amygdala failed to obtain of experimental confirmation. On the contrary, the finding demonstrated that emotions as well as practically all other activities involve multiple parts of brain’s neural networks. The brain analysis using its division into cubic areas (voxels) and statistical analysis of higher level of activation for each voxel found “no brain region contained the fingerprint of any specific emotion”. Author believes that this finding falsifies the idea of emotions as specific inborn functionality of a part of the brain.
- Emotions Are Constructed
This chapter starts with demonstration of partial picture unrecognizable from outset, but easily recognized as a bee after individual sees complete picture at least once. This indicates that mental representation of the picture is not direct proportional replica of visual perception, but rather mental construct based on available, even if often incomplete, information combined with preexisting patterns of activation of the neural networks. Author describes “gross food” experiment when individual provided with good, tasty food presented as something disgusting. In this case even if smell, visuals, and taste tells that it is a good piece of food, people still have difficulty because of the presentation. Author uses this experiment as another demonstration of construction of emotion in this case disgust for perfectly good food due to presentation. Another example is the projection of internal well being on external objects. Author recalls her negative attitude to a date that she later understood was not caused by the date, but rather by the condition of her body inflicted by cold. Author uses kitchen metaphor where emotions are cookies prepared in the kitchen (brain) from ingredients already present in it in form of previously developed neural networks and their susceptibility to activation.
- The Myth of Universal Emotions
This chapter is about emotions being construct of human experience rather than universal hardwired characteristics of humanity. It starts with analysis of recognition of pictures representing emotions by people from different cultures, demonstrating that previously commonly believed results showing universal recognition is actually incorrect, coming from purely designed research. It discusses specific studies with African tribes demonstrating that facial representation of emotions is culturally dependent.
- The Origin of Feeling
This is the first of four chapters going into details of author’s theory of constructed emotion. It starts with discussion of brain’s functionality and structure of its 86 billion neutrons. Somewhat unusually author looks at the brain as not that much a reaction and control tool, but rather as future prediction tool, which constantly builds short, medium, and long term predictions based on previous experience and perceived data flow from human electromagnetic, acoustic, and other censors. Here is a nice presentation of this process:
Author specifically discusses brain’s predictions as powerful method in body resource allocation. It constantly regulates energy flow inside the body, data from environment, and produces decisions what body should do next. To simplify author divides brain functions into body-budgeting and primary interoceptive, meaning sensations within the body. Each time action is defined the brain develops prediction of future perception both from environment and from the body and regulates the body system to act as required. The actual perception is used to produce the next prediction and so on. The experience defines affective niche and author provides a nice graph to demonstrate what it means:
Human are constantly make decisions depending on gut feeling, which is actually just an internal representation of affective condition. Consequently we live within a bubble of affective realism created by combination of our internal condition and environment signals and our experience based reading of these signals at any given moment. A very important point here is that all this information is processed by the brain so we really do not have access to raw information and actually feel what our brain believes. This idea is defined as affective realism. One interesting inference is that what we hear and see is highly dependent on our internal condition.
The final note here is that typical presentation of human brain as layered organ with lower layers developed by evolution earlier then upper layers and kind of compete between them for control is incorrect. Here is graphic presentation of this typical, but wrong idea:
Author claims that in reality all decisions and actions based on interoception and affect, so rational thinking is just an illusion. Our environment as we perceive it does not really exists, it is what our brain build based on experience and current signals.
- Concepts, Goals, and Words
This chapter is about relation between objective reality and its presentation in human mind and communications between humans. It starts with the nice example of rainbow, which is objectively just a range of electromagnetic frequencies, which different parts got names of colors. Interestingly enough it is culturally dependent so there are 7 colors in Russian, but only 6 in English. This follows by the discussion about conceptualization, objects, and goals. Here is representation of these notions:
After that author applies these notions to emotions and discusses how they are developed and how they constantly impact body functions and our behavior.
- How the Brain Makes Emotions
This chapter is about how brain uses concepts to build emotions. It starts with discussion of infant’s brain developing ability to predict via trial and error process that is based on training neurons and developing neural networks that respond to combination of internal and external signals. The general idea is that formation of concepts is similar to coding and compressing visual information, while prediction is similar to unpacking and application of this information. Here is visual representation:
- Emotions as Social Reality
This starts with discussion of idea that even simple signals such as sound of falling tree or colors of a flower are really construction of the brain build on incomplete bits and pieces of information. Similarly emotional reaction is a construct that used by the brain to define what emotion needs to be activated and then produces corresponding activities in the body. Then author expands this to wider notion of social reality that only tangibly connected with objective reality. Author provides a very charming example when Andy Warhol’s painting named $200 and picturing exactly that was sold for $300,000. Finally author discusses language and words as communication tools used to exchange concepts in order to cooperate or just interact.
- A New View of Human Nature
This is about the inferences that follow from the new theory of constructed emotions: humans are much more in control of their experiences than usually thought because they are not passive recipients of external information that automatically activate emotions, but rather active interpreters of incongruent data flow, active constructors of emotion, and implementers of action that they believe would lead to achievement of more or less identified objectives. How exactly this construction occurs, depends on complex interplay of individual genetic endowment, cultural environment, and previous experiences of individual. Another point is that construction theory decisively shifts responsibility for action to acting individual because it defines brain as predictive rather than reactive tool, making it clear that action follows conscious or subconscious decision to act. This chapter also includes critic of essentialism, which obviously is not compatible with emotional construction theory, including Broca’s ideas of brain area specific emotional configuration. The final part of the chapter is about history of research and prevalence of ideas of construction in 1930 that nevertheless was pushed out by essentialism.
- Mastering Your Emotions
This is about a strong link between brain and the whole body and multitude of feedback loops between these entities. The key for success in live here is to maintain balanced body budget and develop a rich set of concepts. It follows by discussion of emotional granularity and also by a bit of practical advice how to improve ones emotional intelligence.
- Emotion and Illness
This is about connections between emotions and body conditions including illness. The main point here is that brain constantly tries to predict needs of body and direct different processes inside the body to meet these needs. This process is especially important for immune system. It works differently for each individual consequently making usual medical approach driven by symptoms outdated because the same symptoms could be produced by different causes in different people and successful treatment should concentrate of fixing causes. Even pain is not purely biomechanical process, but rather brain construct that needed to conduct actions of organism and author discusses research on how exactly it works. There is also discussion of purely psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.
- Emotion and the Law
This is discussion on responsibility for actions when essentialist claims that action under influence of inherited emotion should not be punishable if individual acted under overwhelming emotional pressure. The emotional construction theory states that individual’s brain construct emotion and predicts results of actions in all circumstances consequently making individual responsible. Author also discusses unordinary value assigned to criminal’s remorse that is mainly unjustified. A very important point here is that emotions and their expression is not objective factors, but rather depend on culture and perception.
- Is a Growling Dog Angry?
This is discussion of emotions in animals and review of relevant experiments. The overall inference is that animals could not develop human concepts, but humans project their own notion of emotions on animal behavior. In reality animals just produce behavior to control bodily budget and necessary for survival based on 4 F: Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding, and Fucking.
- From Brain to Mind: The New Frontier
The final chapter is a bit philosophical, discussing brain – mind connection. The new brain imagining technology opened a window in its internal working and it pretty much made obsolete traditional ideas about dichotomy between animal body and spiritual mind. The experimental approach demonstrated unitary character of body-mind functionality with brain being an analog dynamically changing universe of neural networks that constantly develops concepts, construct emotions, and overall manage body’s actions necessary to survive and reproduce. There are no essences emotional or otherwise that are hardwired in the brain, rather the brain constantly construct emotions and behavior necessary to maintain body budget and produce actions necessary to survive based on predictions build on the bases of concepts and experiences many of which for humans come from social reality rather than from purely objective environment.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me this book is a very welcome set of theoretical and experimental research generally supporting my believe that human brain is biological self-programming analog computer based on constantly forming and reforming neural networks containing billions of neurons, that constantly change their electro/chemical parameters and connections based on frequency and power of their activation/deactivation. On this terms we are dynamic creatures who constantly construct and reconstruct our memories, believes, emotions, and just about everything else, while maintaining some continuity, which is pretty far away from being absolute. The important inference from this is that we to a very large extent responsible for our condition and actions even if a lot of it happen at the unconscious level where prediction of future is constructed depending on universe of possible actions. However the choice of the specific actions from this universe is always ours.
20170702 The Great Leveler Violence
The main idea here is that inequality is considered unhealthy for the society and it probably is, but history demonstrates that it is typically a product of peaceful and productive development of society, while decrease in inequality is typically consequence of some kind of disaster: war, revolution, pandemic, or collapse of society. There is also attempt to look at recipe for leveling without disaster, but it is limited to somewhat trivial taxation ideas.
Introduction: The Challenge of Inequality
The introduction starts with the notion that inequality is growing and it is dangerous because it creates tensions in the society and could even destroy it. However this book is interested not that much in equality, but rather in conditions when it decreased often dramatically. Author finds four typical occurrences when it happens: War; Revolution, Society Collapse, and Plague. Author looks at all of them in details, reviews alternatives, and finally discusses future of leveling.
PART I. A BRIEF HISTORY OF INEQUALITY
- The Rise of Inequality
As usual this starts with discussion of hunter-gatherers and their equality based mainly on very low productivity so there were not enough goods and services susceptible for accumulation. Even thou some burials demonstrate high level of variance in prestige in form of artificial decoration such as bids that required huge amount of labor to produce, the real inequality came with agriculture when increase in productivity and, most important, ability accumulate wealth or obtain it from others provided opportunity for its growth. With ability accumulate and transfer wealth came necessity for a state, which would protect one’s own wealth and, if military successful, would allow obtain wealth from others. Here is a nice picture of the structure of typical agrarian society:
2 Empires of Inequality
After discussing generic characteristics of agrarian states, author briefly reviews 2 most successful empires: Chinese and Roman both of which provide ample data for inequality. Here is an estimate of Wealth at the top and population growth for Romans:
At the end of chapter author discusses patterns of empire wealth circulation that typically occurred via violent redistribution among elite.
- Up and Down
This is somewhat high-level discussion of changes in inequality supplied with a bunch of interesting graphs:
PART II. WAR
- Total War
This chapter is an analysis of equalizing impact of the total war using Japan as an example. Probably no other country reached such level of war effort by the totality of its population without being actual battlefield. The leveling results were truly dramatic:
- The Great Compression
This chapter expands previous analysis to the whole world, clearly demonstrating that war destruction leads to more equality, even if it is equality in misery. This is achieved by dramatic decrease in private wealth, especially comparatively with resources controlled by the government:
In short private wealth inimical to equality but beneficial for prosperity, while war is opposite: inimical to prosperity and beneficial for equality.
- Preindustrial Warfare and Civil War
This chapter looks at history of preindustrial mass mobilization wars. From ancient times until recent occurrences and find some evidence that they had significant equalizing impact. Mainly it was result of need to obtain participation of low wealth masses as soldiers and supporters of military effort, which was paid by upper wealth class correspondingly decreasing their wealth. Overall the dispersion of equalizing was wide and dependent of character of the war. Similarly historically civil wars not necessarily decrease inequality often just moving wealth from one group to another, but it was highly dependent on character of war with high intensity was obviously decreasing overall wealth of the society.
PART III. REVOLUTION
This chapter is about recent Russian and Chinese communist revolutions in which equalizing became one of the most important objectives. Since these revolutions included mass killing of higher wealth population, their achievement in formal equalization were unparalleled. However if one takes into account real control over society’s resources, this equalization become more than dubious.
- Before Lenin
This is similar look at French revolution, Taiping rebellion, and many other rural revolts, city revolts, and city-state revolts. Whatever leveling occurred during such events it usually was not very long lasting reverting back to inequality as soon as revolutionary period ended and more or less normal economic development would restart.
PART IV. C0LLAPSE
- State Failure and Systems Collapse
This is discussion of pretty obvious fact that when society collapses it’s hierarchical structure going down consequently removing all forms of enforcement of existing controls over resources, which leads to dramatic leveling. The cases author uses for collapse discussion are Chinese history of the end of Tang dynasty, Western Roman Empire, late Bronze Age Mediterranean and pre-Columbian America. It is nicely supported by archeological research represented by historical house size diagram in Britain:
The final part looks at contemporary society collapse: Somalia, which is wide open for research now, providing researchers are well protected against multitude of local gangs (authorities).
PART V. PLAGUE
10 The Black Death
Another powerful leveling process is epidemics, which kills lots of rich as well as poor. Author analyses leveling caused by the Plague in Medieval Europe. Interesting here is the fact that leveling occurred not only due to death, but also due to post epidemic dramatic growth of wages because of scarcity of labor. Here is a nice graph to support it:
- Pandemics, Famine, and War
This is an expansion of previous discussion to cases when all 3 combined practically destroy society, bringing society to the lowest levels of inequality since the start of agriculture. It is done based on American history when European invasion brought both pandemic and destructive war. Author also looks at Justinian plague 541-750 CE and the Antonine plague in Egypt circa 165 CE. More detailed analysis based on well collected and preserved local data for the city of Augsburg during 30 years war presented by the graph below:
Even more interesting is result for this city by numbers demonstrating that population loss was about 50%, but it fall disproportionally on poor. In other worlds it was not that much leveling, but shift when higher levels of income shifted down to lower levels, while population in two lowest income bracket was dramatically decreed by shifting out of live:
PART VI. ALTERNATIVES
- Reforms, Recession, and Representation
This is the look at possibility of leveling without massive bloodletting typical for war, revolutions, pandemic, or collapse. One such method is Land reform, another Debt relieve and Emancipation of slaves or serves. Even more peaceful leveling occurs during economic crises when loss of wealth obviously hit people in possession of this wealth. Finally democratic political system typically allows leveling via taxation and welfare state.
- Economic Development and Education
Here author discusses more positive way to decrease inequality: education and skills enhancement. This is unusually positive way because instead of leveling via decrease of overall wealth, it promotes wealth increase via increase in productivity of educated people.
14 What If? From History to Counterfactuals
This is a speculative discussion about what would happen if history were different than it actually had been.
PART VII. INEQUALITY REDUX AND THE FUTURE OF LEVELING
- In Our Time
Here author discusses our time, relatively peaceful and prosperous, but with growing levels of inequality that gives jitters to many of intellectual. He provides a table and graph showing this growth with the most prosperous and wealthy country USA being also the most unequal:
This is followed by discussion about market, power and related issues that lead to inequality growth: executive compensation, globalization, automation, and such.
- What Does the Future Hold?
Author obviously not sure about future, but he stresses growth of pressure caused by inequality and low probability of catastrophic events that would lead again to such leveling that occurred before. Author discusses a few recipes for equalization, which mainly come down to higher level of taxation and redistribution.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I do not think that inequality is the problem per se. The real problem and thread to society is perception of inequality as result of violation of rules of fair game. I doubt that any employee of a corporation would be upset by multimillion dollars payoff to CEO when corporation is doing great, employee’s job secure, salary is growing, and pension fund promises nice retirement. It is become an explosive problem when the same payoff coincides with company downsizing, employee loosing job, and pension fund going down the drain. It is obviously correct that all kinds of disasters cause leveling, but to look for disaster to heal inequality is like trying to rid of headache by putting bullet in the head – headache would go away, but so would live. In short I do not believe that taxation and welfare are good remedies either because government redistribute resources any inequality is magnified in minds of people, so inequality of getting 5 pounds of bread when everybody gets only one pound is much higher that inequality of CEO making a million when everybody else makes on average 50K. That’s how disasters of revolution start. The only known way to avoid it is implement relative equality of opportunity or at least promote believes that it exists.
20170625 – The Great Equalizer
The main idea of this book is not that much to describe problems with current economic order of USA, as to analyze its causes that author identifies as suppression of small business by coalition of government and big corporate business and, most important, propose a very specific program of ideas how to bring America back to its original “bottom up” approach to economic order with small businesses again becoming the engine of growth and prosperity.
Here author starts with reminiscence of his childhood in Baltimore and his outgrowing inherited loyalty to Democratic Party due to its rejection of working and lower middle class and embrace of bureaucracy, welfare dependency, and international corporatism. It follows by brief review of economic history of USA over the last 40 years with stress on failures of the first years in XXI century. At the end of introduction author states his believe that we are at the infliction point and only Main Street could save us from mediocrity and continuously degrading economic future.
1 Growth Is (Almost) Everything
Here author refer to his earlier work “The world is curved” that was stressing dangers of globalization and disputed position of “Flat world” promoted by Washington’s Elite “thinkers”. He discusses financial crisis and massive state intervention that first created it and then somewhat eased economy out of it in process practically killing economic growth. This follows by panegyric to the growth that could fix practically any problem and call to return to Main Street innovative capitalism – the only economic system that could provide such growth. The next part of chapter reviews political affiliations and lack of bipartisanship. Author refers to the last significant period of economic growth during Reagan and Clinton presidencies and how in these two cases despite bitter political struggles both party found the way to be enough bipartisan in economic policies, making growth possible.
2 The Illusion of Certainty
This is about complexity and unpredictability of economy. It provides a bunch of funny examples of complete inability of experts to predict future economic development. It follows by discussion of Wall Street well rewarded failures and overall financial part of economy. The final part is somewhat of a lament of big platform corporations like Amazon creating a new form of monopoly based on lawfare use to suppress in the bud all potential competitor startups and, in cases when it fails, to buy them out. The end result is ossification of economy and lack of growth.
3 The Economy’s Turbocharger
This starts with an interesting anecdote about author being low-level staffer at Capitol who was promised a photo opportunity with Reagan as reward for overtime work. It took a few months, but he did get his picture. The point is that opportunities come and go so one had to catch them. These fast flying opportunities especially important in high tech area as it represented by Silicon Valley. Author stresses new jobs potential for Main Street created by innovation industry. There is a duality in this development: on the one hand new technology eliminates old jobs, but on the other hand it frees people and capital from old activities and allows investing them in the new ones. He refers to “mass flourishing” ideas of Edmund Phelps. Author believes that this dynamic process is the most promising option to maintain prosperity, but he clearly sees decline in the levels of innovation in USA and discusses reasons for this decline. These are:
- System rigged in favor of big against small
- Huge levels of public and private debt
- Political system frozen by partisanship preventing required reforms
- Globalization made world a frightening place with no one in charge.
4 Top-Down Frustrations in a Bottom-Up World
This chapter is about comparison of small economic entities vs. big where author provides multiple examples of inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the big highly centralized economy and discusses contemporary political and economic conditions when government creates massive advantages for the big corporate entities. It hurts economic development because it practically removes the only way to find out what needs to be done to achieve economic success: unabridged competition between economic entities with failure being not only an option, but frequent occurrence.
5 The World’s Greatest Wager
This is about debt and bad consequences of it. One of the most important bad consequences is “learned helplessness”, which if applied to accumulation of debt means inability of society to balance spending and revenues. As it is usual for people disturbed by high debt author brings in children who will be overburdened by inherited debt. Author discusses 3 solutions for the debt problem: Inflation, Default, and Innovation / growth of economy. He believes that the only acceptable solution is growth and only reinvigorating Main Street economy could do it. Finally author discusses demographics and need for entitlements reform to get out of debt.
6 It’s Nobody’s Century (or Maybe Everybody’s)
In this chapter instead of concentrating on American political gridlock and ways out of it, author looks at alternative political-economic system that many Western leftists admire now – China’s. This starts with the description of author’s encounter with Chinese diplomat who was dismayed when question come to China’s financial system, debt, and cooling off of investor’s enthusiasm. It looked like these issues where perceived as a serious threat to Chinese advancement. From this discussion followed the question of which country or countries are really could be global controllers in the future with author concluding that usual consensus of the future China dominance or, at best, two-polar world of USA / China competition of equals, is incorrect and China will fade away similarly to previous candidates to end American century: USSR, Germany, and Japan. He seems to believe that China’s multitude of problems would lead to such development.
7 Americans Are Fighters
This is an interesting combination of litany of American decline and expression of believe in America and hope that it will be fine based, at least partially, on author’s experience in 1970s and then in 1980s when he participated in implementing Reagan’s tax cuts and dramatic economic recovery that followed. His current proposal is guarantied investment at child’s birth from government and matching by private funds. Overall author seems to believe that mass participation in investment would go long way to eliminate problems of inequality caused by increase of return on capital and decrease of return on labor (reference to Piketty).
8 A Nation of Dreamers and Discoverers
The final chapter refers to the past cases of recovery and presents 14 points program that author believe would initiate the new recovery for our time:
- Bipartisan Congress actually capable to legislate
- Allow companies repatriate money without taxing
- Global Debt summit to avert crisis
- Reform taxes to make financial services less profitable and job producing enterprises more profitable
- Invest in Youth
- Recreate global financial Architecture
- Encourage new Enterprises
- The 3.5 Solution: manage US government non-financial assets to achieve 3.5% return
- Raise minimum wage
- Increase worker mobility
- Welcome foreign geniuses
- Temporary suspend new regulations
- Fund Adult Technical Education
- Reform the patent system and modernize Civil Service
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book contains a good dose of critic of contemporary America, but it is most interesting parts are author’s specific proposals to improve situation. Unfortunately these proposals range from very unrealistic like bipartisan congress to mainly meaningless like “fund technical education”. I think that a lot of negative staff discussed in this book comes from natural development of welfare state as it was established in USA in 1930s and then greatly expanded in 1960s. The system of welfare state was a very reasonable response to industrialization that increased productivity to such level that significant number of population could not offer on the free market goods and services including labor that would provide returns proportional to expectations, leaving multitude of individuals without proper place in economic order of society. Welfare state kind of solved this problem by providing less energetic, uneducated, and passive individuals with welfare check, so they could survive, and creating multitude of well compensating bureaucratic positions for more energetic, educated, and active individuals who could not find good returns on free market. The big issue now is that we moving into the final stage of productivity growth when human labor would not be required anymore and, in order to survive, society will need complete restructuring of resource allocation and economic relationship between its individual members. The solution should be on the scale of the problem, which is comparable to switch from hunting/gathering to agriculture / militarism to industrial production / financial resource allocation. The author’s suggestions are by orders of magnitude below this level of requirements.
20170618 Great Transformations
The main idea of this book is that massive transformations of institutions of society on the scale exemplified by embedding liberalism in 1930s and then disembedding it in 1980s does not occur purely on materialist basis or class realignments, but rather they are driven by ideas. These ideas usually take time to develop, then to be incorporated into thinking of significant amount of population, and only after that these ideas start moving political forces and become converted from abstraction to specific actions delegitimizing old and establishing new institutions.
PART I THEORY
1 Karl Polanyi and Institutional Change
This starts with reference to Polanyi’s ideas about end of self-regulating markets in early XX century and double movement: free market losers would use state protection and in process produce institutional change in the society. This pretty much covers all statist movements from Keynesianism to Nazism and Communism. This follows by discussion of the nature of institutional change overall and role of ideas in its implementation. Author provides plan of the book: it is build on the analysis of 3 main actors: state, labor, and capital. This analysis conducted first on theoretical level and then tracing actual development by using two examples: Sweden and USA.
