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20170826 – Behave 

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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.


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.


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:

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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.


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.


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:

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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.


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.


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:

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Author also discusses here societal consequences of adolescent disconnect between maturity of a brain and other systems of the body.


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.


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:

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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.


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:

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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.


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:

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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.


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:

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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.


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:

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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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

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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.



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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 9.30.12 AM

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:

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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.


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

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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:

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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:

  1. The Materialist: everything is moved by materialist forces so ideas are irrelevant
  2. The Defeatist: too much media and too many ideas, therefore good ideas just drown out by the noise
  3. The Populist: complex abstract ideas would not work because people are too stupid to understand and support them
  4. 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:

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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:Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 8.24.48 AM

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.


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

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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.


  1. 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.

  1. 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.


  1. World War II: Building an Organization

Civil-Military Tensions

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Afghanistan and Iraq

Lessons Ignored

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.


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.