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20170401 – A Culture of Growth

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MAIN IDEA:

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.

DETAILS:

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:

  1. Believe that better technology is virtuous
  2. Believe that progress in increase in wealth is desirable
  3. 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:

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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:

  1. Content based bias
  2. Direct Bias (Authority)
  3. Consistency and Confirmation Bias
  4. Model-based Bias
  5. Rhetorical Bias
  6. Frequency Dependency Bias
  7. Rationalization Bias
  8. Coercion Bias
  9. 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.

 


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