2 A Theory of Institutional Change
This starts with brief review of literature about ideas and their influence. Author describes two schools of thought about it: Historical Institutionalism and Rationalist Institutionalism. After that he presents his theory of relationship between ideas, interests, and uncertainty deriving from it 5 hypotheses:
- In time of economic crises ideas (not institutions) reduce uncertainty.
- Following uncertainty reduction, ideas make collective action and coalition building possible.
- In the struggle over existing institutions, ideas are weapons.
- After delegitimation of existing institutions, new ideas act as institutional blueprints
- The ideas that follow institutional construction make institutional stability possible.
PART II CASES
This part is pretty much review of 5 historical cases when ideas practically modified or substituted existing institutions with the new ones.
3 Building American Embedded Liberalism
The first case is advance of American liberalism in 1930 and its elimination or severe limitation of previously dominant free market capitalism. Author looks at Hoover vs. Roosevelt policy noticing that they where nearly identical with the main difference of Hoover’s being limited by existing institutions, while Roosevelt’s breaking away from these institution. Author demonstrates how it was done: breaking down institution of free pricing and substitution it with government controlled pricing, massive government interference into business / labor relationship, and massively increasing government spending. This followed by construction of new institutions: Social security, pro-union Wagner Act, Financial regulations, and much more. The final part of the chapter is about period after war when some of the new institutions were curtailed due to their negative impact on economy and society, but overall new institutions survived and stabilized into the new environment of Embedded Liberalism.
4 Building Swedish Embedded Liberalism
Here author conducts similar analysis of Swedish development when driving force was Social democracy significantly to the left of American New Deal administration, but somewhat paradoxically more business friendly than it. The result was Swedish form of Embedded liberalism with quite a bit more control of government over people, but with massive support of middle class due to social spending.
5 Disembedding Liberalism: Ideas to Break a Bargain
This case looks at the first at the beginning of breakdown of Embedded liberalism in USA first with the Johnson administration attempt to have both guns and butter, and then as result of increasing stagnation and inflation caused by overregulation and direct government interference into economy. Author reviews ideas that impacted and undermined embedded liberalism, preparing it’s disembedding: Monetarism, Rational Expectations, Supply-Side, and Public Choice Theories. The stagflation of 1970s clearly demonstrated deficiencies of existing institution and opened way for advancement of these new theories into popular conscious.
6 Disembedding Liberalism in the United States
Here author going into the search of causes of Liberalism’s Disembedding mainly in movement of business into political sphere in its attempt to remove or at least minimize government intervention that made it incapable effectively compete with business of countries just recently recovered after WWII. It follows by detailed description of how business intervened into politics and successful delegitimized big government and its political representation (Democratic party). The chapter ends by discussion of Clinton’s administration movement away from big government idea under pressure of changed ideological environment in the country and republican legislature.
7 Disembedding Liberalism in Sweden
This chapter describes similar events in Sweden where big government led to economic hardship and disembedding of liberalism, albeit to the much smaller degree than it happened in America.
PART III CONCLUSIONS
In conclusion author revisits his 5 hypotheses, compares his ideological explanation of transformations with materialistic and institutional explanations, and looks at the possibility of future transformation.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I am generally supporter of idea that the words and ideas comes the first and transformation of society is logical result of implementation of ideas. However I think that before any idea becomes viable as source of future transformation, the old institutions should prove to the public that they do not work any more and that whatever calamity comes, they would not be able provide tools to overcome it. Somewhat contrary to the author I do not think that it happens because some individuals just come up with some ideas undermining existing societal setup in our case Monetarism or Rational Expectation or anything else. I think that the first comes increasing frustration with old institutions that results in their inability to live up to the promise of the future beneficial results. Whether it is inability to provide enough food instead of promised abundance in communist countries, or high misery index of combined inflation and unemployment instead of uninterrupted progress closely controlled by wise bureaucrats in USA as promised by New Deal, in all cases the failure to fulfill expectations creates general mood of frustration and inapplicability to the new environment. Only when the first step mainly completed and support for the old institutions mainly based on little more then inertia, the new set of ideas could become popular and even dominant, creating opening for the second step that would complete transformation: elimination of old and creation of new institutions.
20170611 – Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow
The main idea of this book is that technology is changing society and environment in such profound way that current philosophical notions that were built into the foundation of contemporary society become obsolete. Consequently it would have to lead to the huge restructuring not only of societal organization, but also of individual consciousness leading to some new and unimaginable arrangement of individuals, societies, environment, and connections between them all.
1 The New Human Agenda
It starts with the statement that humanity achieved such level of development that it now can move from the main question of survival, to the much more interesting question: what to do with ourselves. In this chapter author looks a bit back at the biological poverty line below which humans could not survive, pathogens and other evolutionary pressures that kill humans by disease, wars and other forms of violent competition that humanity seems to be in process of finally overcoming. This follows by discussion of death and the new development when technology could possibly make it outdated. So the key issue is what is happiness and how to assure that everybody has right to happiness and actually capable to achieve it. In order to clarify his points author provides a nice analogy from the history of grass lawns, which used to demand an extraordinary amount of effort to maintain and therefore were a subject of competition between feudal lords to demonstrate their fitness. Now due to technological development a lawn become a simple part of American middle class live. At the end of this chapter author provides a general plan of the book.
PART I Homo Sapiens Conquers the World
2 The Anthropocene
This is obviously about era of humanity that started about 70000 years ago. There is a nice pie chart to demonstrate it purely by super simple measure of weight:
Author looks at ancient animalistic believes and then jumps to human use of other animals, which, while satisfying their minimalistic needs for survival, actually deprives them of natural habitat. Example provided: pigs in industrial environment. Next author discusses organisms as algorithms providing for the survival and genes transfer to the next generation. The rest of chapter is comparative analysis of agricultural and industrial ages, their ideological underpinning and similarity.
3 The Human Spark
Here author starts with human morality, which claims to be universal, but in practice is quite hierarchical on many levels with humans higher than pigs, but Americans higher than Afghanis. Author also discusses here Darwin and Evolution, which left humanity without soul. This logically leads to discussion of mind/ brain, live / non-live, and self-conscious / lack of it. Author looks at these philosophical issues using a bunch of nice examples from live of chimps, talking horse, lab rats, and communist dictatorships. Probably the most important in this part is a small piece on the Web of meaning – how people create and maintain social reality that only tangibly relates to objective reality.
PART II Homo sapiens Gives Meaning to the World
4 The Storytellers
This is a brief discussion of humans as storytellers with initial look at history of storytelling and then switch to exclusively human ability to create permanent storage of information outside of human brain, specifically on paper and other devices. Moreover the stories and information on paper become so powerful that it could decide issues of live and death as illustrated by the story of Portugal consul in France who saved thousands of Jews by issuing passports (pieces of paper). Another, even pore powerful example, is Holy Scriptures that moved to actions and defined lives of billions of humans. The final point that author makes is that he believes that in future even more powerful stories will be created and they will have even more force to move people and define arrangements in the societies.
5 The Odd Couple
This is about stories told by religion and science, which both are based on complex combination of truths and myths. One important point here is that religion is a tool for preserving social order, but so is the science, at least to the extent in supports social order. Author tries to put all this in order and provides a nice summation of religion as combination of three parts:
Overall, both religion and science are trying to provide truly correct representation of reality, but they use different method and obviously come to different conclusions. Author perceives contemporary perception of the reality as combination of science and one particular religion called humanism. These two approaches constitute mutually supporting covenant still effective, but more and more coming under pressure and seems to be moving to disintegration sometime in near future.
6 The Modern Covenant
This is detailed discussion of modern integrated science/humanist worldview. Interestingly enough the author starts this discussion with bankers and credit with interest – true engine of economic expansion specific for humans and not used by any other animals. From here he goes into discussion of economic pie that is growing if conditions are right and ecological problems that he considers the most probable reason for collapse of civilization. Dutifully regurgitating typical anti-capitalist ideas of market failure with, also typical, somewhat positive reference to market, author states that the salvation from capitalist horrors came from the new religion of humanism.
7 The Humanist Revolution
This chapter retells history of humanism from its beginning to the present time. The humanism itself defined as religious believes in humanity as substitute of god(s) with humanity giving meaning to the universe. Author provide an interesting formula for 3 different approaches to understand the world:
Religion: Knowledge = Scriptures x Logic
Science: Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics
Humanism: Knowledge = Experiences x Sensitivity
This discussion includes quite interesting look at the representation of War in Art and how it changed with the development of humanism from stressing role of the leader to stressing role of individual member of masses. Author also looks at different branches of humanism: Nationalism, Evolutionary humanism, Socialism, and Democracy. All these branches in one combination or another were at war with each other for the most part of XX century, but now, at the beginning of XXI century the winner is combination of human rights, democracy, and free market. Author discusses current resurgence of Islam and religious war initiated by its adherents, but he does not consider it as a serious challenge. Much more challenging is combination of technological developments such as Automation, Artificial Intelligence, genetic Engineering, and others that taken together could lead not only to dramatic changes in the society, but to complete redesign of humans into something new and, probably not even comprehensible to us, superior entities.
PART Ill Homo sapiens Loses Control
8 The Time Bomb in the Laboratory
This starts with discussion of the philosophical problem of free will and all kinds of manipulation and conditioning of people by training and other forms of external influence. Then comes currently quite popular discussion of non-existence of individuality as something integral to the person. Finally author goes into a brief discussion of the meaning of the live ending with conclusion that current duality of popular scientific philosophers, who accept contradictory notions of self-direction and absence of self at the same time, being not sustainable.
9 The Great Decoupling
This is about human losing their value and that’s how author presents this idea:
The confirmation comes from discussion of robots substituting humans as producers, AI substituting humans in all kinds of intellectual efforts from Jeopardy to Chess and so on. Here is author’s summation of the logic of these examples:
Therefore the direction of humanity seems to be growing division into 2 classes: useless masses and small superhuman maybe even immortal elite.
10 The Ocean of Consciousness
This is about nature of consciousness and probability of emergence of new techno – humanistic religion pursuing merge of all consciousness into one entity inclusive of all possible mental states as presented in diagram:
11 The Data Religion
This is a description of one such techno-humanistic religion: Dataism. This is worshipping of Data with notion that the universe is just as collection of data flows. At the end author identifies 3 processes that overshadow all other problems and developments:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I also believe that the world is going to change quite dramatically due to completely new environment created by AI and many other technologies that will make humans redundant for all kind of economic activities. However I would make a very important point that there is only one entity that will always define objective of all these activities and it is a human being. All kinds of activities occur only because humans need product of these activities whether this product is food or poem and this directional role is going to remain human domain. It is quite conceivable that in a few years we can create computer program that will perceive itself as person and will act correspondingly. It does not matter; it will still be human even if it would not be based on DNA and organic material. It could have no other existence than a bunch of electronic impulses, but it will have memories, experiences, self-recognition, and all other quality that makes us human. However I doubt that it would go beyond experimental because there is no point of replicating humanity in other forms. As to body and mind modifications in order to become superhuman, it also does not make a lot of sense because with all external capabilities of technology who needs super muscles if one can use car or plain or heavy moving equipment? Similarly who needs super brain if Internet is always available and computer could calculate or analyze whatever needs to be calculated or analyzed. In short I think we humans will remain the way we are, may be just changing body at will and ridding off illnesses, death, and other unpleasantness of life. On other hand, who can prove that we now are not just impulses in some kind of computer, modeling human personalities for some second grade kid doing his homework?
20170604 – Forged through Fire
The main idea here is that contemporary democracies are a product of wars that required mass mobilization of people and resources. The democracy is necessary because such mobilization is not possible without active support of population, which in turn requires political inclusiveness. From this point of view future and viability of democracy is not clear because new technology made mass armies obsolete, while typical democratic way of doing things is inefficient and is also often ineffective in political decision-making. It reasonably could be considered an impediment to increase in prosperity, so societies can conceivably decide to rid of it. On other hand democracy could be in and of itself a valuable luxury good that the vast majority of population will prefer to retain.
The introduction is about the main theme if this book: war, society mobilization it requires, and how different forms of society could provide for this mobilization. It is built around two graphs representing types of societies under review and military effectiveness of these types:
Chapter I The Twenty-First-Century Wars Without Citizen Armies
This is about contemporary military circumstances of democracies. The main characteristic is overwhelming superiority of conventional military power of democracies over any potential enemies removing need for mass mobilization and consequently leading to limitation of wars to small wars of choice like Iraq or Afghanistan with very limited and mainly political impact on society. Such wars have practically no consequences for majority of population great many people in which do not even know or care that country is actually at war.
PART I: FROM ANTIQUITY TO MEDIEVAL TIMES
Chapter 2 War and Democracy in Classical Athens
This is an interesting approach to ancient Greek democracies. It looks at military necessity of mobilizing high proportion of population to fight competing polities. Author is trying to identify circumstances when need for high level of mobilization lead to high demand for participation in decision making and consequently some form of democracy and when it leads to increase in central control and repression. Specifically author looks at Athenian democracy, its successes and accesses. Interestingly enough it looks at different level of democratization need for Army and Navy using Salamis and Marathon as test cases. The navy dependent heavily on poor who would participate by rowing triremes that did not require any investment on their part, while more affluent middle class citizens could buy equipment necessary for hoplite soldier of army. The democratic form of polity in Athens seems to be more effective military organization than competing oligarchies and monarchies.
Chapter 3 The Glory That Was Rome
The story of Rome had at first highly admirable period of republic with multiple checks and balances preventing ambitious aristocrats from taking full power. This was characterized by huge military success. However this success led to development of professional military class that eventually turned it into empire. The period of empire was based on alliance: Emperor and low-level masses often politically countered Aristocracy, while productive abilities of society heavily depended on slaves regularly produced by military class affiliated with Emperor. The success of farmer-soldier of Roman republic was substituted with top down control combined with bottom up loyalty, which eventually led to dissolution of empire into multitude of feudal polities constantly forming and dissolving new alliances and fighting each other.
Chapter 4 A Millennium of Landed Aristocracy
This is pretty much review of power plays in feudal societies, mainly in Europe, but also in China and Japan. Generally it came down to constant fight between different levels of landed aristocracies: barons and kings. One of the points here is that this political organization made peasants into permanent latent thread to existing order, depriving feudal polities of advantages of potential military mobilization against external enemies. Author also provides a very brief look at China and Japan of this period.
PART II: MONARCHY AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS
Chapter 5 The Emergence of Monarchy in France and Spain
This is about development of monarchy as more military effective form of polity organization. The competition between landed aristocrats was minimized by the use of overwhelming power of monarch who was able to raise and maintain more powerful force than any one or any group of aristocrats with strong ideological multiplier of masses believing in sacred nature of monarchy.
Chapter 6 War and Representation in England, the Netherlands, and Sweden
This chapter returns to the English history and shows how feudal fight of aristocrats led to Magna Carta: one of examples of attempt for some legal settlement to diminish cost of these fights. It shows how somewhat different historic development when nobody had upper hand brought much more participatory polity there than in France and Spain where kings were successful in acquiring overwhelming power. Even more participatory polities were developed in Netherlands and Sweden where small size of population and lack of English protection of being an island demanded much higher level of mobilization and therefore political participation.
Chapter 7 Italian Republics
This is another case of development of participatory polities where small Italian polities constantly competed between themselves economically and military. It is interesting that logistically challenging Venice with its lagoons providing some measure of protection to aristocrats from unifying despotic power, which was on display in other parts of Italy like Milan or Florence.
Chapter 8 Eastern Lands in Early Modern Europe
This is review of development in Eastern Europe were Holy Roman Empire devolved into multitude of small Duchies and Kingdoms based on culturally and linguistically diverse population. Somewhat different was development in Germany where Hanseatic League combined multiple free cities and provided military protection. However it was eventually dissolved by increasing power of autocracies forming all over the Europe.
Chapter 9 Mountain Republics
Another distinctive case is represented by Swiss confederation, which mountainous topography presented huge challenge to anybody who would aspire for conquest. The topography for all practical purposes removed military advantage in numbers and even technology, dramatically increasing military value of individuals. In such conditions any military viable polity should be significantly more participatory, which was exactly what happened with Swiss Confederation.
PART III: WAR AND DEMOCRACY
Chapter 10 The Nineteenth-Century Pivot
This is about XIX century change in the way countries conducted their wars. Starting with mass mobilization that allowed France not only to withstand massive attack of monarchical Europe, but also practically conquer the continent, clearly demonstrated that massive people’s army is by far superior to relatively small forces of armies of serves led by non-meritocratic aristocrats. Author reviews wars of France, Prussia, and Russia demonstrating that each time it led to increase in expansion of the franchise in society, even if it was in Russian case just cancellation of serfdom.
Chapter 11 Twentieth-Century Wars of Full Mobilization
This is continuation of review of the link between mass mobilization and democratization of society moving into XX century with its wars. It looks at countries participating in WWI, WWII, and Korean War demonstrating their impact on societies.
Chapter 12 War, Racism, and Civil Rights in the United States.
The final chapter looks specifically at USA and how its mass mobilization for WWII caused increase in self-respect of black population combined with increase of their respect by general population, which started include blacks into the group of us-Americans leading to initiation and eventually mass support for civil rights movement.
The conclusion not only summarizes ideas of this book, but also provides a number of useful graphical representations:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I pretty much agree with general idea of this book that democracy is product of evolution of military competition between societies and was developed when such competition required mass mobilization of population impossible without providing higher level of stakes in the society for practically everybody. However historically the highest known level of society mobilization was achieved not by democracies, but by totalitarian regimes of National Socialists in Germany and Communists in Soviet Union during WWII. Author does not discusses this period of history, consequently missing the point of ideological mobilization when masses in society while deprived of any meaningful political rights, perceive themselves as part of collective entity survival and prosperity of which is inseparable from their own survival and prosperity.
I think I am more optimistic about future of democracy, mainly because I believe that the stakes of individuals in society will continue to grow. The reason is that with huge development of technology the existential dangers to society could come not only from external competition from hostile society, but also internally from individuals within society who for some reason do not accept its rules and arrangements. Consequently every individual member of society will have serious concern and need not only participate in formulating and enforcing these rules and arrangements, but also assure that everybody else has opportunity to do it. I think it would lead to increase in demands for democracy going way beyond the representative democracy of XX century to the kind of society that is based much more on market with its inherent win-win type of game, than society on political win-loose type of game.
20170527 – Why They Do It
The main idea here is to investigate cases of high profile white color crime by using availability and even eagerness of people like Bernie Madoff to provide information and interact with author. The result of investigation is a nice presentation of causes of actions that are seemingly irrational such as selling business information for insignificant amount and loosing as result multimillion careers. The book also reviews history of creation of white color crime and how the very notion of insider trading, business report falsification, and misleading statements changed over the last century, becoming significant factor in business behavior.
Prologue Managing in the Gray
The prologue is about author establishing contact with a few famous white collar criminals and surprising interest they expressed in maintaining such contact and opening up about their life and causes of their actions that would normally be incomprehensible for outsiders. Probably the most intriguing part here would be an attempt to answer question why individuals in possession of multimillion income and wealth risk everything and get caught committing illegal actions that would bring them very small amount of money comparatively with their wealth, if any money at all.
PART I: THE STRUGGLE TO CRIMINALIZE
- “Not… bucket-shop operators, dead-beats, and fly-by-night swindlers” Pillars of the Community
It starts with the story of KPMG senior manager who was convicted for insider trading: providing tips to his friend in exchange for purely symbolic amounts of money in return. Then author retells story of the first crusader against white color crime Edwin Sutherland who started this crusade in 1939 when accounting tricks, insider trading, and such just were not considered a crime. Moreover company typically preferred to cover up even accounting fraud, considering publicity more damaging than fraud itself. Eventually this crusade led to success when in 1960s white color crime began to be treated as crime.
2 “Guys… don’t drop out of windows for no reason” Creating the White-Collar Criminal
This is about change in attitude to white color criminals in USA where by late 1980s it become cause of massive investigations and publicity, especially use of RICO against financial crimes pioneered by Giuliani in New York. This change in attitude also started expanding throughout the world, significantly changing business practice.
PART II: NATURE OR NURTURE? REASONING OR INTUITION?
3 “Inherently inferior organisms” Bad People Making Bad Decisions
This chapter looks at criminality and historical development of its understanding starting with Lombroso and going all the way to contemporary research of brain actions and free will. The summary is: people are complex creatures and could not be divided into good and bad by their biological endowment.
4 “I thought it was all going to pass” A Press Release with Consequences
This chapter used to demonstrate that white color crimes are often defined by purely legalistic environment when individuals not doing anything that would even remotely could be called bad by normal morality get nevertheless into serious legal trouble. This demonstration is done by using example of pharmaceutical company executive who made very cautious announcement about results of drug testing, which lawyers successfully turned into crime.
5 “If you don’t take it then you will regret it forever” The Triumph of Reason
This refers to XIX century thinker Gabriel Tarde who promoted idea that criminality is not biological, but rather social phenomenon and that people learn it from each other. Here is a nice diagram for morality by profession and development:
The interesting thing here is that moral philosophers are highly moral theoretically, but in real live circumstances their behavior not that different from others. Eventually human behavior seems to be defined by cost benefits analysis, but there is a catch. Either costs or benefits are not necessarily monetary or even quantifiable, reside in the head of human who is making the decision, and not observable externally, consequently making behavior unpredictable.
6 “I never once thought of the costs versus rewards” Intuitive Decisions
This is about relations between complex machinery of human brain and decision-making, which often happens at subconscious level with conscious reasoning used just to justify it.
7 “I never felt that I was doing anything wrong” Overlooking Harm
This is about famous psychological experiments with choice of who would get hurt: 5 people vs. one with train accident, fat person on the rail and such. The important point here is that harmful decision-making is a lot easier in abstract rather than in reality, with manual effort to implement it making it even more difficult.
8 “If there was something wrong with this transaction, wouldn’t people have told me?” The Difficulty of Being Good
This is about sometimes occurring conflict between norms and laws. In such cases business executive can easily get in conflict with law by acting in usual way according to accepted norms without even thinking about it. Author uses a few cases including McKinsey’s Kumar, Tico’s Kozlovski, and DVI’s Garfinkel to illustrate it.
PART III: THE BUSINESS OF MALFEASANCE
This part starts with reference to LIBOR fixing as an example of business as usual leading to criminal activity. In this case culprit feel no guilt and do not even try to hide activities they consider just normal business activities.
9 “You can’t make the argument that the public was harmed by anything I did” Misleading Disclosure
This provides examples of misleading disclosure such as MBS’ Litvak misleading investor about price of shares, Obama’s about “keep your doctor and insurance”, and Roosevelt while driving country into WWII. The last two had kind of justification for their actions being for the bigger good, obviously in their own opinion. This staff works for politicians, however it did not work in case of Bilzerian, who conducted acquisition of company without fully disclosing his ownership level. For him similar justification and being absolutely convinced that it would not hurt anyone, did not work so he went to prison.
