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.