10 “Unfortunately, the world is not black and white” Financial Reporting Fraud
This is about the gray area of financial reporting in which good accountant can easily shift data about company performance one way or another. Author provides a charming diagram showing how small losses are shifted within statements so company image with investors would not suffer:
11 “You go from just being on top of the world” Insider Trading
This is about insider trading which is only recently become a crime. Author provides example of how it practically become a minefield for business when businessmen could be blown up without really being guilty in anything.
12 “I thought we were freakin’ geniuses” Deceptive Financial Structures
This is more sophisticated case of intentional building of super complex financial structure in Enron. This structure allowed such distortion of financial statements that it became impossible to identify real financial position of the company, feeding illusion of it being profitable, when in reality it was drawing in debt.
13 “You couldn’t stop because you would wreck everything” The Ponzi scheme
This is about evergreen Ponzi schema with two examples illustrating it. One example of Marc Dreier who was clearly running a Ponzi all the way until he was caught trying to present himself as another person in order to obtain more money. Another one is of Sanford bank, where it was not clear if it really was Ponzi schema or it was legitimate business that was ruined by government interference.
14 “When I look back, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have said no” Bernie Madoff
The final chapter is about the king of all Ponzi schemas – Bernard Madoff. This is a very interesting case when initially legitimate business had stumbled and its owner could not accept failure, even if it would have very limited if any impact on his wealth, so he moved business to Ponzi, initially hoping it will recover in a cycle or two, but then just continuing deeper into criminality because of inability to face reality.
Conclusion Toward Greater Humility
The conclusion is about seeking better ways to avoid pitfalls of white color crime. One of them is improvement of business ethics that in contemporary conditions should substitute old time control of community that would make any misconduct widely known, preventing future business. Another one is to seek disagreement and pay attention to dissonance. Finally author stresses importance of compliance and prevention of feeling of invincibility that often develops in people in high places.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting account of while color crime development that actually occurred after WWII. There are two very different groups of criminals here: one is people involved in real crime when they intentionally lied to investors, created Ponzi schemas, and such and another one: people who become criminals due to complex rules violation. Author seems to be making no real differentiation between these two groups, but I think such differentiation is critical. The first group should be prevented from cheating, while the second one should not be subjected to complex rules in the first place.
Actually I do not believe that government should use its power of violence to establish rules. The rules should be established by business people who are participate in the market. This way the rules will be meaningful and minimalistic.
The government should use its power of violence to collect and distribute information to market participants. Otherwise the existence of some supreme rules maker that does not depend on business success or failure gives bureaucrats huge amount of power without any responsibility and encourages them to suppress business activities or at least chill them. The opportunities for bribes consequently become very high and I am sure they are exploited in direct proportion with the power of bureaucracy. Good example is the case of Madoff and any other Ponzi scheme. If instead of making this illegal, the government violence should be used to obtain complete record of transactions and present this record in the digestible form for everybody, which would make the problem immediately obvious. Actually the move away from transparency of statements to transactional transparency would make white color crimes all but impossible.
20170520 – Weapon Wizards
This book is about very unusual circumstances of Israel – the small country under continuing thread of annihilation with population culturally primed for educational and intellectual achievement. The main idea of this book is to review history of Israeli achievements in military technology and how it was done.
The introduction is mainly about Israel culture of survival among multiple hostile nations and populations that used any methods conceivable from massive conventional attacks to individual stabbings to annihilate Israel and its Jewish population. Simply put without superior weapons and tactical superiority Israel would cease to exist and its population would become victims of the new Holocaust.
- Beginning in a Bunker
This is history of the birth of Jewish military industry in the British controlled Palestine. It starts with the story of underground munitions factory, then moves to the creation of air force and ends with the review of Israeli – French cooperation in 1950s that allowed Israel to be reasonably well armed. The French help ended in 1967 when De Gaulle imposed arms embargo. Luckily for the Jews the new sponsor – USA come to help and up until presidency of Obama remained reliable supporter.
2: Creative Drones
This is story of creation of military drones and of Israel becoming by far the most effective producer and seller of this form of armament. It is a good example of success of enterprising individuals in fight against bureaucratic state. Obviously this advantage would not stay forever and everybody now has and uses drones including terrorists.
3: Adaptive Armor
This chapter is about another important weapon that Israel seems to be good at producing – tanks. Israeli constantly in contest with the latest anti-tank weapons that Soviets and now Russians supply to Hamas and Hezbollah. This contest produced multiple improvements in tanks design with very important new addition – active protection against projectiles.
4: Chutzpadik Satellites
This is about another technology that would normally be out of reach for small country – satellites. Driven by unreliability of support from even the friendliest country – USA, Israel managed to develop technology and by the end of 1980s become one of a few countries with military abilities in the near orbit space.
5: Rocket Science
This header is a bit misleading because it is not that much about rockets as about stopping them from coming. The rockets here are Hamas and Hezbollah rockets trying to hit Israelis. Eventually Israelis responded with anti missile system Iron Dome, which main achievement is automated tracking system capable identify incoming projectile, its direction, level of threat it posses, and shoot it down if and only if it is the real threat.
6: Intelligent Machines
This is about Israel incessant fighting with terrorist organizations and the strategy of choice that Israel uses – targeting killing of leaders, while minimizing damage to everybody else. A good chunk of the chapter describes how Israeli military evolved tactics to scare off voluntary human shields by using first low charge ammunition before actually bombing military facilities protected by civilians.
7: Cyber Viruses
This is about Israel proficiency in cyber warfare demonstrated by Stuxnet virus that slowed down Iranian nuclear program. Another example was bombing well-defended Syrian reactor that required highly coordinated and eventually effective actions of intelligence, cyber measures, commandos, and air force.
8: Diplomatic Arms
The final chapter is about Israel use of its proficiency in weaponry for economic and diplomatic purposes. It looks in details at one such case: attempted sale of Israeli military system to China and how it was stopped when USA expressed its opposition.
Conclusion: Armageddon and the Future of Weapons
The conclusion of this book is quite obvious: Israel will continue attempts to stay at the top of military technology because it is constantly under attack and any negligence leads to immediate punishment in form of successful operation by enemy. The latest example during recent Gaza war is unexpectedly massive and somewhat effective use of tunnels by Hamas. Authors end this book by stressing the high value of education embedded in Israel culture, which gives them hope that Israel will continue to be successful in the future.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I am not that optimistic about future of Israel if it will not change it approach in very significant way. Israel is good at technology and the next generation of warfare with massive use of autonomous and semi-autonomous system is already here in form of Iron Dome and some other systems that are under development in Israel, so at this point Israel probably not in such a bad shape. However strife to annihilate Israel and its people is continuing and if your enemy can lose infinite number of times and easily recover with help provided by the “world community”, but your loosing once means end of game, then someday this “one in a thousands” case will occur and you cease to exists. The only way out for Israel is to win the war once and for all so it’s Muslim neighbors fully accept reality of Israel existence and stop trying. The only way it could happen is if they really and truly believe that the stakes for them are the same – loosing means annihilation. I afraid that we’ll see the end of game coming in the next 20-30 years when Iran and maybe even some non-state terrorist organization acquire the nuclear weapons and try to use them.
20170513 White Trash
The main idea of this book is to reject notion that America is the land of equal opportunity where all men are created equal and if they fail to achieve prosperity it is their own fault. In order to achieve this author provides quite detailed history of American white poor and contemptuous cultural attitudes to them from elite and middle class. Another key point here that this is not going away and so called “white trash” will stay with us for a very long time in the future.
Introduction: Fables We Forget by
Here author mainly discusses fables of “all men are created equal” and/or “America the best hope”. She stresses that poverty and underclass are always were part of America, from the very beginning of colonization and it never really went away even in the “golden” age of 1950s. She points out that America always was and still is not only “land of opportunity”, but also a damping ground for people not wanted in other places. This book is mainly about them.
Part I: To Begin the World Anew
Chapter ONE: Taking Out the Trash: Waste People in the New World
This is about original shipping of waste people to America. It starts with reference to Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) who wrote about America as mainly wasteland that presents plentiful opportunity to ship there waste people who may or may not improve it under semi military regime and eventually could provide a pool of soldiers and sailors who are not connected to anything. This vision was tried at Jamestown, but not very successfully. Mayflower puritans did a bit better by establishing something like theologically controlled society. In all cases the new colonies were pretty class-conscious society with strict enforcement of who is who.
Chapter TWO: John Locke’s Lubberland: The Settlements of Carolina and Georgia
This chapter moves to ideological underpinning of the new America obtained by colonists from John Locke in XVII century. She discusses his participation in creation of illiberal Fundamental Constitution for Carolina colonies that indorsed slavery and rigid hierarchical society. Practically it was beginning of long war against poor settlers and squatters. Author allocates quite a bit of space to Dismal Swamp that came to symbolize America as a wasteland that requires spending lives of multitude of poor people to achieve at least some improvement. Somewhat different was development in Georgia, which practically started with James Oglethorpe’s colony established in 1732. Here slavery was initially rejected and classic agrarian society consisting of citizen – farmers – soldiers was attempted. However even here unequal classes were quickly established. About 10 years after the first governor left, the slavery was allowed and Georgia moved in the same direction as other parts of the South.
Chapter THREE: Benjamin Franklin’s American Breed: The Demographics of Mediocrity
This starts with Ben Franklin, more specifically with his approach to demographic of poor who produced children regardless of means to support them. However in country like America at the time with unlimited pool of land additional children were the same as additional wealth for the society providing they are productive. In Franklin’s view the new Americans would eventually substitute slaves and indentured servants. However it did not work this way and author goes into discussion of why no self-made man is really self-made and nobody could be productive without at least some human capital transferred via family and upbringing. Author also brings in views of Thomas Paine who, while being clearly class conscious, nevertheless believed that idleness could be eliminated by independence, which together with access to natural resources would dilute class differences between Americans.
Chapter FOUR: Thomas Jefferson’s Rubbish: A Curious Topography of Class
This is continuation of review of founding fathers approach; this time it is Thomas Jefferson. His ideas of agrarian society of farmers without class distinction however required proper topography good for agriculture so places like Dismal Swamp could not help but produce poor, lazy, and good for nothing people. He still left some space for classes with at least some aristocracy at the top, albeit not heritable, but rather meritocratic.
Chapter FIVE: Andrew Jackson’s Cracker Country: The Squatter as Common Man
The final chapter of this part is about Andrew Jackson and his fight against East coast Elite, which become quite well settled and powerful during the first 50 years after revolution. Big part of it was not only fight against the Bank, but also squatters against landlords and westerners against East based government. Since squatters had no titles to the land and moved from place to place under pressure they become the lowest class of the period associated with multiple evil characteristics. Jackson was not really their supporter, but he was expansionist and new land inevitably provided opportunities for these people. Eventually by 1840 despised squatter turned into freedom loving westerner supported by all sides of political divide.
Part II: Degeneration of the American Breed
Chapter SIX: Pedigree and Poor White Trash: Bad Blood, Half-Breeds, and Clay-Eaters
This chapter moves to the next period when the main issue was slavery, but secondary and also very important was issue of poor southern whites spoiled by negative attitude to labor. At this point the issue of biology as defining factor of behavior started to become important and blood, especially mixed blood begin define attitude to people. It was at this point when notion of “white trash” was created.
Chapter SEVEN: Cowards, Poltroons, and Mudsills: Civil War as Class Warfare
This is somewhat unusual look at the Civil war as class struggle. The classes in it were Southern aristocratic land and slaveholders with support of southern whites on one hand and Northern business elite with support of farmers and other middle class members who were threatened by emerging aristocracy.
Chapter EIGHT: Thoroughbreds and Scalawags: Bloodlines and Bastard Stock in the Age of Eugenics
This chapter is about Darwinian approach to poor and Eugenics movement that was based on practically agricultural approach to humans as just another group of domestic animals that could and should be bred to improve quality of stock. It discusses Du Bois who was trying to advance black development pointing out at the same time degeneracy of poor Southern whites and danger of rednecks. The author looks here on post Civil war South population including Northern whites that moved south and tried to benefit from reconstruction (skalawags). In addition to Du Bois author looks at Teddy Roosevelt, another enemy of rednecks. Teddy was eugenicist and supported political measures consistent with better breeding ideas. Author also covers multiple violation of human rights caused by supporters of these ideas.
Chapter NINE: Forgotten Men and Poor Folk: Downward Mobility and the Great Depression
This covers great depression, which dramatically increased share of poor in population at the expense of part of middle class that failed to survive economically. Probably this sudden increase in number and quality of poor population is not that bad explanation of serious movement of political power to support their needs. After all American democracy allows people smart enough to vote and numerous enough to win majority put into power somebody who would help them, even if it would happen at the expense of others, which what New Deal was all about.
Chapter TEN: The Cult of the Country Boy: Elvis Presley, Andy Griffith, and LBJ’s Great Society.
The post WWII history reviewed here brought in the new phenomenon – popularity of poor southern white culture and its representatives like Elvis and Andy. It was greatly enhanced in TV culture by representing it in relatively positive, albeit slightly intellectually challenged, view, while pushed down and suppressed in its racist expressions. It also touched on Johnson’s great society that was aiming eliminate poverty by giving out handouts, rather than eliminating poor by breeding them out of population.
Part III: The White Trash Makeover
Chapter ELEVEN: Redneck Roots: Deliverance, Billy Beer, and Tammy Faye
The next step in history of American poor whites are 70s and 80s when they were on the roll first surviving stagflation and their own Jimmy Carter, then nearly taking over the whole country with evangelical revival and extension of pop-culture.
Chapter TWELVE: Outing Rednecks: Slumming, Slick Willie, and Sarah Palin
The final chapter brings us to 90s and 2000s when first slick Willie Clinton from democrats and then Sara Palin from republicans seemingly brought the lower classes representatives to the top of political power or close to it. It was obviously false with Clintons who with their top schools lawyering were more pretending then really belonging to this class, but the fact they did it demonstrated growing political power of the bottom and correspondingly decrease in power of elite.
EFILDGUE: America’s Strange Breed: The Long Legacy of White Trash
This is pretty much restatement of the main thesis that America is not a classless society, never been and probably will never be one. In author’s opinion America’s classes, as in any other country, are defined by inheritance, wealth, and educations. These are not easily penetrated barriers and lots of people keep staying in their white trash status for many generations in the past without any indication that they will do better in the future.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find this history of “white trash” quite interesting and educational. However I do not think that it proves that traditional idea of America is wrong. If something it actually demonstrates it is that America is the land of opportunity, albeit it is not easy to convert this opportunity into success. Moreover the history demonstrates quite convincingly that American system of imperfect democracy and generally wide freedoms allows peaceful revolutions via elections when people at the bottom find that opportunities are not as good as they should be. It happened a few time in American history from Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump and even if result is not always what is expected, it still corrects American system in such way that it provides more opportunity than it was the case before revolt.
20170506 – Dereliction of Duty
The main idea of this book is to use detailed chronicle of events from the beginning of Kennedy administration until July 1965, the beginning of mass escalation by Johnson administration to demonstrate how inter-service rivalry, bureaucratic maneuvering, and plain political cowardice led to failure of military leaders to provide clear advice to political leaders against untenable semi-war intentionally designed not to win. It also demonstrates how typical bureaucratic career enhancing games taken to the level of the Country’s military leadership and involving military engagements could sacrifice lives of many thousands of people for some additional star or bureaucratic advancement for individuals at the top.
1 The New Frontiersmen and the Old Guard: 1961-October 1962
The story starts with the new president – Kennedy coming to power and bringing with him the big philosophical change in American politics. It coincided with establishment of Max Taylor, who was proponent of the new approach to military, as Army Chief of Staff. The political consequence was the change from Eisenhower’s doctrine of mass retaliation to Kennedy’s doctrine of flexible response. Eisenhower believed that competition between communism and capitalism will be resolved in economic and society building competition so military aspect should be limited to prevention of big war by the making it impossible to start small wars and then escalate them. This doctrine made it impossible to achieve expansion of communism by revolutionary methods of internal subversion. The mass retaliation doctrine required a small high tech and massively nuclear force with supplement of quick and effective support of counter-revolutionary forces wherever communists get real opportunity for break through. This doctrine stopped Korean War, kept in check multiple countries of the third world, preventing communist take over, even at the expense of respect for national sovereignty of these countries, and successfully prevented any serious wars for the 8 years.
Kennedy’s doctrine however was based on complex ideas of theory of games, flexible retaliation, proportional escalation, and formal adherence to international norms with massive undercover operations outside of these norms that would somehow remain secret. This doctrine required massive army since proportionality of response and prevention of use of nuclear weapons become more important than winning. This attitude put Kennedy on collision course with military leaders who came out of WWII with notion of winning, which he successfully overcame by using bureaucratic maneuvering to implant his supporters like Taylor in leading military positions and non-military wiz kids like Robert McNamara in leading civilian positions over military.
2 Havana and Hanoi: October 1962-November 1963
The first consequence of new Kennedy doctrine was American failure in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs when Kennedy’s ineptitude and his intention to hide American support to anti-Castro forces at any cost led to defeat of these forces and consequent conversion of Cuba into communist dictatorship and Soviet military base. The following missile crisis forced Kennedy to go to the brink of nuclear war and eventually delivered huge victory to the USSR that was successfully masked by American pro-Kennedy media as Soviet defeat. However indecisive Kennedy was in fight against communist Castro, he compensated by decisive intervention in Vietnam against Diem, who until then successfully contained communist forces by using not very nice methods of suppression. Kennedy administration organized the coup that killed Diem and by doing so caused disarray in anti-communist forces, opening door for massive intervention of North Vietnam, Kennedy administration leaders were ready to meet with sophisticated strategy of game theory.
3 New War, New Leader: November 1963-January 1964
After Kennedy’s assassination new president Johnson found himself between two opposite pressures. On one hand Democratic Party and left wing demanded limited military response initially unconsciously and later fully consciously supportive to “progressive” communist movement, while on other hand republicans and right wing movement stand by ready to exert massive political punishment for loosing Indo-China similar to Truman’s suffering for loosing China. The fear to win as much as fear to loose pretty much defined his policy of receding any initiative to communist forces and using retaliation by proportional escalation to contain their success.
4 Graduated Pressure: January-March 1964
This is the story of the initial attempt to gradually increase pressure not necessarily to stop communist forces, but rather to find acceptable accommodation with them. It was base on the strange reading of Caribbean missile crises result as a demonstration of success for gradual approach, rather than success of direct threat of mass retaliation that in reality it was.
5 From Distrust to Deceit: March-July 1964
This chapter is a nice demonstration of elite modus of operandi when their action based on sophisticating reasoning and mathematical approach deliver completely different result than elite expects: they just lie and distort result to fit to their narrative. In this case the main actor was McNamara who successfully interfered in communication between president and military leaders, which eventually made clear choice to give priorities to their career rather than to risk it by giving honest professional advice and resigning if their advice is not accepted.
6 Across the Threshold: August 1964
Meanwhile the Joint Chiefs personal was changed with pushing out WWII fighting generals like LeMay and substituting them with bureaucratic generals like Wheeler. All this added to election complain where Johnson ran as peacemaker, successfully trying to present his opponent as warmonger. Interestingly enough it was in conjunction with attempt to demonstrate strength by providing limited military operations in Vietnam, when Gulf of Tonkin events of Vietnamese attacks on American destroyers were used to initiate congressional resolution, demonstrating Johnson’s strength, and repudiating Goldwater’s accusations.
7 Contriving Consensus: August – September 1964.
Direct strikes against North Vietnam resulting from Tonkin resolution did demonstrate Johnson strength, but did not change overall strategy of administration directed not at winning the war, but at convincing enemy to settle. This chapter details personalities, their history, and attitudes that led to continuing clashes between military and political leadership with military consistently giving way so the strategy of limited response with automatic transfer of initiative to the enemy remained operational.
8 Prophecies Rejected and the Path of Least Resistance September-November 1964
This is about actual predictions of supporters of limited semi war such as Rostow and attempts to analyze them using traditional methodology of war game. Such game SIGMA 11-64 was formally conducted and concluded that such limited engagement will not achieve objective of changing enemy behavior, but it would erode support for war in USA. The prediction was correct, but policy makers just ignored these results. The chapter also discusses some guerilla attacks on American troops and retaliation that had to be strictly calibrated to be proportional.
9 Planning for Failure: November-December 1964
This is about bureaucratic process of long term planning that administration conducted pretty much excluding military leadership. The special commission was created for this purpose, which produced report mainly reaffirming objective to save South Vietnam, but also including planning of how to spin events in the case of defeat. Overall all activities were conducted with accommodation to political requirements so prevent public from understanding that country is actually at war.
10 A Fork in the Road: December 1964-February 1965
At this point Johnson visited Vietnam where he tried to suppress internal political infighting between various groups in Vietnam leadership threatening withdrawal of American support. After concluding that South Vietnam would not stand on its own even with American air and logistics support, Johnson started introducing ground troops despite his preferred objective to established the great society programs.
11 The Foot in the Door: February-March 1965
At this point the war was turned into American war. However even after committing ground troops and starting to bomb Northern territory civil politicians retained detailed control over military operations, practically preventing military from winning the war. Meanwhile political situation within South remained fluid with internal struggles and even coup attempt.
12 A Quicksand of Lies March-April 1965
This chapter presents a nice catalogue of spin and outright deception that Johnson administration used to hide scale and nature of American growing involvement in the war. The conclusion here is that taken this entire together one had to accept failure of the bureaucracy to prevent its top leader – president from starting real war without consideration of its costs and consequences.
13 The Coach and His Team April-June 1965
This is about the process of Johnson’s continuation of dual efforts to increase military involvement and hide its scale from the public. It was policy doomed to be a failure in such open society as USA.
14 War without Direction: April-June 1965.
This is about one of the main causes of failure: deep involvement of the top leadership into operational issues that inevitably led to neglect of strategic issues that in turn led to long periods of wondering without clear detailed and achievable objectives that made it practically impossible to win war against determined enemy with clear knowledge of his objectives and readiness to pay any price to achieve them.
15 Five Silent Men duty: July 1965
The final chapter is about failure of military Chiefs to stand up to political leadership for what they believed is a case in Vietnam War. Obviously for these people their own career was more important than anything else for all practical purposes.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is very a detailed and in depth analysis of American involvement in Vietnam from the point of view of interactions between senior political and military leaders who failed at all meaningful levels from strategic to operational to tactical. I think this raises the very important question of war and peace. I guess the founders were wise when they wrote into constitution that power to declare war belongs to Congress as the most populous and close to the people body, guaranteeing by this that it would not be done easily or for non-critical reasons. Unfortunately starting with Truman this constitutional wisdom was disposed off, leading to 70 years of failure. We lucky that these wars were relatively small and insignificant due to nuclear weapons and American technological superiority, but still costs of these wars, not only in human lives and dollars, but also in overall moral and cohesiveness of society was way too high. If such approach will continue in the future it will eventually get to the very dangerous levels.
20170429 – Disinformation
The main idea of this book is to use Author’s deep knowledge and decades of experience as chief of Romanian Intelligence to explain meaning and methods of highly successful ideological and psychological operations conducted by Soviet block to undermine democratic polities in Europe and USA. The key method used in this operations author defines as Disinformation – careful selection of combination of real fact, semi-truths, and outright lies to implant into minds of people ideas and attitudes instrumental in achieving whatever objectives elite of Soviet block was considered beneficial for them. Author also stresses that methods and tools of disinformation are not just a subject of history, but rather living and very active part of leftist movement that not only survived the fall of the Soviet block, but is currently thriving, making great strides in their attempts to destroy free democratic system and establish once again totalitarian system in which “socialist” elite would control all areas of human live.
PART I: GLORIFYING THE GUILTY, FRAMING THE INNOCENT
Prelude: 1 Drafted into the Securitate; 2 The True Meaning of Glasnost
- Defecting to America; 4. The Black Art of Disinformation; 5 The “Beauty” of Disinformation; 6 Kremlin Framings; 7 Stalin’s Encounter with Catholicism
- The Kremlin’s New Enemy.
The first part is pretty much author’s history before and after joining Securitate. Obviously he tries to separate himself, as individual, from evils of the organization that he’d been working for, but it does not sound realistic. Somewhat more realistic is his foray into Glasnost and attempt to present it as intentionally designed ideological weapon created in Andropov’s KGB and tested using “independence” of Ceausescu regime in order to obtain economic and technological help from the West in exchange for nothing but rhetoric. He uses it as an important example of disinformation. This part also includes more or less detailed description of technics for framing.
PART II: ANATOMY OF A DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN: THE CREATION OF “HITLER’S POPE”
- The Failed Birth of “Hitler’s Pope”; 10 Cardinal Stepinac; 11 Cardinal Mindszenty; 12 More Framings; 13 Global War on Religion; 14 The Vatican’s New Crusade; 15 Liberation Theology; 16 Khrushchev’s War on the Vatican; 17 Preparations for Framing Pius XII; 18 The Deputy; 19 The Play; 20 Disinformation under Every Rock; 21 KGB Fingerprints; 22 The Deputy’s Anti-Semitism; 23 The Deputy’s Ideological Roots; 24 Rolf Hochhuth; 25 A New Look at The Deputy; 26 Khrushchev’s Political Necrophagy; 27 Hitler’s Pope, The Book; 28 Andropov’s Cocaine.
This part is the detailed description of history of one of the biggest and quite important campaigns of framing and disinformation – Soviet ideological war against Catholicism. It included several objectives more or less successfully achieved during period after WW II: physical elimination of clergy in Easter part of Europe after Soviet occupation, discrediting of Pope and Catholic Church as supporters or at least neutral observers of Nazi activities by creating corresponding narrative supported by art from books to plays and movies, utilization of European intellectuals to penetrate educational institutions and instill these ideas into the young generation. Author stresses Andropov’s ideas of slow promotion of anti-western ideology in carefully designed small phases similar to getting person hook on cocaine by slowly increasing doses of drug. This operation also included creation of substitute of traditional Catholicism with Liberation theology that practically is socialist ideology with religious cover up. This was very successful in Latin America. Author looks in some details at individuals used in this operation.
PART Ill: FRAMING THE US GOVERNMENT AS A PACK OF ASSASSINS
29 The End of America’s Innocence; 30 Khrushchev: A Monument to Disinformation; 31 Operation ‘Dragon’ 32 New Hard Proof of the KGB’s Hand
This part is about another extremely successful ideological operations: framing of American government as enemy of American people or at least as bunch of intellectually challenged dupes. The obvious success led to American defeat in Vietnam, “anti-war” movement, and general expansion of leftist influence around the world. Author also discusses Kennedy assassination that was, as he believes based on his knowledge of internal working of Soviet block intelligence, a KGB operation.
PART IV: UNRAVELING TODAY’S WEB OF DECEIT
33 From Disinformation to Terrorism; 34 Putin Time; 35 From “Hitler’s Pope” to September 11, 2001; 36 The Kremlin’s Nuclear Terrorism; 37 A KGB Empire; 38 Keeping the Lie-Machine Going; 39. The Antiwar Movement; 40 Marx’s Ghost Lives On; 41 Disinformation in Today’s America; 42 From Disinformation to Assassination; 43 Marxist Personality Cults and Heavy; Water 45 How I Became a “Filthy Jew Traitor”.
The last part is more about contemporary world as it developed after author defected from Socialist Paradise. It starts with chapter on Soviet and overall leftists support for terrorism that is now well documented for 1970-80s. However he extrapolates it to our time noting that establishment of KGB, that become a core of regime in Russia with Putin at the top, moved not only to typical Soviet rejection of democracy and consolidation of power, but also revival of old subversive foreign activities against the West this time in cooperation with Iranian regime. Probably the most important point here is about seamless continuation of these activities that resulted in such amazing achievements as election of deeply leftist and anti-western administration of Obama in USA and establishment of virtual control by leftists over educational system in Western countries. The final chapter is kind of funny because author found that being anti-communist and anti-leftist nearly automatically turned him into “Filthy Jew Traitor” in Romania. The reason it is funny because historically any totalitarian movement, even as saturated with Jewish by birth intellectuals as leftist movement in the West, is inevitably becomes anti-Semitic. This interesting phenomenon is going back to Karl Marx who was nearly perfect example of Jewish leftist intellectual of deeply anti-Semitic persuasion.
MY TAKE ON IT:
There is not much new for me in this book, but it is interesting to look at all this from point of view of very senior Intelligence and Security official in one of Soviet satellite States. In addition to historical value this book provides a very good insight into the nature of current leftists in Academia, government, and elsewhere. The mindset they possess, tools that they use, and general modus operandi is the same as it was used by totalitarian elite of old Soviet block. It is not surprising, taking into account that often these are the same people, only a bit older. After failing in Cold War that was relatively peaceful competition of two competing ideologies and economic systems, they did not disappear and did not change their views, but rather moved inside of Western societies successfully waging new ideological and economic war from inside of these societies that I would call Cold Civil War. As usual people in Democracies when attacked either from outside or from inside take long time to comprehend that they are attacked, reasons for this attack, and objectives of attackers. History demonstrates, however, that when this comprehension finally achieved nothing could save attackers from defeat and this is what we seems to observe now with massive anti-elite movements, which are clearly directed against leftists in government, academia, and all other areas of live. I expect really enjoy watching the complete defeat of these totalitarians over the next 10 – 15 years.
20170422 – Toward Democracy
The main idea here is to provide historical support to the notion that democracy was developed as a method of collective decision making while minimizing violence. The narrative includes a bit of ancient history, but mainly concentrates on development over the last few centuries of democracy in the Western world, its ideological support by two distinct types of Enlightenment French and English/Scottish. It stops at the brink of American Civil War when idea of democracy was practically pushed far back and was seemingly highly dependent on this war’s outcome.
Introduction: The Paradoxes of Democracy
Democracy became a leading ideal form of society, but it is often misunderstood. Author claims that it “arose from violence and has never strayed far away from it”. The focus of this book is democratic thought in America and changing meaning of democracy over time. Most of all it is about the implementation of ideas and gaps between ideals of democracy and its practice, which makes democracy somewhat unsatisfying, leading to it’s multiple paradoxes.
Part I Roots and Branches
Chapter 1 Born in Bloodshed: The Origins of Democracy
It starts with the story of mayor of Bordeaux Montaigne in 1585 that survived on several occasions using ethics of reciprocity, which he promoted in his later essays. From here comes author’s point that democracy is born by violence as a tool to avoid or at least diminish violence via conversation and search for accommodation. This follows by the discussion of ancient Greek democracy of Athens with its initial notion of individual rights, however limited by popular will. After that author briefly reviews various philosophical approaches and implementations of this system in Rome and medieval Europe with somewhat special attention to religious thought: first Hebrew and then Christian with consequences of reformation and religious wars. The common outcome of both was general revulsion to rule of demos as meaninglessly violent that had to be contained by organized leaders of society: kings and aristocracy.
Chapter 2 Voices in the Wilderness: Democracies in North America
This chapter looks at initial European settlement in North America, which was to significant extent done by the people who did not accept conclusion of evils of democracy, but rather saw it as the better solution for society organization in which every member was equal in their relation to god and to others. Author looks in details at New England puritans as founders of specifically American approach to the ruling society, but also and somewhat unusually, author also looks at diversity of American colonial societies many of which quite vigorously supported ideas of divine sovereignty and king’s power. Practically however regardless of ideology all settlements had to develop various forms of self rule for simple reason of distance, difficulty of communications, and just plain lack of interest on the part of British kings and authorities. These forms necessarily included elections of rules and laws makers and enforcers who would act on more or less consensus basis because nobody really had enough power to impose their will without majority consent.
Chapter 3 Democracy Deferred: The English Civil War
This chapter goes back to Europe to discuss English Civil war of XVII century and how it led to Glorious revolution and ideological struggle that developed at the same time:
- King’s attempt to move to pure absolutism
- Parliament’s attempt to retain Magna Carta and power of gentry
- Ideas of mixed government with divided power based on natural jurisprudence and natural laws when powers balance each other
- Levelers ideas that legitimacy of government could be obtained only from consent of governed.
At the end of this chapter author discusses Milton’s poetic work as representation of ideology and general attitudes of this period when monarchy was destroyed, then restored, then restricted and made compatible with increasing democracy.
Chapter 4 Coup d-Etat: 1688 in England and America
The final chapter of this part is about Glorious revolution and its impact not only on English settlement, but also on American development. It also looks at writings and story of Algernon Sydney and John Lock who developed ideas that went into foundation of American revolutionary thought. However it was not only thought, but also growing American reaction to king’s attempt after restoration to bring American colonies under more direct supervision. This reaction obviously was quite negative because of incompatibility between de facto self-rule of colonies and hierarchical monarchical rule of England.
Part II Trial and Error
Chapter 5 Sympathy, Will, and Democracy in the Enlightenments of Europe
This is about French Enlightenment: Voltaire, Montesquieu, d’Alembert, Diderot, and Rousseau. The key difference here is much more value assigned to emotions and equality of results. It also reviews polemics between Rousseau and Hume who represented Scottish enlightenment, which was based on common sense rather than emotions. The views of Adam Smith and Hutcheson also reviewed here.
Chapter 6 Faith, Enlightenment, and Resistance in America
Here author moves to American Enlightenment, which had much more practical character because its people were involved in practical politics of the Democracy. It starts with Ben Franklin, and then goes to other founders. It also structured about main intellectual events of this time including Great Awakening and revolutionary developments.
Chapter 7 Democracy and American Independence
This is continuation of review of American development, especially on how movement for independency becomes intertwined with ideas of democracy.
Chapter 8 Constituting American Democracy
This is about post revolutionary period when initial regime established by Articles of Confederation becomes insufficient in the eyes of many to support efficient political system in the new country. It reviews people, ideas, and debates that led to creation of American Constitution.
Chapter 9 Ratification and Reciprocity
This is a very nice description of events and debates during ratification. The obvious fact about American constitution is its attempt to balance self-interest and general good and this chapter goes into details of founders’ understanding of local self-interest and general good.
Part III Failure in Success
Chapter 10 Delusions of Unity and Collisions with Tradition in the French Revolution
This is look at European type of Democratic revolution, which is decidedly different from American Revolution – French Revolution. The reason was huge difference in structure and attitudes of these two societies. Americans generally were much more similar to each other generally separated from existing English hierarchies of the society with their own society had its emerging hierarchies in flux, while French had well established layers of society with different world views, ideas, and approaches including religious vs. non-religious worldviews resulting in violent clash of huge proportions.
Chapter 11 Virtue and Violence in the French Revolution
This is about ideological war between supporters and opponents of French approach with Paine and Burke being good representatives of these fighting ideological camps. It also describes sequence of events in France and even somehow manages to go into ideas of feminist writers.
Chapter 12 Democracy in the Wake of Terror
This is detailed description of period of terror and, more importantly different reaction to it and its relation to Democracy in America and Europe.
Chapter 13 Diagnosing Democratic Cultures in America and Europe
The main difference is American understanding stressed reciprocity between individuals and society in democracy as key element of making it work. European approach was based on finding individuals best in expressing general will and then violently force all other individuals to comply with their directions. Net result of this was general rejection of this form of democracy and its practical elimination in Europe after defeat of Napoleon. In this chapter author look in details at parallel development of America, Britain, and France to analyze how exactly it happened.
Chapter 14 The Tragic Irony of Democracy
This covers developments in America leading to Civil War and its challenges to democracy. It also looks at other side of Atlantic where British moved on with reform movement, while Germany and France experience failure of revolution of 1848 and Napoleon III rule correspondingly. No surprise that at this point Lincoln was probably right that American Civil war was decisive for Democracy and that Union victory was necessary for it to survive. It did survive, but the following developments leading to gilded age brought mass corruption taking it far away from theoretical ideals. Author ends with a remark that Democracy proved to be malleable and its success depends on ability of individuals to internalize limits on freedom that democracy given them.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting approach to defining reasons for and meaning of democracy. I basically accept the idea that democracy is nothing more than a tool to minimize violence, but I deeply resent the idea that it is perfect and universal tool. Actually I as many others, think that it is pretty crude and ineffective instrument that is acceptable only because there are no other instrument better than that. The history of democracy provided here has two interesting points: one is that democracy in America developed in kind of natural way, not possible in other places, and another one that two enlightenment movements French and English/Scottish/American, while being quite close ideologically, nevertheless brought dramatically different results when implemented in two different cultures. Finally it is interesting how far from inevitable progressive development believed by determinists Marxian and others the real history actually was removed and how close to the rejection of very idea of democracy humanity came in the middle of XIX century. With my one and only life I feel really lucky that such rejection did not happen.
20170415 – Against Empathy
The main idea of this book is that too much empathy clogs vision and thinking preventing people from making good decisions and act reasonably. Empathy here means attempt to feel what others are feeling and act to alleviate their pain, which actually not a good way to achieve this objective. In short this is book in support of deliberate non-emotional decision-making and actions.
Here author presents reasons for his antipathy for empathy and why he decided to write a book about this. It also includes a brief review of the plan of the book and discussion of extremely critical reaction to its ideas when they were presented earlier in some articles published by author.
CHAPTER 1: Other People’s Shoes
This is a general attack on empathy in broad strokes: just establish author’s position on it. It starts with discussion on meaning of empathy and wide use of this notion in literature and everyday live. It follows by the reasoning that contrary to typical equivalency of use between two, morality and empathy are not really close notions. The morality is much wider notion than empathy and these two could easily go contrary to each other. The balance of chapter is about empathy not necessarily making world a better place and about providing responses to various types of rejection of author’s thesis of rejecting empathy.
CHAPTER 2: The Anatomy of Empathy
This and the next chapter are designed as zoom in on the psychology and neuroscience of empathy, exploring features that make it inadequate as a moral guide. This is also kind of review of mechanics: mirror neurons, their supporters and rejectionists, Adam Smith’s use of sympathy as analog to empathy, and even Baron-Cohen’s research on autism. The conclusion from all this is basically that empathy not really related to good behavior.
CHAPTER 3: Doing Good
This is kind of approach from other side of equation: why actually people do good, charitable things? The general conclusion is because it is in their perceived interest, which is well could be non-material. Author discusses empathy as process of trying to raise other people to own level in person consciousness that practically not possible to do. As alternative he suggests diminishing own need and wishes to the level of “other”.
INTERLUDE: The Politics of Empathy
This is about relationship between empathy and politics where author looks at approach to this by contemporary liberals (high level of empathy) and conservatives (low level). Technically this is not correct. It is rather two sides have intensive empathy, but to different people and issues so author’s point is that clear-minded non-empathic analysis and decision-making would do much better than passionate and empathic support of one side.
CHAPTER 4: Intimacy
This is about impact of empathy on intimacy. The search for most important feature for success in intimate live brought up not empathy, but kindness. He also looks at attempts to establish scale of empathy and corresponding bell curve. At the end author provides a funny formula that everybody could use to find out how much attention and effort one is inclined to invest in self and others: Self + Close People + Strangers = 100%.
INTERLUDE: Empathy as the Foundation of Morality
The foundation of morality obviously comes from the childhood so here author looks at the moral lives of babies and children. Author looks a bit at evolutionary benefits and costs of empathy and his preferred compassion when people help others without feeling their pain, but rather for their own psychological comfort. He provides a number of examples of such behavior in children, but stops short of claiming it has enough explanatory power.
CHAPTER 5: Violence and Cruelty
This chapter is about evil and idea that lack of empathy makes people worse. Author pretty much rejects this idea as way out of reality because it is not possible to have such level of empathy to other as on one has of self and/or “one of us”. Actually in this case empathy could lead to aggression against those who caused damage to “us”. The second part of chapter is about individual characteristic of psychopaths, basically rejecting explanatory value of lack of empathy for such cases. He provides a nice table to support this:
CHAPTER 6: Age of Reason
The final chapter is an attempt to convince people that reason is a much better tool to achieve positive results than blind empathy and actions driven by emotions generated from empathy.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Generally empathy, as any other non-critical emotional response to reality, probably causes more harm than good. It prevents people from analyzing causes of distress and leads to actions that have deleterious effect on chances to achieve positive results. So I basically agree that the empathy is not only overrated, but also rather incorrectly rated as a positive feature, when it is at best is neutral and at worst is a negative feature causing unreasonable actions. I think that author provides a good example when discussing distress of Palestinian children vs. Israeli children when empathy of outsider bound to go much more to Palestinians who get killed rather than to Israelis who just have inconvenience of going to shelter when Palestinians start shooting their low quality low precision missiles. I think it is a great example of how empathy works and why it is useless as tool for improving world if we look at this situation a bit wider: The empathetic outsider in this case would insist on providing help to Palestinians, maybe even assuring that it was purely humanitarian help so outsider’s self-appreciation, conveniently forgetting that resources are fungible. However the realities of live when Palestinians’ objective is conquest and annihilation of Jewish population, while Israelis’ objective is just self-defense limited by humanitarian considerations for Palestinian lives and fear to become politically and economically isolated. The result is the continuing war without end hurting people on both sides. If one would remove empathetic outsider, the war would end long time ago. In this case, because Israel is militarily more powerful, it would most probably end in prosperous demilitarized Palestinian state alongside with Israel with Jews and Palestinians living in both states, maybe in different proportions. In another similar case a while ago, when Jews were powerless, it ended in Holocaust, but it ended nevertheless, even if empathic feelings of German soldiers to their victims were instrumental in costly change from cheap, if somewhat demoralizing, mass killing on the spot to industrialized processing with gas chambers and extensive transportation of victims to killing factories in order to minimize negative psychological impact on Germans.
20170408 Common Sense Nation
The main idea of this book is to review intellectual underpinnings of American culture that logically led to revolution and consequent formation of completely new and unusual country based on constitution and common sense. This common sense came not from the magic, but from the Scottish Enlightenment, which is quite different than the French Enlightenment. This difference eventually led to quite different types of states that developed from two revolutions of 1776 and 1789: one being an American type state with constitution and democracy used as methods to find some generally accepted compromise between multitude of individual wills and another one of a French type with society driven by “general will” identified at best by democratic elections, but more often by will of elite or even individual in power with multitude of individual wills of regular people either subordinate or actively suppressed.
This is a discussion of American Enlightenment as product of British or more precisely Scottish Enlightenment, which has its own very distinct features quite different from usual understanding of Enlightenment based on its French patterns.
OVERTURE Locke’s Revolution
This about Locke, his treatises on government and, most important, his core idea that “The supreme power in every commonwealth (is) but the joint power of every member of society”
ONE: The Founders
This obviously is about formation of American founders as individuals with ideology that occurred under influence of Scottish immigrants who were their tutors. It is reviewed in some details based on example of Benjamin Rush. It also provides somewhat unusual look at constitutional convention as the drama founding and as the unique case of deliberative establishment of the state.
TWO: The American Enlightenment
This is a look at specifics of American Enlightenment and discussion of similarities and differences between it, French Enlightenment, and huge differences in societies that American and French revolutions produced.
THREE: The Declaration of Independence
This is a very interesting discussion on declaration of independence and ideological root of its key notion that by now became quite obscure and misunderstood such as “…Self-Evident”, “…Unalienable rights”, “… Pursuit of Happiness”, and “… All men created Equal”. This chapter also contains brief, but very important piece on the American idea of Property Rights.
FOUR: The Constitution
This is about constitution as an attempt to create such framework of the state that would take into account immutable characteristics of human nature, rather than try to change human nature to fit into framework of ideal state. Author uses juxtaposition between Madison and King George both treated as legitimate thinkers about nature of the state, but with critically different approach with Madison seeking establish new framework of society, while King George trying to protect god ordained order from “Presbyterian rebellion”.
FIVE: The Federalist Papers
This starts with Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” that author seems to consider to be underappreciated founding document of America and then goes to Madison’s argumentation in Federalist Papers on the Extended Republic, Representation, and legal framework of the society.
SIX: Religion and the American Enlightenment
This is about a religion being a necessary component of American creation that sprung from the very special creed of Christianity: not dogmatic, but tolerant, which paradoxically made America much more religious country than any other in developed Western world.
SEVEN: Turning Away from the Founders
This chapter moves us close to the contemporary world, retelling history of mainly successful so far attempt to destroy America conducted from within its society by supporters of French enlightenment of the big government and suppression of individual. The ranks of these supporters run from Woodrow Wilson to contemporary post-modern “Progressives” .
EIGHT: Common Sense Nation
This is about American Common Sense that still standing, but is severely wounded by 100 years “progressive” challenge. It directs a special attention to the currently victorious progressives in academia.
NINE: A Brief History of “Liberalism”
This is about American Liberalism that came to signify something directly opposite of Liberalism of XIX century. The latter was freedom movement, while the former statist and oppressive movement striving to move control of human lives to the big government bureaucrats. The chapter briefly looks at original progressivism of early XX century, FDR’s big government revolution of 1930s, and countervailing movement of conservatism as it developed by the end of this century.
POSTSCRIPT How to Misunderstand the Founders
This very short chapter stresses the typical mistake that people make trying to explain America by reference to English parliamentary system and the French Enlightenment. It is neither. America is the product of unique American Enlightenment and must be analyzed on its own terms.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the idea of America’s roots in Scottish Enlightenment very intriguing. The whole idea of two different approaches to the running of society: one from the top down via Reason of educated elite that is imposed by all means necessary on non-elite members of society and another one from the bottom up via Common Sense of regular members of society pushed up to elite for limited managerial functions, seems to me highly explanatory and consistent with real live experience.
The last couple hundred years after both methods where applied: the Common Sense in America after 1776 and the Reason in France after 1789 history produced some very good examples of implementation results for each approach:
- It is hard to imagine more Reason driven ideologies than Communism and National Socialism, both being products of pseudo-scientific reasoning of intellectual elite most often born to middle layers of society and raised to the top via self-education and revolutionary activities similarly to mother of them all elite of the French revolution.
- Correspondingly it is hard to imagine more Common sense driven society than early America were whatever Reason of elite dictated was practically impossible to implement due to huge distances, absence of well organized government power structures, and economic independence not only localities, but also individual farmers and mechanics.
It is obvious that with increased maturity of technology and society’s power structures America practically ceased to be the fully Common Sense nation. The dramatic growth of educated elite that has no place in market economy, but strongly demands level of resources provision consistent with their expectations, created strong base for movement to expand top down European Reason model in which such educated elite guarantied high level of resource transfer from actual producers. However the Common Sense part of America did not disappear and still maintains probably slight advantage among American population. All this indicates high probability of clash between these two models of society with one of them definitely ending on the top, taking over American society as the whole.
20170401 – A Culture of Growth
The main idea is to demonstrate that culture, economic, and technological development of society is deeply intertwined with change in culture (understood as prevailing attitude in human interactions with material world and other humans) and is absolutely necessary prerequisite for such development. Specifically it relates to dramatic changes in economic and technological conditions of Western societies that followed not less dramatic change in ideology of this society brought in by Enlightenment.
Part I: Evolution, Culture, and Economic History
Chapter1: Culture and Economics
The point here is that author believes we know what happened during industrial revolution and such, but do not know how and where exactly it happened so he intends to provide answers. This chapter gives a brief review of different approaches to such explanation related to link between culture and economics.
Chapter 2: Nature and Technology
This is about the culture impact on technology and its development with the main point being that high tech culture generally egalitarian and individualistic because without high value of invention and technological improvement for individuals they would not put a serious effort in innovation. Collectivist society could use existing technology, but it would not invent. Author defines 3 key cultural elements required:
- Believe that better technology is virtuous
- Believe that progress in increase in wealth is desirable
- Believe that practical agenda for progress is required and should be implemented
Chapter 3: Cultural Evolution and Economics
This is discussion of evolutionary approach to development of the Culture based on application of key evolutionary principles: variation, inheritability, and superfecundity.
Chapter 4: Choice-based Cultural Evolution
This is an additional detailed look at choice based evolutionary approach with a nice picture to summarize it:
One of the most important points here is the dramatic increase in share of non-parental transmission of culture that makes variability much higher in high tech societies.
Chapter 5: Biases in Cultural Evolution
This is about the process of choice in cultural evolution based on biases – identifiable patterns that make people choose from available options. Here is classification of such biases:
- Content based bias
- Direct Bias (Authority)
- Consistency and Confirmation Bias
- Model-based Bias
- Rhetorical Bias
- Frequency Dependency Bias
- Rationalization Bias
- Coercion Bias
- Salient Events Bias
Part II Cultural Entrepreneurs and Economic Change, 1500-1700
Chapter 6: Cultural Entrepreneurs and Choice-based Cultural Evolution
Here author looks at role of individuals who moved Western culture into direction different from other cultures, eventually producing enlightenment and industrial revolution. He cites B. Show Maxim #124: Reasonable man adjusts to the world, the unreasonable adjust world to themselves. This follows by detailed review of 2 examples: Chapter 7: Francis Bacon, Cultural Entrepreneur and Chapter 8: Isaac Newton, Cultural Entrepreneur.
Part Ill: Innovation, Competition, and Pluralism in Europe, 1500-1700
Chapter 9: Cultural Choice in Action: Human Capital and Religion
This is a dig into personalities and cultural believes of people who followed culture entrepreneurs by internalizing their ideas and applying these ideas through their objectives and activities: businessmen, military leaders, engineers, inventors, and practically all self-directing individuals. These people intensely developed their own human capital and applied it to environment in order to improve lives. Significant part of this was the development of formal education, but it is far from clear that it was a critical component. Rather more important was general ideological attitudes in society, which to significant extent were based on religious believes and author look at this in quite a detail.
Chapter 10: Cultural Change and the Growth of Useful Knowledge, 1500-1700
This is about culture openness to external influence and its influence on knowledge acquisition and economic growth. In this part Western culture was unique in its dogged pursuit of new discoveries and shameless appropriation of everything useful: technologies, all kind of know how, and, very important, intermixture of people via immigration/emigration between countries. From evolutionary point of view all this greatly increased variation.
Chapter 11: Fragmentation, Competition, and Cultural Change
This is about another feature of Western world – its fragmentation into multiple entities constantly competing between themselves, but never annihilating or consuming each other. As result new and useful methodologies and technologies were quickly dispersed preventing everybody from achieving any long-term dominance.
Chapter 12: Competition and the Republic of Letters
This is about another important feature of Western culture that author calls Republic of Letters: Christianity providing common language of European intellectual elite (Latin) consequently supporting their ability to move between entities and communicate via letters on regular basis. Overall it created ideological superstructure common for all countries of Western civilization and situated somewhat above direct control of any particular country.
Part IV: Prelude to the Enlightenment
Chapter 13: Puritanism and British Exceptionalism
Here author looks at religious development in Britain that produced Puritanism with its religious imperative to be productive as the necessary way to achieve bliss. This eventually caused change to useful technological knowledge and necessity to improve productivity and consequently led to somewhat paradoxical development of separation of empirical knowledge into generally independent from religious dogma sphere of intellectual activities – science.
Chapter 14: A Culture of Progress
This is about, what now seems to be inevitable consequences of creation of such empirical area, formation of the Culture of progress when dramatic improvement in technological and economic conditions of society initiated expansion of this way of thinking into ideological sphere first pushing out intellectual reliance on ancient Classics and then building new ideology of knowledge that eventually started pushing out traditional religion.
Chapter 15: The Enlightenment and Economic Change
This is about history of interaction between Enlightenment and Economic change and its history that amply demonstrated its non-linear character.
Part V: Cultural Change in the East and West
Chapter 16: China and Europe
This part is somewhat deviate from narrative about Western world by moving to the huge puzzle of the most developed country of medieval world – China failing to produce industrial revolution. It is mainly comparative review of China versus Europe.
Chapter 17: China and the Enlightenment
This is mostly review of Chinese ideological development and reasons why it did not create its own Enlightenment and why it was immune to European ideas to the point of practically disaster when it led to complete military and technological inferiority.
Epilogue: Useful Knowledge and Economic Growth
Here author briefly summarize his points: collective knowledge about nature and environment expressed in culture defines economic position of society. It is demonstrated in this book by analysis of Enlightenment and its impact on development of Western society that led to dramatic changes in multiple SOPs of various countries of this society.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I really like evolutionary approach to understanding of history overall and explosion of prosperity in Western societies over the last few hundred years. I find the idea of culture as set of biases very interesting and deserving wide application for understanding of history and even contemporary world, especially when it relates of comparative analysis. Very important thing here would be ability to always keep in mind that the only real curriers of culture are individual human beings and, even if culture is huge and could not possibly fit into one human brain, the core biases of every culture are common for any individual who fully belongs to it. Practically in our time of global communication, migration, and interaction it could be critically important to understand such biases, isolate points of incompatibility, and disarm them to avoid conflicts even, if necessary, by cutting off connection. Also beyond the main point of this book, it is an interesting source of information about Enlightenment and its consequences.
20170325 – The Nobel Factor
The sub-main idea of this book is that economics is not a real science and that majority of economists including those who received Nobel price understand this. However the main idea is that Prize in Economics is not really the Nobel price, but somewhat external creation of Swedish right wing economists who used it to provide more legitimacy to free market ideologues whom authors, being clearly of socialist persuasion, deeply resent. Correspondingly overriding objective of this book is to undermine this legitimacy and convince reader that Scandinavian socialist model of 1950s really worked just fine until reactionaries succeeded in undermining it and moving Sweden back to horrors of capitalism.
The introduction spells out authors believe about economy being something like not completely legitimate way to undermine what they call Social Democracy – the combination of market economy with government controlled massive redistribution of income and Keynesian interventions on the large scale. They provide a gist of the book as retelling of history of economic views with paradise (Social Democracy) achieved and then lost due to intrigue of evil free marketers.
- Imaginary Machines
This is about economic models that build similarly to technological models like airplanes with one important difference – they never work in real live. Authors look at Robert Lucas as contemporary model builder and then jump back to David Ricardo as most effective builder of oversimplified models. They also discuss idea of rational expectations and complete this chapter by countering what they call New Classical Macroeconomics (NCM) with Social Democracy. Interestingly enough, they link NCM with ideas of post-modernism and anti-realism, which are quintessentially anti-capitalist ideas.
- A Prize in ‘Economic Sciences’
This is mainly discussion of meaning of science as it relates to economics and value of prizes as symbols and ritual.
- Bitter Roots: Finance and Social Democracy between the Wars
This is brief review of interwar economics in Europe with stress on monetary issues, specifically consequences of loosing gold standard. The special attention paid to development of Stockholm School of economics and its support of sound money and resulted clash with Social Democracy that obviously wants fiat money controlled by government. They also provide not very well known, but interesting story of interwar Bank of International Settlements.
- The Riksbank Endows a Nobel Prize
This is mainly story of after war struggle between Banks and Swedish Social Democracy when socialists wanted to spend on social programs to buy votes and power and banks wanted maintain sound money and retain economic power. The Nobel price for economics in this story is a by-product of this struggle or as authors call it “A Cuckoo in Nobel Prize Nest”.
- Does Economics Have a Political Bias?
This is pretty much story of liberal (in American understanding) vs. conservative evenhandedness of awards that author seems to consider unfair despite much higher level of references for liberals. They provide a nice graph where “Arrows” means characteristics of citations”
- Individual Reputations (with Samuel Bjork)
This is data heavy review of impact of the Nobel Price on popularity and citations of individual economists. Authors conclude that prize does have credibility, but it rather follow citation curve than leads it, albeit it does raises popularity of specific economists. Here is a graph to support this idea:
- Nobel Economics and Social Democracy
Here authors look at Nobelists based on their approach to economics either as Empiricists or Formalists and here is how they define them:
They also discussed contrasts in approach between what they call Social Democracy (good because it provides managed solution for resource allocation over live cycles via redistribution) and Market Alternatives (bad because it hold that world is too complex for simple management and just rely on market to allocate resources in the best way). They even provide ideal sequence of development right out of book for systems analysis:
- Models into Policy: Assar Lindbeck and Swedish Social Democracy
Here authors trying to describe Swedish Social democracy as nearly perfect solution for economic issues of society that was successfully implemented in Sweden from 1930s to 1970s, but then somehow was undermined by international competition and evil Swedish economists like Assar Lindbeck.
- Swedosclerosis or Pseudosclerosis? Sweden in the 1980s
This chapter seems designed to convince people that Swedish economic sclerosis of 1980s that eventually led to significant market oriented reforms, actually did not occur, but was rather invented by market oriented economists. Their main point is that economic calculations designed in such way that they underestimate value of production for countries with high level of public services. In short this is an attempt to explain away economic failures of Swedish Socialism as imaginary.
- The Real Crisis: Not Work Incentives but Runaway Credit
Correspondingly this chapter is an attempt to explain away success of market by assigning it to unhealthy levels of easy credit that eventually caused financial crash.
- Beyond Scandinavia: Washington Consensus to Market Corruption
The final chapter is comparison of Washington consensus (Regulated Market) that authors consider corrupted vs. Social Democracy that authors consider to poses high levels of integrity.
Conclusion: Like Physics or Like Literature?
The final chapter is restatement one of authors’ main points that Economics is not really science and should not be included in Nobel prizes. Finally they add another issue that economics is a-moral because it just trying to link inputs and outputs, while humans are moral and consequently economic priorities and methods should not be really applicable for society management.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting review of Nobel prizes in economics with multiple diatribes against market and glorification of social democracy of Swedish type. It is typical product of people who somehow fail to understand complexity and diversity of humanity and consequently believe that the best way of society organization is kind of elitist oligarchy masked as democracy when the best and brightest, mostly defined by academic achievements, control resources and decide what when and how to produce and consume them, while mentally deficient masses blissfully participate in elections mistakenly believing that they actually decide direction of the society. Unfortunately authors heavily concentrate on small homogeneous Sweden society as example of successfully working Social democracy and completely ignore other much larger scaled socialist experiments of Russia, Chine, and Nazi Germany – all of them being economic and humanitarian disasters. Somehow they also missed a simple historical fact that very well explains Swedish prosperity of 1950-70s – destruction of WWII that for Sweden was a huge bonanza of German military orders paid by wealth transferred from all over occupied Europe. From this point of view the temporary success of Swedish Social Democracy was purely parasitic and disappeared when both Europe and Asia recovered after the war. It short authors’ ideas of superiority of Social democracy just do not hold water.
20170318 The Perfect Dictatorship
The main idea of this book is that Chinese mix of socialism and market economy in reality is a lot less effective and efficient than it is usually perceived. Comparatively to other Asian nations like Japan and especially Korea Chinese development lags behind, leaving population at the level well below it wants and needs to be. The result is a shaky stability of society highly dependent on economic growth that now beginning to slide. The alternatives of Chinese Dream and other nationalistic ideas may or may not work on the long or even medium run.
The introduction is about complexity of China and somewhat illusory character of top down control in this country. It also states author’s objective to analyze the multifaceted character this society.
The first chapter is about leadership structure of Chinese party-state dictatorship: who are the people in leadership and what are their priorities. It looks at relations between state and economy, reasons and prospects of growth, corruption, and overall view at the China project.
- What They Say
This is about ideological presentation of Chinese version of one party totalitarian system not only to the world, but also for internal consumption. Here author defines 3 types of states and asks his most important question: whether it is trivial state most concerned with sustainment and territorial integrity, welfare state most concerned with well being of population, or power state most concerned with increase in power by all means including territorial expansion. After presenting these 3 options as testable hypothesis, author is trying to provide answer in the next 3 chapters.
- What They Do
Based on actions of Chinese leadership author looks at activities directed at self-preservation by obtaining legitimacy of the state by producing economic growth and continuing improvement in quality of live. At the same time raw power is used widely and decisively via 6 pillars of Chinese society: party, military, executive, legislature, police, and judiciary. Author looks in details at each oh these pillars.
- What They Produce
This chapter analyses what and how Chinese state produces its services in order to test welfare hypothesis. He looks at Taxes, Welfare services, Public Sector provisions, and various social services. Overall conclusion is that it is not welfare state and it could not easily develop into one.
- Who They Are
The final chapter concludes that it is totalitarian state, but complex and sometimes even benevolent so author goes through is sort of compilation of what Chinese party-state gives to people and what it takes from people. After analyzing his 3 hypotheses author concludes that it is trivial state, but with clear tendency to develop into power state and it is not clear yet whether such development will occur or not.
Here author discusses several possible developments that he considers more or less probable:
- Steady on – continuation without significant changes
- Demise – economic failure leading to loss of legitimacy and destruction of the state
- Utopia – development of successful utopian socialist state
- Democracy – resurrection of latent peasant democracy still existing in rural areas and its expansion through the country.
- The perfect fascist state – development into classical power state.
Author assigns kind of probabilities to each option, but it is really everybody’s guess of what future will look like.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me China does not seem that interesting from societal structure and ideology system. It is clearly still socialism and totalitarian dictatorship, but with leadership that was smart enough a while ago to practically discard Marxist dogmas and rather than trying to move to world proletarian revolution and build the drastically new and much more productive society of communist utopias, choose to use totalitarian power to convert the country into economic supplement of highly developed rich Western world by providing very cheap labor, cost of which defined by state power rather than by market, in exchange for investment and technology flow. These factors: investment and technology would allow for a while maintaining increase in material quality of live, but at the expense of denial of many characteristics of quality of live such as freedom and environment quality. The problem here is that at some point it would become impossible to continue because without freedom truly effective development is not possible, while margins for expansion of economy as cheap labor supplement is already challenged. Internally because after getting a bit better materially people start wanting more and more undermining main China’s asset on world market – cheap and diligent workforce. Externally because shift of labor from Western world caused some serious societal problems in this world that could and will be addressed via multiple measures shifting labor demand back to Western developed countries, consequently cutting off external labor markets that currently sustain Chinese system. I think one of two developments is possible: either the slow degradation of Chinese totalitarianism with consequent transfer, hopefully peaceful transfer to democracy similarly to development in South Korea, or strong move to increase in totalitarianism of more nationalistic form with following Cold war with the West. I believe and hope that the former development in more probable mainly because Chinese society and its leadership much more familiar with civilized world of market based democracy and seems to be much less ideological than previous totalitarians, but one could never be sure about the future.
20170311 – The Attention Merchants
The main idea of this book is to provide a detailed look at business model of communication and information services including news, entertainment, and Internet services as a method to capture customer attention and then sell it to advertisers.
Introduction: Here’s the Deal
The introduction starts with the story of poor school in California that obtained funding by allowing companies advertise to students. It follows by definition of what are the attention merchants.
Part I: Masters of Blazing Modernity
This part is about the beginning of this business in early XIX century with mass paper based news and later broadcasting corporations.
Chapter 1: The First Attention Merchants
The first serious business based on reselling captured attention was Benjamin Day’s New York Sun first published in 1833. It changed business model to rely not on subscription and retail sales, but on advertisements. Author also traces even earlier form of advertisement – Posters, which were around since 1796. Author also discusses mechanism of human attention that makes this business model viable.
Chapter 2: The Alchemist
This is about the story of patent medicine that was mainly based on advertisement to sell snake oil with no need to prove that it actually works as advertised.
Chapter 3: For King and Count
This is about patriotic advertisement that allowed countries with relative tradition of freedom and voluntary military to successfully mobilize population for large-scale war.
Chapter 4: Demand Engineering, Scientific Advertising, and What Women Want
The next step in progress of attention capturing and selling was scientific advertisement developed in 1920s. The key feature was demand manufacturing, which is development via advertisement consumer needs that did not exist before. It was especially successful with women.
Chapter 5: A Long Run
This is a story of tobacco advertisement which promoted product increasingly understood to be harmful. It also summarizes achievement of advertisement industry that by late 50s defined informational environment of American live.
Chapter 6: Not with a Bang but with a Whimper
The last chapter of this part is about the fall of advertisement industry from grace caused by disconnecting advertisement with reality and eventual government interference, which limited methods and tools of advertisement. All these, plus global economic crash brought advertisement industry to its knees by 1930.
Part II: The Conquest of Time and Space
This part is about formation of the new mass broadcasting media such as radio and TV that brought not just a nice recovery, but huge growth in advertisement.
Chapter 7: The Invention of Prime Time
This is about different methods tried by radio advertisement, with special attention to black radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy that unexpectedly attracted huge numbers of listeners who were ready to adjust their schedule to sit by their radio set at specific time, which eventually become Prime time.
Chapter 8: The Prince
This is story of CBS – the smallest of the big broadcasters, its chef William Paley and his struggle with RCA and NBC that were under control of David Sarnoff. It also provides brief story of Edward Murrow – the first successful political commentator on mass radio show at CBS.
Chapter 9: Total Attention Control, or The Madness of Crowds
This is about political use of mass broadcasting in Germany during Nazi rules and their perceived success in manipulating population. Is also discusses similar use of broadcasting in USSR.
Chapter 10: Peak Attention, American Style
This is about American TV in 1950s that commanded unprecedented control over attention of population via just a few TV shows. It also discusses appearance of Nielsen popularity evaluation tool that facilitated competition.
Chapter 11: Prelude to an Attentional Revolt
This is about new invention by Zenith Corporation that provided technical ability for viewer to exercise power via remote control. It also looks at a number of scandals with TV shows such as quiz show 64000 that demonstrated sometime fraudulent character of these shows, undermining trust and consequently interest for them.
Chapter 12: The Great Refusal
This is about the great rebellion of baby boomers in 1960s that refused TV world and preferred to look for entertainment and information in the reality of their lives, filled with rock music, drugs, and political protest. It also discusses changed character of TV shows in this period that moved away from quiz to Mary Tailor Moor, Archie Banker, and M*A*S*H, bringing them much closer to issues of interest for population.
Chapter 13: Coda to an Attentional Revolution
This is about Jon Robbin and PRIZM – computer based analysis of American population by ZIP codes into 40 different groups so diverse in their attitudes that they could be called different nations. What followed, as one could expect, multitude of specialized stations like ESPN. Eventually it led to new competition even in the political news area by Fox news that practically ended monopoly of leftist intelligentsia on mass broadcast of political information. It also discusses channel serving and consequent decrease in attention span afforded by public to broadcasters.
Part III: The Third Screen
This part is about initial invasion of computers into information exchange business and how it started diminish the role of traditional broadcasters.
Chapter 14: Email and the Power of the Check-in
This is about the first encroaching of the new peer-to-peer tools such as E-mail. At this point these were mainly small number of computer enthusiasts, but writings were on the wall.
Chapter 15: Invaders
The next step in computers growing competition for attention was proliferation of computer games.
Chapter 16: AOL pulls them in
This is about final part of initial computer invasion: massive expansion of e-mails with AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe. The interesting part of this story is the failure of big business that supported Prodigy to effectively compete with more entrepreneurial AOL. Nevertheless AOL also went down in early 2000 with advance of free e-mail provided via Internet.
Part IV: The Importance of Being Famous
This part is about attention attracted by celebrities that created qualitatively new phenomenon when technology made information access available at will.
Chapter 17: Establishment of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex
This chapter starts with process of creating celebrities, initially by Time with its Man of the Year cover. It continues with analysis of mechanics of “illusion of intimacy” that makes lots of people allocate extraordinary amount of time and attention to lives of and gossips about some celebrity, consequently opening channel for precisely aimed advertisement and sales of related goods.
Chapter 18: The Oprah Model
This chapter is analysis of a subset of celebrity culture when celebrity is becoming daily visitor to your house discussing issues that she makes look like relevant to you, even if they, quite obviously, are not.
Chapter 19: The Panopticon
This is about simultaneously developed attention grubbers based on TV from MTV boom to reality shows: all designed to allow people to jump out of their real live into much more interesting virtual world, the process that was always basis of art, but now dramatically more powerful due to technical ability to make the story as real, if not more real, than actual reality.
Part V: Won’t Be Fooled Again
The final part is about much more matured Internet of 2000s and that opened attention market place to practically everybody, shifting not only consumption, but also production of information to wide-open world.
Chapter 20: The Kingdom of Content: This Is How You Do It
This chapter is about process of division of proceeds from selling attention between actual producers of content and Internet platforms that support delivery. That’s how Google and Facebook become such a huge recipients of ad dollars with limited success in producing content.
Chapter 21: Here Comes Everyone
This is about population producing their own content bloggers, YouTube producers and such.
Chapter 22: The Rise of Clickbait
This is about specific technic to attract attention, clicks, and consequently revenues via planting some outrages that makes people to get involved in mass.
Chapter 23: The Place to Be
This is the story of Facebook, which provided widely used platform for communication between people and presentation to the world of trivialities of everybody’s live.
Chapter 24: The Importance of Being Microfamous
This is a funny piece about getting micro fame by accumulating “friends” and fans on social media.
Chapter 25: The Fourth Screen and the Mirror of Narcissus
Another new invention that attracts lots of attention came with smart telephones, in other word handheld communication computers that allowed people maintain constant communication with each other via texting, voice, and lately video. It also allow immediate catching of events to electronic media and distributing these images to the whole world.
Chapter 26: The Web Hits Bottom
The next step is from mass broadcasting to personalized tracking and advertising based on computerized analysis of individual behavior on the web.
Chapter 27: A Retreat and a Revolt
This is about development during period after 2010 when paid content providers like Netflix moved decisively to develop their own content, taking attention away from free advertisement based media.
Chapter 28: Who’s Boss Here?
The final chapter is about the latest development that potentially could remove even possibility of traditional advertisement as it existed so far – implementation of ad blocking. It would make for switch from indirect payment for entertainment when people were getting it for free and paid later when buying advertised goods and services to direct payment when people would just pay for entertainment they want.
The epilogue is about the future, which is obviously unclear. Whether the new (oldest) form of direct purchasing of entertainment or old (last 3 centuries at most) form if indirect purchasing of entertainment will be dominant is unknown. Most probably both forms will coexist for a while into the future. The final word is that live experience amounts to whatever we pay attention to, and the fight for getting this attention will never subdue.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting angle to the story of mass communication and entertainment. It could easily be extended back to Roman times with their “bread and circuses” motto. I think that the most interesting part here is ability of mass communicators to attract attention to their product and methods they used to get it done. It is not only advertisement for goods and services, but also political action in democracy or any system for that matter that are critical for condition of society. Depending on who and how can get attention of the active majority and direct it into carefully selected points of reality or false reality, the society could implement effective methods of achieving well being for population as it happened in market based democracies of early America and period of British industrial revolution or it could implement ineffective methods that lead to hugely tragic economic mismanagement and loss of live as it happened in communal, market denying societies of Russia, China, or Nazi Germany in XX century.
20170304 The Shock of the Old
The main idea of this book is to provide unusual view of technology development and its use. Unlike typical approach, that is heavily stressing innovations, this book is much more about use of existing technologies and reasons why it was implemented when it was, not when it was invented, which sometimes constitute gap of thousands of years. Even more important is analysis of cultural impact of technology on everything that is society.
This is bout use-centered account of the history of technology with stress what author calls “creole” technological mixes. It also provides critic of innovation- centered history demonstrating its deficiencies and mistakes. It is also about interplay between technology and culture.
This is a review of relative importance of different technologies, which is based on an interesting observation that quite often small and simple technologies have much higher impact than expensive, complex, and spectacular. Very good example is condom technology that definitely had much higher impact on fate of humanity than moon landing, but had never been considered something newsworthy or spectacular. Author also looks at technology spin offs and overall methods of assessing technologies.
This is a look at timeline of development and implementation of different technologies, which is quite different from traditional. For example steam power technology was actually developed long before its massive use in XVIII and XIX centuries, probably thousands years before. Author looks here at several technologies that were highly time dependent in their implementation.
This is about impact of technology on overall production, especially on productivity. For example typical discussion is about decline of agriculture and expansion of manufacturing with industrializations. Author however stresses that it is mistaking analysis because agriculture did not decline, but rather grew dramatically. The point is it grew via productivity improvement with fast decline in number of people involved and decrease in overall share of GDP. Consequently the image of decline is misleading because the total ability to produce more food increased dramatically so humanity now can easily produce more food than could possibly be consumed.
This is about another underappreciated part of the technological process, the part often forgotten and/or taken for granted. In reality maintenance takes as much if not more efforts than creation of construction or technology. Author looks at multiple examples of high importance of maintenance in various industries with stress on upgrade when some parts of technology drastically changed despite retaining it outlook and frame. Good example is B-52, which is flying for 60 years, while multiple upgrades of its avionics, communication gear, and weaponry made it probably hundred times more effective bomber than it was originally. At the end of chapter this logic extended from technology all the way to maintenance of society.
This is about relationship between technology and nations, which depends in their development on creation or imitation of the new technology in order to maintain themselves as independent entities and provide goods and services for population. Author discusses positives of globalization and negatives of autarky, the last one by using example of Soviet Union – ultimate autarky of “socialism in one country”, which in reality was highly dependent on American technological transfers. Similar stories provided for other countries where nationalism and racism led to quite idiotic technological decision making.
Here is quite typical look at war as engine of technological progress. The main point is that despite all these technologies, the most part of fighting and killing was done with old tools – many more people killed in XX century with artillery and small arms than with nuclear and all other air delivered bombs. However victory is nevertheless going to possessor of better technology, in short – war rewards successful innovation in technology more than anything else. Author also discusses “unusable” weapons such as nuclear weapons and the latest military events.
This chapter is about killing of living creatures that humans do for various reasons: pesticides, slaughterhouses, fishing, and even other humans in various genocides. Obviously technology improved dramatically, making it highly efficient process.
The final chapter addresses process of invention itself and is looking at academic science and business R&D, demonstrating that this formal processes of invention become a significant part of human activities, not necessarily producing constantly increasing returns.
This is a restatement of key point of this book: old technologies are as important as the new ones if not more so and that typical overblow of everything new. Consequently we would be better off by selecting technologies based on their functionality, rather than their novelty.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this book is a good collection of technological examples, but it is somewhat redundant if looked at recommendation for action in market economy. A business owner seldom would change technology for change sake because it is his own money and increased cost. Not so for all kind of government driven technological change when cost is practically not part of consideration. In short, my opinion is that similarly to any other area only free market with responsibility fully allocated to decision makers technological progress could be sensible and effective. The top down government driven development it guaranteed to be producer of various boondoggles like Concord and many others. Consequently no book and no logic would convince government bureaucrats to look at old simple and cheap technology for any purpose whatsoever when expensive, poorly designed, and immature technology that provides well for bureaucrats would do at leas half decent job at it.
20170225 The Demon in Democracy
The main idea of this book is to demonstrate not just close resemblance, but actually common features of East European Communism / Socialism of XX century and West European Liberal Democracy. Most importantly this includes similar objective – to improve world for people by building completely new society and destroying traditional society in the process. The key to common approach of both Communists and Liberal Democrats is attitude to people as abstractions that should be led if necessary by force, to better live whether they want to go there or not. Obviously it is done without real understanding and even interest in lives of real human beings. Consequently this inevitably led to totalitarian inclinations of both systems clearly expressed by their intolerance and hostility to individual freedoms and non-conformist opinions. One of the most consequential results of this similarity in countries of former Eastern block like Poland was easiness with which former communist bosses accommodated to transfer of their countries into Liberal democracies, often taking powerful positions in the new system with huge support of Western Liberal Democrats, while former freedom fighters and dissidents found themselves in somewhat hostile environment due to their adherence to individual freedoms and religious views.
Here author refers to his experience as dissident in communist Poland and member of Solidarity movement who lived through the struggle and societal change to demonstrate his deep familiarity with both Communist / Socialist system and Liberal Democracy in order to validate veracity of his comparative evaluation of the two systems.
CHAPTER I History
In this chapter author looks at historical commonality of two movements: they both are based on idea of inevitable linear progress of society from lower to higher forms of organization. They both linked to Marxist ideology, one openly and assertively relying on totalitarian violence, while another somewhat more softly and mainly relying on democratic process. Both systems aspire to take over all societal functions and both perceive themselves as the final stop in historical development. Author discusses in details notion of discontinuity of the new system from previous history of a given society, when the new system not just ignores, but also actively rejects it. Author also discusses anthropological minimalism as the key to understanding of liberal democracy and entertainment and education as main tools used to form a new either communist or liberal democrat man who overcomes human nature as it was developed through history in order to fit into the new society.
CHAPTER II Utopia
Here author makes point that both Communism and Liberal Democracy are utopian ideologies and looks at their similarities. After that he looks at democracy that is promoted by adherents of both ideologies, but with different levels of hypocrisy. Communists support democracy only until the moment they take power, after which they extinguish it completely, leaving only formal shell such as one party-one candidate elections, while liberal democrats typically not able to achieve complete control of society and tend to loose elections to their opponents after liberal policies cause some economic and/or political disaster. After that author analyses workings of democracy, providing an interesting take on reasoning supporting this form of political organization:
At the end of chapter he provides somewhat funny, but way too real method of Liberal Democracy actions of “coercion to freedom”, which is typical currently in Europe and elsewhere in any area of societal activities that fall under its control: education, entertainment, and mass media.
CHAPTER III Politics
The discussion of politics points another common feature of Communism and Liberal Democracy: both promise to reduce role of politics, but in reality dramatically increase this role. Author discusses it as a paradox present in each of ideologies albeit somewhat differently. Communism is much more coercive and mainly satisfied with external and formal expression of loyalty with winning minds and hearts of people being secondary objective. Liberal Democracy works much harder and much more successfully on winning hearts and minds using coercion on much smaller scale, however this scale is growing consistently with increase of popular support. This discussion is going into great details of situation in Europe and political developments in EU.
CHAPTER IV. Ideology
This is discussion of ideological similarities between these two. The both see development as teleological process with progress being inevitable. They both see themselves as one and only true ideology and therefore anybody who does not agree with them is under influence of false consciousness. The difference however is that Communism openly accepts this approach, while Liberal Democracy pretends of being non-ideological, just following common sense. Historically Liberal democracy is much more successful than Communism in coercing people to comply with its ideology leading to some very funny examples like white individuals developing black racist attitudes or male developing radical feminist views. Another important point in this discussion is that both ideologies distract people from reality and trying to substitute it with some ideological constructs. Based on his experience author stresses that Communism was eventually destroyed not by challenge from Liberal Democracy, but by more traditional set of views like patriotism, religion, traditions, and strive for freedom. In these terms Liberal Democracy much more powerful mainly because it acts much more slowly, resorting to coercion only after it obtained majority support among influencers if not among general population.
CHAPTER V Religion
This chapter is pretty much application of general approach to struggle of these two ideologies against religion, especially Christianity and how representative of these religions respond. Once again direct coercive nature of Communism led sometimes to strong resistance, especially when supported coreligionists from countries outside of Communist control. However within Communist countries and later within Liberal Democratic world official religious structure typically vacillate between conciliatory and capitulatory approaches, both eventually leading to elimination of religion from human live.
Here author discusses not just affinities between Communism and Liberal Democracy, but their impact on culture and general condition of society. He referrers to his experience in Poland where Communism came in one of the most cruel forms of Soviet occupation that followed after another extremely cruel form of socialism – Nazi occupation. The resulting destruction of culture and tradition turned out to be persistent and individuals formed by the Communism ideology turned out to be perfectly fit into Liberal Democracy as it substituted Communism after it fall. The contemporary result of both and any of these two ideologies is a vulgar and primitive individual who rejected history, traditions, and religion of his ancestors and busy accommodating to whatever current fissionable turn of ideology would provide most reliable access to goods, services, and power. Author can see one of two future outcomes: either the new human being produced by ideology is in reality true human nature and will permanently exist in world of vulgarity and mediocrity, or true human nature is different and would eventually lead to rejection of ideology and return to freedom and aspiration to live a wonderful live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Since I have similar background it seems to be easy for me to understand where author is coming from. His comparison of these two ideologies is right on target and his characterization of Liberal Democracy as softer, more human, but consequently more dangerous relative of Communism is exactly right. The significant point I think is missing here is that both these ideologies have strong deleterious character for economical as well as cultural development of society. This comes from the key feature of both these ideologies: the strong believe in top down management and control of society by experts, whether these experts are members of Politburo of Communist party or Harvard PhDs. History demonstrated that human society overall and economics specifically are way too complicated for such approach to work. In short both ideologies severely impede human pursuit of happiness to the extent they are implemented, inevitably cause deterioration in production of goods and services, and consequently could not possibly be stable on the long run. The seemingly more powerful ability of Liberal Democracy to convince people in its validity is illusory because a relatively peaceful development and ascent to power of Liberal Democracy, unlike Communism, initially keeps in place market economy that provides satisfactory amounts and quality of goods and services. However with increase in power Liberal Democracy obtains more control over all areas of live leading to top down control that fails produce effective results inevitably leading to its rejection. The question is obviously what comes next, but it is outside of the scope of this discussion.
20170218 What Washington gets Wrong
The main idea of this book is that American system as it was evolved over XX and early XXI centuries is, for all practical purposes, an overwrite of constitution, which substituted the original system of power divided into legislative, executive and judicial with nearly all powerful administrative state run by professional bureaucrats with materially different believes and attitudes than general population. Authors suggest that remedy could be improvement in education of both population and bureaucrats by teaching both of them realpolitik attitude to governance and trying to instill in bureaucrats a notion that their role is to serve population not to lead population to whatever ends they consider beneficial.
Here is the gist of this book as described by author:
Chapter 1. Unelected Government: The Folks Who Really Run Things
Administrative agencies have become “relatively autonomous,” to borrow an idea from Marxist social theory. Though federal bureaucracies are, to some extent, overseen by Congress, the president, and the courts, America’s administrative agencies exercise a good deal of discretionary authority as they promulgate rules and regulations that have the force of law. For most Americans, in realms ranging from healthcare through air travel, encounters with federal authority involve interactions with administrative agencies. Do these relatively autonomous agencies have appropriate regard or sympathy for the citizens for whom they work?
Chapter 2. The Chasm between Us and Them
Using a statistical measure called propensity scoring, we compare citizens and officials along a number of dimensions. To summarize these comparisons, we introduce a measure we call “civic distance”. This measure is derived from another useful Aristotelian notion, that of Kowov (koinon, or political commonality), and is designed to statistically capture the extent to which citizens and officials inhabit similar political worlds on the basis of education, income, experience, and beliefs. We discover that when it comes to politics, the two groups actually live in rather distinct cognitive universes, viewing issues, policies, and events through disparate lenses.
Chapter 3. What Those Who Govern Really Think about You and Me
Many Washington officials have little regard for the citizens they nominally serve.
Inside the Beltway, ordinary Americans are seen as knowing very little about government and politics and as expressing outlandish and uninformed opinions.
In truth, the attitudinal difference between officials and citizens, though significant, is less than the officials think. Officials tend to exhibit a sense of false uniqueness, thinking themselves so superior that they cannot imagine that ordinary folks share their lofty thoughts. Viewing the public as benighted, officialdom seems more concerned with how best to induce citizens to obey, than with how best to serve the public. Hence, “enforcement” is a hot topic in official Washington.
Chapter 4. What the Government Does versus What the People Want
Officials’ lack of concern or even knowledge of the views of the general public does not leave us with much confidence that the interests of ordinary citizens will carry much weight in the process of administrative rulemaking. Using a data set drawn from the federal government’s Unified Regulatory Agenda, we present an analysis of the determinants of rulemaking by federal agencies. Some scholars assert that the impetus for the thousands of rules and regulations written every year by government agencies is extrinsic – that is, determined by political and other events outside the agencies. Other scholars, though, have argued that the agencies, perhaps working with their supporting constellations of interests and stakeholders, march to and govern according to their own drummers and rhythms! Our study would appear to indicate that the second group is closer to the truth. Congressional intervention into rulemaking seems to bring rules closer to public priorities. Left to themselves, though, administrators’ priorities and those of the more general public seem to diverge. It is no wonders that many Americans believe the government is out of step with their views and are willing to give their support to political outsiders in the 2 of 16 presidential elections.
Chapter 5. What Should Be Done to Make the Government Listen?
Given the findings presented in chapters 1-4, can anything be done to enhance the government’s “sympathy” for the people and the likelihood that policymakers will be guided by popular interests and preferences? Many institutional and procedural reforms are, of course, discussed in the policy and administrative literatures. Our focus is a bit different. We recommend changes in American civic education. Today, under the rubric of civics, American citizens are taught to be good and dutiful subjects. Fortunately, they are not taught very effectively and many quickly forget their classroom history and civics lessons. Officials, on the other hand, with one significant set of exceptions, are taught leadership skills but very little about the people whom they lead or their responsibility to those people. The one exception consists of military officers who do receive training in their duties to the people of the United States. Civilian officials, on the other hand, are taught little or nothing about their duties and obligations to the people. We propose that citizens be taught realpolitik, the German term for political realism, rather than civic mythology to prepare them to be actual citizens rather than subjects. The Athenians distinguished between citizens-individuals who had the capacity to debate in the agora, or marketplace and idiots who lacked that capacity. America could do with more citizens and fewer idiots. We also propose measures that might remind officials of their own civic responsibilities to the citizens whom they nominally serve.
Chapter 6. What If What Should Be Done Isn’t Done?
We conclude by pointing to the significance of our findings for more general issues of representative government. We also consider the relevance of our findings for understanding the major problems associated with the rise of bureaucratic governance in the United States. Bureaucrats are certain that they are more competent than ordinary citizens when it comes to matters of governance. This sense of superior competence, however, can become a dangerous delusion–damaging to both democracy and governance.
Here are a couple of tables demonstrating difference between population and bureaucrats:
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a great collection of research and derived knowledge about America’s real ruling class of bureaucrats and politicians. It demonstrates all features typical for such classes: distance from population, arrogance, hubris, and, most important, dogged pursuit of their own interest at the expense of general public. There is no doubt in my mind that this ruling class, as many similar groups in history, would lead country to social disaster unless American exceptional quality of highly distributed wealth, power, and well armed and independently thinking population decisively come into play. Despite all negative developments of the last century and a half, these exceptional qualities of America made it impossible for ruling class of bureaucrats and politicians fully control information flow, discussion about issues, and even selection of issues to discuss. Even their stringent effort to instill Political Correctness as rigid framework limiting speech mainly failed at least so far due to the very strong believe of population in free speech. It also makes it all but impossible to fully control raw power, which is in America traditionally distributed between federal armed forces strongly indoctrinated to face outside of the country, state level forces, multiple police forces, and last but not least multitude of well armed individuals who could easily band together into significant force in case of perceived danger to their freedoms (however illusory these freedoms are). In short, every time in American history, when distance between rulers and population became too obvious and much resented, Americans used formal democratic procedures of election to find some outsiders to elect and at least temporary defeat and diminished the class of ruling bureaucrats and politicians. This was the case with Andrew Jackson 190 years ago and it seems to be the case with Donald Trump now. The key for understanding here is that the rulers’ defeat is only temporary and after all settled, the administrative state would start its growth again – that is, until complete system will change so that all resources would be in full ownership of population in such way that nobody is left behind without resources and therefore no redistribution is possible.
20170211 – Not by Genes Alone
Culture is the necessary feature of human existence and has deep biological roots providing for coevolution of individual and group with successful group supporting genetic selection of the most fitting individuals, while at the same time providing much more flexible and adaptable set of features supporting group’s cultural survival.
Chapter 1 Culture Is Essential
The nature of culture as essential feature of human condition is demonstrated here by looking at well-established and well-known pattern of US Southern vs. Northern Culture. The key points here are:
- Culture is critical for understanding human behavior
- Culture is part of biology
The way it works is this: humans genetically predisposed to acquire cultural patterns of behavior from other humans during their childhood and maturation. After such patterns acquired and fully established, they define biological reaction of human organism consistent with this patterns. For example a casual insult to Southerner causes immediate activation of biological response to fighting situation, while similar insult goes practically unnoticed by Northerner’s organism.
Authors provide a nice definition of culture as “information capable of effecting individual’s behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.”
The core theory of culture that authors are supporting is population thinking, that is thinking about a group and its characteristics as much as about individual. They also discuss link between cultural characteristics and individual characteristics formed by genetic and cultural evolutions correspondingly. The connection is strong and clearly has two way character when survival of individual and survival of the group interdependent, albeit not always simultaneous. Generally effective group outcompete less effective, but then normally provides opportunity for inclusion for individuals from defeated group. At the same time individual belonging to winning group quite often had to forfeit individual survival for the sake of the group. This creates an interesting interplay between features promoting individual and group survival.
This logic goes back all the way to Darwin who clearly understood connection between individual and group with culture being practically all covering media between them. However his thought was pretty much ignored by social sciences.
Chapter 2 Culture Exists
The main point here is rejection of popular view that culture is not important and analysis should start and pretty much end at the level of individual. The reasons provided in order to reject this view are:
- Cultural differences account for much of human variation
- The “common garden experiment’ – mental experiment of transfer individual between drastically different environments demonstrates impossibility of survival without possession of appropriate culture.
- Example of natural experiment provided: variance in behavioral patterns between farmers of different cultural background in the same natural environment in Illinois
- Natural experiment of group competition between Noer and Dinka in Africa
- Multiple other examples.
Most important inferences: environment does not explain difference between group in full despite little to none differences in genetic makeup.
Authors also look at dynamic development of culture and find multiple samples of group evolution either internally driven or via process of adaptation from other more successful groups. Also important point is that culture normally evolves via small changes that happen all the time, leading eventually to huge variances in cultures that allow explaining magnitude of human variations.
Chapter 3 Culture Evolves
This is about process of culture evolvement or in other words evolvement of information content of brains that consequently expressed in behavior of these brains owners. Authors look at the acquisition process for believes, skills, and attitudes that actually are culture and define behavior. Here is a nice graphic presentation of the process:
Chapter 4 Culture Is an Adaptation
This chapter is designed to prove that the meaning of culture is adaptation for the group. This is different from usual perception that culture just simplifies individual learning by postulated higher level of knowledge than individual brain is capable of obtaining, leading to qualitative difference between individual and group adaptations. Here are main points that authors make:
- Culture is derived trait in humans
- Social transmission of behavior is common, but much more complex in humans than in other animals
- Cumulative cultural evolution is practically unique for humans
- Cultural transmission based on imitation with selective learning that allows for cumulative improvement
- Culture is adaptable when learning is difficult and environment is unpredictable.
Authors discuss how culture had evolved and present and interesting idea that it could be because of dramatic increase in climate fluctuations making quick adjustment to a change via cultural modification on the same genetically unchanged basis effective tool for survival of human species. Here is graph demonstrating that such increase in fluctuations coincides with human development:
Chapter 5 Culture Is Maladaptive
This chapter is about another side of the story: culture can easily be maladaptive and there are multiple examples of this. Authors point out that it is quite similar to individual evolution when change is tested by environment that define validity of the change whether it increases chances for survival, decreases them or just neutral. They review multiple samples of adaptation and maladaptation driven by culture. The main conclusion here is that culture is built for speed not comfort.
Chapter 6 Culture and Genes Coevolve
This is about coevolution meaning that some cultural features cause genetic selection starting with typical example of lactose tolerance mutation clearly connected to cultural development of animal husbandry. Authors provide quite detailed analysis of egoism vs. selfless behavior within group and then discuss survival rates of groups as continuing process of selection most fitting cultural features. One interesting thing is that failure of a group not necessarily means extinction of its members. Much more typical is incorporation of members of failed group into the winning group with superior cultural features. The final point is that our modern institutions are based on tribal social instincts and that cultural and genetic evolution is practically indivisible and represents one process, albeit clearly two-sided.
Chapter 7 Nothing About Culture Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution
The final chapter is designed mainly as response to the question: is dual inheritance theory the proper theory of cultural evolution? The obvious response is yes. It also calls for synthetic theory of human behavior that would include both micro and macro influences that define behavior according to genes, environment and individual psychology, but also includes macro impact from the culture of the group.
The final word is that key for understanding is evolution both genetic and cultural.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book contains the great amount of supporting scientific material for my believe that human individuals being the product of combination of genes and environment, which to very high degree is defined by the culture of the group individual belongs to. However I would be very careful in applying mathematical methods just because the level of complexity is incredibly high. For beginning in contemporary world individual belongs to a multitude of groups by nationality, ethnicity, locations, and such. It is quite common for individual to go through multiple locations in different periods of live and so on. We’ve got far away from formative experiences of our first 90,000 years as humans, when we lived in the simple world of one person – one group at the time. I think it would take a lot more complex analysis and research to understand dynamics of constantly changing hierarchy of groups and loyalty to them that impact both formation of individual psychological self and everyday behavior in continuously changing circumstances. However the main dynamic: individual survival in interplay with group cultural survival remains key feature of human behavior.
20170204 To Sell is Human
The most important point of this book is that sales are not kind of activity that is going to disappear. On the contrary, author looks at the sales as an activity of communicating with other people and convincing them to do something (to buy) one is selling, whether these are goods, services, or ideas. In this view selling is the activity that takes significant part of time and efforts for everybody even for people who do not believe that they are in selling business. So the main idea is to look at the process of selling and provide recommendations on how to do it effectively in today’s world.
Part One Rebirth of a sale man
- We’re All in Sales Now
This chapter starts with the story about the last of disappearing breed of door-to-door salesmen – Fuller Brush man. The story demonstrates that job of selling is far from disappearing, moreover, in reality:
After that discussion goes into characteristics of non-sale selling, which takes about 40% of everybody’s work time and consist of persuading, influencing, and convincing others – critical part of every non-manual job.
- Entrepreneurship, Elasticity, and Ed-Med
This chapter demonstrates that selling is an integral part of any entrepreneurial activity and entrepreneurs are presenting millions of businesses, many without any employees whatsoever. This requires elasticity of skills combining technical organizational and sales specific skills. This follows by example of Ed-Med couple that needs selling skills to work effectively in education and medical services.
- From Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor
This chapter starts with description of cultural perception of selling as low activity done by sleazy people. Here is a nice presentation of this attitude by frequency of words use in relation to selling:
Author suggests that this approach while valid in the past due to widely used informational disparity between buyer and seller, leading to seller’s ability to sell lemons, is losing its validity due to Internet and wide availability of information that eliminates disparity. Author demonstrates it by discussing old style auto dealership serving poor and contemporary haggle free big dealership with preset prices and conditions for used cars where honesty really become the best policy.
Part Two HOW to Be
Here author introduces new ABC of successful sales: Attunement / Buoyancy / Clarity
This is about attunement of seller’s action to buyer’s needs that become necessary in order to be successful. The idea of hard sell seems to run out its course and in reality the idea of empathic sale works a lot better. Author also discusses personality features most beneficial for sales: contrary to typical believes it is not Extraverts but rather Ambiverts who generally doing much better than Introverts. Here is nice graph for this:
To demonstrate this feature author returns to the Fuller Brash Man and looks at details of his selling process when he returns again and again to the same potential buyer continuously probing and continuously going through the sequence:
- Before: Interrogative Self-Talk – the process of setting up own mood and attitude to be effective in selling, which surprisingly is not command: “I Will”, but rather question: “Will I?”
- During: Positivity Ratios – the positivity here means transmitting such attitude that one’s counterpart was felling that seller does everything possible the process of sale lead to win-win situation. The very interesting thing here is that research seem to identify effective ratio for positive to negative emotions as 3 to 1, with lesser ratio such as 2 to 1 being as bad as negative, while too positive around 11 to 1 becoming counterproductive.
- After: Explanatory Style – here author relies on research of Martin Seligman discoverer of “learned helplessness”. This is related to Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) that measure pessimism-optimism and can-do approaches. The results are: the best approach is optimism with clear eyes to reality. Either pessimism or rose glasses optimism fail.
The chapter on clarity starts with research of Hal Hershfield about retirement saving that discovered an interesting fact about human attitude: people see themselves now and in the future as different entities, so the problem is subconscious resistance: why am I, 35 years old, would make sacrifices for this absolutely unknown stranger – 65 years old me. Author uses this as example of necessity to carefully identify problem and formulating it with complete clarity before trying to solve it. To expand on this idea, author also discusses research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that demonstrated materially higher level of success for people for trying to find problem before acting and people who are trying to solve problem before clearly understanding what it is. The second part of the chapter is about finding correct frame for the problem of sale and here are examples:
- The less Frame – limit choices by eliminating some of them and allocating more effort to analyzing others
- The Experience Frame – people prefer experience to staff, so frame staff as experience
- The Label Frame – this is based of managed perception for example Prisoner’s dilemma framed as “Wall Street game” is played completely different when framed as “ Community Game”
- The Blemished Frame – small negative added to the mix of mainly positive features actually improves chances of success
- The Potential Frame – unknown potential benefits beats know benefits hands down. Nice example: “ He Is the Next big thing” loses to “ He Could Be the Next big thing”.
The final and very important point in this chapter is need for the clarity of future action that author characterizes as off-ramp.
Part Three What to DO
This part is about the process of selling. It defines it as 3 stages continuing process with the first one making people interested through Pitch, the second convincing them to close the deal, and the final after sales service that would create basis for the next sale.
The pitch chapter starts with story of Otis – elevator pitch, which was actually demonstration of save working elevator. It follows with description of 6 types of pitches:
- The one word pitch (Saatchi for MasterCard: Priceless)
- The question pitch (Reagan: Are you better off today?)
- The rhyming pitch (OJ trial: If it does not fit you must acquit)
- Subject line pitch based on Utility, Curiosity, and Specificity
- The Twitter pitch (winner of MBA application contest: Globally minded / Innovative and Driven / Tippie can sharpen)
- The Pixar pitch (The story framework: Once upon a time / Every Day / One Day / Because of that / Because of that / Until finally
This is about improvisation required in process of selling. Here are some tips:
- Hear Offers
- Say “Yes and…”
- Make your partner look good
The final chapter is about service – ability to learn how goods or services used and improve this process in such way as to add value to acquired product. Example provided: nudge announcement passengers to control reckless driver in Kenya dramatically decreasing amount of accidents, personification X-ray prints with picture of patient improving recognition of diseases, improving compliance by nurses to procedure by adding purpose to protect patients to hands washing.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion this book is not really about sales, but rather about communication skills. The diversity of objectives of communication is practically infinite and sale when money exchange takes place is just a small subset of it. This book is a very nice collection of methods of preparation for communication and tools that could be used to make it effective. It is worth to remember and use as needed.
20170128 Who Needs the Fed?
The main idea here is to explain and demonstrate that Fed existence is not helpful, but rather detrimental to efficient functioning of economy because it cannot effectively fulfill its function to control money supply.
PART ONE: CREDIT
ONE The Rate Setters at the Fed Should Attend More Taylor Swift Concerts
The first chapter uses example of Uber dynamically changing rate for taxi after popular concert, consequently providing ability to meet demand that was properly decreased by higher price. The point here is to demonstrate that it is not possible establish best price from outside and that this general rule of economics applies to the price of credit that Fed supposedly controls.
TWO Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, and Pete Carroll Would Never Need an Easy Fed
This chapter uses sport to provide example of inefficient use of capital. The lesson here is that entrepreneurs are human and as such make mistakes leading to failure and economy has a tool to clear up consequences of such failure – recessions. The point here is that recessions are not market failure, but rather an act of maintenance of the system, necessary to keep it in good shape.
THREE In Hollywood, the Traffic Lights Are Almost Always Red
This chapter uses Hollywood to demonstrate actual independence of credit and credit rates from Fed, mainly by pointing out that popular actors believed to have potential to produce blockbuster in their next movie have no problem to get vast amount of credit at low rate regardless of economic cycle, while actors who failed could not get credit at any price.
FOUR In Silicon Valley Your Failures Are Your Credit
This is extension of credit cost irrelevance discussion based on example of Silicon Valley where credit is relatively plentiful because huge potential return. The failure here is celebrated as necessary step in acquiring experience that will lead to future win, even if it has a significant feel of lottery in it.
FIVE Did You Hear the One about Donald Trump Walking into a Rank?
This chapter uses examples of Donald Trump and Michael Milken to present idea that the real private credit has overwhelming dependency of character and history of creditor.
SIX Ben Bernanke’s Crony Credit
In this chapter author is moving away from private credit to state interference in credit and uses example of Bernanke and Paulson to demonstrate how government’s violent interference creates huge redistribution opportunity for individuals in possession of intimate connections with and knowledge of bureaucratic hierarchy.
SEVEN What the Supply-Siders and Hillary Clinton Sadly Have in Common
This chapter presents somewhat unusual proposition that supply side economics actually empowers government distortion of economy and misallocation of resources as it is embodied mightily in Hillary’s personality and ideas. The logic here is simple: supply side decrease taxes resulting in increase in government tax revenues as consequence allowing government spent more to bribe more constituencies and increase its power.
EIGHT Why “Senator Warren Buffet” Would Be a Credit-Destroying Investor
This chapter makes another important point to demonstrate necessity of failure. It uses Warrant Buffet and his relatively low rate of capital misallocations to demonstrate that private market feedback allowed for quick reaction in reallocation resources away from unproductive use. If Buffet were a senator there would be no reason for him to react quickly, moreover political resource allocation always includes supporters who receive these resources, therefore reallocating resources to more productive use would cost senator Buffet support of people and would have negative impact for him, while similar reallocation for private investor Buffet would be positive for him by preventive loss or providing bigger gain.
NINE The Credit Implications of the Fracking Boom
This chapter initially discusses complexity and necessity of division of labor (“I, pencil” and similar) and then applies it to credit in fracking industry. The point here is that for global economy credit for fracking is net loss because there are plentiful other reserves of oils that are profitable with traditional and much cheaper technology. Author points out stability of oil price in gold and relate its variation in dollars to political manipulation of dollar. His point is that USA president always get dollar he wants, but gold it constant.
TEN Conclusion: Sorry Keynesians and Supply-Siders, Government Is Always a Credit-Shrinking Tax
The final chapter about the Credit summarizes author’s ideas that credit is nothing more than tool of resource allocation and any government interference in this allocation is really just a tax that moves resources away from productive use. In these terms supply siders who decrease tax rate consequently increasing economy and with it tax returns are guilty in transferring more resources to government bureaucracies to waste.
PART TWO: BANKING
ELEVEN NetJets Doesn’t Multiply Airplanes, and Banks Don’t Multiply Money and Credit
Here author uses example of air rental company NetJets to demonstrate that credit represents real resources and exists outside of banks and feds activities that change money supply. The point is that if one just creates money by fiat and gives it out as credit, this credit would not bring in resources if they do not exists. Since money nothing more than facilitator of credit such fiat would only lead to impediment of real economy.
TWELVE Good Businesses Never Run Out of Money, and Neither DO Well-Run Banks
The point of this chapter is that good business can always get necessary credit as long as creditors believe that it is good. The same applies for banks therefore government demand to keep a share of deposits as cash are meaningless for good banks and would not prevent bad banks from failure.
THIRTEEN Do We Even Need Banks?
This is reference to advance technology that allowed for credit cards and then for crowd financing such as Kickstarter. These developments make banks somewhat outdated. The inference here is that we do not need banks in their current form and they could survive and maintain relevance only if government gets out and allow them compete with all other forms of credit.
FOURTEEN The Housing Boom Was Not a Consequence of “Easy Credit”
This is discussion directed against idea that Housing boom was caused by easy credit. Author repeats his point that monetary credit just represents resources and as such could not increase or decrease their amount, so the crisis occurred mainly to weak dollar policy.
FIFTEEN Conclusion: Why Washington and Wall Street Are Better Off Living Apart
The final conclusion of this part is that close link between banks and government distorted working of economic system in such way that banks got to care about only one customer – government, neglecting all others and it led to gross misallocation of resources.
PART THREE: THE FED
SIXTEEN Baltimore and the Money Supply Myth
This chapter is directed against monetarists. The main point here as elsewhere in this book is that money is just a measure of resources and does not really have any serious impact on resources exchange. As example author uses Baltimore where non-productive welfare recipients would not get better if additional money supply increase their demand because they do not produce anything so this demand would not stimulate Baltimore. In addition to Keynesian solution author rejects gold standard as being far from ideal and suggest that the best way would be to leave money creation to private market where multiple currencies could compete and the most stable and liquid would win.
SEVENTEEN Quantitative Easing Didn’t Stimulate the Economy, Nor Did It Create a Stock-Market Boom
This chapter is discussion directed against Quantitate Easing arguing that government should not use political methods to stimulate spending. The main point here is that QE based on the strange idea that could be buyers without sellers and borrowers without savers.
EIGHTEEN The Fed Has a Theory, and It Is 100 Percent Bogus
This is discussion about Philips curve and another strange believe that economic growth causes inflation and it is somehow connected with decrease in unemployment, so by inflating money Fed can decrease it. Author believes that this idea is 100% wrong because it does not account for global character of the market and, most important, for continuing increase in productivity.
NINETEEN DO We Really Need the Fed?
The obvious answer is clearly “No” for reasons exemplified by Taylor Swift and Barney Madoff – credit is something that borrower already has either as marketable collateral for loan or human capital that represents high probability of future cash flows. By definition Fed function is monetary intervention into market to control inflation and unemployment, which according to author and the last hundred years of history, could not possibly work.
TWENTY End the Fed? For Sure, But Don’t Expect Nirvana
Here author again briefly going through history and discussing Fed’s failures, but he warns it is not really Fed, but government spending that causes the problem and Fed just facilitate this spending.
TWENTY-ONE, Conclusion: The Robot Will Be the Biggest Job Creator in World History
Interestingly enough the concluding chapter is about robots and their impact. Author rejects the idea that robots would push humans out of productive activities and crash economy. He looks at them as dramatic enhancement of productivity making resources and correspondingly credit abundant and therefore giving humans tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the author’s idea that credit is not money, but rather representation of resources pretty compelling and his critic of Fed as mainly harmful blunt instrument generally used to hurt economy mainly correct. I think that idea of private money theoretically interesting, but misses a very important issue of transaction costs: any individual on the market would have to spend unordinary amount of time and effort researching validity and efficacy of currency for transaction. I would suggest another solution: to keep Fed as currency insurance tool that could be financed by currency issuer and would provide currency stability insurance on transactional basis. The government involvement here is necessary because its coercion and violence is necessary tools to get access to full information and limit cheating. As for robots as credit enhancers that would just add to human productivity rather than put humans out of work, I think author makes mistake by overestimating human propensity for productive activity. A significant number of individuals, if not the majority would prefer do nothing or pursue completely non-productive objectives if left alone and deprived of external force that makes them to sell labor for living. I really do not think it is a huge problem, but if not taken care of by establishing mechanism of resource allocation for such people, it could become very dangerous source of tension in society.
20170121 The Sharing Economy
The main idea here is that the radical shift in economics and property rights as its foundation currently is under way. It is shift from ownership economy to sharing economy when people use staff that they do not own, but rather share with other people or exchange it on peer-to-peer basis rather then produce, sell, and distribute this staff via hierarchically structured corporations.
In introduction author explicitly states the main idea of this book and provides main examples of the new economy: Airbnb, Uber, and Facebook. Important point here is author’s understanding that peer-to-peer exchange is not new, but it was key feature of pre-industrial economy. The main and very radical difference is that it used to be local exchange between neighbors and now it is becoming global exchange between strangers. The relatively detailed review of specific business model provides examples of how exactly it is done.
- The Sharing Economy Market Economies, and Gift Economies
This is about definition of sharing economy and its nature as notion covering all Market-To-Gift Spectrum of exchange. The key features:
- Largely market based
- High impact capital both material and human
- Crowd-based networks
- Blurring lines between personal and professional
- Blurring lines between fully employed and casual labor
- Extensive use of crowd funding
- Importance of platforms
- Laying the Tracks: Digital and Socioeconomic Foundations
This chapter discusses history of Internet development and digitalization of exchanges from e-bay buying and selling to digital currencies, 3d printing, and even digitization of trust.
- Platforms: Under the Hood
This is about necessity and nature of platforms for sharing economy. It provides an interesting graph for relationship between markets vs. hierarchy and complexity vs. specificity of products or services:
- Blockchain Economies: The Crowd as the Market Maker
The final chapter in this part is about blockchain logic with its distributed transaction posting and its implementation for digital currency (bitcoin) and decentralized services platforms.
- The Economic Impacts of Crowd-Based Capitalism
For economic impact author initially discusses deficiencies of usual methods of measuring economy such as GDP and overall difficulties of measuring digital economy. After that he points out four key economic effects:
- Altering capital impact, for example increase ration of use of existing car with Uber
- Economies of scale would be overcome by economies of networks
- Increased Variety = Increased Consumption
- Democratization of Opportunity due to use of platforms and crowd financing, which dramatically decreases cost of entry into practically any economic activity.
- The Shifting Landscape of Regulation and Consumer Protection
This chapter is about dramatic changes that will necessarily come in the area of regulation that would become less government centric and more peers controlled. Here is a nice graph for this:
- The Future of Work: Challenges and Controversies
Here author looks at the change in nature of work with local hands on work providing advantage to semi-skilled workers, while pushing higher skills level workers into more generalist activities with special tasks assigned to machines.
- The Future of Work: What Needs to Be Done
This is discussion of need to do something to counter trends that are pushing humans out of labor market. Author seems to believe that the best way to do it is promote self-employment and contract work with some guarantied safety net. It also seems to be consistent with what people really want:
Here author briefly restated main points he made in each chapter and reaffirms his believe that we are in process of moving away from managerial capitalism of XX century to crowd-based capitalism of XXI century that will provide for much more informed decisions by consumers, new regulatory framework to rebalance private-public relationships, and establish new, yet unknown form of society.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I fully agree that we are in process of revolutionary change in the method of economic organization of society comparable with industrial revolution. However I do not share most of ideas about shared economy, mainly because I believe that value of material assets is going down dramatically, therefore idea of savings coming for example from sharing car looks a lot less attractive if cost of car represents not 6 month of earnings, but rather 6 days of earnings. In this case instead of Uber self-driving car picking one up on demand a person would have one’s own car finely tuned to personal needs and idiosyncrasies. Similar approach could be applied to just about everything. To put in simple, I believe in dramatic increase in ownership of everything made possible by dramatic decrease of costs of everything, rather than savings due to increase in asset utilization via sharing. Similarly instead of massive service economy where everybody makes living by serving everybody, I believe we are moving to automated economy when machines are serving everybody, while humans are busy conducting self-serving activities some of which would include non-quantifiable services to each other.
20170114 Bourgeois Equality
The main idea of this book is deeply counter Marxist and even counter materialistic. It posits that tremendous growth in productivity and wellbeing of humanity over last 300 years was caused by dramatic change in ideological attitudes to the business and bourgeois middle class that represents it. The attitude changed from complete contempt traditionally expressed by aristocracy, clerisy, and peasantry to respect and even somewhat adulation. Author calls the new ideology “Trade Tested Betterment”, meaning that economic players have incentives to improve productivity, types of goods and services they produce, and then put it out for test by free market competition where some of these would survive and some would not. As the result it opened the way for population to produce and exchange goods and services relatively freely with diminishing of usual intervention of state in their business, and, moreover, allowed retaining profits in the hands of producers. The secondary idea however is that starting in 1848 the clerisy conducted successful complain against dignity of business resulting in catastrophic revolutions of XX century and dramatic slowdown of economic development in early XXI century. The fight is still on and it is not clear yet whether clerisy will succeed in stopping capitalist development of humanity.
First Question: What Is to Be Explained?
Part I A Great Enrichment Happened, and Will Happen
1 The World Is Pretty Rich, but Once Was Poor; 2 For Malthusian and Other Reasons, Very Poor; 3 Then Many of Us Shot Up the Blade of a Hockey Stick; 4 As Your Own Life Shows; 5 The Poor Were Made Much Better Off; 6 Inequality Is Not the Problem; 7 Despite Doubts from the Left; 8 Or from the Right and Middle; 9 The Great International Divergence Can Be Overcome
This part reviews dramatic results of economic development of capitalist countries over the last 300 years comparatively with not only previous development, but also with contemporary development of countries that did not move to Trade Tested Betterment. The results are amazingly obvious: not only western countries that embarked on this methods of society organization prospered, but also big eastern countries such as China and India moved to prosperity as soon as they started to use the same approach. Side story here is that it impacted not only rich, it improved lives of poor even more so these poor now have more access to goods and services than rich of the past.
Second Question: Why Not the Conventional Explanations?
Part II Explanations from Left and Right Have Proven False
10 The Divergence Was Not Caused by Imperialism; 11 Poverty Cannot Be Overcome from the Left by Overthrowing “Capitalism”; 12 “Accumulate, Accumulate’ Is Not What Happened in History; 13 But Neither Can Poverty Be Overcome from the Right by Implanting “Institutions”; 14 Because Ethics Matters, and Changes, More; 15 And the Oomph of Institutional Change Is Far Too Small; 16 Most Governmental Institutions Make Us Poorer
This part looks at traditional explanations for explosive growth in productivity such as Imperialistic robbery of resources from other countries, accumulation of capital, development of new institutions, and wise governmental policies. Author rejects all these explanations because: divergence in Europe that caused continuing improvement in militaristic performance provides good reasons for European dominance over the world, but could not explain internal improvements in productivity. Accumulation of capital could not explain it either, because countries that had longer history of development like China did not get there first despite such huge capital investment as irrigation systems or great wall. The idea of institutional explanation also does not hold water because laws, effective property rights, and such existed for a long time, but did not lead to any significant improvement in economic growth. Actually author accepts role of institutions as necessary condition of improvement, but denies their sufficiency and even provides small chapter on deleterious effect of some government institutions on economic growth.
Third Question: What, Then, Explains the Enrichment?
The next 6 parts trying to explain how exactly the great enrichment occurred by looking at different sides of ideological processes in western societies.
Part III Bourgeois Life Had Been Rhetorically Revalued in Britain at the Onset of the Industrial Revolution
17 It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That Even Dr. Johnson and Jane Austen Exhibit the Revaluation; 18 No Woman but a Blockhead Wrote for Anything but Money; 19 Adam Smith Exhibits Bourgeois Theory at Its Ethical Best; 20 Smith Was Not a Mr. Max U, but Rather the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists; 21 That Is, He Was No Reductionist, Economistic or Otherwise; 22 And He Formulated the Bourgeois Deal; 23 Ben Franklin Was Bourgeois, and He Embodied Betterment; 24 By 1848 a Bourgeois Ideology Had Wholly Triumphed
This part looks at representation of bourgeoisie in literature using examples of novels by Jane Austin and plays by Samuel Johnson. However the most attention author allocates to Adam Smith, but not to his usually discussed economic masterpiece “Wealth of Nations”, but to his less known “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” in which Smith discusses complexity of bourgeois ideology, stressing that it goes way beyond purely material (prudential) considerations. There is a very interesting moral and ideological interplay between bourgeois need in honesty and trustworthiness that dramatically decreases cost of transactions and enticement of monopoly and use of informational disparity between seller and buyer. One important point is that bourgeois control over political power could remain bourgeois only in condition of democracy when individuals currently in power could not use it to stop competition and consequently betterment. When they are able to do it bourgeois order naturally degrades into aristocracy as it did happened in Venice and many other places. There is also interesting discussion here about virtues nicely presented by diagram below:
Author also discusses “the Bourgeois Deal” as it was formulated by Adam Smith, which actually contains not one but two “invisible hands”. In addition to “invisible hand” of market forces it has “invisible hand” of “natural liberty” that removes very visible hand of the state from controlling and directing individual actions leaving choice of winners and losers to market place only. As example author analyses Ben Franklin’s live as quintessential bourgeois type. Finally in this part author looks at classes and their values: Aristocrat vs. Peasant vs. Bourgeois and trying to prove that by 1848 the Bourgeois triumphed over Aristocrat and Peasant. Here is a nice table for this comparison:
Part IV Pro-Bourgeois Rhetoric Was Forming in England around 1700
25 The Word “Honest” Shows the Changing Attitude toward the Aristocracy and the Bourgeoisie; 26 And So Does the Word “Eerlijk”; 27 Defoe, Addison, and Steele Show It, Too; 28 The Bourgeois Revaluation Becomes a Commonplace, as in The London Merchant; 29 Bourgeois Europe, for Example, Loved Measurement; 30 The Change Was in Social Habits of the Lip, Not in Psychology; 31 And the Change Was Specifically British
This is about formation of the new ideological attitude to bourgeois activities and people. It starts with tracing development of the world “honest” in literature and general use from aristocratic meaning of belonging to upper class of society to purely bourgeois meaning of acting honestly – truthfully, without cheating and deceit. Similar change occurred in attitudes to trade, the typical bourgeois activity – it went from being despised activity of low-born to, if not necessary noble, then quite decent, productive, and highly approvable. It went in parallel with advancement of typical bourgeois attitude to the world: learning objective facts and acting in accordance to them to achieve success. Author provides evidence from literature and historical evidence to support these ideas. Author however stresses that change was mainly rhetorical, rather than psychological and importantly occurred in the British world.
Part V Yet England Had Recently Lagged in Bourgeois Ideology Compared with the Netherlands
32 Bourgeois Shakespeare Disdained Trade and the Bourgeoisie; 33 As Did Elizabethan England Generally; 34 Aristocratic England, for Example, Scorned Measurement; 35 The Dutch Preached Bourgeois Virtue; 36. And the Dutch Bourgeoisie Was Virtuous; 37 For Instance, Bourgeois Holland Was Tolerant, and Not for Prudence Only
However even in Britain the rhetorical change was somewhat superficial. In this part author provides multiple examples of persistent contempt to bourgeoisie from Aristocracy and Intelligentsia from Shakespeare to any typical politician or lord by using multiple examples from literature of the period to confirm this point. However author also looks at the country where bourgeois virtues actually become the core of national culture – Netherlands. Especially important was such typically bourgeois virtue as tolerance extended far beyond tolerance to diverse trading partners to religious and political attitudes on individual level.
Part VI Reformation, Revolt, Revolution, and Reading Increased the Liberty and Dignity of Ordinary Europeans
38 The Causes Were Local, Temporary, and Unpredictable; 39 “Democratic” Church Governance Emboldened People; 40 The Theology of Happiness Changed circa 1700; 41 Printing and Reading and Fragmentation Sustained the Dignity of Commoners; 42. Political Ideas Mattered for Equal Liberty and Dignity; 43 Ideas Made for a Bourgeois Revaluation; 44 The Rhetorical Change Was Necessary and Maybe Sufficient
This part is an attempt to identify reasons for this change. Author rejects the idea that such change was preordained part of inevitable progress and believes that it was just serendipitous combination of factors often local and temporary that led to change in attitude. One of the most important was religious change in theology of happiness from passive attitude of “’god willing” to active attitude “work hard to get there”. The significant part of the process was availability of printing and explosion of reading and discussing political matters. At the end of this part author promotes idea that rhetorical change in attitude to bourgeoisie was not only necessary, but also maybe even sufficient to start up process of great enrichment via trade-tested betterment.
Part VII Nowhere Before on a Large Scale Had Bourgeois or Other Commoners Been Honored
45 Talk Had Been Hostile to Betterment; 46 The Hostility Was Ancient; 47 Yet Some Christians Anticipated a Respected Bourgeoisie; 48 And Betterment, Thou Long Disdained, Developed Its Own Vested Interests; 49 And Then Turned; 50 On the Whole, However, the Bourgeoisies and Their Bettering Projects Have Been Precarious
Here author discusses traditional disdain to trade typical for practically all cultures and people. One of the reasons for this is that bourgeois methods require the development of relatively high levels of human contacts. Here is nice table for this:
Part VIII Words and Ideas Caused the Modern World
51 Sweet Talk Rules the Economy; 52 And Its Rhetoric Can Change Quickly; 53 It Was Not a Deep Cultural Change; 54 Yes, It Was Ideas, Not Interests or Institutions, That Changed, Suddenly, in Northwestern Europe; 55 Elsewhere Ideas about the Bourgeoisie Did Not Change
This part is about words being the core of economic activities and how they changed dramatically and quickly. Author analyses share of economic activities, that is mainly dependent of verbal activities, and finds that it by far exceeds any other activities involved in generating goods and services. Author also provides example of quick change in rhetoric leading to dramatic consequences such as brief and murderous rule of Khmer Rouge. Author also reviews and rejects other potential causes of the change such as institutions and interests, claiming that these did not change that much. Finally author compares other parts of the world where attitude to bourgeoisie did not change and finds that they also did not have anything like economic revolution of the western countries.
Fourth Question: What Are the Dangers?
Part IX The History and Economics Have Been Misunderstood
56 The Change in Ideas Contradicts Many Ideas from the Political Middle, 1890-1980; 57 And Many Polanyish Ideas from the Left; 58 Yet Polanyi Was Right about Embeddedness; 59Trade-Tested Betterment Is Democratic in Consumption; 60 And Liberating in Production; 61 And Therefore Bourgeois Rhetoric Was Better for the Poor;
To answer the question about future author first summarizes history of economic ideas about reasons and causes of drastic economic growth of the last few centuries. Author looks again at North and Thomas ideas of institutional development, XIX century Marxist ideas of capital accumulation, contemporary redistributionist ideas based on zero sum economy. Author allocates lots of space to polemics against Polanyish ideas of capitalism as recent development despite plentiful evidence of existence of market economy and property right for thousands years throughout human history. Here is a nice table demonstrating various ideological constructions:
The last two chapters of this part are restating author’s logic that change in rhetoric and attitudes led to trade-tested betterment as key method of economic activities in western societies leading to dramatically improved productivity and innovation and consequently improvement in lives of everybody including poor.
Part X That Is, Rhetoric Made Us, but Can Readily Unmake Us
62 After 1848 the Clerisy Converted to Antibetterment; 63The Clerisy Betrayed the Bourgeois Deal, and Approved the Bolshevik and Bismarckian Deals; 64 Anticonsumerism and Pro-Bohemianism Were Fruits of the Antibetterment Reaction; 65 Despite the Clerisy’s Doubts; 66 What Matters Ethically Is Not Equality of Outcome, but the Condition of the Working Class; 67A Change in Rhetoric Made Modernity, and Can Spread It
The last part reviews ideological development after 1848 when bourgeois value again came under sustained attack, this time not from Aristocracy, but from the increasingly numerous and consequently empowered part of population – Clerisy. Either in its Bismarckian relatively benign welfare state or in its radical bloodthirsty Bolshevik / Nazi incarnation XX century societies were mainly driven by Clerisy with its rejection and contempt for all things bourgeois. As result the economic development and prosperity growth in parts of the world where Clerisy’s ideas become dominant where slowing down or even reversed. Author demonstrates how it happens and keeps pressing the idea that we need to reject clerisy’s anti-betterment efforts and unmask their reasons: income inequality and similar fuses used by Clerisy are false narratives because in reality bourgeois rhetoric and practice led to tremendous improvement in lives of regular people and this is what really matters.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is somewhat difficult for me, with my Marxist education and background, to accept author’s main position that it was the ideas that matter the most, not material and technological development. Nevertheless I find it very stimulating to look at reasons for industrial revolution in human minds rather than in steam engine and I think it is the right place to look at. However I do not think that explanation of the ideological change, as mainly serendipitous event, is good enough. I personally believe that it is much more realistic to look at it as the consequence of interplay of Darwinian struggle for survival at two levels: individual and group. The individual struggle occurs within society and has mainly peaceful character because alternative is chaos that inevitably leads to dysfunction of society. The struggle between groups however more often than not leads to intermediate change from war to peace and back, but could never be completely settled in peace until groups merge or one group annihilates another. Two developments are possible and actually occurred in history. One is unification of society as one group big enough so wars or trade with external societies have only marginal effect as it happened in China or Russia. In this case Clerisy, which controls organized power in all societies, becomes dominant and just does not allow development of bourgeois ideas and dignity to occur. In this case individual struggle comes down to meritocratic advancement via some kind of examination and/or bureaucratic maneuvering. Another model of development: small states always in war and/or extensive trade with each other eventually bound to generate 2 different power centers in society: Aristocracy that handle the war and Bourgeoisie that handle the trade. On early stages of development before effective firearms developed Aristocracy has huge advantage in use of power because it is mainly manual and requires constant training so one well trained man with a sword can easily overcome a dozen untrained individuals with exactly the same type of swords. In this case Aristocracy could not only require significant share of production as payments for protection from external groups and maintaining internal order, but also just take whatever it wants from actual producers internally within a group (society). As soon as firearms become effective, bourgeoisie can protect itself with minimal training, refuse Aristocracy’s unlimited ability to take and start imposing its own virtues on society. Eventually with development of mass mobilization and conscript armies it becomes capable to send Aristocracy to dustbin of history. However the following peaceful consolidation of society and consequently its wealth and complexity causes expansion of growth and with it expansion of Clerisy required to maintain order and internal interactions in complex society in its role as bureaucracy, but in process producing multitude of individuals with expensive qualifications, but no ability to find good place in bureaucracy or aptitude to achieve level of success in business that they feel entitled to. Logically either bureaucratic or redundant parts of Clerisy necessarily reject bourgeois values as incompatible with their values. The key differences in values are caused by methods of achieving success: Trade Tested productive work for bourgeoisie and Formal Testing and Bureaucratic maneuvering for Clerisy.
We are living at the moment of continuing struggle between these two groups with periodic change from Clerisy winning, and then leading to economic downfall, decrease in prosperity for everybody except for corrupted top-level members of Clerisy. Eventually it gets rejected by majority, causing Bourgeoisie winning, and then leading to economic improvement overall, but dramatic increase in inequality between winners and losers, with significant number of losers being educated members of Clerisy capable organizing losers into movement to reject Bourgeois order in reestablish Clerisy dominance. I believe this periodic process is coming to the end, but it would take another 50-100 years to find new structure of society where Clerisy would become unnecessary and Bourgeois ideas of Trade-tested Betterment will completely win.
20170107 Where They Stand (Presidents)
The main idea of this book is to review success or failure of presidents from two different angles. One is the evaluation of contemporaries based on voting history: winning 2 terms and leaving next president of own party constitute success. One term or change of party in power after the second term constitutes failure. The second angle is history evaluation, which actually means evaluation by historians based on a number of polls. This angle is highly subjective and susceptible to influence of historians’ own political views, which are typically leftist, big government supporting views. From this point of view whoever president increased size and power of government is a good president. The other set of ideas reviewed is about what makes or breaks individual’s reputation as good or great president. This is highly dependent on circumstances: war vs. peace, massive change in direction of the country make presidents great like Lincoln or FDR, while continuation of prosperity and prevention of big political earthquakes like Coolidge or Eisenhower does not.
PART I: THE HISTORIANS
Chapter 1. The Judgment of History
This is about history of surveys of historians about presidents that started in 1948 by Arthur Schlesinger and continues ever since with some presidents going up and others down in ratings, but with relatively small variations.
Chapter 2. The Vagaries of History
This chapter nicely demonstrates how historians’ evaluations are dependent on the latest greatest book published by the same historians about one president or another.
PART II: THE PEOPLE
Charter 3. The Making of the Presidents
This is about history of presidency as institution and how it changed over time moving from the office of equal or even somewhat inferior power to legislature early in XIX century to the office consistently getting more power during civil war, even if it was somewhat diminished after the war. Eventually starting with Teddy Roosevelt early in XX century it was gaining more and more power, eventually achieving levels of contemporary imperial presidency.
Chapter 4. The Presidential Referendum
This chapter is about presidential election as referendum on results of the president in power. It includes description of 13 Keys (6 false keys means party change) for reelection, which predictable power was ones again confirmed by elections of 2016:
Chapter 5. The Judgment of the Electorate
This is about judgment of electorate based on examples of presidents Cleveland who had 2 non-consecutive terms failing to be reelected both times, Madison and Grant who were both reelected and left their party in power after the second term.
Chapter 6. The Stain of Failure
The meaning and making of presidential failure discussed here using examples of presidents Harding, Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce. However the most detailed discussion of failure provided is about pre-civil war Buchanan who basically created conditions for the war and after civil war Andrew Jonson who made recovery extremely difficult. This chapter based on historians’ evaluation and being leftist creatures they are, they include in failure both Coolidge who avoided depression after market crash in early 1920-21 by using laissez faire policy and Hoover who was instrumental in creating great depression after market crash in 1929-33 by strong governmental intervention.
PART III: THE TEST OF GREATNESS
Chapter 7. War and Peace
This is review of war presidents and analysis of which of them achieved greatness and which did not. It reviews Madison – War of 1812(Success), Polk – Mexican War (Success), Lincoln – Civil War (Success), and McKinley – Spanish War (Success), Wilson – WWI (Failure), Roosevelt – WWII (Success), Truman – Korean War (Failure), Johnson – Vietnam War (Failure), Bush I – Iraq War (Success). Author stops here and does not include the latest wars.
Chapter 8. Split-Decision Presidents
These are presidents who succeed in getting the second term, but failed to leave their party in power. Usually it is result of second term being a lot less successful than the first. Examples provided are Eisenhower and Nixon, the former relatively successful, but not enough to keep power by smallest margin possible, but the latter completely failed with Watergate making it impossible to maintain power for the party.
Charter 9. Leaders of Destiny
These are presidents who drastically changed nature of the system leaving America after their rule practically different country. There are only three such revolutionary presidents so far: Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt.
PART IV: REPUTATIONS IN FLUX
Chapter 10. Republican Resurgence
Author included into this category two republican presidents Reagan and Bush I. It seems to be because these two are republicans and therefore generate strong rejection by historians who have difficulty to accept success of ideologically hostile presidents. Nevertheless both of them seem to get more appreciation over time so their rating will probably improve.
Chapter 11. The Post-Cold War Presidents
This is about Clinton and Bush II both of which managed to get the second term, but failed their party. Obviously it is too early to look at history judgment because not enough time expired since their presidencies.
Conclusion: Clear and Present Danger
Here author discusses success of the office of president historically and difficulties of present time for America. He concludes that it looks like we are due for the next Leader of Destiny to put America in the position to succeed in the XXI century.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a nice review of American presidency, but it seems to be leaving out of discussion historical development of the office and change in its relative power comparatively to Congress and Judiciary. It is missing the whole appearance in XX century of the new practically independent power that is, while under formal control of president, in reality become more than semi-independent and probably even the most powerful in in lives of regular people – Administrative state. However I find methodology of defining success or failure somewhat unequally divided into objective – decided by voters in election and subjective – decided by historians. The weakness of second part is in ideological makeup of historians who are bound to be big government supportive type just because it the subject of their profession, which is mainly studying actions of individuals in the office of president. I would like to see additional point of view of constitutional scholars discussing which president strengthened and which weakened constitutional foundation of republic.
The main idea of this book is to extend scientific information provided in previous book “Influence”, by adding the new dimension to the process of persuasion: timing. This new dimension changes process of influence from static to dynamic, looking at it from point of view of time dependent conditions both surrounding individuals and established internally in his/her mind. These include creation of “privileged moments” when individuals is highly susceptible to persuasion, taking control over individual’s narrow beam of attention, invoking associations supportive for ideas of persuasion, using human tendency to seek confirmation from others, and acting in sync with representative group to smooth down path to persuasion.
Part 1: PRE-SUASION: THE FRONTLOADING OF ATTENTION
- PRE-SUASION: An Introduction
The chapter starts with author’s reminiscence of attending multiple sales seminars to learn technics used by successful salespeople to convince people to buy their staff. The main take out from this experience was author’s understanding that these skills are quite effective and learnable. As example author provided the narrative about successful use of persuasion upon himself when he was convinced to teach MBA class even if it impeded with his previous plans. As it is typical for a good teacher, author provided a nice synopsis of this book.
- Privileged Moments
This chapter explicates the concept of privileged moments, identifiable points in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message. The chapter also presents and supports a fundamental thesis: the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is often not the one that offers the most accurate or useful counsel; instead, it is the one that has been elevated in attention (and thereby in privilege) at the moment of decision.
- The Importance of Attention… Is Importance
This chapter explores and documents one central reason that channeled attention leads to pre-suasion: the human tendency to assign undue levels of importance to an idea as soon as one’s attention is turned to it. The chapter looks at the effects of channeled attention in three different arenas: effective online marketing efforts, positive consumer product reviews, and successful wartime propaganda campaigns.
- What’s Focal Is Causal
This chapter adds a second reason for why channeled attention leads to pre-suasion. In the same way that attentional focus leads to perceptions of importance, it also leads to perceptions of causality. If people see themselves giving special attention to some factor, they become more likely to think of it as a cause. The influence-related upshots of the “what’s focal is presumed causal” effect are examined in domains such as lottery number choices and false confessions in police interrogations.
- Commanders of Attention 1: The Attractors
If elevated attention provides pre-suasive leverage, are there any features of information that automatically invite such attention and therefore don’t even require a communicator’s special efforts? This chapter examines several of these naturally occurring commanders of attention: the sexual, the threatening, and the different.
- Commanders of Attention 2: The Magnetizers
Besides the advantages of drawing attention to a particular stimulus, there is considerable benefit to holding it there. The communicator who can fasten an audience’s focus onto the favorable elements of an argument raises the chance that the argument will go unchallenged by opposing points of view, which get locked out of the attentional environment as a consequence. This chapter covers certain kinds of information that combine initial pulling power with staying power: the self-relevant, the unfinished, and the mysterious.
Part 2: PROCESSES: THE ROLE OF ASSOCIATION
- The Primacy of Associations: I Link, Therefore I Think
Once attention has been channeled to a selected concept, what is it about the concept that leads to a shift in responding? All mental activity is composed of patterns of associations; and influence attempts, including pre-suasive ones, will be successful only to the extent that the associations they trigger are favorable to change. This chapter shows how both language and imagery can be used to produce desirable outcomes such as greater job performance, more positive personnel evaluations, and, in one especially noteworthy instance, the release of prisoners kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban.
- Persuasive Geographies: All the Right Places, All the Right Traces
There is geography of influence. Just as words and images can prompt certain associations favorable to change, so can places. Thus, it becomes possible to send us in desired directions by locating to physical and psychological environments prefit with cues associated with our relevant goals. It’s also possible for influencers to achieve their goals by shifting others to environments with supportive cues. For instance, young women do better on science, math, and leadership tasks if assigned to rooms with cues (photos, for example) of women known to have mastered the tasks.
- The Mechanics of Pre-Suasion: Causes, Constraints, and Corrective
A communicator pre-suades by focusing recipients initially on concepts that are aligned associatively with the information yet to be delivered, but by what mechanism? The answer involves an underappreciated characteristic of mental activity: its elements don’t just fire when ready they fire when readied. This chapter examines this mechanism’s operation in such varied phenomena as how advertising imagery works, how infants can be pre-suaded toward helpfulness, and how opiate drug addicts can be pre-suaded into performing an important therapeutic activity that none would consent to otherwise.
BEST PRACTICES: THE OPTIMIZATION OF PRE-SUASION
- Six Main Roads to Change: Broad Boulevards as Smart Shortcuts
On which specific concepts should an audience’s attention be focused for the greatest pre-suasive effect? Attention should be channeled to one or another of the universal principles of influence treated in my earlier book, Influence: reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, scarcity, and consistency. There is good reason for their prevalence and success, for these are the principles that typically steer people in the fight direction when they are deciding what to do.
- Unity 1: Being Together
This chapter reveals an additional (seventh) universal principle of influence: unity. There is a certain type of unity-of identity-that best characterizes a “We” relationship and that, if pre-suasively raised to consciousness, leads to more acceptance, cooperation, liking, help, trust, and, consequently, assent. The chapter describes the first of two main ways to build “We” relationships: by presenting cues of genetic commonality associated with family and place.
- Unity 2: Acting Together
Besides the unitizing effect of being together in the same genealogy or geography, “We” relationships can result from acting together synchronously or collaboratively. When people act in unitary ways, they become unitized; and when such activity is arranged pre-suasively, it produces mutual liking and support. This chapter provides illustrations in the forms of greater helping among strangers, cooperation among teammates, self-sacrifice among four-year-olds, friendship among schoolchildren, love among college students, and loyalty between consumers and brands.
- Ethical Use: A Pre-Pre-Suasive Consideration
Those using a pre-suasive approach must decide what to present immediately before their message. But they also have to make an even earlier decision: whether, on ethical grounds, to employ such an approach. Often, communicators from commercial organizations place profit above ethics in their appeals. Thus, there is reason to worry that the pre-suasive practices described in this book will be used unethically. However, this chapter argues against unethical use, offering data from studies indicating that such tactics undermine organizational profits in three potent ways.
- Post-Suasion: Aftereffects
Pre-suaders want to do more than create temporary changes via momentary shifts in attention; they want to make those changes durable. Accordingly, this chapter provides the behavioral science evidence for two kinds of procedures that increase the likelihood that changes generated initially will take root and last well beyond pre-suasive moments.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It’s a very good, very professional, and well supported by data analysis of the art of persuasion. The one general problem with it is that human beings are learning creatures and the very fact of discovering and formalizing tools of persuasion makes them less and less effective when more and more people learn about them and develop countermeasures. So for the practitioner of art of persuasion it is a good methodological toolset until its specific tools become common knowledge. On the defensive side of persuasion game it is not less valuable providing access to this knowledge while its methods are still very potent. It is somewhat similar to eternal straggle between viruses and antibodies with scientific psychological research being kind of vaccination against being manipulated by other people. On these terms this book is a great set of multifarious vaccine protecting against a number of widely circulating viruses.